How I wish older small color photographs would never fade. I was 18 when I shot the photograph of Frank Zappa. You can see be in the dressing room mirror – well sort of. If you could only see the color of my short sleeve sweater and the bright green and yellow floppy flower on the front. I imagine someone would have to pick you up off the floor because you were laughig so hard.
Here is the story of my photographing Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention during his Memphis concert:
I was keen on photography ever since I can remember, like 4-5 years old and started with my mother’s old Brownie camera. The cameras continued to upgrade until my grandfather gave me the best gift ever. He knew I was into photography and gave me his Leica35mm camera. How I wish I had that camera now. It vanashed years ago. Anyway, the camera was very heavy and difficult to hold still while taking a photo without a tripod. I persevered and got comfortable holding the heavy camera and taking low light photographs. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was to be my first rock band to shoot.
I made friends, or so I thought, with an individual in Memphis. His name was Jimmy. He was tall, thin and had very long blonde hair. In fact, he was my first gay friend. We hit it off. He had a friend who got us hooked up with Mid South Productions and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was their very first rock concert. BTW – I checked and Mid South Productions is still around in Memphis after all these years. The plan was that I would shoot the concert and then Jimmy would have the film developed. Being 18 I was rather naive and didn’t think to ask what happens after I give him the film.
I shot the concert. It was a blast having a stage pass that allowed me to go anywhere. Living in Memphis and down the street from Elvis, talking to Rufus Thomas and Issac Hayes on the phone made me feel that it was no big deal and I think I only have one of my stage passes. That one is around only because my sister took it out of the trash. One of my best friends babysat for the kids of the drummer for the Boxtops and Sam the Sham was about a mile away in Hernando’s Hideaway. Anyway after shooting the concert, I took photographs of Frank Zappa while he was in his dressing room. It was the only roll of color film I had and when I went to rewind and remove it broke in the camera. I went to a dark closet removed the film and kept it with me the rest of the night. It never made it to Jimmy.
Frank Zappa told me that he wanted to see the photographs when I got them back because he was working on a new album and might use some of the pictures on that album. Pretty exciting for an 18 year old. I also remember being the only female backstage at Mid South Productions first concert. After the concert everyone, band & roadies, were going to a nightclub until it closed. Then they would return to the hotel for a longer party. I remember Frank Zappa had a very large and tall body guard with him that night. The two of them, the guy who set it up (can’t remember his name) and I walked out of the dressing room only to discover everyone – and I mean everyone – had left and gone to the club. Mid South Productions actually left Frank Zappa behind. What a hoot that was! The next decision was who had a ride nice enough for Frank Zappa to set in and get to the club. Well, I had a 1969 Ford Thunderbird with suicide doors. Frank Zappa rode with me of all people! I got him to the club but don’t remember how he got back to the hotel. I had a very interesting conversation with Frank Zappa while we were at the club. We went back to the hotel and I sat in a corner most of the night people watching. That was fascinating to me. Oh where was Annie Lebbowitz when I needed a mentor. I put the camera down way to soon at all the concerts I shot and there were quite a few. We are just talking about Frank Zappa this time, but I will tell you another person I was behind the scenes with was David Bowie. That’s for another post.
I continued to shoot photographs of bands brought to Memphis by Mid South Productions for a year before moving to another state. The only photographs I have to show for it are the ones from the broken roll of film taken in the dressing room of Frank Zappa and the one black and white photograph of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention rehearsing before the concert. Whenever I asked about the photographs I would get one excuse after another and I was young but should have known better. I should have talked to the father of one of my good friends. He was an assistant district attorney who probably could have helped. I got word that either Jimmy or a male friend of his was taking a portfolio of my photographs (the ones I never saw) around town claiming they were his and he was getting photo shoots from them. The big kick in the butt was that he didn’t even know how to load a camera. I decided that he would be found out sooner or later. Instead I moved and got a lot smarter. The person who told me about my photographs being stolen and used is the person who gave me the black and white. I have decided to post it since it may fade in the future and I do not have the negative. At least if anyone should recognize it they will know the person who claimed to shoot it was a faker. Just call me the Almost Famous Photographer. If he were alive, Frank Zappa would now know why he never got a copy of my photographs…..
I forgot to mention that I’ve always gotten a kick out of the bottled Coke sitting on the stage floor. Hey Coca Cola wanna talk?
It’s funny the memories of youth that ring out when thinking about and reliving an event from our past.