By Benjamin Leatherman
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By Brian Palmer
Arizona has an X connection and his name is Michael Hyatt. Known around Tucson as a 14-year veteran deejay at KXCI-FM (he's also the station's underwriting director) and nationally for his work compiling Rounder Records' five-volume series of train and railroad songs, Hyatt's rock photography recently put him on the map when Rhino selected 13 of his shots for the booklets of the X reissues.
Hyatt's association with X goes back to the late '70s when, abruptly smitten by punk after going to a Plugz gig, the photographer started snapping L.A.'s bands and scenesters.
Says Hyatt, "Visually and musically, the whole punk scene was just incredible. As a photographer I was knocked out by the look of everybody."
X, whose John Doe and Exene had spotted one of Hyatt's Plugz portraits on a poster, needed a live photo for the back sleeve of its first 45 and asked the shutterbug along to some of their gigs.
"They decided to use one of my shots," Hyatt continues, "and Exene said to me, 'So what do you want to be paid for this picture?' [laughs] It was usually free beer and you get on the guest list! I'd heard they were gonna go on their first tour, so I said, 'Well, just take me on the tour. I'll help drive.' It was 1980, and we left the day John Lennon was assassinated. One of the photos picked for the Rhino booklets, in fact, was of D.J. holding a newspaper that has the headline, something to the effect of 'Lennon Assassin was a Rabid Fan.'
"We drove all night, pulling into Phoenix when the sun was coming up. They played that night at a club in Tempe, and there's a photo I took the morning after. It's of Exene in Tempe with that pyramid-shaped building in the background. She's standing on a wall and John's hand is coming into the photo as he was about to help her down. It has a very ghostly look to it, her hair blowing across her face and this hand coming out of nowhere, in partial shadow, holding hers."
Hyatt would subsequently travel with the band on numerous road trips, but he fondly recalls that first trek as the most memorable: "It was a wild one, definitely. When they played New Orleans the show was going on and sitting in front of the club was a white Cadillac convertible, and someone had set it on fire. Just like the burning X on the cover of Los Angeles. Everywhere we'd go, stuff would happen. We'd be in the middle of nowhere, and go in to get some lunch in a restaurant, and the place would just turn silent. Here's comes this rock 'n' roll band that looks really crazy looking. Especially Exene. It was a lot of fun."
Along the way, of course, Hyatt was amassing a vast visual record of the band in its prime. His photos were used in the movie The Unheard Music, as well as for the biography Beyond and Back: The Story of X, by F-Stop Fitzgerald (the cover shot is by Hyatt), and he additionally collaborated with Exene to design eye-catching calendars.
More recently, the original lineup of X getting back together, followed by the Rhino reissues, prompted Hyatt to create his "Lucky 13 Box Set" of 13 X postcards available for sale individually or as a limited edition in a box designed by Sedona's Bruce Licher. (Check Hyatt's Web site at http://home.mindspring.com/~mhyatt2 for details and to view samples. Particularly striking is a photo from "American Bandstand," which Hyatt remembers as being "a really good shot because it was studio lighting and perfect, very well lit. Which was difficult to get in a lot of venues because the lighting was usually crap.") And when the owner of L.A.'s La Luz de Jesus Gallery saw Hyatt's work, he offered to host a showing that will run Oct. 11-20, with the official reception taking place on Oct. 13 with members of X in attendance.
Business matters aside, Hyatt was -- and is -- an X fan first.
"I just found them fascinating to hang around with. Visually and their music, to me they were the greatest. I think you can pick four bands in the punk scene that are seminal. You can say the Clash and the Sex Pistols, and in America you've got the Ramones on the East Coast and X on the West Coast as being defining of a segment of the punk scene."