Steve Caraway loves music so much that he’s compelled to capture it. His exhibit, It’s Only Rock & Roll: Images of an Era, on display at the Metro Gallery in Reno City Hall until Sept. 17, collects lovingly taken photos of rock legends from 1969 to 1976.
Caraway entered the field of concert photography purely because of his love for the music.
“When I was in high school I used to play in bands, and we used to go to the shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco,” he says. “I bought a 35-millimeter camera, and I just started bringing my camera to document what I was seeing at the shows. It was no big deal then—nobody cared, the artist didn’t care.”
The photos are of bracing intimacy. They feature artists engaged in live creation as well as in candid and personal settings—one photo captures a moment between Carlos Santana and B.B. King in which they seem genuinely amazed at each other’s existence. Other photos depict Robbie Robertson of The Band, Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Tim Buckley, Jeff Beck, and David Crosby with Neil Young, among others.
The King and Santana photo has an intriguing story behind it. Caraway was in the headliner’s dressing room with King when Santana suddenly appeared with his wife.
“I would say there were about a dozen people in the dressing room,” says Caraway. “And B.B. said to all of us, ‘Everybody’s taking pictures of me—I want to take pictures of you.’”
Caraway, Santana, King and company all stood in a circle and rotated a camera around to take pictures.
“For years I wanted Carlos to have a print of that shot,” says Caraway. “A friend of mine who was working on an article with Carlos, he showed him the shot, and Carlos freaked out. And I finally got a copy to him. He sent me back a personal note and a signed copy of that shot. I was honored.”
For the most part, it’s one picture per artist, but The Who receives a little more attention—the gallery displays both a shot of Keith Moon and a shot of Pete Townshend. The Who is Caraway’s favorite band.
“I had a very good friend that went over to England,” Caraway remembers. “He started sending me these letters about these bands: The Small Faces, The Who, The Move, etcetera. And he started to send me these Brunswick 45s of The Who. … I finally saw them, and I was just blown away.”
Though sometimes Caraway was cleared to shoot—he’s taken photos for the Bill Graham Foundation and for Guitar Player Magazine—sometimes he had to use his own ingenuity to take such intimate shots.
“For the shot of Robert Plant, I was using probably a 200-meter lens,” he says. “All I could do was walk under the lip of the stage and then back up into the crowd. It’s amazing that you can’t see the debris up his nose, it’s so close.”
Others were shot in very casual, one-on-one settings with the artist, including the photo of Charlie Daniels against his tour bus. Caraway was asked by a mutual friend and publicity agent to take photos of Daniels.
“It was a big deal at the time—all these artists had these huge new buses,” Caraway says.
The shot is candid and almost wasn’t captured.
“They were getting ready to get on the bus to go to Arizona, and I was wrapping things up,” he says. “Charlie pulled out his pocket watch, and I just snapped that shot. It was the last shot on the roll, and right after I took it, they got on the bus and left.”
Caraway had wanted to bring these pictures together for a long time.
“I’ve been living with these images for 40 years,” Caraway says. “For some of these shots, the film was developed in garages. So it was a real grassroots effort to put this together. I’m no Jim Marshall—he’s probably the best rock photographer—but I’m glad I have the opportunity to get my stuff out there.”