Wriggling his undraped rump while rising from a pool — thank you, Robert Plant, for at least not flashing your zeppelin at the shutterbug.
Over here is a three-frame montage of Bette Midler performing in … what is that, a slip with a heart stitched between her breasts, or a bizarre cocktail dress?
There’s shirtless “Shaft” composer Isaac Hayes snapped while garbed in crisscrossing chains — clearly a baaad mutha. (Fine, we’ll say it: Shut your mouth!)
And what in the name of Bennie and the Jets is Elton John wearing? (You know what? Forget it: Most of us have stopped asking.)
“I couldn’t play, so what would be my access to this world? My camera,” says photographer Robert M. Knight, a 59-year-old chronicler of rock royalty. “I remember everything because I never did any drugs.”
That must have been a formidable pharmaceutical temptation to resist given the chemically adventurous company he’s kept, but Knight’s sober eye through the lens yielded “40 x 40,” a collection of 40 portraits taken over four decades at the newly opened Symbolic Gallery.
“When I walk into the Hard Rock, it’s like I’m walking through my life,” says the Hawaii-born Knight, a cool-cat vision in black — leather jacket, pants, half-boots, Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, hepcat glasses and the sort of beret that should only be issued to artistic types — as he guides a guest through the retrospective that reflects his rock ‘n’ roll journey. “Every hero I’ve ever had, I’ve met. And I’m probably the only guy who has worked with both Hendrix and Panic! at the Disco.”
Let’s start with Plant’s immodest emergence from a swim. “I shot Led Zeppelin’s first show in America, 175 people at the Whiskey a Go Go. … He looks like a Greek god, doesn’t he?” … Next. Here’s Hendrix, performance photos capturing a prism of pleasure and passion on his face: “A really mellow guy. There was all this pressure then on black artists to join all the black power movements, but he didn’t have time for that. He was a multinational person.”
And Elton John, dressed in … something. “He called me at home and asked if he could come over, said he didn’t want to stay at a hotel,” Knight recalls. “Wouldn’t you like to have Elton John as a houseguest? When I photographed him onstage, he’d stop in the middle of a song and pose, then continue. I have lots of crazy shots of Elton.”
The exhibit’s a potpourri of rockers in midrock, and repose: Mick Jagger, serpentine style caught in midslither; guitar-wielding Eddie Van Halen scissor-kicking in midair; B.B. King, head tossed back in a joyous laugh in one shot, eyes closed in concentration as he strums in another; craggy Johnny Cash, weathered mug resembling a dry riverbed; Billy Idol, left side of his haunting profile cloaked in shadow; Ray Charles at the piano, stage lights sparkling off his dark glasses.
The hitmakers just keep on coming: Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton, Santana, Tommy Lee, Rufus Wainwright, Green Day, George Clinton. And the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, snapped by Knight just before the helicopter ride he would not survive.
“There’s such an amazing artistic quality,” says Robert Rios, vice president of the gallery. “And there’s a level of intimacy Robert has with them. These photos really capture an essential part of American history.”
We stroll on.
There’s top-hatted Slash, face lit by an affable smirk. “A great friend,” says Knight, whose life is the basis for an upcoming documentary. “I didn’t see any drug use. When I’ve been around, he’s the model of control. I’ve seen him have a beer, but never screwed up.” … Little Richard, head aloft, eyes wide. “He was running about five hours late. He came in, said he had to go to the bank, and I had a minute and a half to do an entire shoot. But we nailed it.” …
There’s the oddly benevolent menace of Alice Cooper, cooing seductively at a snake. “We were invited to a Halloween party, and he said, ‘I’ll go as Alice Cooper.’ And no one was the wiser. They just thought it was some guy dressed up as Alice Cooper.” And good buddy Jeff Beck, flanked by cars, one prop noticeably absent. “The greatest guitar player, and when I shot this he didn’t have one. He has no interest in drugs and spends all his free time building hot rods.”
Listen to him: The man is still giddy after decades around the greats. For Knight — with a nod to Billy Joel — whether playing hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk, they’re still rock ‘n’ rollers to him.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at email@example.com or (702) 383-0256.what: “40 x 40: A Robert M. Knight Retrospective”
when: Noon to 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays (through Feb. 29)
where: Symbolic Gallery, 4631 S. Dean Martin Drive
admission: Free (507-5263)