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Jim Morrison of The Doors

1968 Sitting in the back of a limo before a concet, Hollywood

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Fame and Fortune: Legendary Photographs

Fame and Fortune: Legendary Photographs by James Fortune of Rock’s Greatest Stars

By Brooke Saunders

In the late sixties and seventies, James Fortune took more than 20,000 pictures of The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, and many others, both onstage and off. His work has graced the cover of Jimmy Page’s solo CD  “How The West Was Won,” Led Zeppelin’s “Mothership” CD, and a recent Who documentary. Eighteen prints are displayed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and countless coffee-table books contain his pictures, including the latest one about The Doors.

One of Fortune’s best-known images is Robert Plant holding a dove that had just landed in his hands, framed by a massive crowd at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. This became one of the most famous rock posters ever, Led Zeppelin was breaking the Beatle’s record for attendance at one concert, and a print now hangs in Plant’s home in England.

Fortune’s career began when he filmed the LA riots on Sunset Boulevard in 1966, and a picture of protesters on the roof of a bus was in publications around the world. But the first rock star shoot was in May 1967, when Fortune contacted record companies from his college newspaper, and gotten results.

“To my surprise, Elektra Records called back asking me if I could photograph one of their new bands, The Doors, at a recording session. When we arrived at Sunset Sound, we found Jim Morrison leaning against a wall staring at us, so we said hello, and entered the studio, and introduced ourselves to Paul Rothchild, their producer. As we sat down in the control room, we heard them playing back the instrumental of “I Can See Your Face In My Mind.”

Later in the session, vocals were added, relates Fortune. “Morrison wanted the lights turned down low as he sang.”  The band finished, and Fortune took more pictures outside.

“Rothchild called for a break, and we went out on Sunset Boulevard, and I got a few photos of the band. I also photographed them at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and in the back of a limousine, which is the one of Morrison with a hat pulled down.”

Fortune went into the Navy from 1968 to 1969 as a combat photographer, and after returning, he got a job taking pictures for the National Association for Record Merchandising, the largest of the recording industry trade associations.  For the next seven years, he photographed bands at the many events held by N.A.R.M, resulting in many of his best shots.

In 1973, a call came from Led Zeppelin’s publicist, and Fortune was asked to meet the band at the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard. They always stayed at the Hyatt, which was jokingly called the “Continental Riot House,” because of all the wild parties. It was a familiar place to Fortune.

“The rumors you hear about Led Zeppelin’s parties there are all true, from Harley rides down hallways to staged drugged-out orgies, not to mention the secret affair between Jimmy Page and his 14-year old model Lori Maddox. Too bad there are not more photos of what went down there.”

When arriving at the suite, the band was too drunk to cooperate with the photo taking. So their large and beefy road manager Peter Grant bodily picked them up, and put them in a chair that would be best for the picture.

“I wanted a close shot that would be good for the newspapers, because there were already a lot of pictures out there with wide angles. The chair in the corner looked good for that purpose.”

In 1974, Fortune teamed up with Bob Yamasaki and One Stop Posters in Los Angeles. Over the next five years, they published ten rock and roll posters that sold over 700,000 copies.

Fortune took pictures of Paul McCartney and his family on several occasions in Los Angeles in 1975, and tells the story.

“I walked into the pool area where McCartney and his family were sitting. Then Paul came out of the pool, and held a white towel against his body in a great imitation of Gypsy Rose Lee, so I snapped a picture. As we hung around the pool, Paul’s little girl climbed out and said, “my feets are hot, my feets are hot.” I set down my camera and carried her over to Paul’s wife, Linda, who thanked me. I finished taking a number of photos there, and then I was asked to come back the next day to the Beverly Hills Hotel, and then again for another visit.”

The former Beatle ordered a half-dozen 11 x 14 prints from the sessions, according to Fortune, and was a pleasure to work with.

Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post wrote in 2005 about an exhibition of Fortune’s pictures, calling him a “prolific chronicler of rock royalty.” Some of the pictures he described included Keith Moon “cavorting with what appear to be topless groupies,” and a portrait of a “buff, bleeding, and not-yet-wizened Iggy Pop” after a performance at the Whisky a Go-Go in LA.

In that picture, Iggy was flipping the bird, and this classic takes its place along with rock’s most stunning and violent images, such as Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his guitar at Monterey Pop Festival and The Who smashing amps and drums.

But the prize for strangeness among the images, according to O’Sullivan, “must surely go to the artist’s photograph of odd-threesome Linda Lovelace of “Deep Throat” fame; Moon (yes, him again); and Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. Man, wouldn’t you love to hear the story behind that night?”

In 2008, Peter Skinner of Rangerfinder magazine wrote a feature story on Fortune in their July issue, and stated he was “one of the most important photographers to document the halcyon years of rock.” He went on to say “the connection, the intimacy and rapport that exude from Fortune’s images illustrate the close, even personal relationship and trust between subject and photographer. ”

In addition to invitations to some very exclusive events at galleries and openings involving his work, the job still has its perks. Recently, Fortune received at his home in Virginia a package with prints of an Eric Clapton photograph to sign, and there were Clapton’s signatures. “It was great to see that signature and add mine, and ship them out,” said Fortune.