|Holly Cole, Toronto, 1988|
WITH THE END OF THIS BLOG IN SIGHT, I need to clean house a bit and post some photos that I've overlooked over the last four years. I've photographed a lot of musicians - they were very nearly my exclusive subject in my early years - so it makes sense that I have quite a few shots left over that, for some reason, didn't make it into previous posts or themed weeks of postings.
These shots span very nearly the whole of my career, starting with Nerve magazine in the mid-'80s and ending with the free weekly in the 2000s. Some of these musicians are famous; some are obscure. In at least one case, I couldn't tell you who they are. With the passage of time, perhaps some of these shots are of historical interest. The only thread tying them all together is that I shot them.
|Tom Anselmi of Slow, RPM Club, Toronto, 1986|
Vancouver's Slow have been, from pretty much the moment they broke up (not long after I took these photos) Canada's great lost band. Their brief career produced a single and an EP, both of which were incredible, and a string of live shows that became legendary for their reckless abandon and a complete lack of regard for consequences or career. They were an influence on the grunge scene south of the border in Seattle, and I'm fond of citing them as the band that did it right - one seminal record and out.
I shot the band on their only tour across the country, opening here for Soul Asylum. They were a compelling, glorious mess onstage, and after this gig ended up living in the apartment of the promoter, Elliot Lefko, for a month before heading back to Vancouver and breaking up. Somehow Elliot - still a fan despite the experience - managed to persuade them to reform and tour again this year. These are technically pretty iffy shots - I'd barely owned a camera for a year when I took them - but I've cherished them for years as an artifact of a moment that I witnessed, part of a small group of people who had the privilege.
|A Neon Rome, Toronto, 1986|
|A Neon Rome, Toronto, 1987|
A Neon Rome were one of my favorite local bands, a psychedelic post-punk outfit that put on unpredictable shows, at least one of which I remember involving Kevin, their former guitarist, throwing beer bottles at the lead singer. They managed to put out one record and record another (still unreleased) before breaking up, but not before Neal, the lead singer, had shaved his head and taken a vow of silence. Somehow it all made sense at the time.
I remembered photographing the whole group by the cenotaph next to St. James Cathedral one sunny summer afternoon, but had no memory at all of shooting three-fifths of the band in a park near Sherbourne Street with a roll of infrared film a year earlier. Everybody loved shooting with infrared film back then, and I shot just enough to figure out that it was a pain in the ass to work with, and rarely worth the trouble.
|Brownie McGhee, Toronto, 1987|
I was acutely aware that, as a music fan and a photographer, I had picked up a camera just past the moment when it would have been possible to capture countless music legends while they were still alive and touring. With that in mind, I tried whenever I could to get anyone who'd say yes in front of my camera. That's how Chris Buck and I ended up crouching shoulder to shoulder shooting John Lee Hooker backstage before a show, and how I got these photos of singer and guitarist Brownie McGhee in the alleyway behind the Horseshoe Tavern.
McGhee was famous for playing alongside harmonica player Sonny Terry during the blues revival of the '60s, but when I took these photos Terry had died and McGhee was touring on his own when he wasn't working at his alternate career as an actor in films like Angel Heart and TV shows like Matlock. His brother was Stick McGhee and his mentor had been Blind Boy Fuller and I approached him with obvious awe - one of the few living links to a blues tradition that disappeared in my lifetime.
|David Lee Roth, Toronto, 1988|
It's worth pointing out that I don't have a single frame on the whole contact sheet where Roth's mouth is closed. He sat down and began a non-stop spiel that barely took a break for questions from the assembled press. I'm aware now (and probably could have figured out then) that Roth was in the thick of his cocaine period. Years later I became a huge fan of the adult cartoon series Metalocalypse, and it wasn't a challenge to figure out that Dr. Rockso, the Rock and Roll Clown ("I do cocaine!") was based on the late '80s Roth.
|Aswad, Toronto, 1988|
I don't have a lot of worthwhile photos from my time working for Graffiti magazine, the glossy monthly that rolled into Toronto from Montreal in the late '80s and hired most of Nerve before flaming out after the market crash. Most of the acts I shot for the magazine were pretty forgettable (Hipsway, Faster Pussycat, Balaam & The Angel,Teenage Head without Frankie Venom) or marred by being promo ads featuring the subjects reading a copy of the magazine.
A rare exception is this shoot with British reggae band Aswad. They were, by this point, down to a trio and years past their prime as the group who made their first dub-heavy albums for Mango Records, but they had a great look with their hats, dreads and blousey black leather jackets and I managed to shoot at least one or two technically acceptable frames of them in the closest thing I could manage like high key lighting in the lobby of the magazine's offices.
|Holly Cole, Toronto, 1988|
Holly Cole is a bit of a legend here in Canada, but when I took these photos she was barely known outside of Toronto's clubs, where she'd been singing with avant garde jazz outfits like Whitenoise and her trio with bassist David Piltch and pianist Aaron Davis. This shoot was the first entry in the Big Ledger - an assignment from former Nerve editor Nancy Lanthier after she moved on to edit Music Scene, a trade magazine.
This is the precise point where my apprenticeship had ended and I began thinking that I might make a living taking photos. (Two entries later is a gig taking photos of a Chrysler dealership.) I don't know if I shot this in my Parkdale studio or if I went to where Cole was, but I managed to find a clean, blank white wall behind her, with my single flash head bounced into an umbrella. This is one of my earliest attempts at an Irving Penn photo, and it's not bad considering what a neophyte I was. It's also one of my earliest "eyes closed" portraits.
|The Unsane rehearsing, NYC, 1990|
I met New York's Unsane when the band came through town with Boss Hog, the band Cristina Martinez formed with her husband Jon Spencer after she left Pussy Galore. Two-thirds of the Unsane were Cristina's rhythm section, and after the whole touring package crashed at my loft, I put up Pete, Charlie and Chris again when they passed through town on their own; my salient memory of that night is Charlie and some girl screwing on my kitchen floor.
We became friends and when I passed through New York on a trip visiting my then-girlfriend, I asked the band if I could shoot them rehearsing in the Lower East Side basement space they shared with Boss Hog and the self-destructing Pussy Galore. The light was dim but I didn't care, since I was experimenting with long exposures and blurs at the time. It's a nice snapshot of the first lineup of the band; Charlie would die of an overdose two years later.
|Alex Patterson of The Orb, Parkdale, 1991|
Just as I once documented quite a few early hip hop legends, I also surprise myself sometimes with reminders that I was a big fan of the sometimes trippy, sometimes noisy techno coming out of the UK at the beginning of the '90s. My lifelong aversion to crowds and dislike of communal drug use - there was no way I was going to take anything called "the love drug" - meant that I listened to my 808 State, Orbital and Guy Called Gerald records alone, at home.
I was a particular fan of The Orb, the leading light of the chill out scene, centred around former Killing Joke roadie Alex Patterson. His records were daft and full of prog rock references and when I learned that he was going to be in town promoting a new record, I begged someone - it might have been my friend Tim, working for HMV magazine - to let me do a shoot with Patterson. I took this photo in my Parkdale studio, lighting him with a soft box from below and shooting cross-processed film.
|Renegade Soundwave, Parkdale, 1991|
I used cross-processed film again - this time colour negative through slide chemistry - to shoot another British techno outfit, Renegade Soundwave. They're a pretty obscure name today, but the band were huge in the clubs at the time with tracks like "Biting My Nails" and "Cocaine Sex." I saw them play live at The Opera House, a small hall in the east end, and vividly recall that the bass bins were so loud that my sternum ached at the end of the night.
More lighting from below, and another scanned file that needed hours of adjustments to look halfway decent. I probably should have saved my experiments for test subjects, but I wanted to keep the learning curve going for as long as possible at this point in my career, while I desperately searched for some way into something like a personal style.
|Angelo from Fishbone & Maynard from Tool, Lollapalooza, Chicago, 1993|
Back when NOW magazine had a generous travel budget to send photographers all over North America for shoots, I was put on a plane to Chicago to shoot two of the bands on the bill at Lollapalooza, a sensation at the time, and in its third year as a touring festival. It was my first time in Chicago, and I was flown in a day early, spending a night in the city before catching a cab the next day to the World Music Theater (now the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre) in Tinley Park, Illinois.
Out of all the bands on the bill - the headliners that year were Primus and Alice in Chains - the editors at the paper had chosen to showcase Fishbone and Tool. I'd been a fan of Fishbone since Nerve days and had shot them countless times, though never to my satisfaction, but I'd only just heard of Tool. I photographed the lead singers for both bands, Angelo Moore and Maynard James Keenan, in the tour bus parking lot; this shot was meant for the inside of the paper, and for fans of either (or both) bands, might be something of a rarity. (As I write this, Keenan is having his #MeToo moment, which probably tarnishes my photo's value.)
|Mystery band, Parkdale, 1996|
These photos are a mystery. I can clearly remember the circumstances of the shoot: Someone - I'm not sure who - phoned me at the last minute to tell me that they wanted to send a band over to my studio. They sounded desperate and it was a bit of a favour, so I was able to exact a promise that I'd be allowed to shoot them exactly the way I wanted. In this case, I insisted on shooting each member of the band individually, with a proviso that the shots would run in a grid.
I had a series of set-ups I'd sketched out in a notepad that had never been tried, so I inserted each member of the group into them, using a white backdrop, my favorite barn board tabletop and a few props I had sitting around the studio. I shot precisely six frames of each setup over two rolls, tweaking each frame slightly. Everything went off pretty much as I hoped, but I never wrote the name of the band on the sleeves where I filed the slides and there's no note at all about the job in the Big Ledger. If anyone out there recognizes this very Weezer-esque mid-'90s alt-rock outfit, please drop me a line.
|Kevin Moon, Moonstarr, Toronto, 1997|
The Toronto music scene was actually pretty interesting in the late '90s, when technology was just starting to make major record labels pointless. Kevin Moon was a DJ who made records under the name Moonstarr, and ran a record label, Public Transit Recordings. The name of the label was inspired by his love of the city's transit system, which is actually a pretty fucking Toronto thing.
I photographed Moon for NOW magazine in his apartment near the university, surrounded by his recording gear. Things were looking pretty plain until he reached for a Chinese throwing star, which I asked him to hold up close to my wide angle lens. It was just about the best sort of portrait of a DJ that I could imagine at the time. Moon moved to Montreal in the 2000s, where he still does shows and remixes.
|Raggadeath, Toronto, 1997|
Another interesting band in the city at the time was Raggadeath - a mash-up group that featured members from Toronto's industrial, rock and hip hop scenes, including rapper Michie Mee, who I'd photographed years earlier when the city's hip hop artists finally managed to break into the mainstream. They got their records released in Canada, Europe and Australia but never the U.S., so they always seemed to be playing overseas more than here.
I met the band at the Beverly Tavern on Queen West, a venerable hangout for local musicians, now long gone. In the throes of my collage period, I took them out to the alleyway next to the bar and shot the band in segments, putting the final shots together with tape on a sheet of typewriter paper for Irene at NOW. I still think this was the best way to shoot a large band, as the law of averages dictates that, with more frames to choose from, you're more likely to catch everyone with their eyes open.
|Foo Fighters, Toronto, 2005|
I didn't shoot a lot of music for the free daily. Apart from a few big concerts like Madonna and Coldplay, I can only remember a handful of band portraits, including this one of the Foo Fighters, sadly during the period when former Germs member Pat Smear wasn't in the group. (I'm not the world's biggest Foo Fighters fan, but I loved the Germs.)
My vague memory is that I shot the band at their record company's offices, somewhere in Liberty Village. This old loading dock door was the best backdrop I could find, and I simply placed the band in front of it and shot until I thought I likely had at least one usable frame. It's a competent but rather dull band photo - sort of like the Foo Fighters.
|Beastie Boys, Toronto, July 2006|
I photographed the Beastie Boys for the first time years ago - a shambolic encounter in a downtown nightclub during a promo tour for License To Ill where they felt obliged to act like idiots (though even then their heart obviously wasn't in it.) I'd have included some of those shots here if I could find them, but since they've gone missing I can only post this shot, taken nearly twenty years later in the penthouse suite of a boutique hotel.
Their current record, To The Five Boroughs, had come out two years previous so I'm not sure what they were in town promoting. Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz still had a little mugging left in him but by then they were a group of men in the open fields of middle age, and very different from the gurning delinquents I could barely corral for a handful of photos. Six years later the group would finally break up after Adam "MCA" Yauch's death by cancer. I had to work hard to get this halfway workable frame from the shoot, which suffered from difficult lighting, at the very least.