Rock and Roll Lens

By Marilyn Smulders

A lifetime ago, Bridgewater photographer Eric Hayes captured 1960s music icons with his trusty Nikon.

In his early 20s, a camera slung around his neck, he wore an uneasy expression he hoped would pass as nonchalant. Then photography student Eric Hayes felt the insistent tap on his shoulder he expected would mean he was getting booted out of the Hollywood Bowl.

Instead, it was an invitation.

"Mr. Harrison would like you to come backstage and take some pictures of him with the other musicians," said the man attached to the tapping finger.

Harrison, as in George Harrison.

"So there I was!" recalls Hayes, some 35 years later, as he looks at the photographs he took that day. The Beatle, dressed in a collarless white cotton shirt, sits on a low sofa, shoulder-to-shoulder with brilliant Indian musicians Aalla Rakha, Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar and Bismillah Khan. In one shot, Harrison looks intense, his serious gaze radiating under dark, shaggy bangs. In another, he looks at the camera with a smile, his eyes warm and welcoming.

"I had never done too much before," says Hayes, 57, originally from Kelowna in B.C's Okanagan Valley. His hair and beard are grey now and he lives in Bridgewater with his wife, photographer Mary Dixon. "And here I was in California in the middle of the scene - sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll! I felt like I was just released from jail. The Beatles told us, 'All you need is love,' and I believed them."

That unexpected tap on the shoulder introduced Hayes to a new life. He dropped out of school (the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif.) and bought a one-way ticket to Bombay along with a girl he met at a party. Shankar's manager caught up with him in Japan and summoned him back to India to take pictures of the sitar player, who was shooting a film, Ravi Shankar and the Music of India.

Eventually, Hayes made his way to London, where he found himself at the centre of a hothouse music scene. He was 23; his hair was past his shoulders, a scarf was knotted around his neck, and his ever-present companion was a Nikon FTn he bought in Japan.

On display at ViewPoint Gallery in Halifax are some of the highlights from that year-and-a-half in England: Roger Daltry, The Who frontman - trim and dashing in a purple velvet suit - poking through antiques at a neighbour's country home; a fresh-faced Bob Dylan in a white suit performing at the Isle of Wight Festival; and an unknown, awkward singer by the name of Joe Cocker posing by the rocky seashore in Yorkshire.

There are incredible shots of Mick Jagger and John Lennon taken after Hayes snuck in through a side door where The Rolling Stones were shooting The Rock & Roll Circus, a BBC special that never aired. Jagger, playing the ringmaster, is as beautiful as a fashion model, his lips pouting, his hair glossy as it falls over his eyes.

Lennon, wearing a bizarre fringe of tulle around his neck and a big-brimmed hat, looks through his granny glasses and down his long nose right into Hayes's lens.

Hayes caught many of these young stars while at their concerts. Others became friends, notably Daltrey, Cocker, and the members of Fairport Convention.

Hayes's shot of Sandy Denny's parents standing primly outside their country estate while the band has tea on the lawn in the background made the cover of Fairport's landmark 1969 album, Unhalfbricking.

For years, Hayes's photographs and negatives were packed in boxes, and moved from home to home: to B.C., where he became a back-to-the-lander and gave up photography, then to Toronto where he picked up his camera again and started shooting for the Toronto Star and Maclean's, and eventually to Nova Scotia, where he shot covers for Harrowsmith, Equinox, Macleans, and many more. His business, Dixon Hayes Photography, is in Bridgewater. About 10 years ago, he got out the battered boxes from another lifetime.

"I'm not sure why it's taken me so long," says Hayes. "I guess I finally have time to look back a bit at who I was and what I was doing."

And who was that 23-year-old?

"I'd say he was outgoing, with not a lot of fear, a little irreverent," muses Hayes. "There was a bit of the rebel in him, finally out from the thumb of his parents, but still rooted, you know? I wasn't a bad kid. I respected myself and the people whose pictures I was taking. There was a fair bit of love in my heart."

IF YOU GO

  • WHAT: Legends of Rock and Roll, photographs by Eric Hayes, at ViewPoint Gallery, 2050 Gottingen St., Halifax.
  • WHO: Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, Steve Winwood and more.
  • WHEN: Wednesdays to Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. to March 30.HOW MUCH: Photographs range in price from $200 to $690.

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