Intimate Photos of Rock Stars from 1960s and ’70s ‘Melody Maker’

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We were always big fans of now-defunct UK music weekly Melody Maker — it was always rather less self-important and more lighthearted than the NME — so we were chuffed to see that the Morrison Hotel Gallery in NYC is hosting a retrospective of work by one of the publication’s staff photographers, Barrie Wentzell. Wentzell shot for the magazine in the 1960s and 1970s, and the exhibition covers the years 1965-75, including portraits of Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and various other luminaries of the era. The exhibition opens tonight and runs until October 21 — and the gallery has been kind enough to give us a sneak peek at some of the images, along with commentary from the photographer. See the photos and hear the stories behind them after the jump.

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Leonard Cohen, Belgravia, London, 1974

“This was the first time I had met Leonard Cohen. I’d heard his album Songs From A Room when it came out and found it totally depressing, although it was a fave of lonely people on dark, rainy Sunday afternoons in bedsits everywhere. I went along with Melody Maker writer Roy Hollingsworth to do an interview and we found Lenny relaxing by a window with his bare feet up on his manager’s desk. To my great surprise, rather than sad, he turned out to be one of the funniest and witty characters I’d met. Since that day I’ve loved his music and can even enjoy Songs From A Room. He’s still one of the finest songwriter/poets on the planet!”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Jimi Hendrix, Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, England, 1968

“This was a Melody Maker-sponsored show at stately Woburn Abbey, the home of the Duke of Bedford. I don’t think the Duke attended, but many others did. Jimi played a great gig as top of the bill. The stage was around 10 feet high and not great for shooting front of the stage as all you could see was Jimi’s head, so I went backstage and got a few shots from the side including this one from the back against the spotlights.”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Brian Epstein’s house, Belgravia, London, 1967

“This was the first time I met and photographed The Beatles. [It was] at the launch party for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Brian Epstein’s posh home in Belgravia. There were lots of people milling around from the press and elsewhere and The Beatles were just walking around talking, laughing and celebrating the Summer of Love when I got this shot of two of The Fab Four.”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Jimmy Page, at his home in Pangbourne, Berkshire, England, 1970

“Jimmy had bought a boathouse down by the Thames in rural Berkshire. Chris Welch and I went down one afternoon to visit and do a Melody Maker interview with the former session guitarist, [who was] now heading a unit called Led Zeppelin, born out of the ashes of his former group The Yardbirds. He escorted us on a tour of his abode full of Art Deco paintings, odd antiques, and many ancient esoteric books, including Aleister Crowley. There was a basement, which had a couple of boats bobbing up and down in the Thames below. This photo is in the upper living room overlooking the mighty Thames with Jimmy and his telescope. Stars looking at stars!”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Bob Dylan, BBC TV Studios, London, 1965

“Bob was rehearsing for a live TV show during his ‘Don’t Look Back’ tour. I happened to be with the Pretty Things at the ‘Beeb’ canteen and there he was sitting a few feet away. I never had any ‘idols’ but Mr. Dylan had changed the times for us. He was the biggest influence on us Brits since Elvis. He was hanging out during a break from rehearsals so I asked if I could shoot some pictures and in his very Bob way wearing a big smile he said, ‘You can shoot yourself if you want to… sure it’s cool, carry on.’ So I did! I later snuck in and photographed the rest of the rehearsal unimpeded. That evening I went along to see the show in a small studio with only about 100 others. A unique, intimate and wonderful time was had by all.”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Mick Jagger, Kinney Records office, Oxford Street, London, 1971

“Kinney Records, which later became WEA, was one of the hippest of all the labels back in the 1970s. It was always open to drop by and pick up the latest albums, have a drink, and hang in with Derek Taylor, who had been press officer to The Beatles and who had a special room as a ‘guest advisor’. In this picture Mick Jagger is engaged in an interview with Chris Welch from Melody Maker and we were talking about the band’s plans and events of the day. The copy of the Melody Maker on the table was advertising Paul McCartney’s band Wings’ new release of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. We were laughing about it, thinking Paul had lost it in contrast to the Stones and their new heavy rocking album Sticky Fingers.”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

The Rolling Stones, Hyde Park, London, 1969

“A week before the free concert at Hyde Park, the Stones had a photo call in the park to introduce Mick Taylor as the replacement for the late Brian Jones. As legend goes, Mick Jagger asked veteran bluesman John Mayall, who he thought was the best guitarist to fill this vacancy, [to join the band]. John recommended Mick Taylor, who been playing in [his band] the Bluesbreakers. I remember the shoot was more like a rugby scrum, trying to get a picture while elbowing and fighting through 20 or so other photographers and journalists.”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Pete Townshend and his dog Towser, Pete’s garden, opposite Eel Pie Island, Twickhenham by the River Thames, 1971

“Pete Townshend was sending in many letters to the Melody Maker about this and that, so [editor] Ray Coleman had the bright idea to ask him if he’d like to have a page for himself to write about anything he wished. Pete asked me to photograph the accompanying images to illustrate his pieces. Some of these were quite abstract, but his stories were always entertaining. On this day I arrived at his home to find him dressed up in a ‘Pearly King’ outfit with a banjo, setting up a collection of his daughter’s toys in his garden. His faithful spaniel Towser was recruited and posed perfectly during the shoot!”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell. Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

John Entwistle and Pete Townshend, IBC Studio, Upper Regent Street, London, 1968

“Earlier in May 1968, we did an interview with Pete Townshend where he said he was planning a ‘rock opera’ about a deaf, dumb and blind boy. I thought he’d gone cuckoo but a few months later I went over to IBC Studios to find him and the rest of The Who deep into recording Tommy. It sounded amazing and I quickly reassessed my doubts and become a believer! I spent a few hours just hanging in and got a lot of pics of the band hard at work — even Mr. Moon was sober. This image of John and Pete is of bass and guitar riff overdubbing.”

Photo credit: Barrie Wentzell / courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Neil Young, a hotel in South Kensington, London 1970

“Fresh from Woodstock to London… CSNY came in for an eagerly awaited concert at the Royal Albert Hall. I went along to a small hotel by South Kensington Station where CSNY and Dallas Taylor were relaxing and doing selected interviews. Neil was sitting at a piano playing ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ which was from his second solo album. After a pause I told him that I really loved his first album but found the vocals too far back in the mix. What a cheek, but I had to tell him because I loved the album so much! He said that when he was in Buffalo Springfield they didn’t like his singing and that he felt a bit uncomfortable bringing up the vocals. The concert was fantastic! The extended version of Neil’s song ‘Cowgirl in the Sand,’ featuring Stills’ and Young’s dueling guitars, was memorable. Neil sang with full force and passion, wailing away on his black Les Paul. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were sitting in front of us taking notes. They were especially interested in the acoustic set which seemed to have been inspirational for them.”