The Lost Rock & Roll Negatives of Michael Friedman
Sitting on a half-city block of prime real estate on Main Street in the heart of Santa Monica, the California Heritage Museum is renowned for its multicultural, hodgepodge of quirky exhibits including retrospectives of California Fruit Box Labels; Tattoo Art from the Shamrock Social Club; Awkward Family Photos; Mexican Calendar Girls and other eye catching displays reflecting the diverse, cultural heritage of the Golden State.
Now the latest addition to the museum’s archive of unusual collections features "The Lost Negatives of Michael Friedman" a showcase of 60 never-before-seen, black and white photographs of iconic rock stars in the early stages of their careers.
These intimate portraits, dating back to the late 60s and early 70s, were taken by Michael Friedman, a former music executive and record producer who was the right hand man to premiere music manager and famed impresario, Albert Grossman, whose cream of the crop talent read like Who's Who in Rock.
“Albert had the best music management firm in the business in those days," says Friedman, highlighting their roster of high profile rockers including: The Band, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Odetta, The Electric Flag, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and James Cotton, among others. “It was a lot of work but it was also a lot of fun."
During his four year tenure with Grossman, Friedman’s one-on-one working relationship with their famous clientele enabled him to take hundreds of candid photographs in a variety of settings usually inaccessible to professional photographers. His close-up portrait of Mick Jagger, the centerpiece of the show and a study in serenity, is one such example.
“I was actually on stage just feet away from him at Madison Square Garden in 1969 when I took that picture.”
But the hoard of negatives, presumably lost over the subsequent decades, lay dormant for the past 50 years until Friedman’s wife, Donna, discovered the relics of her husband’s legacy tucked away in the attic of their Connecticut home.
"Last February, my wife was straightening up things in our attic and came across a box of old music business papers and there was an envelope in there. And lo and behold it was these negatives that had gone missing half a century ago. I never thought I would find them again."
Like finding buried treasure or a note in a bottle washed ashore signed Ferdinand Magellan, the negatives, once scanned and developed, produced a treasure trove of photos that turned out even better than Friedman could have imagined. They also delivered an unexpected jolt of nostalgia.
"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.”
Youth is the operative word in defining this rare batch of pictures which, like a time warp, captured the fresh faced images of these rock superstars when they were innocent and wrinkle free. “They’re all in their prime," says Tobi Smith, Executive Director of the museum. “They look hopeful, excited, and energetic. You can feel it," adding that the candid, behind the scenes shots, often catching the musicians off guard, reflect the full range of emotions.
Like the emotional shot of Janis Joplin who, he says, was easy to photograph because she was used to being around cameras all of the time: "Janis was all about what she was doing at that particular moment, so she wasn’t paying attention to me.”
Todd Rundgren was another story. “For better or for worse, Todd was the quintessential example of a guy who would not take advice from anybody. With guys like that you have to sort of be on their trip the whole time. It’s fascinating."
And his personal favorites? "I gravitated towards the people that I felt strongly about on a personal level like Garth Hudson, Robby Robertson and Levon Helm of the Band and Kris Kristofferson who was one of my favorite people I ever worked with. I liked taking pictures of him and Rita Coolidge because she was beautiful, talented, and so nice."
Thanks to Donna Friedman’s divine intervention, which kick-started the restoration process and her husband's legacy in the music business, these missing negatives are – at long last –out of storage and on display through mid July.
Next stop? Cleveland, Ohio where the collection is expected to be a permanent exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for all to see and enjoy.
After all, what good is a negative if it can’t be a positive experience?
The Lost Rock & Roll Negatives exhibition runs until July 15. For more Information visit MichaelFriedmanPhotography.com.