When in need of promo photos there's only one person in the greater Tokyo area I turn to, Oliver Richter. One of the first times he saw the band playing at the Barge Inn in Narita (near the airport) he asked if he could take some pictures and I told him to do whatever he liked and would he send some to me, there might be something I'd like to use. When I saw the pictures he took I was in shock, they looked so good I wondered if it was really me he was photographing! He shot more pics whenever we played there and when I needed some good live video for my YouTube channel there was Oliver at the Barge Inn with his video camera. The bulk of the photos and video seen on my website, Facebook, YouTube and barely-used-now MySpace are courtesy of Oliver. His work behind the camera is the cornerstone of my visual materials.
So now it's time for a fresh batch of photos to capture the new-and-improved JJV "brand image". I hate that term but it's necessary to use the parlance of our times. Gone is the longhaired BluesRocker, occasionaly labeled "Southern Rock". That was fine when I was in my early 20's during the 90's; it meant downhome, free-wheeling music that blended Blues, Rock, Jazz, Gospel, Country, R&B and Folk into a thick, pungent guitar sound that seared and soared. The late Allen Collins of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd was role model; the blazing guitar (with great phrasing), the rabunctious stage presence and that hair. Refer to the HEARTLAND photo inside the CD jacket. Today it has too many "right-wing" connotations and the music itself is merely a rehashing of the form without any of the substance that made the Allmans, Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker so cool. Original Skynyrd 3rd guitarist Ed King once remarked, "Southern Rock died the day the Molly Hatchet album came out." Add Blackfoot and every other macho-posturing redneck to that statement. And the Johnny Winter / Alvin Lee style noodling just got old. Time for new horizons!
So in this day and age it's time for the kid, who does the math on his fingers and is surprised to find he isn't a kid anymore, to get with the program. After a few years of tinkering the new sound and look is coking together and it's time for a new promo kit. Once again, Oliver Richter is the first and only choice behind the camera. The Barge Inn is no longer booking bands, save for the occasional cover band, but Bryan Harmon is a good friend who's very sympathetic to musicians and he doesn't think twice about letting us shoot downstairs. In fact, when we show up he's got the stage lights adjusted and a fog machine ready to roll. I was reluctant about the fog machine at first, don't want to be confused with Stevie Nicks, but it turns out adding a nice smokey after-hours vibe. More felt than seen.
Oliver is always steady and reliable behind the camera and I give him full license to do whatever he wants with only a general idea of the end result I'm aiming for. Bryan turns out to be the ace in the hole. He studied photography in college and has some very clear ideas on how to compose a shot, especially in terms of selling the artist/band. Between Bryan and Oliver I relinquish control of the shoot to them and become their model. I brought my "vintage" props; Epiphone Wildkat guitar, Shure SM55 aka "Elvis mic", and several different shirts and blazers with black slacks and dress shoes, hair slicked back, pack of Lucky Strikes. Bryan has all sorts of ideas, "hold the mic and the guitar, you're selling yourself as a singer/guitarist" and so forth. Oliver is handling the mechanics such as shutter speed. I'm just taking orders, something I usually do for nobody.
We head up to the nearby temple, one of the oldest and largest in Japan, for some outdoor shots. Oliver does some stuff with the shutter speed capturing background images Bryan didn't think was possible. I'm in awe of both of them. Back at the Barge Inn the stage walls have been painted yet again by another graffitti artist. Now there's a rising sun and a woman on the wall behind me, resembling a sailor's tattoo. This is far out, everything is going way better than I expected and I'm just following along. A far cry from all the times I've had to micro-manage the "hired help". We shoot all the different outfits and all the different things each of them want to try. 700 shots (many of them minor variations of the same image) and four or five memory cards later I can't believe what we've got down. It far exceeds my expectations. A couple days later while the shots are still being processed Oliver sends me a handful as a preview. I post them on Facebook, including soe B&W and Sepia variations. The response is impressive. I owe it all to Oliver and Bryan. Having good friends is something, but having good friends who also do great work when you get out of the way and let them do their thing is rare. Killing time waiting for the first train in the morning (the Barge Inn is traditionally an all-nighter) I keep thinking I must be luckiest dude on the face of the Earth. Or as Hannibal used to say on THE A-TEAM, "I love it when a plan comes together!"