Cover Story for July 15, 2008
Subject: "Stop And Think It Over" - a single from the record titled Dangerous Game by Mary Weiss, released in 2007 on Norton Records, with cover photo by photographer Theresa Kereakes.
There were Girl Groups who “dressed to kill” and who used many of the same vocal stylings they learned in church (and that made little white guys like me watch “Jubilee Showcase” on Sunday mornings with such fascination), and then there were the Shangi-Las. I don’t think that it was a white/black thing – I mean, Leiber and Stoller and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich did all of the writing and production in New York for a huge chunk of the early/mid-60’s vocal groups, regardless of their race - I just tend to think that the streets in Queens that bred the Weiss sisters and the Ganser sisters were simply different than the streets in Tenafly, New Jersey, where Leslie Gore grew up, and so where Leslie was all about “Boys, Boys, Boys” and would cry if she broke a nail, the Shangri-Las (dressed in black and hanging out with bikers) really convinced you that they knew about heartbreak, death and never being able to go home anymore.
40 years later, and as independent a spirit as ever, singer Mary Weiss released a new record released on Norton Records called Dangerous Game. Working with Greg Cartwright and blues/punk/garage band-par-exellance The Reigning Sound, Weiss’s new record is most definitely NOT a Shangri-Las comeback album. She’s not a teen anymore, and the record was made with that understanding. Most of the songs on the LP are written by Cartwright and with one listen, it seems certain that he knew what sort of signer he was writing for – someone tender-but-tough, but someone who brings emotion and power to both “the rockers” and the ballads that make up the record.
Photographer Theresa Kereakes was first introduced to Billy Miller, Miriam Linna and the rest of the Norton Records crew when she was working for Little Steven’s Underground Garage and, knowing of their commitment to the best of roots rock, when they asked her to photograph Mary Weiss and The Reigning Sound for an upcoming album, she was more than up to the task. With the goal being to catch “Mary being Mary”, they knew that this was Theresa’s specialty, and I think that you’ll agree that the pictures used to illustrate this article and the single titled "Stop and Think It Over" (as well as Roberta Bayley’s cover photo for the album) show Mary as we like to see her – unposed, working hard, and happy to be making music for her fans again (and, by the way, still looking cool in leather!). How this all took place is the subject of today’s Cover Story…
In the words of the photographer – Theresa Kereakes (interviewed June, 2008) -
I have known and worked with Billy Miller and Miriam Linna of Norton Records for many years and so, when they were putting together the album for Mary, they contacted me and asked me if I was interested in shooting photos for the project. “Of course I am!”, I told them, and so I sent them some links to my record cover work for them to forward to Mary. She looked at my portfolio and agreed to let me be a “fly on the wall” and take some candid shots during a couple days of recording sessions. I'd worked with Norton before in various ways, and during my tenure at Little Steven's Underground Garage, both Miriam and Billy were invaluable resources of music and information for the show. Plus, as The A Bones, they've entertained me and countless other garage rock fans for years.
Working with Norton is always a pleasure and straight forward. They tell you what they want and they give you the parameters. They are simply the best people to work with. They are more than fair with money, time, schedule, etc. That they are able to sign an artist like Mary Weiss is an indication of and a tribute to their honesty as business people and their integrity.
Mary and Billy and Miriam worked together as “co-art directors” and had a clear and specific idea of what they wanted as album cover and CD booklet art, which made it easy and efficient to do the work and make the best use of Mary's time and their time together in the studio. I like it when people who want album art know what they want - rather than asking you to shoot “whatever you feel”.
By the time we were all in the studio together, everyone knew what kind of photos we would be taking. It was probably the most professional and smooth experience of taking casual documentary pictures I ever had. Miriam, in particular was instrumental in getting the large group to lighten up and enjoy themselves in the hot 100+ degree heat when we were taking the promo and publicity pictures on the rooftop of the studio in blazing sunlight at high noon. That's not a good time of day to shoot - but it’s all we had, and it worked out.
Usually when anyone asks for me to shoot, it is because they want the images to feel “natural” and “unguarded” (I’m a great “fly on the wall”). The cover for the single, "Stop and Think It Over" is a shot of Mary doing her vocals, unaware that I was there or shooting. I was in the studio with Mary, Billy and the band, The Reigning Sound, whose front man, Greg Cartwright, co-produced the album with Billy, and so I heard the music being recorded as I was working. To me, Mary's voice has always been the perfect vehicle for whatever she chose to sing at the time. When she was a teen, it was urgent and full of teen angst, but now, as a grown woman, it was wine-dark and knowing, mellifluous and sexy.
Mary sang some songs I already knew, as she was doing several songs written by Greg Cartwright. I'm a big fan of Greg's work, going back to the Compulsive Gamblers and Oblivians. I believe that having Greg vouch for me also helped me in securing this gig and Mary, as it turns out, became a fan of Greg's music as well!
Because this was carefully planned and scheduled, we got everything we needed from me in the two days I spent in the studio with Mary and the band. The only thing we used aside from one camera, two lenses – a 50mm and a 28 mm wide angle - was a single additional light source - a 3K lamp to give us even lighting in a room that's normally illuminated by a single skylight. We shot seven rolls of film, with a couple of those rolls being multiple frames of the same shot, because whenever there's more than one person in a shot, you are guaranteed that someone or another will have their eyes closed!
If you look at the shots in the CD booklet and on the LP where Mary and the band are sitting in a straight line on a couch, I think that you can see that everybody in the band, as well as Billy and Miriam, were pretty relaxed and looked comfortable. It’s obvious they were having a good time and they all looked good. Out of those 7 rolls (168 images), 9 images were used in the album/CD material and about 5-6 different shots were used for publicity, promotion and MySpace images.
I do want to go on record, however, with the fact that drummer Lance Wille looked absolutely PERFECT in each and every frame I shot those days. He was flawless – he never had an eye closed in a shot, or a weird facial expression. That man was camera-ready!
About the photographer – Theresa Kereakes (in her own words) -
I started taking pictures with a Leica Rangefinder when I about 5 years old - I just hijacked my parents' camera. After I broke that, it was all about Instamatics and Polaroids until I was 15 and I got a Pentax SLR because I asked for "a real camera." For Christmas, I got a Nikon FM, which was the latest thing at that time and the camera I still use all these years later.
I started taking rock & roll photos for reasons that are two-fold... first, of course, for the memories, and second, because none of my friends believed that I'd been at whatever concert I said I was at. Only one way to prove it - show them the photos I took.
First concert I photographed was ELO at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1973. It was pouring rain and I'd just gotten my drivers license, so my father INSISTED that he drive me instead of me driving myself. San Luis Obispo is about 100 miles away from where I grew up. My folks were not going to let a kid with a new driver’s license drive that in the rain. The camera I had was an Instamatic with a built in flash. I took a roll of crappy pictures - it’s on 110 film... very narrow, and there is never a photo in focus with that camera anyway, so even though I was in the front row, those are probably the worst photos anyone anywhere has ever taken. I do still have them, though...
From that unfortunate experience, I attended my next big rock show with a real camera - the Pentax - and also a Super 8 movie camera. It was the Faces, with UFO and Rory Gallagher opening up. I wasn't very good at budgeting my film stock and blew all my still camera film on UFO, and have only moving pictures of the Faces and Gallagher. Somehow, my learning curve was fast though, thanks to my friend Bill Heiden, who worked in the record store I shopped at. He was at the same Faces concert, and I coveted his talent and photos. He taught me everything I needed to know about concert photography in a couple of paragraphs worth of explanation and pointing out his shots. The next concert we both saw (although in separate cities) and photographed was Bruce Springsteen. I had it figured out by then, thanks to Bill, and have some good shots of 1973-era Bruce.
In 1976, I was going to UCLA and punk rock was happening. I always took my camera along, and most of my friends were in punk bands, so my archive of hundreds of thousands of punk rock images was really just a natural, organic thing that happened. Nobody knew back then that the people I was hanging out with would amount to anything.
Belinda Carlisle (who was Kurczeski at the time) went to a neighboring high school and we knew each other through extra curricular activities. I was the first one of our circle of friends to leave suburbia and have their own apartment in Los Angeles. Belinda and her best friend Teri Ryan (the future Lorna Doom of the Germs) moved in with me for a few months after there was some crime in the apartment building complex they lived in. I saw the Germs get born in my living room in Hollywood, and also saw Belinda getting the inspiration to try her hand at fronting a band, which ultimately became The Go-Go's.
It was a small social circle back then and we couldn't predict what was going to happen. I believe it was just a “right place-right time” thing. All the punk rock people hung out together and the friendships spawned business relationships very organically and naturally. There was no campaigning to be anyone's “favorite” or “official” photographer. There were only a small handful of us shooting that scene anyway, and each of us has enjoyed our fair share of delayed gratification from being there... 30 years later of course!
I met and became fast friends with Stiv Bators in 1977 and worked with him and the Dead Boys. I worked with Stiv through every phase of his career, and on his solo album, Disconnected (Bomp), I was in the studio with them every day for weeks, hanging out and photographing everything they did. We came up with some concepts for the album cover art, but one night, Stiv was playing with a gun and there was this great moment that David Arnoff captured (which became the cover). All the rest of the photos on the album's back cover and inner sleeve are mine - from the band portraits to the live shots and the candid goofy ones from the studio.
I never knew it until 25 years later that the portrait of Stiv on the back cover of Disconnected had become this legendary image in the cult of Stiv fans. Gregg Kostelich - who owns Get Hip Recordings and is a member of the garage band The Cynics – clued me into this at the Dead Boys 2004 reunion. Stiv was represented on stage by three photos from that album – and they were all mine.
I have to say, I was totally blown away when I walked into the Beachland Ballroom and saw that. When you're an artist, you like to think you made something that speaks to someone – anyone - but you rarely find out, and I found out 25 years after the fact (and I am still amazed).
I was once in a record store in the Midwest and asked the clerk if he could hold something for me while I shopped around the complex. I didn’t want to carry an LP around with me, so I told him that I would come back to the record store before leaving. I gave him my name and he said, "are you the same Theresa Kereakes who shot the Pandoras' Hot Generation picture sleeve?" Apparently men of a certain age appreciated that sleeve a lot - enough to look at the photo credit, it seems. It’s of the band on a beach, wearing bikinis and standing with surfboards - hearkening back to Gidget and beach blanket movies. Those poses were all Paula Pierce's idea - she was another band leader who knew exactly what she wanted. She knew her sex appeal and she let me maximize it.
Theresa’s touring photo exhibit titled “Unguarded Moments: Backstage and Beyond" will hit Lancaster, PA beginning December 5 and running thru January 31, 2009. The exhibit at the Metropolis Gallery includes exclusive shots of everyone from Blondie to Billy Idol to Keith Richards and Bob Dylan, all candid from the '70s-era Sunset Strip where Theresa roamed. For more information on this exhibition, please visit - http://unguardedmoments.info or www.blacklodgepr.com
To visit the RockPoP Gallery collection online, please visit http://www.rockpopgallery.com