the Backroom

“Cuba es por Cultura.” Dance, Photography, Fashion and Music in Havana

by Chris Murray on November 30, 2017  |  4 Comments »

I went to Havana a couple of weeks ago to pick up Ted Russell’s photographs of Bob Dylan from the extraordinary exhibition earlier this year at Fototeca de Cuba, Cuba’s national photo gallery. As always seems to be the case, there were several compelling creative projects going on during my visit.

Gran Teatro de la Habana.

My first afternoon, I went by the Gran Teatro de la Habana and saw that the Festival Internacional de Danza Espanola y Flamenco was on. I purchased a ticket and that evening saw the Gala Flamenca, which blew my mind. What a treat to see 17 extraordinary flamenco dancers in such a stunning setting.

The next day, I went to Plaza Vieja to pick up the Dylan prints at Fototeca de Cuba. While at Fototeca de Cuba, I marveled at German photographer Katharina Sieverding’s exhibition, arte y capital, which was on display.

Plaza Vieja.

That evening was an exhibition launch at Galeria Francis Picabia at the Alianza Francesca de Cuba on Palacio de Prado of my friends, Liudmila & Nelson’s photography exhibition, La Habana y el Tiempo. I have shown Nelson and Liudmila’s photographs at Govinda Gallery, and it was a great pleasure to see my friends and their terrific exhibition.

Liudmila and Nelson at the opening of their show, La Habana y el Tiempo.

The next evening, I went to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which was hosting a runway show featuring original fashion by Latin American designers inspired by paintings and sculpture from the museum’s collection. It was another amazing display of Cuba’s thriving cultural scene. My friend Nelson Ramirez de Arellano Conde was on hand photographing the show, along with his daughter Sophia.

The crowd at Arte y Moda.

Cuban models on the runway at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

I had heard about the fashion show, and as the museum is right behind Parque Central hotel where I was staying, I went to see if I could attend the event. I was most fortunate to run into Jorge Rivas Rodriguez, a prominent arts & theatre critic in Havana, who invited me to join him. I was able to sit in the front row with the esteemed writer.

Writer & art critic, Jorge Rivas Rodriguez.

On Saturday morning, I took a car to visit my dear friend, photographer Roberto Salas. Roberto is one of the most highly regarded photographers in modern Cuban photographic history. He was one of the five or six “epic photographers” who documented the Cuban revolution. Roberto had a critically acclaimed, one-person exhibition of his photographs at Govinda Gallery in 2003. It is always a great pleasure to sit with Roberto in his home and enjoy his company.

Chris Murray with photographer Roberto Salas in Miramar.

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Havana, 1959. Photograph by Roberto Salas.

My last magical evening in Cuba this visit, I was invited to a very special program at Havana’s dynamic rock club, Submarino Amarillo, just across the street from the John Lennon Park. Cuba’s classical piano maestro and legend, Frank Fernandez, was performing at the intimate venue with a rock & roll band for the first time. Everyone in Havana interested in music was talking about the collaboration. I was so fortunate to have my friend, Guille Villar, the number one advocate for great rock music in Cuba, to invite me to the event. I was honored to be able to attend such a special gig. Thank you, Guille.

Chris Murray with pianist Frank Fernandez backstage after his performance at Submarino Amarillo.

Maestro Frank Fernandez first played a solo program of classical music, and then was joined by the Sweet Lizzie Project. The packed crowd, with standing room only, loved the gig. What a great night in Havana!

All photos and video by Chris Murray.

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Fats Domino, Bob Dylan and Baron Wolman, Happy Thanksgiving!

by Chris Murray on November 20, 2017  |  2 Comments »

Bob Dylan, Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13, 1979-1981.

I saw Bob Dylan in concert last week at The Anthem in Washington, DC, and it was a remarkable show. Just the week before, I bought Bob Dylan: Trouble No More, the latest in The Bootleg Series, the day it was released on November 3rd. The deluxe box set contains seven CDs and a DVD film that covers 1979-1981, when Dylan was featuring gospel music both on tour and in the studio. This box set features unreleased live performances. I love Dylan’s gospel music. Songs like Pressing On, Every Grain of Sand, When He Returns and others are some of the best songs Dylan wrote. It was a controversial time for Dylan, as often is the case, as most music critics didn’t get it…it usually takes the critics a few years to catch up on what Dylan is about. One thing for sure is Dylan has always enjoyed gospel music and has often featured biblical themes in his work, in songs such as Highway 61 Revisited.

The New York Times published a terrific review of the box set on November 1st, and I was delighted to see the Times use a photo of Dylan by Baron Wolman on the front page. It’s a photo of Baron’s that I had never seen before and it beautifully captured Bob in one of his gospel concerts.

Bob Dylan, San Francisco, CA, 1979. Photograph by Baron Wolman.

Just the other day, I was reading the November 16th issue of Rolling Stone magazine and was delighted again to see Rolling Stone use another Baron Wolman photo of Fats Domino on its title page. Rolling Stone published a tribute to Fats, who had passed away on October 24th.

Fats Domino, Las Vegas, 1968. Photograph by Baron Wolman.

I first started exhibiting Baron’s photographs at Govinda Gallery in 1994 in an exhibition called Woodstock, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the festival and the launch of a book that featured Baron’s photos along with Lisa Law, Henry Diltz, Elliot Landy and Joseph Sia. Baron came to the opening at Govinda and we hit it off. He is a true gentleman. I went on to feature his photos in a one-person exhibition at Govinda called My Generation in 1996, as well as in my tribute exhibition and book to the Rolling Stones, 40 x 20 (Insight Editions). Baron was also featured in the groundbreaking museum tour of large-scale images, Sound & Vision: Monumental Rock & Roll Photography, co-organized with the Columbus Museum of Art and curated by Chris Murray, which took place from December 2011-September 2013 and went to museums in Columbus, GA, Chattanooga, TN, Charleston, SC, Huntsville, AL, and Laurel, MS. I also joined Baron in Salamanca, Spain at Domus Artium, where he was part of their tribute to rock & roll that Govinda Gallery assisted the museum with, and which also featured a one-person exhibition of Alfred Wertheimer’s photographs of Elvis Presley. Baron’s work can also be seen on permanent display at Hamilton Live in Washington, DC, which features Baron’s extraordinary photo of Frank Zappa as part of their permanent collection.

Frank Zappa, Laurel Canyon, 1968. Photograph by Baron Wolman.

With Thanksgiving approaching, I am grateful for musical artists like Fats Domino and Bob Dylan, whose music has lifted our spirits so many times in so many ways. Dylan plays piano in his concerts now..he always was a terrific pianist, as seen in some clips from the great documentary film, Don’t Look Back. As a young man, he played piano in his rock band while growing up in Hibbing, MN. Little Richard was a hero of his. He surely admires Fats Domino as well, a foundation stone of rock & roll whose piano playing still resonates as an influence on musical artists.

I was fortunate to see Fats Domino play once. I was walking down M Street in Georgetown in the early ’70s, and there in the window of a club called The Crazy Horse was none other than Fats Domino singing and playing piano. I went into The Crazy Horse and I’ll never forget the big rings on his hands as he played the keyboard. And I can see one of those rings in Baron Wolman’s photograph of him. Baron’s photographs are available through Govinda Gallery.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Baron Wolman and Carlos Santana at Woodstock, 1969. Photograph by Bill Graham.

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Artist Carl Titolo’s Sketchbooks, Richard Lewis and Larry David

by Chris Murray on November 8, 2017  |  Comments Off on Artist Carl Titolo’s Sketchbooks, Richard Lewis and Larry David

Richard Lewis calls the artist Carl Titolo a genius.  Lewis knows what he is talking about.

Lewis, a comedic genius himself, who collects Titolo’s paintings, asked the artist and professor to “shed some light on my darkness” by creating images to illustrate Lewis’ stream-of-consciousness thoughts for his book Reflections from Hell: Richard Lewis’ Guide on How Not to Live (powerHouse Books). Larry David contributed a hilarious and tender foreword to the book! Richard Lewis is featured in Larry David’s new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Here is a page from the book:

Richard Lewis just sent me a minute-long video from the School of Visual Arts Press in NYC, of one of Carl Titolo’s sketch books, which I share with you. Titolo is a professor at the School of Visual Arts. Take a look and you will see why Lewis calls Titolo a genius.

Reflections from Hell is published by powerHouse Books and is available through Amazon and bookstores.  It includes a preface by the book’s editor, Chris Murray.

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Rihanna, Bob Marley and David Burnett

by Chris Murray on October 25, 2017  |  1 Comment »

Rihanna enjoying David Burnett’s classic photographs of Bob Marley.

David Burnett’s photographs and his book, Soul Rebel, are available through Govinda Gallery.

David Burnett, Soul Rebel (Insight Editions, 2009).

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

by Chris Murray on October 2, 2017  |  Comments Off on Donovan, Carl Bernstein and The Washington Post, 50 Years Ago Today

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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