David Gahr’s Dramatic Black-and-White Photos of ’60s and ’70s Musicians


A few weeks back, we shared some great photos of musicians from the 1960s and ’70s. If you enjoyed those, you’ll also appreciate these shots of some of the era’s luminaries by the late New York photographer David Gahr. Gahr’s work appeared in Time and Rolling Stone, among others, and his career spanned five decades, from his earliest work in the late ’50s until his death in 2008. His photos are the subject of a new exhibition at Morrison Hotel in Soho from October 26 through November 11 (you can check the gallery website for opening hours if you’re in the city). Either way, check out some of the photos from the exhibition after the jump, along with archival commentary from the photographer himself.

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Johnny Cash, 1964, Newport Folk Festival

Johnny Cash in July 1964 at the Newport Folk Festival. This was the country music veteran’s debut performance at the folk festival, and he wowed the likes of Bob Dylan. Johnny Cash and Dylan became fast friends right there, a relationship that endured throughout their careers.

David Gahr: “Johnny Cash was our hero in Newport of 1964. He looked the perfect stud, a card-dealing cowboy with the face of a riverboat gambler, flipping his guitar back and forth with sure nonchalance. It was a face ravaged by strong living and we screamed in the pits like wild ones.”

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Blind Faith, London, July 1969

Blind Faith (l-r: Ric Grech, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton) in July 1969 near Olympic Studios, where they were finalizing the recording of their self-titled debut album.

David Gahr: “Bob Rolentz of Atlantic Records knew I was going to London in the summer of 1969 and assigned me to photograph some of their rock and pop groups. ‘Listen,’ said Rolentz, ‘Blind Faith are the key group. Don’t come back without them.’ I saved Blind Faith for last and tracked them down for days and nights until I finally cornered them together near Olympia Studios in Hammersmith. After three minutes of photographing the group — I was just warming up — their roadie or someone like that urged them to come inside and start mixing their tapes; but good, dear Ginger Baker barked at the supernumerary, ‘Leave the man alone, don’t you see he’s working?’ Baker, Baker, may you sleep in peace, whatever continent you’re drumming in, and may your Jensen run smoothly forever.”

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Bonnie Raitt, NYC, 1972

Raitt was a favorite portrait subject for Gahr for over 30 years. He first photographed her on stage with blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1970, and then numerous times on assignment for her record labels and in concert over the next three decades. Here, Gahr captures a young Raitt posing in a store window on July 19, 1972 in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York.

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Bruce Springsteen and The Girls, Red Bank, NJ, 1979

David Gahr: “This photograph is the essence of rock ‘n’ roll: a virile young man surrounded by lovely girls crazy about him.”

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Howlin’ Wolf, July 1966, Newport Folk Festival

Howlin’ Wolf and his band perform in July 1966 at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. The band is (l-r) Sam Jones, Andrew McMahon, legendary guitarist Hubert Sumlin, and Howlin’ Wolf.

David Gahr: “The night before this photograph at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, Howlin’ Wolf, in workman’s overalls, started sweeping the stage with a broom during the band’s performance. I laughed so hard at the political antics and the bewildered folkie audience that I forgot to photograph the event. So this image is merely second best.”

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

J. Geils Band, 42nd St. Taxi, NYC, June 1974

The J. Geils Band (l-r: Danny Klein, J. Geils, Stephen Bladd, Seth Justman, Peter Wolf, Magic Dick) on June 12, 1974 in Times Square. The young fan in the taxi is great rock writer Lisa Robinson, now Vanity Fair‘s music features editor.

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Janis Joplin, Hotel Chelsea, March 1969

David Gahr: “Janis would like you or hate you on sight or insight. And she was rarely wrong. She shrieked when I told her my assignment was for Time magazine. ‘Damn; now my old man will know I’ve done something. I am someone! He always reads Time. Damn, damn, good.’ We miss you, Joplin, wherever you are.”

David Gahr on Janis Joplin: “The sound of sex. After thirty minutes on stage, she can turn an audience into an incredible shambles of pure love.”

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Joni Mitchell, 1967, Newport Folk Festival

Joni Mitchell in July 1967 at the Newport Folk. This was Mitchell’s debut performance at the annual folk festival.

David Gahr: “The 1967 Newport Folk Festival was a vintage year for the singer/songwriter. It gave first birth to Leonard Cohen, the beautiful Joni Mitchell, and Arlo Guthrie. Two Canadians and a Coney Island rebel.”

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

John Lennon, NYC, 1974

John Lennon on October 24, 1974 on New York’s West Side.

David Gahr, on an afternoon with John Lennon in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen: “It was a grey October afternoon when I met John Lennon on the washed out corner of 11th Avenue and West 43rd Street. ‘Raining – good,’ affirmed Lennon, wrapped in sober covert coat with dark round spectacles, cap, and 1956 hologram Elvis pin. ‘I’m always done in the sun — the rain should be fine.’

One of the truck drivers leaned over and asked me,’Wasn’t [John] one of those ‘insects’?’

‘Insects!’ laughed John — he thought that was just perfect! Their acceptance of John was total, a pleasure to witness … I don’t think John had ever been so relaxed or had so much fun on a photo shoot.”

Photo credit: © David Gahr Estate, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, Carnegie Hall, 1962

Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger on stage at Carnegie Hall, September 22, 1962 in New York City. The occasion was ‘A Hootenanny At Carnegie Hall’, sponsored by Sing Out! Magazine, and featured Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, the bluegrass group The Lilly Brothers, and folk singer Peter La Farge, amongst others. Dylan’s three-song set included the first public performance of “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall”, a complex and powerful refrain pattern of the traditional British ballad “Lord Randall” published by Francis Child.

David Gahr, on Pete Seeger: “Progenitor of generations of singers, mountains of songs and waves of impassioned poets and poetry.”

David Gahr, on Bob Dylan: “Numero Uno. He goes, others follow.”