the Backroom

Donovan, Carl Bernstein and The Washington Post, 50 Years Ago Today

by Chris Murray on October 2, 2017  |  Leave a Comment »

It was 50 years ago today that The Washington Post published a review of Donovan’s concert at the DAR Constitution Hall, written by none other than Carl Bernstein, who several years later would win the Pulitzer Prize and who came to be known as one of America’s most renowned investigative journalists for his reporting of the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as President of the United States.

Carl Bernstein at The Washington Post in the 1970s. Getty Images

I was at Donovan’s concert in 1967, and it led to some remarkable developments in my own personal and professional life. Carl Bernstein wrote in his review of “the incredible musical gifts of Donovan.” Bernstein also wrote of “the sheer fascination of Donovan’s dazzling vocal and instrumental arrangements, the haunting and mystical words to his songs, and his breathy yet immensely soothing voice.”

Bernstein ended his review with these words: “His songs, which blend an amazing amalgam of styles from cool jazz to rock to folk, are among the best being written today. Often the words to Donovan’s compositions assume a quality unmatched by any of his pop contemporaries, as when he sings of “fishing for time/with a wishing line/and throwing it back in the sea.” ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ (unrelated to the other song of the same name), ‘Mellow Yellow,’ ‘The Hampstead Incident’ are among his best. Similarly, his musical arrangements, which combine harpsichord, electric guitar, flute, drums and a string quartet are of unmatched beauty.”

Donovan, copyright Donovan Archive.

Bernstein was right. Donovan’s is a compelling and singular voice whose music and songs became a central part of the zeitgeist of our times.

I was not surprised when I watched the just-released documentary film The Vietnam War, by the genius filmmaker and historian Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, that two of Donovan’s songs, ‘The War Drags On’ and ‘Sunshine Superman,’ were used in Burns’ and Novick’s epic film as part of the soundtrack.

The day after the concert, which is the day Bernstein’s review was published, I went to the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue, where Donovan was staying, and found myself knocking on Donovan’s hotel door. His father Donald answered the door and I will never forget him, a congenial Scotsman dressed in a three-piece suit with a wonderful timbre to his voice, welcoming me into the hotel suite. He called into the next room saying, “Donnie, there are some fans here to see you.” I was attending Georgetown University at the time and two of my friends from GU were with me. Donovan came out and we sat together in the sitting room of the suite. It was wonderful to be in the presence of the young troubadour and I asked him what music he was enjoying at the moment. He told me he was enjoying a song called ‘Itchycoo Park’ by The Small Faces. Later on, I went to listen to that song and sure enough it was a terrific piece of work by The Small Faces that did embody the joy of those mystical days.

The Small Faces, Itchycoo Park / I’m Only Dreaming, 1967

I then asked Donovan what he was “into” at the moment and he brought out a copy of a golden-looking hardback book called The Science of Being and the Art of Living by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He opened the book and I’ll never forget the peacock feather he had resting on the title page.

The Science of Being and the Art of Living by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (International SRM Publications, 1967).

Donovan went on to introduce me to the idea of meditation. He actually drew a sketch of how meditation works through the repetition of sacred sound vibrations or mantras, and how it brought one’s consciousness to a deep and settled place within. He also drew a little rocket and a church and explained how in Western culture, everyone is looking outward to find serenity, but that the real peace is deep within.

Meditation drawing by Donovan, 1967. Copyright Govinda Gallery Archive.

I saved that drawing and somehow it survived all my years of moving and change. I present it here as an illustration to this story.

That meeting with Donovan was the start of what has become an enduring association and friendship, both personal and professional.

Govinda Gallery went on to present the first exhibition of Donovan’s Sapphographs. I then produced a festival in County Cavan, Ireland called Donovan Days, which over three days featured a concert, exhibition and screening of the new documentary film Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan about the life of Donovan and his muse Linda Lawrence. More recently Donovan and Govinda Gallery partnered with Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies, creating Sapphofests in Athens, Nafplio and Washington, D.C.

Donovan with his wife and muse, Linda Lawrence.

It was also my great pleasure to accompany and assist Donovan at his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 in Cleveland, OH.

Chris Murray holding Donovan’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame award after his induction. Copyright Carlotta Hester.

Donovan’s acceptance speech is considered one of the most unique ever presented at the receiving of the Rock Hall award, as he composed an extraordinary poem to commemorate that honor. I present that poem in full:

“From my wandering days on lonely sands
where I sang my song to the moon and stars
To the world’s great stage , hounoured am I
to sing my song to a million fans
Always my wish to be of service
to ease emotion deep in the heart
Always your poet , a shaman am I
to lead us all to the realm within
Yet I was branded for my beauty
yet protected by my art
Many plundered me for booty
only one did steal my heart
How she keeps it in her casket
still remains a mystery
Like the moonrise in a sunset
like the silence of the sea
Thank you for this bright green laurel
resting now upon my brow
Thank you Goddess , thank you Muses
thank you … Fellow Artists All”
– Donovan Leitch
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Acceptance Poem
Cleveland, Ohio
April 14th, 2012

Rolling Stone Vol. 1. November 9th, 1967.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone magazine. Donovan happens to be the first interview published in Rolling Stone, on November 9th, 1967. The cover of that first issue declared, “DONOVAN: An incredible Rolling Stone Interview, with this manchild of magic.” Rolling Stone has been celebrating their 50th anniversary year with a series of illustrated feature stories called ‘Flashback’. In the first of those stories in the January 12th, 2017 issue in a story written by Andy Green, it says of that historic premiere issue, “At the center was a two-page ROLLING STONE interview with Donovan in which he talked about folk singer Bert Jansch, the hippie movement, and George Harrison’s recent trip to Haight-Ashbury.”

It’s remarkable what can happen sometimes from a brief meeting…like the ripples of a pebble thrown into a pond those fifty years ago.

Donovan and his extraordinary music endure today, as does the extraordinary writing of Carl Bernstein. It’s good to remember these amazing pastimes.

Installation of Donovan’s Sapphographs from Hellenic American Union, Athens, 2010.

Donovan’s Sapphographs are available through Govinda Gallery.

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Enda Kenny, Patti Smith and Carlotta Hester

by Chris Murray on September 24, 2017  |  2 Comments »

It was a great pleasure this past July 4th to meet our friend Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Prime Minister from 2011 to 2017, at his private office in the Government Buildings in Dublin. I presented him with a copy of Patti Smith: American Artist, the book I edited featuring Frank Stefanko’s beautiful photographs of the Irish American poet, musician, photographer and author. Enda Kenny is a great advocate of the arts, and could not have been more gracious.

Enda Kenny, Carlotta Hester and Chris Murray. Copyright Govinda Gallery Archive.

This past weekend Carlotta Hester’s drawings of traditional Irish musicians from her series The Pure Drop were featured at photographer, musician and teacher Bill Crandall’s Viaduct salon in Takoma Park, Maryland. It was a great evening that also featured a concert by songwriter and guitarist Zachary Parkman.

Martin Donohoe, Co. Cavan, Ireland. Copyright Carlotta Hester.

Bernadette Nic Gabhann, Co. Limerick, Ireland. Copyright Carlotta Hester.

Padraig McGovern, Co. Cavan, Ireland. Copyright Carlotta Hester.

Frank Stefanko’s and Carlotta Hester’s work is available through Govinda Gallery.

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Happy Birthday Bruce!

by Chris Murray on September 20, 2017  |  1 Comment »

Bruce Springsteen’s birthday is this Saturday, September 23rd. Happy Birthday Bruce!

Bruce Springsteen Crawdaddy Magazine Party, June 8, 1976. Photograph by David Gahr. Copyright The Estate of David Gahr.

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Bessie Smith and The Devil’s Music

by Chris Murray on September 11, 2017  |  4 Comments »

Bessie Smith: The Anthology Bessie Smith: The Anthology

The Back Room has been closed over the summer and while in Ireland, I was listening to Bessie Smith: The Anthology. Soon after returning to Washington, I went to see The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith, presented by the Mosaic Theater Company.

The Devil's Music The Devil’s Music program cover.

In 1996, I went in search of the roots of the Blues at the suggestion of my son, David Murray, who accompanied me to Clarksdale, Mississippi, along with Govinda artist Carlotta Hester. We found ourselves at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, sitting with its proprietor, Mrs. Z. L. Hill. The Riverside is where Bessie Smith died in 1937 following an automobile accident on Highway 61. Mrs. Hill enjoyed David and his precocious love of the Blues, and she showed him the room where Bessie Smith had passed away.

That trip to Clarksdale proved to be very eventful, as we then drove east to Oxford, Mississippi, where we ended up meeting the extraordinary Dick Waterman. Apart from managing Bonnie Raitt for many years and founding Avalon, the first Blues artist management agency, Waterman photographed many of the greatest Blues musical artists during the first Blues revival in the sixties. That meeting with Dick Waterman led to me editing the book, Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive, which also featured an introduction by Peter Guralnick and a Preface by Bonnie Raitt. Govinda also hosted the first gallery exhibition of Dick Waterman’s photographs.

Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive

It was eighty years ago this month, on September 26th, that Bessie Smith passed away at the Riverside Hotel. Smith was laid to rest in an unmarked grave until 1970, when Janis Joplin commissioned a headstone in memory of her idol.

Janis Joplin, Newport Folk Festival, 1968. Copyright Dick Waterman. Janis Joplin, Newport Folk Festival, 1968. Copyright Dick Waterman.

Dick Waterman’s photographs are available through Govinda Gallery.

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Rolling Stone Celebrates 50 Years of Publishing with Lavish Photo Book

by Chris Murray on June 15, 2017  |  Comments Off on Rolling Stone Celebrates 50 Years of Publishing with Lavish Photo Book

I just bought a copy of my favorite photo book of this year, 50 Years of Rolling Stone, from Abrams. This large format book presents a selection of brilliant images from Rolling Stone over the past six decades, commencing with the 1960s. Along with photographs on album covers, Rolling Stone magazine was the biggest influence on my championing significant photographs documenting musical artists at Govinda Gallery starting in 1982. The RS book also features a selection of terrific essays from David Fricke, P.J. O’Rourke, Jann Wenner, Tom Wolfe, Mikal Gilmore and more.

"Dead on the Steps", The Grateful Dead, 710 Ashbury Street, San Francisco, CA, October 1967 Dead on the Steps. The Grateful Dead, 710 Ashbury Street, San Francisco, CA, October 1967. Photograph by Baron Wolman.

It was my good fortune to have the first exhibitions at Govinda Gallery for Rolling Stone‘s three chief photographers, Baron Wolman, Annie Leibovitz and Mark Seliger. It was incredibly exciting to present these three photographers to the public in a gallery venue for the first time and to be able to offer prints of their compelling photos to collectors. The public came in droves to these exhibitions, as did the media.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz. Yoko Ono and John Lennon, New York City, December 1980. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

Along with the three chief Rolling Stone photographers, I also had first exhibitions for many other amazing photographers published in Rolling Stone, including Herb Greene, Linda McCartney, Jim Marshall, Bob Seidemann, Joel Brodsky, Michael Halsband, Alan Tannenbaum, Anton Corbijn, Matthew Ralston, Danny Clinch, Michael Cooper, Barry Feinstein, Firooz Zahedi, Bob Gruen, Gered Mankowitz, Eddie Kramer, Lynn Goldsmith, Harry Benson, Mick Rock, Daniel Kramer, Glen Friedman, Amalie Rothschild, Frank Stefanko, Kate Simon, Jonathan Mannion and Ted Russell, among others.

Bob Dylan, New Orleans. Photograph by Mark Seliger.
Bob Dylan, New York City, 1995. Photograph by Mark Seliger.

Donovan was the first interview in Rolling Stone published in its inaugural issue in November 1967, with his friend John Lennon on the cover. Donovan shows his artwork with Govinda Gallery. I love this portrait of Donovan by Baron Wolman.

Donovan, Los Angeles, September 1969. Photograph by Baron Wolman. Donovan, Los Angeles, September 1969. Photograph by Baron Wolman.

Congratulations, Rolling Stone, on 50 years of publishing a terrific magazine.

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Patti Smith: American Artist, and Frank Stefanko

by Chris Murray on June 5, 2017  |  2 Comments »

Patti Smith American Artist Patti Smith: American Artist.

A new paperback edition of Patti Smith: American Artist, featuring Frank Stefanko’s beautiful photos of Patti, was just published and is available through Amazon and bookstores everywhere. The new edition features a foreward by Patti Smith, an introduction by Lenny Kaye and an afterword by the book’s editor, Chris Murray.

Govinda Gallery held the first exhibition of Frank Stefanko’s classic photos of Patti. Stefanko’s photographs of Patti Smith are available through Govinda Gallery.

The Portal, Frank Stefanko, New York, 1974. Patti Smith, New York, 1974. Photograph by Frank Stefanko.

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Bob Dylan, Ted Russell and BBC News

by Chris Murray on June 1, 2017  |  Comments Off on Bob Dylan, Ted Russell and BBC News

Check out this fantastic BBC News video with Ted Russell at his exhibition of early Dylan photos in NYC. It is the third most watched video on BBC News at the moment.

This weekend is the last chance to see the exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery on West 26th Street.

Contact Sheet Copyright Ted Russell.

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Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan!

by Chris Murray on May 22, 2017  |  3 Comments »

A fine way to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday today would be to see Ted Russell’s photographs of Dylan on exhibit at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York City.

Exhibition entrance at Steven Kasher Gallery. Exhibition entrance at Steven Kasher Gallery.

Claude Gassian and Chris Murray at Ted Russell's exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery. French photographer Claude Gassian and Chris Murray at Ted Russell’s exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery.

Several days ago Kasher hosted an amazing panel discussion on Dylan’s early days in Greenwich Village that featured John Cohen, Bob Yellin of The Greenbriar Boys, Sean Wilentz and Ted Russell. It was a remarkable conversation between four extraordinary, creative individuals. It was exciting to hear first-hand accounts and stories about the scene in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s and Bob Dylan. Steve Kasher moderated the discussion, and his gallery is a very hip place to be. Bob Dylan NYC 1961-1964 continues at Kasher Gallery until June 3rd.

Panel discussion at Steven Kasher Gallery. John Cohen, Ted Russell, Bob Yellin and Sean Wilentz.

Ted Russell speaking during the panel discussion. Ted Russell speaking.

Ted Russell signing books at the panel discussion. Ted Russell signing Bob Dylan NYC 1961-1964.

Ted Russell and Carlotta Hester. Ted Russell and Carlotta Hester.

Ted Russell and Chris Murray at the panel discussion. Ted Russell and Chris Murray.

Ted Russell’s exhibition in Havana at Fototeca de Cuba, which recently concluded, was received in Cuba with great acclaim. Cuba has an outstanding legacy of music and poetry that continues to thrive. Havana and Fototeca de Cuba were a remarkable atmosphere in which to present Ted Russell’s photographs of Dylan as a young poet and musician.

Please enjoy these two very short videos and some photographs from the opening at Fototeca de Cuba in Old Havana. Thank you to all our friends in Cuba who made the exhibition possible and to all of our friends who came from America to see the exhibition in Havana.

Jeffrey DeLuarentis, Carlotta Hester and Andrew Umhau at the opening of Ted Russell's exhibition at Fototeca de Cuba. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Carlotta Hester and Andrew Umhau at the opening of Ted Russell’s exhibition at Fototeca de Cuba.

Conchita, who works at Fototeca de Cuba. Conchita, Gallery Assistant at Fototeca de Cuba.

Alex, Chris Murray and Jessica Fuller. Alex, Chris Murray, co-author of Bob Dylan NYC 1961-1964, and Jessica Fuller from Rizzoli.

Tom Meyer and Luis Manuel Molina. Tom Meyer and Luis Manuel Molina.

Luis Gomez. Luis and Ruscy Gomez.

Chris Murray and Guille. Chris Murray and Guille Vilar. “It’s only rock & roll, but I like it.”

Emilio and Edimary Perez. Emilio and Edimary Perez.

Murray Family at Fototeca. The Duffy family from New York at Fototeca. Andy Rapoport and Steve Kasher photobombing.

Leonardo Lazaro from Parque Central.

The Capital Gang. The Capital Gang. Claire Hines, Rosemary Kilkenny, Carlotta Hester, Chris Murray, Tom Meyer and Virginia Satterley.

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John Waters Launches ‘Make Trouble’ in Washington at Halcyon House

by Chris Murray on May 1, 2017  |  1 Comment »

It was great to be at the Washington launch of Make Trouble, John Waters’ new book. John was interviewed by Septime Webre, who is bringing terrific programming to Halcyon Stage. There was a lively Q&A after, and everyone had a chance to meet John and have him sign their book. John is one of the most creative and original artists I know. We are fortunate to have his genius among us!

Make Trouble

Chris Murray and John Waters
Chris Murray with his friend John Waters.

John Waters at Halcyon Stage
John Waters in conversation with Septime Webre at Halcyon House in Georgetown.

Septime Webre and John Waters
Halcyon Stage’s Septime Webre with John.

All photos by Carlotta Hester.

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New York Times Feature Story on Ted Russell and His Early Dylan Photos

by Chris Murray on May 1, 2017  |  Comments Off on New York Times Feature Story on Ted Russell and His Early Dylan Photos

The New York Times

Bob Dylan’s Early Days in New York
By John Leland Apr. 17, 2017

“It’s kind of a long story,” Ted Russell said the other day, in a voice that seemed to mean it. In 1961, Mr. Russell, who was then a freelance photographer, got a call from a publicist at Columbia Records about an unusual young folk singer the label had just signed. According to the publicist, the singer “was riding freight trains and that kind of stuff,” Mr. Russell, 87, said from his home in Forest Hills, Queens. “Had a hobo lifestyle.”

He was Bob Dylan.

The publicist invited Mr. Russell to a gig at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village and gave him some demo records by Mr. Dylan. “I knew absolutely nothing about folk or folk music,” Mr. Russell admitted. “I was at the time, and still am, something of a jazz aficionado, and I was hanging out in jazz clubs. My speed was Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.”

Still, he said, it seemed like a promising story. He photographed the 20-year-old singer performing at the club and then, a few days later, at Mr. Dylan’s apartment on West Fourth Street with his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo. Mr. Dylan had just received a glowing review in The New York Times. Mr. Russell pitched the story to Life magazine.

“I wanted to do an essay on the trials and tribulations of an up-and-coming folk singer trying to make it in the big city,” he said. “They gave me a big yawn, not the slightest interest.”

Dylan playing a record

Bob Dylan playing an album on the record player, 161 W. 4th St., New York, 1961. Credit Ted Russell/Polaris/Steven Kasher Gallery

Instead, he went to The Saturday Evening Post, where the editors were intrigued. “There were a bunch of them sitting around the big oak table in the conference room, and they were all very interested and excited about the whole thing, after they looked at the pictures and saw what he looked like and how he dressed,” Mr. Russell recalled. “And they said, ‘Play the records.’ When I put on the first record, they looked very dismayed. They said to me, ‘Are you playing it at the right speed?’ I tried it on 33, and then I tried it on 45, and they didn’t like that, either. Then I tried it on 78, and it sounded like the Chipmunks. They said no, they turned it down.”

The photos went into a file drawer. Mr. Russell went to Europe on other assignments. He photographed Mr. Dylan twice more, for Life in 1963 and 1964. By then Mr. Dylan was a star, but Mr. Russell still did not think much about him. The 1961 shots remained unseen for more than 30 years, until the Sygma agency started distributing them.

They are now available in a book published by Rizzoli and an exhibition at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea starting April 20. The early pictures show Dylan aware of the camera but pretending not to be, in the same way he had made up stories about riding the rails. By the 1964 images, which Mr. Russell made while Mr. Dylan was being interviewed by a Life reporter, the singer gave up the pretense. He made the pose part of his pose.

What was he like back then? Mr. Russell said he did not know.

“I can’t tell you much about it because my style of shooting is to be a fly on the wall,” he said. “In the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, I want to be an observer, not a participant. I told them to pretend I’m not here, just ignore me, and that’s exactly what they did. So there was virtually no conversation.

“When I’m looking through the viewfinder, I’m oblivious to anything else. I didn’t hear it, I wasn’t interested. My job was to keep my mouth shut and my eyes open, which is what I did. So I can’t tell you anything about him, really. If you gave me a million dollars right now, I couldn’t remember one word that was between us.”

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