SF photographer gives inside look at real world of rock and roll

What it's like to photograph celebs for a living? SF's Jay Blakesberg has a VIP pass into the world of rock and roll.
March 3, 2014 5:51:38 PM PST
We're taking a look behind the lens that captures iconic moments, introducing you to a man who helps make music history without playing a single note.

In the world of rock and roll on road, nothing trumps access. If you have it, you don't stand in line. You don't even need a ticket.

Ask Jay Blakesberg about access. He described it to us, saying, "Feeling the energy that comes from the stage is a rush."

And in his case, it's renewable. He's on a first name basis with bands, earned due to specialized talent.

Wayne: "Do you play piano?"
Jay: "I don't play piano."
Wayne: "Guitar?"
Jay: "I do not play guitar."
Wayne: "Drum?"
Jay: "I do not play drums."
Wayne: "What do you play?"
Jay: "I play the camera."

Does he ever.

Chances are, you don't know Jay Blakesberg's name, but his work? Iconic. Part of an ever growing archive.

"I think this is visual anthropology," he said.

This night, it's a packed Fox Theater in Oakland for Gov't Mule, an offshoot of The Allman Brothers Band, featuring Warren Haynes. Jay has been sticking cameras in his face since the early 1980s.

Until tonight, Warren had not seen the latest pictures in Jay's eighth and latest book called "JAM: Photographs by Jay Blakesberg." It's an insider's, often backstage look at concerts as performance art.

"I am capturing energy and I'm capturing music in a fraction of a second," Jay said.

Pictures like those do not happen by accident. Jay may shoot 2,000 in one evening alone. He might keep 100 of them after editing.

Often, you'll glimpse of him on stage in the midst of it all. Yes, musicians give him that much access.

Wayne: "How many guys are there like him?"
Warren: "A handful."

Jay began doing this when he was 16 years old, just a kid with his dad's camera at a Grateful Dead concert, who ultimately made friends with the band, and years later, earned enough trust to shoot a famous portrait of Jerry Garcia.

"I had a couple of minutes to shoot in that tiny cramped office," Jay said.

In truth, no picture happens easily. Jay had a special one in mind for at the Fox Theater, that night.

"I'm going to shoot 10 pictures if I can," Jay said. "If they sit that long."

Sharing the stage with Gov't Mule was Robby Krieger of The Doors. It's a once-in-a-lifetime meeting of 1960s rock royalty and new millennial southern comfort. If only Jay could get all of them together in a small room.

For 90 seconds, the man who makes an art of blending into backgrounds took total control.

And that's what access really buys -- one more small but significant moment for the archive.


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