Hanging in the living room of Jim Marshall's Castro flat is a photograph of Obama standing in the White House, pointing to a picture of John Coltrane on the wall. Marshall took that Coltrane photo more than 40 years ago in San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph J Gleason's living room. Underneath the image of Obama is inscribed, " To Jim--I'm a big fan of yours and John's. Best, Barack Obama."
Marshall, who died in his sleep last month in New York at the age of 74, is the greatest music photographer of all time. A San Francisco native, he took indelible images of Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and countless others over a career that produced more than 400 album cover photographs. He was also an oddball, to say the least. He wore a firearm as often as he wore his camera--and even though he
threatened everyone in his way, he only shot people's photographs. He talked tough and was often drunk and disorderly, but he had a soft center. He specialized in verbal abuse towards those around him, but he was also a deeply sentimental and loving man, a side he unsuccessfully tried to disguise.
A hand-picked collection of his work, titled Trust, was released last year from Omnibus Press, featuring rare glimpses of his color work. In it you find some of Marshall's many masterpieces: Grace Slick and Janis Joplin pretending to be lovers. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash sharing a secret on the set of The Johnny Cash Show. Coltrane leaving his home at sunset on his way to a gig. Shel Silverstein rocking out in a studio in Sausalito. Through Marshall's lens, these entertainers were caught in the act of being themselves.
Marshall's photographs are recognized around the world--Dylan kicking a tire, Hendrix burning his guitar, Joplin with a bottle of Southern Comfort in her dressing room. He claimed his shot of Cash flipping off the warden was the most bootlegged photograph in history. No photographer will ever have a career to match Marshall's. He was always in the right place at the right time to document rock and roll history, capturing a variety of musicians from all walks of life.
A true San Francisco character and brilliant artist, Marshall had no children and leaves no family--but he will be remembered by his friends and associates in a memorial Monday night, May 17, at the Great American Music Hall.
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