First 'Rolling Stone' photographer revisits SF

December 5, 2011 6:20:24 PM PST
"Rolling Stone" Magazine changed the music business. Its first photographer was Baron Wolman. His new book recaptures those days. It is called "The Rolling Stone Years."

The Haight and Ashbury neighborhood, where Wolman lived in the 1960s, was a studio on the street for his camera.

"It was phenomenal. everything was happening," said Wolman. "In those days you could get so close to the performers, so close to the stage."

Because of that, there is an essence that you don't find in photos today.

"We were really reflecting pictures of how these people really were, who they were as people, because nobody knew? before 'Rolling Stone' there was no way to know who they were or what they were like," said Wolman.

A kid out of Cal named Jann Wenner wanted to start the magazine. He approached Wolman.

"'Do you want to be the photographer?' and I said, 'Yeah, why not? I'll be the photographer,' and he said, 'Do you have any money?' So he asked me for money and I said, 'No, no, I'll shoot for free in exchange for stock,'" said Wolman.

Eventually he sold his stock. Even shooting for free, he has a huge archive that makes up his book collection. One of his favorites was Janis Joplin.

"Every time I photographed her I would try to bring out the light side. I would say, 'Janis, this is not like going to the dentist or anything like that.' She would break into this great smile, which I loved. But one time, I was shooting Big Brother at the Palace of Fine Arts and they showed up and Janis was going like this [covering half of her mouth] and I couldn't get her to smile. Looking like that, I said, 'What's the matter Janis?' She said, 'I'd just been to the dentist.' So there goes my line," said Wolman.

Wolman visited the Grateful Dead house on Ashbury. His first Rolling Stone assignment was to cover a 'Dead' news conference. When it was over he got them to pose on the steps. The book has been a chance for him to reflect on a remarkable life.

"Just look at this world that I've been working in. Man, it's been so much fun," said Wolman.

Wolman signed copies of new book Monday night at Osha Thai Restaurant in Embarcadero 4.

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