The Los Angeles music scene of the late 1960s may seem like an untouchable fantasy today, but for nascent photographer Linda Wolf, it was everyday life. Growing up just outside of Hollywood, Wolf was fortunate enough to rub elbows with rising stars like Jackson Browne and the Band throughout her teenage years.
After befriending and moving in with Fanny, the first all-female rock group to be signed to a major label, she managed to snag the role of official photographer on the legendary 1970 Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour and, at the age of 19, traveled the country with the likes of Claudia Lennear, Rita Coolidge, and Leon Russell.
Since then, her success has extended into other projects and genres of photography, but she recently returned to the rock world as part of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s 2015 Lockn’ Festival tribute to Joe Cocker and the original Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, and again as TTB’s photographer on the road this past summer.
In her interview with REBEAT, Linda Wolf discusses her myriad experiences, from coming of age in the music industry to some of her most recent adventures.
REBEAT: How did you get into photography in the first place, and how did you end up as a rock photographer?
LINDA WOLF: I lived in LA and went to Hollywood High School. I was surrounded by the entertainment industry all my life, [and] it was natural for me to gravitate toward the camera, particularly because my dad put me in front of it and then gave me my first camera as a young teen. It was my way of being able to participate with the music I loved, since I couldn’t play well enough to actually be part of a band. Sadly, because I would have given anything to be a musician professionally.
I’ve always had a strong feminist streak, and I didn’t want to be just somebody’s girlfriend sitting around, watching him play guitar, so it was natural for me to start taking pictures as a way to express myself, since I was not in a band.
At Paxton [Lodge, the infamous experimental retreat center in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Quincy, California], a musician named Kenny Jenkins had put in a darkroom, and I used to hang out there with him. It was the first time I saw a photograph emerge from the developer, and I was immediately hooked. It was magical. From then on, I felt I was meant to be a photographer.
How did you get to be the in-house photographer for the band Fanny?
After I came home from Paxton Lodge, I got a job at Reprise Records as secretary to Barry Rothman. His office was next door to producer Richard Perry. One day, Richard asked me if I would watch out for this group of girl musicians he was signing. He wanted me to take them into an office and keep them company until he arrived.
When I saw June, Jean, and Alice come strutting through the hallway, my mouth dropped open. I had only seen my boyfriends and other male musicians with that kind of attitude and charisma. I’d known singer artists like Pamela Polland and Linda Ronstadt, but an all-girl rock band? That was new. This was 1969, and there had not been an all-girl rock band yet!
June Millington — the guitarist for Fanny — and I immediately bonded, as I did with Alice DuBuhr (the drummer), and June’s sister, Jean (bass and vocals). In fact, we’ve all been friends ever since that day. June told me they were looking for a keyboard player, and I said, “Well, I play piano.” So, I went over that night.
We liked each other from the get-go, but I really couldn’t play well enough to join the band. I ended up staying over at their house Fanny Hill for the weekend, which was another mansion up on Marmont. I discovered June loved photography so much she had set up a darkroom there behind their rehearsal room.
I told her I was into photography, and she said, “Why don’t you be our photographer?” I moved in, quit my job with Reprise, and lived at Fanny Hill, documenting the girls for about a year until I went on the road with Joe.
What was the experience of living with Fanny like?
A lot of good times! It was a house of girls — young women! We cooked, cleaned, and jammed, but mostly it was serious music practice! Lots of people came by — Richard Perry was there a lot, working with the girls in the rehearsal room. And lots of other people came by, people who heard about Fanny and the oddity of an all-girl band.
For me, it was inspirational — quite a leap into a new form of seriousness, of being a female who was not using sexuality to relate with guys, but pursuing careers and developing strengths in the fields we were choosing.
We didn’t have a lot of money. Warner Brothers gave the girls an advance, but it was not a lot. We lived in this mansion but did our laundry at the local laundromat and used coupons to purchase extra food.
My mother and June and Jean’s mother and father came and cooked dinner together from time to time, and various girlfriends and boyfriends hung out, jammed, spent the night, etc. The girls played gigs at the Troubadour and other clubs, and I took photos of everything.
It was a girls’ house, but in the early years of Fanny, nobody wore makeup or slept in curlers or anything like that. It was jeans and t-shirts and straight hair that parted down the middle — very unisex. The girls were clear that they were not going to play the game that management wanted them to play, of the glamor girl that had to look sexy. They were going to be taken seriously as musicians, that was for sure.
I gained a lot of self-esteem and self-confidence during that year. June, in particular, was a great inspiration to me. She was never without her guitar, studying some piece of music. She would sit and pick the needle off the record player over and over, listening to somebody like Les Paul or John Lennon playing a guitar riff so she could learn it.
When I moved in, they were looking for a keyboardist, and finally, after posting tons of handwritten want ads on bulletin boards throughout Hollywood, Nickey Barclay came along. Nickey was really good, really smart, but really hard to incorporate into the band socially.
She and June were always tense with each other, always on the verge of fighting over something. In fact, I once had to pull June off Nickey after she lost it and went for her throat. Nickey could really piss you off. But regardless of her personality, Nickey could play, and when she heard I was going on the Cocker tour, she asked if she could come to a rehearsal. Sure enough, Denny [Cordell, tour producer] asked her to be in the Space Choir.
I left Fanny Hill once I was invited to be on the Cocker tour, and I came back months after the tour, just for a short while. June, Jean, Alice, Brie and I have remained great friends to this day, and I still photograph them. I hope to go on the road with June, Jean, and Brie when their next record comes out.
I don’t have any idea where Nickey is now, but I hear she changed her name and wants nothing to do with Fanny. I don’t think she likes me. We had a drag-down girl fight on the Cocker tour that somebody broke up. She just got under my skin, and I’m a pacifist! [laughs] But I really respect her now and wish that I hadn’t been such a close-minded person back in the Fanny days and that I’d tried to understand her better.
How did you end up being the photographer on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour?
My old boyfriend, Sandy Konikoff, needed a ride one night to A&M Studios. The rehearsals for Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & Englishmen were happening on the A&M soundstage, and Leon Russell had invited Sandy to come play percussion. The minute I walked onto that soundstage, I just knew I was meant to be on that tour.
So, after being introduced to Denny, the producer of the show, I boldly said, “I want to go on this tour.” Denny said, “Well, what can you do?” I said, “I can be the photographer.” And he said, “Well, show me something.” There happened to be a young guy there who was listening to this conversation, and he said, “I have a darkroom. I can take you there.”
I looked over at Jim Gordon, who I only knew from high school, and asked to use his camera. I photographed rehearsal that night, and we went back to this guy’s darkroom, developed the film, processed it, created a proof sheet, and I brought it back at like 2:00 a.m. to show Denny. He said, “Okay, you’re in.” And that was that. It was like a magic carpet ride from there on in.
I was part of the circus, part of the band! I had full access in a way I don’t believe many photographers do today. There was no “You have to stand down here” or “You can only shoot this or that” or “You get the first three songs, and then you’re out!” It was such a circus; everyone was onstage all the time — the kids, Connie DiNardo (the nanny), the girlfriends, photographers, filmmakers, friends, roadies, Canina the dog, everyone. Andee Nathanson and I were the two official photographers.
Leon really wanted people to think we were all famous, so he gave a lot of the girls cameras that had no film in them, just so they would run around shooting fake pictures to make these guys all look like rockstars, because nobody was a rockstar yet. The only star was Joe Cocker, and he had only just become a star. So Andee and I were the only two people that actually had film in our cameras, and even she didn’t have it in hers sometimes.
I was one of the youngest members of the Cocker tour. There were 45 people, including a five-person film crew and children.
We traveled across the country for two months in a private plane that had “Cocker Power” painted on the side. The shows were all sold out. People went nuts for us! I had no idea how it was being paid for. I had no idea what was going on.
All I knew was that I kept getting bricks of film, people kept taking the film and having it developed, and I kept seeing what I was doing in proof sheets as we traveled about. There’s even a scene in the documentary where I’m sitting next to Joe, looking at my proofs. We went from concert to concert, and it was one big musical party.
There were a lot of tragedies and mishaps, breakups and even a suicide attempt on that tour, along with the great music and a lot of good times. But still, the tour was not all fun. Rita Coolidge got a black eye after she was knocked out by Jim Gordon. I had heard that something had happened, but I hadn’t yet grasped what that meant — domestic violence.
What did you do after the tour was over?
After the Cocker tour, I was not very healthy. I was skinny and a little off balance, so my parents took me to Europe with them to see the world from a different perspective. I had done all the drugs that were offered to me, and my parents really wanted to get me out of the United States and away from the music industry.
Once I hit Europe, I just wanted to stay there, so I figured out a way to get them to pay for it. I applied to college in Aix-en-Provence, France. I got in, and they sent me off. I ended up staying in France for five years. It was where I really deepened in every way artistically.
I got involved in photojournalism and documentary art, went to photography school, met great photographers, and had my work exhibited and purchased by museums and libraries. It was a whole different world.
How did you get involved in the Tedeschi Trucks Band tribute to the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour?
It turns out that Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, along with Kofi Burbridge, Derek’s keyboardist, and a number of other players in the band were so impressed by Mad Dogs & Englishmen when they were younger, that Derek and Susan decided to model their 12-piece band after it.
A couple years ago, they had the idea to contact Joe and do a tribute to Mad Dogs & Englishmen. Joe was into it, and the band started rehearsing the songs. I actually heard they had the Mad Dogs & Englishmen movie playing for a month in their rehearsal space, so folks could really get into the groove.
Sadly, before they could set a date, Joe got sick with cancer and died. After that, Tedeschi Trucks Band shelved the idea, but then decided to do it anyway and make it a tribute to Joe as well as the tour and invite all the alumni to be part of it. They proposed it to the Lockn’ folks, including Leon and Rita Coolidge, and long story short, that’s when I got the call.
The concert at Lockn’ was a true tribute–a memorial and a reunion. I have so much gratitude toward Joe Cocker for all the love he ever gave me, and he gave it to me not just when I was a teenager, but when I was an adult as well. So I didn’t want to just take pictures at the reunion. I also wanted to get up and sing my gratitude.
I’ve heard over and over from everyone that the show at Lockn’ was one of the best they’ve ever done or seen, because what happened onstage that night was so similar to what we created on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour back in 1970, which is that feeling of freedom and love. The freedom to just be out there with all your heart. But I have to say, there was more real love onstage at Lockn’ than there was on the original tour!
What was the process like, putting together the memory book that you created about the 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour?
I’d been interviewing the women of the tour for years for a book I was thinking of doing. I felt the women had never received the kind of attention we deserved. But when I discovered that we were all going to be together for the tribute, a friend suggested I make a memory book to give to the alumni and the others in the show and sell it at Lockn’.
I thought that was a great idea and had enough time to get in touch with the men of the tour and interview them as well. I had already digitized the negatives in the years prior. I wanted it to be something that my alumni would love — a sort of high-school yearbook with quotes from everybody.
It came together pretty fast. I had it printed and brought copies for everyone. Everyone went around asking each other to autograph it, to write something in their books. Those books were truly a hit, and it made me so happy.
Did you hang out much with Joe Cocker and Leon Russell on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour?
I spent a bit of time with Joe on the tour, but there were so many of us. We were always in small groups together.
I spent a little time with Leon on the tour, but not enough for him to have been an important figure in my life like Joe was. Although, one night, Leon did save me from fainting onstage at the Fillmore West. As I mentioned, I was one of the two youngest members of the tour, and I was taking everything everyone else was.
That night, I took some acid — a lot, I think — and I was starting to faint onstage. I remember vividly that Leon looked over at me, and his eyes were like these steel beams that bore into me. Before I could fall backward, he pulled me back. Leon was the conductor on that tour, as Derek is in the Tedeschi Trucks Band. He saw whatever I was going through, and his energy just brought me back around.
It was a miracle that Derek and Susan and the folks at Lockn’ made the tribute happen at all, since Leon and Joe had not had much of a friendship once the tour ended. Depending on who you ask, there are different reasons for the bad blood between Leon and Joe. The story I had always heard was that Joe was hurt that Leon made a bunch of money off the tour, which he used to start Shelter Records with Denny Cordell, while Joe came home with about $700.
But I asked Leon’s wife, Jan, at Lockn’ what the real reason was that Leon didn’t like Joe. She said Leon had been hurt when rumors surfaced after the tour that he had upstaged Joe and took over the tour, and the issue was that Joe never dispelled those rumors or stuck up for Leon, especially after Leon had done so much for him. Leon basically put the band together in two weeks and saved Joe’s bacon. He would have lost a lot if he had not completed the tour he was scheduled to do.
Leon is a brilliant musician, so powerful. He’s known to be unfriendly sometimes, but it depends on how he feels towards you or if he is holding a grudge. I think he’s softened up in these later years. He’s become more emotional. But Leon got left behind — not right after the tour, but years later. Leon’s kind of a paradox in some ways because, on one hand, he doesn’t want anything to do with Mad Dogs & Englishmen anymore, and on the other, he sings the theme song from Mad Dogs & Englishmen at his shows. And he agreed to do Lockn’.
What projects will you be working on in the near future?
I’m co-luminary for a trip to Cuba with Taj Mahal. How that happened was that I was invited to lead a cross-cultural trip as a photographer to Cuba this coming November. I told the organizers I’d like to center the trip around music, as well as culture. They said that was fine and suggested I invite a musician friend to come along. I had just seen Taj, and I called him up and said, “Hey, this is Linda. Do you want a free trip to Cuba?”
We’re going to be doing impromptu music events with Cuban musicians and having a blast. I’ve contacted the poet Carlos Varela through his manager, and we hope to connect Taj and him while we’re there. It’s such a trip to be bringing the blues to Cuba. I can’t wait to see what comes out of it!
It’s so magical, the way that all of these pieces from my life have come full circle and have connected. I could be saying, “Yeah, that was my life back then. I was a photographer on these incredible musical adventures back then.” But I have been given an opportunity to be back in the music world today, at 66, and not to just be living in the past.
My chops are honed, and my life experience has given me some wisdom about working in this field. Working with TTB has been a great gift because I know it is going to take me even further as an artist.
Cover photo: Linda Wolf and Warren Haynes
All photos property of Linda Wolf. Learn more about Linda Wolf’s work at her website: lindawolf.net.