Dick Waterman has logged a zillion miles during 40 years in the music business as a manager and promoter. Most of that time, he seems to have carried cameras and a notepad. That’s great news for blues fans, as this volume clearly demonstrates.
A skilled lensman and an often-amusing writer, Waterman’s obsession with the blues began in the early 1960s. He helped re-establish the career of the legendary Son House, becoming his manager and later guiding the careers of Skip James, Booker White, Mississippi John Hurt, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Otis Rush, among many others. Later, he took a girlish Bonnie Raitt under his wing and managed her for 15 years.
There are lovely black-and-white shots of these great artists and many others between the covers, some taken at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festivals from about 35 years ago and all previously unpublished.
Waterman had access to these musicians that most photographers can only dream about, and the results are quite satisfying. Here’s a shot of Skip James from 1964, silhouetted against the sky, hitting the opening note of his first public performance since 1931. There’s one of Bonnie Raitt and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup where Bonnie looks young enough to be carded. Here are four pictures from 1970 where Junior Wells seems to be giving harmonica lessons to Mick Jagger. And there’s a series of Janis Joplin photos from the 1968 Newport Folk Festival showing Pearl in full bloom. It’s enough to make a fan delighted and delirious.
The stories are often just as good: Waterman sued an author who said he “was roundly accused of being a thief.” Later, the author claimed that Junior Wells offered to “take care” of Waterman. When Waterman told Wells of the incident, he twice offered to testify that the incident never happened. Robert Lockwood also offered to testify, saying, “You are one of the ugliest motherfuckers that I have ever met, but at least you’re honest.” And the tale of “Big Mama” Thornton stinking up an entire hotel as she cooked a breakfast of chitterlings and hog maws on a hotplate made me laugh until my sides hurt.
If your favorite blues fan has a coffee table, this book should be on it.
E-mail Vic Doucette at firstname.lastname@example.org.