When you were hanging out with Janis Joplin, rock ‘n’ roll photographer Michael Friedman said the other day that anything can happen.
âJanis was a dynamic personality,â said Friedman, whose solo photo exhibit, âThe Lost Negatives,â is on display this weekend at the FOUND: RE Phoenix hotel. âOne day I was in my office negotiating a recording deal with some guys from Capitol Records when I heard Janis come down the hall. She wore 25 silver bracelets, so you would always hear her coming. My door swung open and she said, ‘Hey, baby, wanna see my new tattoo?’ And she pulls up her blouse and there’s a little heart just above her left breast. She turns to the guys at the record company and says, âWhat do you guys think? That was the end of this meeting, let’s just say.
Friedman has had a million stories, many from his years as a business leader and music producer when he has worked with everyone from Todd Rundgren to Paul Butterfield. He always knew he would work in rock ‘n’ roll, even though he thought it would be as a musician. As a child in the mid-1950s, he formed the first rock band from his hometown of Westport, Connecticut.
âI wasn’t much of a drummer,â he admitted. âI was left-handed and self-taught and not very good. But we got a recording deal and recorded a few singles, and I got to hear myself on the radio, which at 19 is a real pleasure.
In 1961 Friedman traveled to Tucson, where he attended the U of A and then landed a job as a publicist for some of the biggest rock groups of the late 1960s.
âWe represented The Hollies, The Mamas and Papas, Herman’s Hermits,â he recalls. âBut I wanted to lead a group, so I found this group called Nazz in Philadelphia. You know, Todd Rundgren’s first group. I got them a recording contract and produced the first version of “Hello It’s Me”. Then I came to work one day, and they were carrying my partner on a stretcher. He died in his sleep. It was the end of this business.
Friedman went to work for rock director Albert Grossman, who guided the careers of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary and Gordon Lightfoot.
âIt was incredible luck,â he said. âI found myself in the front row of the biggest show in the world. It was in the late 60s and I had just started to get into photography.
He traveled with his famous musician friends, camera in tow.
âNewspaper and magazine photographers were in the pit taking pictures,â Friedman said, âand not hanging out backstage or in the locker room. I had incredible access.
Between 1967 and 1973, Friedman took thousands of photos – of the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Joplin, The Band, Rundgren, and dozens more – but didn’t print many. His wife found a box of negatives in their attic a few years ago and began to restore them.
âWhen we started printing these images, it was the first time I saw a lot of them,â he said.
The photographs were first exhibited in 2019 at the California Heritage Museum in Los Angeles. This show led to a year-long exhibition at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The Men’s Arts Council hosts the FOUND: RE exhibition for the benefit of the Phoenix Art Museum.
For Friedman, each of these images told a personal story. A photo of Paul Butterfield reminded Friedman Django of the mutt given to her by the blues singer, while a portrait of Joplin reminded her of a gig she played for the Hells Angels at a run-down hotel where members of the public copulated on stage.
âThen I took Bob Dylan to (Austrian-born filmmaker) Otto Preminger,â Friedman recalls. “Preminger wanted Bob to mark this horrible movie he made, and he wanted to show the movie so we could see what we thought.”
Dylan fell asleep during the screening. When Preminger asked what the singer thought of his movie, Dylan told him he had to come back that night and watch the movie again. “But you can’t be here,” Dylan recalled from Dylan to the famous director.
“And Preminger said to Bob, ‘But this is my house. I live here!'”
A photograph of his friend Kris Kristofferson reminded Friedman of the time he accompanied the singer-songwriter to a recording of The Dean Martin Show.
âKris didn’t like something in the script, and we decided he wouldn’t. Dean stopped by the locker room with a bottle of Jack Daniels and soon he and Kris were half in the bag. Kris said : ‘I’m not doing your show, we’re going to Pink’s to get hot dogs, do you want to come?’ ”
It was a crazy time, Friedman said. âBut it all made sense while it was happening. And somewhere in there, I made a connection between photography and music. For me, there was a circle that started when I heard the music and ended when I saw the performer reappear in the form of one of my photographs.
Showing his rock ‘n’ roll portraits in Phoenix was like closing another kind of circle, Friedman thought.
âMy journey into the music business actually started in Arizona,â he said. “So being back here is kind of like coming home.”
“The Lost Negatives of Rock & Roll”: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 20 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, November 21. FOUND: RE Phoenix, 1100 North Central Avenue. There is no cost to attend.