Millions have seen Herb Greene’s portraits of the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and other rock icons, but few know that the photographer lives in nearby Maynard. Locals can get a close-up view of some of his most sought-after photos at the Griffin Museum at Digital Silver Imaging in Belmont, where Dead 50 Years will be on view from Sept. 18 to Oct. 9. Before the exhibit’s opening, we caught up with the man behind the camera.
Tell us about the San Francisco scene—about the Dead and the rest of the psychedelic bands. This was pre-Summer of Love stuff, when the LSD thing was surfacing and Timothy Leary was cruising through town. I was going to state college. I was the guy with long hair and the camera, and it was just a small world. We’d wander up to Haight Street and visit the Grateful Dead up at 710, and then you’d pop over to the Charlatans, which was a block away, and if you wanted you could walk over to the [Jefferson] Airplane and their mansion on Fulton Street. It was a brief period of time. Didn’t last a night and a day.
And you were selling the photos to… Oh, God no. There was no market for them.
But you had a reputation for photographing bands and getting great shots. Yeah. And I did. We were in an opera house and had a burlesque wardrobe, and that was utilized by Jeff Beck. And Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood got dressed up in that stuff and pranced around the studio singing “Sisters.” Then there’s the story of Led Zeppelin being freaked out by the Grateful Dead, who showed up in the middle of a session and started shooting off guns in the studio.
How did you gain such an intimate look into the Dead? I was a friend. I was somebody they trusted. I managed to survive 50 years without ever getting thrown out because I never asked for anything and I knew when to leave. And a lot of people didn’t. So I ended up with 10 sittings in 30 years.
That’s it? That’s it. Brief encounters with the Dead. On Facebook, I’m “the legendary photographer,” which is kind of laughable to me.
You were at the Dead’s 50th reunion in Chicago. What was that like for you? Justin Kreutzmann, [drummer] Bill Kreutzmann’s kid, did the visuals for the show, and they used my stuff lavishly. That stuff got etched into the retinas of a lot of people. It blew me away.
Why are people still listening to the music and looking at these photos? It’s really tribal, the Grateful Dead. …[So] the interest in the work is relevant. It survived 50 years. And the Dead carried that torch all those years.