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RIP Jim Marshall; he photographed the Beatles, Johnny Cash, and everyone else

Jim Marshall has died in his sleep during a promotional tour of his great photography work over the decades. I’m reposting here my interview with Marshall from last year, when we boozed it up and chatted about his incredible past:

DOUG ELFMAN: This photographer can rock and roll

A Vegas snapshot: The Doobie Brothers came to town Saturday for a concert, and while they were here, they decided to pose for a new set of press kit photos. They called in a heavy hitter of entertainment photojournalism: Jim (expletive) Marshall.

Marshall is 73, short, with a magnificent hanging nose and a genuine laugh that rolls out unashamed.

The Doobies met Marshall at the studio of photographer Denise Truscello, then at her home. He shot them in film with his old Leicas and ancient Hasselblad.

He cussed them in a sort of comedy routine, loosening them to pose naturally and to look at the lens.

During breaks, we talked about his portfolio: Marshall caught Bob Dylan smoking in an alley with Allen Ginsberg, Miles Davis stalking a boxing ring, Janis Joplin cradling Southern Comfort, Mick Jagger hugging Jack Daniels, Jimi Hendrix soloing at Monterey, Jerry Garcia lounging at Woodstock.

Marshall was the only photographer at the final paying concert by the Beatles, in 1966, shooting as they strolled on the stadium grass.

His most iconic shots might be of Johnny Cash at his Folsom and San Quentin prison concerts, especially Cash flipping the bird at Marshall, his mouth appearing to form an expletive.

"When they did the Folsom album, Columbia (Records) didn’t want to do it," he says. "I think it only cost $8,000 or $10,000 to (record). It wasn’t a big deal. But Johnny told Columbia he wanted me there.

"A year later, he did the San Quentin show," he adds. "And we’re at sound check. And I said, ‘Johnny, let’s do a shot for the warden.’ " So the outlaw Johnny Cash turned to Marshall and flipped the bird.

"Hahaha! That was it, man."

During breaks at Saturday’s Doobies shoot, various Doobies and others in the room rushed to Marshall to pose for photos next to him while they all flipped the bird, Johnny-style.

A generation ago, Marshall got the call to shoot the "At Fillmore East" album cover for the Allman Brothers, in the rural South.

"I got them to smile because I had the only cocaine in Macon, Ga.," Marshall says.

Tell me more, I say.

"Is this gonna be for publication?"

Yes, I say.

"Ah, (expletive) it. It’s 40 years ago. I had the only coke in Macon, Ga. We’re doing a group shot for the Fillmore East album cover. I say, ‘Hey guys, give me a (expletive) smiling shot, or I’m not gonna put out any coke.’ And that was it. So Duane goes, ‘On three, guys.’ One shot."

On tour and in the studio with the Rolling Stones, there was "a lot of coke."

"They were always cooperative as hell. Now, you can’t even get near ’em — and I know ’em, and you can’t get near ’em. Too many PR people. Too many handlers. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t (expletive) stop."

These days, corporate labels let photographers shoot only the first two or three songs of a concert, and often, the band owns the images.

Marshall owns his work (as you can see at MarshallPhoto.com). And he has been a rare photographer to bypass corporate structure.

"I shot Lenny Kravitz. Some security guy goes, ‘You can only shoot two numbers.’ I say, ‘(Expletive) you.’ Lenny, from the stage, says, ‘Hey (expletive), he’s with me!’ Hahaha. Then I get on the stage with Lenny. And John Mayer — same thing. Because if my body of work doesn’t mean something, then (expletive) you, I don’t want to do you."

Based in San Francisco, jobs always came easy. John Coltrane. Lenny Bruce.

"Basically I’m like a reporter with a camera. A photojournalist. I’m on the wall. I take pictures as they happen. I very rarely do studio stuff."

Not long ago, a Thelonious Monk album collection came out, crediting Marshall with the cover shot.

"I called (the record exec) and said, ‘It’s not my picture.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, it is.’ I go, ‘Adam, I know my stuff on Monk like I know the back of my hand.’ He goes, ‘That’s your picture. … We had the negatives in our files — but they were misfiled for 45 years. They were filed under Thelonious, not under Monk.’

"I went, ‘(expletive),’ man. I didn’t even remember!" he says. "It’s been a great life. I think I’ve lived 10 lifetimes. … I gotta get back to work."

And back he went to the Doobies. They shot the bird at him for one frame. Flash, flash, flash, flash, snapshot.

Did you go to a show in Vegas recently? Send me a review at delfman@review journal.com, and I’ll post it at review journal.com/elfman. My column appears Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

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