Monday, January 7, 2002
Photographer captures soul of music on film
Waterman has compiled one of the world's finest unpublished photo collections
By Jeremy Hudson
OXFORD - Flipping through his private photograph collection, Dick Waterman stops and selects a few from the cardboard box they are stored in.
He spreads the photos of rock legend Mick Jagger taking harmonica lessons from blues man Junior Wells out on the floor beneath him and explains the story behind them.
"I don't usually like sequence shots because they take up too much space," he said as he points to a picture of Jagger playing the harmonica in front of Wells. "But here, you can see Junior take the harmonica from Mick and tell him, 'You can't think the blues. You've got to feel the blues.'
"Eventually, Mick was playing pretty good," Waterman said.
It's candid photos such as these that make up what would be considered one of the finest unpublished photograph collections in the world. Waterman has amassed the collection during his more than 40 years of living around the musical scene. Shots of a young, smiling Bob Dylan, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, Ray Charles and hundreds of other musical legends are included in the collection and Waterman has stories to go along with each and every one.
Those stories began to pile up during the 1960s when the Plymouth, Mass. native began attending folk concerts in the Rhode Island area.
"In the 60s, everything fell under the folk music umbrella because it was before all of the music was so labeled," he said. "I went to shows around New Port (Rhode Island) and people would be there playing bluegrass, Cajun, blues, rock and all kinds of different things. Everyone would get three or four songs each and you got to hear a lot of different genres at those shows."
Rediscovered blues men
Among the mix of guitars and drums, the soulful sounds of Mississippi blues men appealed to Waterman.
"There wasn't a large market for blues performers in the South during the 1950s and 60s, so many of them played in the North and their sound really gripped me," he said.
Waterman began listening to records of Delta blues musicians and his love led him to venture south to find Son House, who played in the Delta during the 1940s and then disappeared from the music scene.
"He (House) never had a lot of success on his own, but he served as a mentor to Muddy Waters and many others," Waterman said. "I went to the Delta in the late 60s looking for Mr. House, but ironically enough I found him in Rochester, New York. Once I found him, I had to find work for him.
"I had to convince him that there was still an audience for his music and I wanted to help him get his career back on track," he said. "I began booking shows for him and I guess I did a pretty good job because other blues musicians began coming to me asking me to book shows for them."
Within a few years he was booking shows for blues legends like "Mississippi" John Hurt, Skip James, Booker White, Fred McDowell and Arthur "Big Boy" White. His time became so filled with booking shows he decided to open Avalon Productions, the first booking agency ever formed to represent blues artists.
"The concert scene has changed a lot since then," he said. "When I first met Mr. House in 1964, there were no other blues agents out there. I used to sit in front of a type writer and pound out letters to send to people hoping to get a show set up.
"We would travel all across the North and we never even thought of playing anywhere south of St. Louis, if we even played there at all," he said. "There just wasn't a market for a blues musician at all and that's why all of them relocated to the North. They were not eager to return to the South."
A few years after the birth of Avalon Productions, Waterman heard a young woman named Bonnie Raitt, who played at clubs around the Radcliffe College, a part of Harvard. He noticed her talent and took over managing her career for the next 18 years.
"I thought she had enough potential to go professional," he said. "When I met her she was 18 years old and she needed a sense of guidance. She could sing and play well, but she needed someone to steer her in the right direction."
After parting ways with Raitt before she achieved the musical fame she would later find, Waterman was finding a difficult time booking acts for his blues musicians as well.
"I tried promoting blues shows in clubs around this area and in Memphis, but there didn't seem to be a lot of interest," he said. "Everyone told me I needed to listen to the college radio station and learn about some of the new alternative groups. But I don't care anything about Better Than Ezra.
"Finally, I just decided I had had enough and gave it up," he said.
Just had a camera over my shoulder
His years of traveling the world with his musical acts led to hundreds of friendships with some of the worlds biggest stars and opened the door for him to take thousands of photos of them on stage and off.
"I'm fortunate that I was able to get stage access," he said. "It was much simpler back then. Now you have to have the right I.D., with the right color, with the right date just to get backstage. Back then the backstage area was just a line painted on the grass or a piece of string.
"I just had a camera over my shoulder and while my guy was on stage taking care of business I would shoot what I saw," he said. "It was something I did whenever my job of being a blues manager was over."
His years of traveling the globe with musical groups are captured in photos stored in binders and boxes in his Oxford home. He had kept his photos to himself for years until he was giving a lecture at Ole Miss when his collection was discovered.
"The people saw these shots and just thought they were great," he said. "They told me I had to do something with them."
He plans to put his photography in a book form, but doesn't want to put out just a plain picture book.
"I want to put out a book of my stories to go along with the pictures," he said. "I just need a really good editor to help me put together my stories about the artists. I think because of my experiences with different types of music it wouldn't be just a niche book, it would be a true music collectible."
His work is currently on display at A Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans and The Govinda Gallery in the Georgetown section of Washington.
He is so acclaimed for his famed shots that he is the only member of the Blues Hall of Fame who was neither a performing musician or a record company executive.
"That's something that I'm really proud of," he said. "That says to me that I left a mark on the business."
For more pix go here http://bluesnet.hub.org/waterman/ and stay tuned for more stones pix to be posted here, one specially kept for a board header with Junior Wells on the anniversary of his death on January 15