Under the Sun

This Weekend's 'Lost Negatives' Exhibit in Phoenix Is a Treasure Trove of Rock 'n' Roll Photos

Michael Friedman's portrait of Janis Joplin is one of 80 images in his new exhibition.
Michael Friedman's portrait of Janis Joplin is one of 80 images in his new exhibition. Michael Friedman
When you were hanging out with Janis Joplin, rock ’n’ roll photographer Michael Friedman said the other day, anything could happen.

“Janis was a dynamic personality,” said Friedman, whose one-man photo exhibition, "The Lost Negatives," is on display this weekend at FOUND:RE Phoenix hotel. “One day I was in my office, negotiating a recording contract with some guys from Capitol Records, when I heard Janis coming down the hall. She wore 25 silver bracelets, so you always heard her coming. My door bursts open and she says, ‘Hey, baby, you want to see my new tattoo?’ And she yanks up her blouse and there’s a little heart just above her left breast. She turns to the guys from the record company and says, ‘What do you think, fellas?’ That was the end of that meeting, let’s just say.”

Friedman had a million stories, many from his years as a business manager and music producer when he worked with everyone from Todd Rundgren to Paul Butterfield. He always knew he’d work in rock ’n’ roll, though he figured it would be as a musician. As a kid in the mid-'50s, he formed the first rock band in his hometown of Westport, Connecticut.

“I wasn’t much of a drummer,” he admitted. “I was left-handed and self-taught and not very good. But we got a record deal and recorded some singles, and I got to hear myself on the radio, which when you’re 19 is a real thrill.”

In 1961, Friedman headed to Tucson, where he attended U of A and later landed a job as a publicist for some of the biggest late-'60s rock acts.

“We were representing The Hollies, The Mamas and Papas, Herman’s Hermits,” he remembered. “But I wanted to manage a group, so I found this band called Nazz in Philadelphia. You know, Todd Rundgren’s first band. I got them a record deal and I produced the first version of ‘Hello It’s Me.’ Then I came to work one day, and they were carrying my business partner out on a stretcher. He died in his sleep. That was the end of that company.”

Friedman went to work for rock manager Albert Grossman, who guided the careers of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Gordon Lightfoot.

“It was amazing luck,” he said. “I found myself with a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth. It was the late '60s, and I had just started getting into photography.”

He traveled with his famous musician friends, camera in tow.

“The newspaper and magazine photographers were in the pit taking pictures,” Friedman said, “and not hanging out backstage or in the dressing rooms. I had amazing access.”

Between 1967 and 1973, Friedman took thousands of photos — of The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Joplin, The Band, Rundgren, and dozens of others — but didn’t print many. His wife found a box of negatives in their attic a few years ago and began restoring them.

“As we started printing these images, it was the first time I was seeing a lot of them,” he said.

The photographs were first exhibited in 2019 at L.A’.s California Heritage Museum. That show led to a year-long exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The Men's Arts Council is hosting the FOUND:RE exhibition as a benefit for the Phoenix Art Museum.

For Friedman, each of these images told a personal story. A picture of Paul Butterfield reminded Friedman of Django, the mutt given to him by the blues singer, while a portrait of Joplin reminded him of a concert she played for the Hells Angels at a rundown hotel where audience members copulated onstage.

“Then there was the time I took Bob Dylan up to (Austrian-born filmmaker) Otto Preminger’s house,” Friedman recalled. “Preminger wanted Bob to score this awful film he had made, and he wanted to screen the movie for us to see what we thought.”

Dylan fell asleep during the screening. When Preminger asked what the singer thought of his movie, Dylan told him he needed to come back that night and watch the film again. “But you can’t be here,” Friedman remembered Dylan telling the famed film director.

"And Preminger said to Bob, 'But this is my house. I live here!'"

A photograph of his friend Kris Kristofferson reminded Friedman of the time he accompanied the singer-songwriter to a taping of The Dean Martin Show.

“Kris didn’t like something in the script, and we decided he wouldn’t do it. Dean stopped by the dressing room with a bottle of Jack Daniels and pretty soon he and Kris were half in the bag. Kris says, ‘I’m not doing your show, we’re going to Pink’s to get hotdogs, wanna come along?’”

It was a crazy time, Friedman said. “But it all made sense while it was happening. And somewhere in there, I made a connection between photography and music. To me, there was a circle that started the moment I heard the music and ended when I saw the performer reappear in the form of one of my photographs.”

Showing his rock ’n’ roll portraits in Phoenix felt like completing another kind of circle, Friedman thought.

“My music business journey actually began in Arizona,” he said. “So being back here is a bit like coming home.”

"The Lost Negatives of Rock & Roll": 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, November 20, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, November 21. FOUND:RE Phoenix, 1100 North Central Avenue. There is no cost to attend.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela