Were you lucky enough to see Elvis Presley when he performed at The University of Toledo’s Centennial Hall in 1977? How about KISS at the Toledo Sports Arena in the 1980s? Or Bob Dylan at Savage Hall in 1989? Or Richie Havens at the Poe Ditch Festival in Bowling Green in 1975?
If you missed any of these amazing musical events, don’t worry. John Gibbs Rockwood was there, taking photographs that captured the once-in-a-lifetime moments, often from backstage or the first few rows, where he was able to catch these performers in candid, up-close shots.
More than 150 of Rockwood’s best photographs taken over the past four decades have been assembled in Can I Get A Witness, the newest publication of The University of Toledo Press.
“The reason I got up close was because I got a camera. And the reason I got a camera was, of course, so I could get up close. I was never afraid of getting right in the face of the performers, leaning down at their feet to feel the shot. I wanted the lines, the wigs and brims, the tear ducts, the sand, the life story in their faces,” Rockwood said.
To get his amazing photographic images, Rockwood worked as a driver, roadie and messenger for the musicians, often also becoming a confidant. Although not trained as a photographer, Rockwood nevertheless showed considerable skill in framing the expressions of many of the best-known musical stars of the day, and many who were less known but no less talented.
The book of black-and-white images includes not only rock stars, but also many blues and jazz giants: Muddy Waters performing in UT’s Student Union Ingman Room in the 1980s, B.B. King at the Sports Arena in the 1970s, and Howlin’ Wolf at Eastern Michigan University in 1973.
In addition to working odd jobs for musicians, Rockwood also played with many of them.“John has introduced us to a nearly uncountable number of rock ‘n’ roll, blues and jazz musicians, sometimes performing with them, sometimes accompanying them on his camera like a musical instrument. He works in black-and-white the way Monet worked in pastels,” wrote Walter Salwitz of The Dynatones in the book’s introduction.
Other performers photographed by Rockwood in the book include Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, Tiny Tim, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dave Brubeck, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Since most of the photographs were taken in concerts performed in and around Toledo, Can I Get A Witness also captures the history of the musical scene in northwest Ohio.
Rockwood was born in Cleveland, but has lived most of his life in Toledo. He has been a bandleader, a blues singer and a harmonica player who performs under the stage name of Johnny “Porkshop” DuPre, fronting for the band Voodoo Libido. He estimates he has taken more than 26,000 photographs over the past four decades, and selected his best for this book, which was designed by recent UT graduate Andrew Grady.
Rockwood will sign copies of Can I Get A Witness at the UT Barnes & Noble Bookstore Saturday, Aug. 30, from noon to 3 p.m.
Can I Get A Witness is $22.95 and is available from the UT Press website at utoledopress.com, at the UT Barnes & Noble Bookstore, or by contacting UT Press director Barbara Floyd at 419.530.2170.