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When it comes to iconic photographs there are few more recognizable, universally appealing and world famous than images of the rarefied breed of rock stars that made it to the top of the industry. These cultural icons not only transformed the music of their times but they also had a huge effect on society as a whole.
The 1960s were one of the most revolutionary periods in the development of modern music and no one encapsulates the larger than life, and often tragic, personalities of the Rock stars of that era that Jimi Hendrix. From the very beginning of his short career Jimi Hendrix had mastered the guitar and quite literally blew the minds of his audiences.
Born in 1942, and dying aged just 27, with a mainstream career that lasted only 4 years, Hendrix is still considered to be one of the most influential electric guitarists of all time. Hendrix won multiple awards while he was alive including Rock Guitarist of the Year from Guitar Player Magazine in 1969 and in the 1990s he was put into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
One of the most famous incidents during his career was the evening in Monterey, California, in 1967, when Hendrix set his guitar on fire during a performance. The photograph was taken by Jim Marshall who went on to become one of the top music photographers of the decade and perfectly captures the essence of the explosive music that Hendrix is renowned for.
Having made his name and risen to be one of the most contentious and groundbreaking folk musicians of the time, Bob Dylan went ‘electric’ at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Stunning the audience by trading his signature acoustic for an electric guitar and performing a rock and roll style set he sent ripples through the folk scene. The audience at Newport were so offended that they booed and jeered throughout much of the show.
His loyal fans were horrified and for years would berate him at his own concerts, including the infamous incident in Manchester, England, in 1966, when someone in the audience shouted ‘Judas’ at Dylan on stage. The timing of the shout was such that it made it onto the recording of the concert and became known as the ‘Judas incident’ to which Dylan calmly replied, ‘I don’t believe you, you’re a liar’. The story is often retold, even to this day, by his most devoted fans and goes to show the momentous shock waves that his switch to electric guitar caused at the time.
In musical terms, the conversion from traditional folk to electric rock shook the counter cultural scene in America and although Dylan would often return to his folk roots in later albums, his electric guitar work is among the best of his generation. The mixing of rock and roll electric guitar with the complexity of folk lyrics helped to revive the genre and led to inspiring much of modern rock and roll.
Following the release of the band’s fifth album, ‘Houses of the Holy’, Led Zeppelin’s American tour in 1973 was an epic success that culminated in 3 nights at Madison Square Garden. The English rock band had hit the big time and were living the rock and roll lifestyle of legends, hiring a Boeing 720B passenger plane to travel around America. They had started out using a small private Falcon Jet but decided that it was far too prone to air turbulence and traded it in for the larger passenger jet onto which they sprayed ‘Led Zeppelin’ across the plane’s fuselage, renaming it ‘The Starship’.
The tour was a massive hit with fans all over the world and the Madison Street Garden gigs were recorded and made into a film which was released in 1976. The tour broke all box office records in the United States at the time and raised the bar for on stage performances, with the use of copious dry ice, colored lasers, mirrors, hanging disco balls as well as the stagecraft of the band.
The band’s wardrobe was extremely theatrical with Jimmy Page sporting a hummingbird jacket and John Paul Jones wearing an authentic matador’s coat in the Spanish style. All 3 shows in Madison Street Garden were sold out and the crowd experienced one of the best shows of the 1970s as rock history was made before their eyes.
Born in 1935, the King of Rock and Rock, Elvis Presley, is probably the most influential cultural icon of the 20th century. It’s hard to calculate his impact on the world of rock and roll, but even today, 50 years on from his death, there are estimated to be between 250,000 and 400,000 active Elvis Presley impersonators around the globe!
Having been born on a quiet farm in Mississippi and moved to Memphis in his teenage years, Elvis went on to conquer Vegas; at one point performing more than 600 shows in a row, often 2 a day! His energetic music and high paced performances were only equaled by his extravagant costumes that made him a legend. Elvis mixed musical themes from country, blues and rock n’ roll. He was highly controversial at certain points in his career for openly supporting black music and rights during a time when segregation was still in force in parts of the States.
Elvis died in 1977 and there was a genuine outcry of mourning from his fans who felt that his career was only in its early phases; but even if the King left the building before his fans were ready, the world would never be the same again.
David Bowie was a boundary pushing rock star who brought Glam Rock from the fringes into the very center of culture. His meteoric rise to fame was defined as much by his music as the strange personas that he developed alongside it. Bowie almost seemed to switch between his personas throughout his long and successful career which not only put him at the forefront of rock music but also played a major role in the fashion industry.
Bowie’s most famous incarnation was as ‘Ziggy Stardust’; who was the persona that performed some of the star’s best loved songs including ‘Starman’, ‘Is There Life on Mars’ and ‘Space Oddity’; the last being a word play on the classic Sci Fi film, ‘Space Odyssey 2001’ by Stanley Kubrick.
The bizarre work of Bowie inspired a whole generation of musicians and rock stars who would continue the trends that he set; including the incorporation of surreal imagery in their videos, extravagant high fashion hairstyles and dress codes and, of course, the punk-pop rock and roll that made him a household name around the world. The music of Bowie was as stunning and inexplicable as his personas; and he entranced several generations with his eclectic style and musical creations before his death in 2016.
The Rock Stars That Made The Future Their Own.
The rock stars of the past have done more than almost anyone else to shape our culture and society, inspiring generations of people to break away from outdated norms and express their inner creativity. Some of the great moments in the evolution of the artistic world have been captured in rare photographs that manage to encapsulate not only the rock star themselves, but a period in time that helped to shape the future we now live in.
Which is your favorite photo of a rock star?