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What's it like to roll behind the scenes with The Stones?

Photographers Ethan Russell, Gered Mankowitz, Ken Regan, Terry O'Neill, Lynn Goldsmith and Bob Gruen recall working with the world's greatest rock band.

Goldmine's Pat Prince got the inside scoop from the artists behind some of the most iconic Rolling Stones photographs: Ethan Russell, Gered Mankowitz, Ken Regan, Terry O’Neill, Lynn Goldsmith and Bob Gruen.

Please recall what it was like meeting/seeing the Rolling Stones back in the 60s-70s, compared to now.
Ethan Russell: Keith Richards — the surprising master of the unexpected observation said — ”If you were born after 1963, there has always been the sun, the moon and The Rolling Stones.” When I first saw them, and when I first worked with them, they were as radical and exciting as anything I’d ever seen. Now they are arguably in the firmament. No small feat.

Gered Mankowitz: There is no comparison. Back in 1965, when I first got to know the band, we were all young men, and we all felt as though we were on the same path together. When I was onstage with them, taking photographs, I felt as though I was one of the band and they did nothing to make me feel differently. Now, or at least the last time I saw them a few years back in London, they are these tiny figures playing the same great music, but they seem like they are a million miles away!

Ken Regan: Meeting the Rolling Stones back in the ’60s/’70s was very special. Despite the changing of the guard with Brian, Mick and Ronnie, the band was an extremely tight unit. The guys shared a common purpose and respect back then that unfortunately, like most things, has worn with time. In the ’60s and ’70s, they were at their creative peak and I believe having the most fun of their careers. I was able to be there alongside them, watching it happen. I feel very fortunate for that.

Terry O’Neill: They were just lads then; being in a band was about the music, not fame or money. They were almost evangelical about spreading the music to a wider audience, and we would hang out in nightclubs talking about how long we could keep enjoying ourselves before we got proper jobs in banks and stuff. Remember, this was 1963. It wasn’t “The ’60s” yet. The Beatles were only just beginning. In fact, John and Paul and Mick and Keith and I hung out in the Ad Lib club in London one day discussing this. The Stones wanted a hit number, and John and Paul said “We’ve got one you can have. It’s called ‘I Wanna Be Your Man.’ ” They just gave it to The Stones. Could that happen today?”

Lynn Goldsmith: Each member of The Stones is not only musically gifted, but highly intelligent with a good sense of humor. That is no different now than when I met them in the ’70s.

Bob Gruen: It’s always very exciting to see or meet the Rolling Stones, then or now.

What were your first impressions upon meeting/seeing the Stones?
Ethan Russell: I met them individually first, and so there are five different impressions. Mick as surprisingly sophisticated. Charlie and Bill as unexpectedly polite and friendly. Keith as intimidating, but that was my response, not anything he did. Being basically quiet was enough. Brian was the closest to the image and would pay the biggest price for it.

Gered Mankowitz: I knew who they were, of course, and was reasonably anxious that this first meeting should go well, but they were very welcoming and friendly, and I immediately felt part of their gang.

Ken Regan: That their name was very appropriate. It was a thrill of a lifetime. I was a young photographer and I had never worked with a band of that magnitude.

Terry O’Neill: I thought they were pretty damn cool. Remember most bands, like The Beatles, wore suits and ties. The Stones were casual, cool, unkempt. In fact, the first pictures I took were turned down by magazine and newspaper editors who thought them “scruffy.” Brian Jones was the leader of the band, but Keith was the coolest of the bunch; he invented the word. He just had this charisma, more than Mick; it wasn’t just the look, but the laid-back manner, a kind of mischievous charm.”

Lynn Goldsmith: The first time I saw them was on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I thought they were the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and I still think that.

Bob Gruen: I first saw them at the Academy of Music on 14th Street in New York in May 1965. I had never heard of them and didn’t know of any rock bands that played in a theater instead of a bar. It was pure chaos — most exciting show I had ever seen.

Did you expect The Stones’ music to become so iconic — the “world’s greatest rock and roll band?”
Ethan Russell: They were already iconic. Do you become un-iconic?

Gered Mankowitz: No, of course not. Back in the mid-’60s, if you anticipated a career in popular music lasting for more than two or three years, you would have been considered ridiculously over-optimistic.

Ken Regan: Absolutely. There was no question about it.

Terry O’Neill: None of us did. It wasn’t about the music; it was about the times. Kids didn’t become important or rich or famous unless they were boxers or soccer players. Then The Beatles exploded that myth, and suddenly, the world wanted young people with guitars and a sound and a look.

Lynn Goldsmith: I think it’s clear that I never thought there was a better rock and roll band than The Rolling Stones.

Bob Gruen: I didn’t expect any rock band to matter much to the culture in general.

Did you expect your photographs to be a source of music history? Did you ever envision the photos being in an art gallery? What were your plans for the photographs after you fulfilled your photo assignment?
Ethan Russell: I didn’t. I think when you make history, you never know it. That’s true in every field of endeavor, and we all are making history. Some may be just “family history,” but it is history nevertheless. I didn’t have plans. If I had, they wouldn’t have included photographing The Rolling Stones, since that would have been an impossibility, logically. I’m in the John Lennon camp: “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

Rolling Stones onstage by Ethan Russell in 1972

Ethan Russell's iconic performance photo of The Rolling Stones most recently was used on the cover of the concert DVD of "Ladies And Gentlemen ... The Rolling Stones." Photo courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Gered Mankowitz: No, I didn’t think in those terms. No, the photographs had a very short shelf life at the time they were taken. I kept hold of as many of them as I could and carried them around with me from studio to studio for about 20 years before anybody showed any interest in them.

Ken Regan: At that point in my career, I didn’t expect anything like that to ever happen. There were no art galleries in the Bronx, where I grew up, so no. As in other assignments, we put them on index cards and filed them in our system with the hopes that somebody would request the photographs in the future.

Terry O’Neill: In those days, you took pictures to get them on the front page of a magazine or a newspaper. Once they were published, they were fish and chip newspaper, and you moved on to your next job. I did The Beatles, then The Stones, then The Dave Clark Five. Next up was The Who. In fact, you even forgot the negatives, just left them lying around in cardboard boxes or filing cabinets. If you went back and photographed them, it was because suddenly the world wanted new pictures. In fact, I only recently unearthed the negatives of my early Stones shots, a year or so ago. I hadn’t looked at them for 48 years. Truth is a friend found them. I’d forgotten all about them.

Lynn Goldsmith: I did not think my photographs were a source of music history. I lived in the present, as, hopefully, I still do. I’m happy now that I was in the position to document and share with future generations what I consider to be what is not only music history but a cultural history. The Stones affected and infected us as much as the music of Bob Dylan.

Bob Gruen: No, but now my photos are in museums as well as galleries. (I planned) to keep them safe in case someone else ran a story about them.

What it was like to photograph the Stones? Were the members all photogenic, or did you have to work to pull their personalities out?
Ethan Russell: My style was not to intrude, not to pull anything out. What that ended up permitting is that my photographs are an extraordinarily accurate record, neither puffed-up nor toned down. I have a somewhat visceral, negative reaction to photography that puffs up either the subject or the photographer.

Gered Mankowitz: In their own way, they were all very individualistic. It was one of the great strengths of the band visually. I was just 18 years old when I first worked with them and really didn’t know much about anything, but they always responded positively to me and my ideas, and we got great shots from the very first roll!

Ken Regan: Of the five members of the band, Mick, Keith and Ronnie were the most exciting and photogenic. Charlie and Bill were very laid back, and it was sometimes a struggle to get them to sit for photographs.

Terry O’Neill: I didn’t have to work too hard with any of them — the Beatles, The Who or The Stones. The reason is simple: They and the times were natural. We hardly knew what we were doing, and that goes for me and my camera. We were lads. It wasn’t a career; it wasn’t important; we were innocents. That said, I knew what magazines and newspapers were looking for. I knew without ever putting a word to it that “cool” was what our generation wanted. Cool meant new, it meant young, it meant being unique, different, a breed apart from our parents and the world we occupied where men had short crew cuts and smoked pipes and went home after work to their wives and dinner on the table.

Lynn Goldsmith: It’s easy to work with them, because they know who they are and are not afraid to show it. You don’t have to make them look like what other people want to believe is rock and roll. They are rock and roll.

Bob Gruen: They are easy to shoot, because they move so much and look so good. They are hard to shoot, because they move so much and there is usually only a short time allowed to shoot. They all look cool to me, and they are all very professional and experienced, which makes the photo job easy.

What kind of memorable photo assignments did you have with the Stones?
Ethan Russell: The tours: 1969 and 1972. I was the only photographer on the entire 1969 tour, and there were only 16 of us, including The Stones. It was, as Mick Taylor said, very small and very intimate.

Gered Mankowitz: The first shoot produced the image that was to become the cover for the “December’s Children” album, so that was a high point. Going to the U.S. with the band on their fall ’65 tour was pretty amazing, and shooting the cover for “Between The Buttons” in 1966 was also a special moment.

Ken Regan: The rehearsals at Andy Warhol’s house in Montauk; the “Undercover” Video in Mexico; a day in the life of Mick Jagger; and Keith Richards’ wedding.

Terry O’Neill: I’ve done so many I forget, from the first shoot in ’63 to their weddings and even the book covers of their memoirs. We were mates way back, and we remain mates. But I really loved shooting Keith. I have a favorite shot of him shaving in the dressing room before going on stage. Even just standing there, shaving, Keith was magnetic.

Lynn Goldsmith: One of times is when I was on the side of the stage in a stadium of at least 100,000 people, and as the show came to an end, Mick put his hands together above his head in a kind of respectful bow of thank-you to the crowd. I ran out and stood right behind him. The powerful, loving energy between him and all those people felt like I was having a religious experience. The crowd loved him like a god, and he gave the love back to them.

Bob Gruen: I photographed some press parties where I got to speak with The Stones, and some great live shows. And once, for the “Steel Wheels” tour, I had to fly in a tiny airplane over the stadium in Philadelphia to photograph another airplane flying a giant banner with a photo of the new album.

Finally, what has The Stones' music meant to you personally?
Ethan Russell: Well they’ve been making great work for 50 years. But “my bands” were the first two, with Brian Jones and the Mick Taylor.

Gered Mankowitz: I think they are one of the very few bands who I could consider myself a “fan” of, and their music gets me moving and feeling pretty much as I did when I first heard them.

Ken Regan: I grew up as a Rolling Stones fan, and I have enjoyed their music all through the last four decades.

Terry O’Neill: We grew up together. I was a jazz drummer before I was a photographer. Jazz and the blues are in my DNA, and it’s in theirs. I still go to the gigs of my pal Bill Wyman, who has his own intimate band, The Rhythm Kings. Bill will pull in great musicians like Georgie Fame, and singers like Mary Wilson of The Supremes, and play small arenas. You can keep the big stadium concerts. For me, watching real professionals who LOVE their jazz and blues playing to appreciative audiences is as real as it gets. That’s how I remember seeing them on Day One at the Crawdaddy in Richmond, outside London: a packed room in a pub with condensation pouring down the walls.

Lynn Goldsmith: Courage, individuality, honesty, inspiration, hard work, sweat and a really good time.

Bob Gruen: The Rolling Stones are a big part of the soundtrack of my life.