Last spring, former music executive Michael Friedman’s wife stumbled on something amazing. The couple were preparing to sell their Connecticut home, and in the process of cleaning out the attic, hidden in a box of old contracts and other paperwork from Friedman’s former life, she found roughly 1,000 never-developed negatives. Captured on film through Friedman’s lens between 1969 and 1973 were some of rock music’s most enduring icons: Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, Rita Coolidge, Todd Rundgren, Levon Helm. For upward of 40 years, Friedman had assumed the negatives were lost—but there they were, a time capsule of a bygone era in music history.
“I guess it’s kind of like waking up after a coma,” Friedman says of finding the negatives. “All of a sudden there was a flood of memories I haven’t even thought about for so long. It was wonderful, exhilarating to be transported back to my youth.”
What’s even better: the photos are good. Friedman was an amateur photographer, but being a manager at the time, he had an unusual amount of access to artists—not just in terms of proximity, but emotionally. He was part of the team, so he was able to photograph them from stage and backstage, capturing candid moments in stark black and white. A selection of the images will be on display in the exhibit Rock & Roll Legends, the Lost Negatives of Michael Friedman at the California Heritage Museum from April 14 through July 15.
In the 1960s, Friedman sort of stumbled into a career in the music industry. A self-described “mediocre, self-taught, left-handed drummer,” he played in bands during college, and would travel to L.A. on weekends to pound the pavement with his bandmates and try to sell their records to labels. After college, he landed a job in New York City with music publicist and manager John Kurland doing publicity for bands including the Bee Gees, Herman’s Hermits, Glen Campbell, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. During that time, he produced the record “Hello It’s Me” by a Philly band called the Nazz—it would later become a major hit when frontman Todd Rundgren re-recorded the track as a solo artist.
After Kurland passed away, Friedman signed on with folk-rock bigwig Albert Grossman. He recalls, “At the ripe old age of 25, I was working with a lot of big names like Dylan, the Band, and Janis Joplin. It was a lot different in those days. I was in the right place and right time. I loved all the music that Albert was working with—and it wasn’t hard to love that kind of music.”
Inspired by a fashion photographer friend to dabble in picture making, Friedman would bring his camera along when he traveled from coast to coast attending concerts and hanging out with the artists he represented. “Having that ability to get close and get candids backstage gave me a chance to take pictures that were unusual for that time,” Friedman says. “Most of the photography being done professionally were album covers and publicity photos and so forth. A lot of the time the artist is posing; no one was ever posing for me. Hopefully they were not aware I was taking pictures most the time.
In one of the most stunning images is of Mick Jagger playing Madison Square Garden with the Stones in 1969. Wearing a long white scarf, Jagger seems to glow in the stage lights, while everything around him fades to black. It’s remarkably serene and intimate when, in fact, Friedman and Jagger were joined in the room by a crowd of thousands. Friedman recalls being just feet away from Jagger when he snapped the photo.
The California Heritage Museum exhibit features more than 60 of Friedman’s photos. Next, the images will go on to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where they’ll become part of the permanent archive. “I’m not going to be inducted but, hey, I’ll be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” Friedman says with a laugh. “It’s all kind of been so unexpected and so much fun.”
Rock & Roll Legends, the Lost Negatives of Michael Friedman, the California Heritage Museum, 2612 Main St., Santa Monica; April 14-July 15, 2018
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