|Frank Zappa. Click on pic for article.
|Howlin' Wolf and friends.
|Hit Parader article: the "Summer in the City" recording session.
|Diana Ross shopping on New York's 5th Avenue, 1965
|My Exciting Life Interviewing and Photographing 1960's Rock & Roll Stars in New York!
by Don Paulsen
In the 1960’s, New York City was the place to be in pop music. The incredible explosion of musical
talent erupting back then descended on the city almost daily it seemed. New York was a necessary
stop on the road to fame and fortune. Other music capitals such as Los Angeles, London, and
Nashville were still years away from sharing the spotlight with New York. I’d moved to New York in
1957 from New Haven at age seventeen to attend art school, study the magnificent masterpieces in
all the city’s great museums, and dig jazz in the hip nightclubs. I loved the music, the culture and
the nightlife. I knew I’d found my new home in the city that never sleeps. Little did I suspect that by
the end of the Sixties I would become a witness close-up to the incredible evolution and change that
was about to engulf the music industry and our society. I would also have the chance to write about
it, and capture behind-the-scenes photographs. Along the way, I would meet, interview and
photograph virtually every major recording artist to hit the pop charts during the era. It was a
wonderful experience…the kind of access that many dream about.
I was trying to sell my cartoons to magazines like the New Yorker when one day in 1964 my old high
school friend Jim Delehante, an editor at Hit Parader magazine, called me. He wanted help doing
some interviews with rock music performers. Hit Parader was the only consumer publication in those
days to provide in-depth coverage of the popular music scene, and remained so until the
introduction of Rolling Stone in late 1967. Hit Parader, with editorial offices on 36th Street, boasted
a monthly circulation of nearly 200,000, and a readership close to one million. Each month, dozens
of articles about recording artists and trends needed to be written, with accompanying photographs.
I’d never even heard the word “photojournalist.” Years later, friends told me that’s what I was. I
carried a small pocket notebook and a $30 Kodak Pony camera I’d bought as a teenager, to cover
my assignments. Soon I added a compact reel-to-reel tape recorder. Within a month I was on staff,
making $75 a week—my first job with a regular salary. And I was on the masthead with Jim, as
“editor” of the magazine. During my first months, I was frequently terrified that I wouldn't be able to
handle my new responsibilities. I wasn't even sure I could write enough adequate articles every
month. Because I wasn't a trained journalist, or even a college graduate, the publishers said they
would put me “on trial” to see how I worked out. My trial period was never mentioned again, but I
didn't begin to feel really secure in my new job for awhile. In addition to my 40 weekly hours in the
Hit Parader office, I put in another 20 or more hours each week going to clubs, concerts, press
parties and conferences, movie screenings and late night recording sessions. Even when I had to
go to numerous events seven days a week, it didn't seem like work. I was meeting rising stars early
in their careers, when most of them were still unspoiled and not yet jaded. I was learning about how
the music business worked, and I was becoming an insider in one of the most exciting creative
centers of the entertainment industry.
Back then, it was easy to get an interview. Backstage passes were no problem. And record
companies readily granted my frequent requests to photograph artists at work in the recording
studio—astonishing by today’s standards. At that time I never ran into anyone else on the scene
who combined serious writing with detailed photography. Sure, there were a few radio reporters
who were capturing brief sound bites on their tape recorders…and occasionally, a photographer
from a magazine such as Look, or Life, on assignment to photograph curious “new sensations” like
the Beatles, the Mama’s & the Papas, or perhaps the Jefferson Airplane. Strange as it may seem, I
had very little competition or resistance in the field.
I learned very quickly just how big a city New York was, when it came to covering the music scene.
All the prominent record companies--CBS, RCA, Capitol, Decca, Atlantic, Mercury, MGM, and many
influential independents, such as Blue Note, Prestige, Bell, Jubilee and Red Bird--had their home
offices in in Manhattan. There were dozens of recording studios throughout the city, with virtuoso
studio musicians and producers who were finding new fortunes with each chart hit.
New York had the prestige venues--Carnegie Hall, where the Rolling Stones played their first US
concert; the Paramount Theatre in Times Square, where bobby soxers who swooned over Sinatra in
the ‘40’s were replaced by teenie-boppers screaming at Chuck Berry and Jackie Wilson in the 50’s,
and The Animals and Jan & Dean in the 60’s. And of course, there were the Beatles at New York’s
Shea Stadium which marked the beginning of Arena Rock.
Following the Beatles’ example, hundreds of young composers and performers emerged from far
and wide, fronting groups as diverse as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who and Cream
originating from London. The Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead from San Francisco; The Byrds,
Mamas & Papas, Beach Boys and Frank Zappa from Los Angeles, and Simon & Garfunkle, The
Lovin’ Spoonful and The Young Rascals from hometown New York. They all had one thing in
common: they had to come to New York City. New York was the mecca, the center of it all…where
the powerful forces, the big money and the multiple media outlets were headquartered.
Local disc jockeys and radio station program directors weilded great power in New York. It started
when Alan Freed moved from Cleveland to NYC in the late 1950’s and began presenting all-star
shows in New York theaters. By the early 60Õs, the self-appointed ‘Fifth Beatle’ Murray The K, the
DJs at station ‘W-A-Beatle-C’ and the WMCA Good Guys were hosting their own all-star stage
shows and setting the style for radio stations across the USA to imitate. Record companies went out
of their way to do favors for DJ’s in hopes of getting better exposure for their records.
Also based mainly in New York, unknown to most record buyers, were the the music industry trade
publications--Billboard, Cash Box and Record World. Variety, the show business bible, was based in
Hollywood, but they also had a strong presence in NYC. Serious consumer-oriented music
magazines, such as Down Beat, Metronome and Hit Parader, as well as such teen fan magazines as
16, Datebook and Teen Beat were headquartered in the city too.
New York also had a variety of showcase nightclubs, from The Copacabana and The Latin Quarter
at the high end, to Birdland, Half Note, Five Spot and other jazz clubs, and the twist clubs still
surviving in the 60Õs--the Peppermint Lounge, Trude Hellers and The Gold Bug. In Greenwich
Village, where folk-rock was incubated, there was the Gaslight, the Cafe Wha?, a popular tourist
attraction, and the Bitter End, a music and comedy club where Peter, Paul & Mary, Bill Cosby,
Woody Allen, Spanky & Our Gang and The Electric Flag performed. Some of the best musical
talent came out of The Night Owl Cafe--The Lovin’ Spoonful, Blues Magoos, James Taylor’s early
group--The Flying Machine, The Magicians, Richie Havens, Tim Buckley and others. Many
important artists made their NY debut at The Cafe Au Go Go--Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful
Dead, Cream (when Clapton first jammed with B.B. King), Blood, Sweat & Tears, Paul Butterfield
Band, Steve Paul's The Scene, where the Doors, Traffic, Steppenwolf, Moby Grape and many
others played, and where Jimi Hendrix often found all-night jam sessions. I covered most of these
For soul music artists, The Apollo Theatre in Harlem was the place to be seen. I was one of the few
caucasians who went to the Apollo two or three times a month to see, hear, photograph and
interview such fast-rising Motown stars as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Temptations,
Marvin Gaye, Martha & The Vandellas, Mary Wells, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops
and many others. The Apollo was also the place to catch legendary musicians who were still
dynamic perforers--James Brown, Little Richard, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, Bo
Diddley, Wilson Pickett, The Coasters, Ben E. King, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Rushing, and more.
Of course, New York had the most important place for artists to play if they wanted to achieve
instant recognition throughout the USA, and the world… a Sunday evening variety show in New York
City hosted by a mumbling newspaper columnist who had—thanks to television—become the world’s
most influential star-maker. The Ed Sullivan Show was the premier showcase in its time. Emerging
pop and rock musicians were the most popular attractions. Elvis Presley and The Beatles made
instant breakthroughs on the Sullivan Show. After that, most every up and coming group made an
appearance. For many years it was the one TV program an entire nation watched every Sunday
night—live from New York.
And so, there I was, running here and there trying to cover it all (or as much as humanly possible),
excited to be at each new cafe performance, recording session, hotel room, or press conference.
Those days were rather special I admit: meeting new artists like Simon & Garfunkle in their dressing
room…hanging out with Frank Zappa in an early recording session…meeting the Rolling Stones at
their first US press conference…photographing Tom Jones right after his first Ed Sullivan
appearance…and many, many more. I first learned to appreciate music on 78 rpm phonograph
records my parents bought. In high school, I built a radio from a kit and had my first exposure to the
music of a new era--rock & roll in the 50’s. The first album I bought was ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by
Bill Hayley & The Comets. Later, I added jazz and classical LP’s to my growing collection. But I never
dreamed I’d be witness to the music scene like this! Now, here I was mingling with the music-makers
as if I were one of them, in the center of it all…New York City! This was the time…and this was the
The above was written as an introduction for an unpublished book. Don's archive contained over 5000 negative
images. It was acquired in 2005 by Michael Ochs Archives (which was subsequently sold to Getty Images).
Don Paulsen passed away in August 2005.
|A Byrds press conference with Jim (Roger) McGuinn and David Crosby.