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Music Photographer Elliott Landy Readies “Contacting The Band” The Band Photos – Never Before Seen!

To most of us, Woodstock was an event that is a part of music history taken place during the summer of 1969. August 15- August 18, 1969. One photographer was there taking pictures of the event. I had a chance to talk to Elliot Landy for ballbuster music, who shared some stories and spoke about his project contacting the band a photographic book.

 

Angel Alamo: Tell us about your book?

 

Elliott Landy: Okay. The book that I’m trying to publish of my band’s photographs, of my pictures of The Band, I call it, Contacting The Band. They are contact sheets of many of my most well-known images taken in 1968, 1969, when I photographed them for their first two albums, Music from Big Pink, and then the second album titled, The Van. These are, contact sheets are what we made in the old days, I never thought I’d say that, in the early days, when you shot film, and there were 36 pictures on a roll of film. Then you took those 36 pictures, and you press them against photographic paper and expose it to light, and you have one eight by 10-inch print showing all 36 photos on a single sheet of paper. So that’s what a contact sheet was.

Then we went over it with a magnifying glass. Those pictures are too small to see well without a magnifying glass. So we’d go over with the magnifying glass and mark it up with a crayon, with a white or a red or yellow pencil, it didn’t matter which really, and choose the best picture that way. So that’s what a contact sheet was. And we don’t use those anymore digitally. Digitally you would look at them on the computer screen and select that way. So these contact sheets are a history of the photo session because they’re in order one, two, three, they’re numbered. So you see which one came first and what the scenario was, really what happened. It’s like a documentary of that photo session. Not a real documentary, but a history, a tracing of the events.

 

Angel Alamo:

I saw that you had photographed Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin. Back then, it was impossible to think that they would become as huge as they are. But how was it shooting them at that time?

 

Elliott Landy:

Well, I was photographing. I’ve only ever photographed music that I liked. When I don’t like the music, I can’t take pictures. I loved the pictures of … When you see a picture I have from those years, it was because I really liked the band. At the same time, I wasn’t a music photographer. I was working with underground newspapers to help try and stop the Vietnam War, and one day pretty much by accident, I passed the theater, I’m sorry, not pretty much, one day by chance, or one evening by chance I passed the theater in New York’s lower east side called the Anderson Theater, and on the marquee, it said “Country Joe and the light fish show.” I had no clue what that was about. I walked over to the box office thing, a curious type, and I heard this rock and roll music coming out loud raucous music.

 

Elliott Landy:

I showed my police press pass, and they let me go inside without buying a ticket. I stood at the of the auditorium, I had my cameras with me, and I just stood there, aghast actually in a good sense, or amazed is better than aghast. I think you use the word aghast when it’s bad. I stood there amazed at how beautiful it was because what a light show is about is there are a group of people who are keeping time to the music with colored lights and mixing colored oils and colored water, which don’t mix and you get these paramecium looking things and projectors and super eight film projectors, 16-millimeter slide projectors. Who knows what, basically they did anything they want. So it was really like having a visual light band playing in addition to the music.

 

Elliott Landy:

Jimi Hendrix Experience

And I wanted to go up close to see the musicians playing better. So I took out my camera, and I walked up to the front of the stage, and I started taking pictures. It was that easy in those years to do that. So I was hooked on that experience. And then the next week or maybe two weeks later was Big Brother and the Holding Company starring Janis Joplin. So I went back to that and then I began taking pictures at, not only at the Anderson Theater, the Anderson Theater stopped doing concerts when the Fillmore East opened across the street and when I was publishing these pictures of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison and Jimmy Hendricks and Frank’s Zappa in the underground newspaper I was working with, I felt like I was proselytizing to readers.

 

Elliott Landy:

I felt like I was saying, look at this beautiful new way of living, this beautiful new way of being. Where you can be free, you can dance anywhere you want to dance to you. You go down there, and someone offers you a joint, and it was really a counter-culture statement for me saying that the way we’ve been brought up, which was that marijuana was illegal, which was that you couldn’t have sex when you want to. All the things that are now accepted, you can’t be gay, and so on, you have to be like everybody else. The whole thing that the 60s was about, which I won’t go into now. I felt like I was trying to show people how beautiful it was. Part of that duty was the music, for sure. That was a very big attractant to the culture, to being part of the culture around it.

Elliott Landy:

So for me, it was a really great synthesis or combination of things where I would really be enjoying the concert, and I’d be able to get up close and go backstage, and I was really into the photographs and taking them. For me, the photograph was always primary, the visual form. It didn’t really matter whether the person was famous or not. As a matter of fact, the people I photographed then weren’t yet famous for the most part, but it was the form of it. And secondarily was the who it was.

 

 Landy:

So in those years, I picked out pictures I liked me from the contact sheet and also shot taller slide. And that was all I showed. So in later years, when these people became famous and record companies or book publishers or whatever want to see what else I got, which to me sometimes are not top five pictures, but even I recognize, which I wish sometimes are top-level photographs of the person. To me, a photograph is formed before anything else and then who the form is of or what the form is of. So and in later years, I recognize that even though it may not be a super deluxe quality photograph from the artist’s photography standpoint, it’s still really, really, really great to look at because of who the person is. That’s what’s important. That’s why I take photographs is because I want to share things that I think are beautiful with people to look at it.

 

Angel Alamo:

How did you get to be the official photographer for Woodstock?

 

Elliott Landy:

Well, after I … let’s see. Gosh, I took photographs of these people performing and then I also needed to earn money, because nobody was paying me to take those photographs. I was paying for my own film processing, and I got an assignment to photograph Big Brother and The Holding Company with Janis Joplin from New York Magazine. Through that, I met Albert Grossman, and he saw some of my photographs of Janice, and it’s a longer story than this, I don’t know. How much time do you have? What are we doing here? I don’t know.

 

Angel Alamo:

Plenty of time.

 

Elliott Landy:

Pretty much the first concert I photographed was before this Country Joe and the fish light show event, but it was a memorial to Woody Guthrie, and it was at Carnegie Hall in early 1968, and it was the first time that Bob Dylan was playing publicly in at least a year, maybe longer, because he had had a motorcycle accident and hadn’t been seen in public and people thought that he had died possibly. So I had gotten tickets from Bob Dylan’s manager’s office by writing them a letter and saying I was a photographer with a newspaper with an underground newspaper called The Rat. They sent me two tickets, which was a completely sold-out concert. The tickets were the eighth-row center, the best seats in the theater, so they sent me two tickets. I only asked for one, but they sent me two.

 

Elliott Landy:

So I invited the girlfriend to come with me, and I walk into Carnegie Hall with the cameras around my neck, of course, I’m there to take pictures, I told them I was going to take pictures. A guard stops me and says, no pictures allowed in Carnegie Hall. I took out my press pass, and I took out the letter from Albert’s office, and the guard said, sorry, no pictures allowed. Said you’ve got to go check your cameras, and he points to the back of the auditorium. So I walked back to the auditorium, and we walk outside into the street again, and I take one camera, and I take the lens off at night. I put the lens in the body and a couple of rolls of film in my girlfriend’s bag, and I said, just hide these when you come in again and check the rest of my cameras.

 

Elliott Landy:

I waited throughout the concert, there were a lot of people playing besides Dylan, and I weighted for him to the play. When he started playing, I started taking pictures, waiting for vocal, loud parts in the music so my shutter wouldn’t bother anybody. At some point, I see on the left-hand side of me, a woman waving to me, telling me to stop taking pictures, and ignored her. And then, at some point, she calls the guard, and the guard starts waving to me to stop taking pictures, and I ignored him also. And then the guard starts to walk around right in front of the stage and come up the center aisle to get me out of there to stop me from taking pictures. So when I saw him do that, I looked over, and I said, “Oh, okay, you want me to stop taking pictures?” Not that saying this, of course, but I would say, “Oh, okay.”

 

Elliott Landy:

I put my camera down and just sat and watched the concert. But they kept waving at me. They wanted me to come out, so I knew they were then going to try and take the film for me. So I took the film out of my camera and gave it to my girlfriend and put in a blank roll of film, and when the music stopped in between songs we walked out, and I went outside the exit door with a guard and a lady pulled me too, and there was maybe five, seven, eight people there. In front of the group of people was Albert Grossman. And he’s saying to me, “What are you doing?” Really annoyed with me, really, really annoyed and nothing violent, nothing like that, but just annoyed.

 

Elliott Landy:

Canned Heat

I said, “Well, I had permission from your office to take pictures, and here’s the letter.” I showed him the letter, he says, “I don’t care, see the signs? Says no pictures allowed in Carnegie Hall.” I said, “Well I didn’t know,” and blah blah blah. And he said, “You’ve got to give me the film.” And I said, “I’m not going to give you the film. I don’t have to give you this film.” So I’m going back and forth was going about this. And I see that the same woman who spotted me in the beginning who is in front of on the back of this little group that is surrounding me, she is trying to him that I switched the film because she also saw me change to film. Actually, her boyfriend was Daniel Kramer, and they later got married. He was a photographer who photographed long before I get.

 

Elliott Landy:

So I guess she knew a lot about photography. She saw me switch the film and everything, and every time she would say, “He switched the film,” I would get louder towards Albert. I said, “You’re not going to get this film. I don’t have to give you this film.” Whenever she opened her mouth and talked, I raised my voice so he wouldn’t notice her. At some point I took the camera, which is hanging on a strap around my neck, I held it in two hands, I held it up to him, and I said, “You’re not going to get this film,” knowing he was going to grab the camera and take the film out, which is just what he did.

 

Elliott Landy:

So then he grabbed the film and said, “Get out of here.” And then maybe two, three months later, after this was when I got the assignment from New York Magazine to photograph Janice Joplin. And Janis Joplin was managed by Albert. So one of the things I did, I followed them around. I went to Detroit with them, and by the way, that story has never been published. It’s an interesting thing, pictures from it have it published here or there. But the actual story itself was never published. So I was up in Albert’s office because the band went up there and they would chat, who knows, talking. And at some point, John Simon, who was producing Big Brother’s album and was also the producer of Music of Big Pink and The Band albums, came over to me and he said, “You have to leave now because we’re going to talk about business and you can’t hear, you can’t be present for that.”

 

Elliott Landy:

So I didn’t think anything of it, because John was very nice and I packed my camera’s up and I went, and I left. I saw a Big Brother again after that a few times, and I don’t remember exactly. So then maybe forward two, three weeks after that, Big Brother is playing in Club Generation, which later became Electric Lady then, there was a nightclub on 8th Street just off 6th Avenue in a basement, and it’s a very loud band, full-tilt rock and roll, and very, very low feeling play. So you couldn’t hear anything. You couldn’t even hear the music well actually, but you certainly couldn’t talk to anyone else. So I’m photographing from the back of the audience. I don’t recall there being seats there, and I feel somebody tapped me on my back, and it’s Albert Grossman.

 

Elliott Landy:

He signals to me, he waves to me, like to follow him. I didn’t know if he’s going to throw him the out again. I have no idea what he wanted. There was no aggression, so I wasn’t worried about it, didn’t feel threatened at all. But I had no idea what he wanted. So we go to the back of the room, and we go into a utility closet, and he said to me, “Are you free next weekend?” And I said, “Yeah, why?” And he said, “Well, I have a new band that we need some pictures of.” And I said, “Oh, what’s their name? “And he said, “well, they don’t have a name yet.” He says, “They are maybe The Crackers, or maybe we’re not going to give them a name because they don’t want to be pigeonholed into playing only one type of music. They want to be freed up to be musically experimental. So we don’t even know if they’re ever going to get a name and they don’t want to be cutesy famous.” So I said, “Yeah, I’m free to do that.” He told me to go meet some of the guys in the recording studio where they were mixing the record.

 

Elliott Landy:

So a few days later, I went up there, and I met Robbie Robertson first. He was generally the spokesperson for the group. He was the one that I dealt with whenever we were talking business or creative choices. I don’t mean that he chose which pictures by himself, but he discussed what the guys in the band felt about the pictures with me. So he was the spokesperson really for them. And then he liked the photographs I showed him, even though they were performance shots and they weren’t looking for performance shots. But he really liked them. Obviously, we got along, I guess because he then invited me into the mixing room. I walked into the mixing room, and I believe I heard the introduction to Chess Fever. I believe that was what the first band music I heard.

 

Elliott Landy:

So anyway, I then went up to Toronto. So that’s the end of that story. And that was the beginning of my photographing The Band. From that, I got pretty well known. It was Music from Big Pink and then The Band Album, and then when Bob Dylan needed some pictures, he called on me because he was friendly with the band and so on. We had a very good, very close relationship with the guys in The Band. When I say close, I don’t mean intimately discussing their music. It was really never about their music; it was just comfortable. I could take pictures whenever I wanted to, and because I never got in their way, I was always like a fly on the wall. I never wanted to impress them with who I was as a person. I never needed to chat with them. I just left them completely alone and hovered around and took pictures.

 

Elliott Landy:

We got along because of that, I think. They said to me that anytime you want to stay over, you can crash in the living room. Just come on up, don’t be shy, and all that. So it was really close. So then Bobby asked me to do the picture for him of the cover of the Saturday Night Post and then National Skyline after that.

 

Elliott Landy:

woodstock festival

Swami Satchidananda Woodstock Festival 1969

So anyway, my pictures were pretty well known, certainly around Woodstock… But in general, I was one of them, I believe, one of the most well-thought-of photographers in those years. Just, I also Van Morrison’s Moondance. So anyway, I was living, I moved up to Woodstock after The Band was living here. After I started working with them awhile, I decided I would move up here and keep a studio in Manhattan, meaning a studio apartment, not a photography studio. So in Woodstock, one day, my sister introduced me to Michael Lang. She was friends with his girlfriend, and we just used to hang out around the village green and chat. I had no idea what he did at all. He knew what I did.

 

Elliott Landy:

One day he called up, and he said, “Can I talk to you?” He called up, and he asked me if we could meet. So he rode over to my house on his motorcycle, and he said, “I’m producing a concert, do you want to photograph it?” And I said, “Well, who’s playing?” And he gave me a list of people, I’m sure, that were the famous people, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do that.” And he says, “Okay, great.” He says, “I’ll let you know when you come to take some pictures.” And he drove away on his motorcycle. And then a few months later he called, I don’t remember the timing of this exactly, but he called, and he took me over to Wallkill, which was the site that they thought they were going to have the concert on. And then the town wouldn’t let him do it. But I took some pictures of him on the grounds of Wallkill riding on the tractor and stuff like that. So that’s how I became the official photographer of Woodstock.

 

Elliott Landy:

And I say, he didn’t say to me, do you want to be the official photographer? But in fact, I was photographing for him and also for the two financial guys as well. But I didn’t get any money. It was just like everything else I did in those years. Well, with Michael, there wasn’t even a handshake. He just said, “Okay, man, I’ll call you.” And I said, “Good.” And then I showed up twice, and that was it. There was no business arranged before that. So that’s really how it happened. It was a very organic, natural thing, an easy thing to happen.

 

Elliott Landy:

In later years, I realized, hey, I was the official photographer there. I was the one who was asked by the producers to take pictures of it. So I did that. And then I found out later on that Henry was also brought there, but he was brought there by the production manager or something like that. I’m not sure. So it was really two of us officially photographing, so to speak. But in the ’60s, there was no such thing as official. No, sorry, in the ’60s counter culture. Sorry, I’ll say that again. In the ’60s counter culture, there was no such thing as official. It was just floating. I would say free-floating.

 

Angel Alamo:

I saw your pictures of The Doors, and I guess because I’m a Jim Morrison fan, I’m always looking at his pictures, just kind of admiring, like wow, he was this great talent that we just wish was still around. Do you have any stories about photographing Jim Morrison or The Doors?

 

Elliott Landy:

I don’t actually. I don’t. Although The Doors were one of my absolute favorite groups, and they still are actually. I never had interactions with them personally. I photographed them twice, once in Hunter College, and I remember I stayed there after the audience left, and Jim and Robby Krieger just came out. They were hanging around the instruments. I didn’t talk to them at all, but I was just down at the bottom of the stage, at the stage and they were up on stage just hanging out, chatting and so on. That’s really the closest I ever came to interacting with them. Because I was basically shy, I didn’t reach out to people, I didn’t push myself on people. And right now I’ve created a new way, I’ve created an app that allows you to mix and match music and video in a new way. One of the things I wanted is to use a version of Light My Fire for films that I make like that.

 

Elliott Landy:

So I was in contact with The Door’s management now and in contact with Robbie Krieger a little bit, and if that’s been interrupted by the cultural breakdown we’re having, but I expect to pick up on that and seeing their music with my films is really outrageous. My website is, you’ve got my email address, right?

Elliott Landy:

 

Okay. Well, actually that’s better. My website is my name, www.elliottlandy.com, and on there is a mailing list. If you put your name on that, we hope it’s going to be out sometime later this year. But also if you send me an email, if you don’t mind, I publish, I did a Kickstarter campaign was financed a book of my photographs of The Band. And at that time, it was the highest-funded photography book in Kickstarter’s history. So I thought, well, it would be really interesting to put out a book of contact sheets, but in large contact sheets, contact sheets are pretty small, the normal-sized ones. The Kickstarter website is https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thebandbook2/elliott-landy-contacting-the-band

 

Elliott Landy:

Johnny Winter

So the first band book I put out is 12 by 12-inch pages. I decided to make it the same size. It’s the companion to the first one. So the contact sheets are really enlarged, they’re larger than normal, and they’re pretty easy to see actually without having to use a magnifying glass. So I’ve picked out, let’s say, a contact sheet and then showing one or two enlargements from it, and talk about the circumstances of it as best I can remember. Maybe get other people to write about that stuff also, I’m not sure. So let’s see. Right, so I did a Kickstarter campaign to finance it also, and that was doing really well at first. And then all this stuff with the virus happened and the economy, and I haven’t gotten a pledge in two days and stuff.

 

Elliott Landy:

It’s been very slow. When I sent out a mailing, I get some more pledges and friends of mine pledge, but it really, really needs help. It really needs it, and you know people who, the book itself costs $85 to get, and it’s a gorgeous book. It’s beautifully printed, or it will be beautifully printed. The first book was beautifully printed, and in addition, there some rewards available. Like lithos at a lower price than I normally sell. A litho is a high-quality poster that I make of my band photographs. But really it looks like a photographic print, that good. It’s not cheap looking like a poster would be, and I sign those also. Because they’re really prints. You can call it a poster, but it’s not a poster, it’s a print. I supervise every one of them to make sure that they’ve done exactly right and all that. But they’re much less expensive than a print. My prints start at about $600, and this lithos cost about normally 150, and with this project, if you sign up, if you get a book, I think the poster is about a hundred dollars in addition to the book, something like that. But it’s much cheaper.

 

Elliott Landy:

So if people could go to Kickstarter.com and look up my name, that’d be great. And my website is just my name, ElliotLandry.com, and I’ll probably have some specials sale going on too, but I don’t know. It’s going to be a great book. I hope it exists.

 

Elliott Landy:

I don’t know if I’ll get back to it again. This Kickstarter is taking so much time to do a video for it, and everything and I have the time now, I’ve got people set to write it, to write the book, and if it doesn’t happen now, I don’t know if I’ll revisit it in the future because I have so many other projects I love. This was my first period of this musical saga, the ’50s, and ’60s, and then I’ve got many things. If you go to my website, you’ll see the various other things, not to mention my films and my music and my interactive music video app and so on.