At first glance, one might think that the primary attraction of a book titled Rock Gods—Fifty Years of Rock Photography would be the photos. No brainer, right? True, the shots view like a gallery of the greatest musicians in rock n’ roll history: Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eddie Van Halen and many, many others. But take the time to do more than flip through the pics, and read the words of photographer Robert M. Knight. It’s a first-person account of a long-gone era, when a kid with a camera could work himself into access and friendship with the biggest rock stars of the day.
“My first big break in rock photography, even before Zeppelin, was shooting Jimi Hendrix at Winterland in San Francisco in ’68,” writes Knight. I brought exactly one roll of film with me. With that one roll in my camera, I walked to the front of the stage, and nobody stopped me—because I had a camera in my hand. No assignment, no pass.” In today’s world of multiple layers of ultra-tight security, that experience would be incomprehensible.
Equally amazing is Knight’s account of the first time he met Led Zeppelin. The band was scheduled to play the Whisky in Hollywood, and Knight was refused entry due to the fact he was only 20 years old. These days, the door person would probably say “tough luck, dude,” with a few expletives thrown in for good measure. But again, those were different times. The girl at the door actually called the Chateau Marmont hotel, got Jimmy Page on the phone, and said to him “Jimmy, there’s this young boy here who’s a photographer. He wants to shoot the band.” Page replied, “Have him come to the hotel.” After hanging with the band all afternoon, Knight rode with them to the venue, thus getting the opportunity to shoot Zeppelin’s first major show in the U.S.
Especially poignant is Knight’s account of the last hours of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Knight shot what would turn out to be Vaughn’s last concert, at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. He goes into great detail recounting many unexplained, even paranormal events that took place that night just prior to the fatal helicopter flight.
It’s interesting to eavesdrop and live vicariously through Knight, reading his accounts of hanging out and eventually becoming friends with some of the biggest rock gods of our time.