Interviews

Richard Gailbraith – Richard Galbraith Photography Presents KISS

February 13th, 2010 by Anthony CW Morgan

A resident of Enid, Oklahoma, photographer Richard Galbraith was born in Kansas, moving to several other locations like Maine and Rome, New York as a child, given the fact his father was in the air force. Witnessing Bloodrock and Grand Funk Railroad at the age of thirteen, later on, Galbraith went on to photograph concerts by Alice Cooper, Queen, Bad Company, Uriah Heep, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and many others, particularly through the seventies and early eighties.

Books which feature Galbraith’s photos include Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: The Battle for Black Sabbath (August 2006, Zonda Books) and Thrash Metal (October 2007, Zonda Books), both by Garry-Sharpe Young, Judas Priest: Heavy Metal Painkillers – An Illustrated History (December 2007, ECW Press), Blue Öyster Cult: Secrets Revealed! (revised edition) and the Ye Olde Metal book series (Power Chord Press), all by Martin Popoff, and Touched By Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story (self-published, Lulu.com) by Greg Prato.

The man’s first book, Richard Galbraith Photography Presents KISS was self-published in October 2009 through Lulu.com. A photography book as the name implies, the tome features photos from almost every major concert KISS performed in Oklahoma from 1976 to 1986. Each set of concert photographs include an introduction, and each introduction is based on information given to Greg Prato. Roughly seventeen of Galbraith’s KISS photos were included in Kiss Army Worldwide: The Ultimate Fanzine Phenomenon, written by Ken Sharp and bassist Gene Simmons, and also published in October 2009, but through Phoenix Books. To discuss Richard Galbraith Photography Presents KISS, Richard Galbraith was interviewed via email.

Your father worked in the air force, and sent you a 35mm fixed lens camera. What are your memories of that initial camera, and the initial gigs that you photographed?

While my father was overseas he had sent a Nikon fixed mount lens camera which had a 50mm lens, which was really a decent camera. I just had no clue as to what the settings meant, and had I known that 125th or 1 / 60 were needed to stop the action I may have had better results. I guess I was around thirteen when I saw Bloodrock and Grand Funk Railroad in Oklahoma City, but I ended up with some far away blurs… The show did blow me away since it was my first major concert – the airbase here took an old school bus down to Oklahoma City which is around a hundred miles away. My next concert was Alice Cooper around 1972 I think; I was closer but still did not have great results. Later on I shot some of the early Queen and Bad Company concerts around 1974 I guess but really could have used a telephoto lens. So I did trade that camera in for a Minolta SRT 101 and a Vivitar 70-210 zoom lens. My first concert with that lens was in Kansas City, 1974 with Manfred Mann and Uriah Heep, and the following day a three day outdoor concert in Sedalia Mo. where Aerosmith played.

Richard Galbraith Photography Presents KISS was self-published through Lulu.com in October 2009. How did the project come to fruition, and what motivated you to go ahead with the project itself?

I always thought it would be cool to have a book with some of my photos but never really could see it happening. Besides, after seeing all the pros’ books I felt I could not really compete with all the other books out there. But after lending out a few photos for a few of Greg Prato’s books, Greg mentioned trying to do a KISS book of my photos, which I kind of put off at first until I sent enough samples his way to see if I had enough decent shots to pull it off. There were several tours I really didn’t have much on so I was not sure if it would be worthwhile.

Having now taken the plunge into self-publishing, and having first hand experience with it, can you share your feelings on the self-publishing route, and your experiences of it?

Self-publishing costs much more to do, or in the case of Lulu is printed on demand as each book is sold, so I was really worried about the cost and what each book would have to sell for so I knew the sales would be much more limited considering the economy. But it would have been nice to print off several hundred to get the price down.

Each set of concert photographs include an introduction, and each introduction is based on material you gave to journalist Greg Prato. How did Greg become involved, and how did you come to contribute photographs to his December 2008 book Touched By Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story?

After we figured out the concert dates Greg asked me to tell a little about each show that I had shot. Some shows were a bit more interesting and then some of the others I didn’t have passes for and just shot from wherever I could so there was not really much of a story.

But for The Tommy Bolin Story my name was passed down by a few hardcore Tommy Bolin collectors. I think but I also had known Johnnie Bolin since ʻ81 when I went to see him in the band DVC in Oklahoma City to give him a picture of Tommy and Glenn. We had lost touch over the years and by a twist of fate a woman in New York saw one of my Tommy Bolin pictures on MySpace and she happened to have his cell phone number so we were back in touch and soon after Johnnie was back in Enid with Black Oak – they had played the same club twenty years ago.

Sorry for getting off track, but I guess my name came up and I was put in touch with Greg. Martin Popoff had also emailed that same week and needed some pictures for his Deep Purple book (Gettin´ Tighter – Deep Purple 1968-1976). Also in the works was a CD reissue with the Deep Purple Appreciation Society in the UK for a Deep Purple CD, so it was a busy time for Deep Purple photos.

You attended your first KISS concert on March 4th, 1976 at the Oklahoma Civic in Oklahoma City, photographing the band four days later on March 8th at the Tulsa Assembly Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Given KISS’ stellar live reputation, did they live up to your live expectations? That day, you apparently met members of the band without realising…

KISS blew me away – it was a great show. I always loved the bigger than life shows like with Alice Cooper. I think the March 4th show was a last moment fill in date, but we went down and were standing by the back door hoping to meet the band. We met a woman that was with the lighting or sound guy and she needed a ride to the mall. We didn’t want to leave but then she offered a few backstage passes. When we got back we were told the band was not there yet, but as I mentioned in the book this guy in stacks and a shirt that says Simmons came up and talked with us so we told him how we got our passes, and then there was a guy surrounded by road cases playing the guitar. This is also the same show that had a bluegrass band open, Mountain Smoke – years later I found out that was the band that Vince Gill was in. But it was after the Tulsa show where we went out back afterwards and saw those same guys getting in the limo, and some were dressed up in suits from what I remember. We figured they had the roadies trying to throw everyone off, but part way home it hit us… guess we were a bit slow back then. But yes KISS lived up to everything you read about them or saw on TV… Killer shows…

On January 6th, 1977, you were finally able to shoot KISS from the photopit, but Peter Criss was struck with a toilet roll while singing “Beth” (from 1976’s Destroyer). How different was it being able to shoot KISS from the photopit, and did the toilet roll incident spoil the occasion for you a little?

On this show I actually had front row tickets so I was able to shoot the whole show. I still had to shoot around people in the pit and the monitors but it makes a lot of difference when you can pace yourself and shoot the whole show. Back then I shot Ektachrome slide film and black and white so I was limited to how much film I could afford. But the show was going great and then someone nailed Peter Criss with a full roll of toilet paper. From what I remember he stood up and said “Fuck you assholes, fuck you”. Gene walked over and they talked and that was the end of the show, so I lost out on perhaps another three or four encore songs which really sucked since it was one of the few times I had a great seat for KISS.

At the October 17th, 1979 show at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma, unfortunately, a local photographer gave you a false backstage pass after the show. When you found out, how did you feel? And looking back, do you have a laugh about that in hindsight?

One of the shows where I didn’t have a pass. I saw a friend giving out passes after the show and you know it’s mainly for the women to get backstage, but he had some others and the one I got had poser on it which is really an insult, but at the time didn’t really know what the different passes meant. Guess it was like walking around with a sign that said loser on it… But after having been backstage or having passes for other shows it was a letdown or insult I guess.

And on October 29th, 1979 at the Tulsa Assembly Center, you photographed KISS from the photopit, and actually met bassist Gene Simmons and rhythm guitarist / vocalist Paul Stanley backstage. What memories do you have of that backstage meeting?

I guess this was the show where I got to shoot a few songs from the pit then you have to go out front. I was backstage before the show sitting on a road case and Gene came over and talked with me for around ten minutes. He had his blood mixture warming up nearby so we talked about that as well, but I did ask if he could help me get a better pass to shoot the whole show. Gene kind of mentioned he was just the bass player and that there was a staff that took care of that end of the business, but it was worth a try. I think this was the show where I gave Gene a photograph from 1976 of him blowing fire, a mirror image shot I created in the darkroom… which would crop up many years later… 2009.

In the eighties, you photographed KISS on March 21st, 1983 at the Lloyd Noble Center, and on February 22nd, 1986 at the Expo Square Pavillion in Tulsa, Oklahoma. However, original members Peter Criss (drums) and Ace Frehley (guitars) weren’t a part of the fold on these occasions. In what ways did the live energy differ as a result?

I thought it was a still a great show in ʻ83 although a lot of fans had left and the crowds were not there like they once were. Wendy O Williams / Plasmatics had opened the show and I felt it went well but I guess we always feel more loyal to the originals. KISS always puts on a great show or at least the times I got to see them and you do wish everyone would stay this one big happy family and play on forever so I try not to hold it against new members that have a tough job stepping in…

Also, KISS didn’t wear any makeup for the 1986 show. Do you feel that KISS’ decision not to wear makeup during live shows for over a decade was a great decision, or do you feel that it was a poor decision?

Looking back it’s hard to say. Perhaps with fans not being what they used to it was an effort to bring in a new fanbase perhaps and get the KISS buzz going again or perhaps there was pressure to prove themselves as players without the makeup I guess to fit in more with the eighties glam rock scene. In 1986 I had gone to visit a friend in LA that happened to know Mark St John, so we got to talk some during my time there. My last night in LA he came over to the apartment so I got to hear more about his time in KISS which was interesting…

Other journalists who’ve used your photographs in their books are Martin Popoff and Garry Sharpe-Young, your photographs particularly appearing in Popoff’s Ye Olde Metal series. How did those contributions come to fruition, and what are your thoughts on the final products?

I just bought a film scanner a little over three years ago and had been trying to learn how the thing worked, and after buying a used Gary Moore CD I saw Bob Daisley’s name on it which brought back some memories. I met Bob back in ʻ78 while in Rainbow but had seen him the year before in Widowmaker – we met up again when he was with Ozzy Osbourne in the eighties. I decided to look up Bob and heard back the next day. I ended up scanning in some more images of Bob to send to his website at bobdaisley.com and not long after I had an email from Garry Sharpe-Young about a photo credit for a book on Black Sabbath. Anyways, I emailed back since it was the first I had heard about the project. This was a week before the book was going to press, and I mentioned I had a lot more Black Sabbath related images. So I had a crash course on learning my scanner and getting the correct sizes for the book, but ended up with over thirty images in the Sabbath book. The original version I thought looked really nice, but with the second version I felt the photographs did not print off as well – it was a print on demand…

Later on I met Rob Dwyer who is a huge Black Sabbath collector and fan, and at some point he mentioned Martin Popoff. I had emailed back asking who he was, and I think six months later I heard back, so I went to Martin’s site and ended up emailing saying too bad that I had not met him sooner. Well this led to a possible Judas Priest book project he had in the works (2007’s Judas Priest: Heavy Metal Painkillers – An Illustrated History), and Martin also mentioned his Ye Olde Metal idea, so I started scanning images in for those and ended up making the cover shots along with a lot of the inside photos. Those are self-published books which are meant more for reading, so the photos are more of an added bonus I guess. Besides Martin’s Ye Olde Metal series I had pictures in the Judas Priest, Deep Purple (2008’s Gettin’ Tighter: Deep Purple ʻ68-76), and revised Blue Öyster Cult: Secrets Revealed! books. I thought all the projects were cool, but of course the major publishers with a larger budget would perhaps have better results on the photo side of things.

Several of your KISS photographs appeared in the official KISS book KISS Army Worldwide!: The Ultimate Fanzine Phenomenon, published in October 2009, and written by Ken Sharp and Gene Simmons. Could you provide further information on that?

This is where that picture I gave to Gene blowing fire in the eighties comes back into play. One night I got a call from writer Ken Sharp, who had been at Gene’s house that day looking through folders of old photographs and came across my shot. Considering that Gene and Ken must have seen thousands of fire blowing shots over the years I took as a great honor that my shot stood out, perhaps mainly because it was a mirror image. I remember that was a pain to create in the darkroom back then – now you can do the same thing on the computer in minutes. So I gave them permission to use the image and soon after decided to let them use some others if they wanted. I was really happy with the quality of that book and how nice my photographs turned out. I ended up with around seventeen images being used, and several full page shots and the rest being two thirds and a half page images. Metal Hammer recently used one of my shots of Gene for a poster in their UK version of the magazine which was kind of cool.

What future projects do you have in the works? Can we expect future editions of Richard Galbraith Presents?

I guess I have been in thirteen books so far and a fourteenth on the way – a shot of Cains Ballroom in Tulsa will be in a book on ballrooms and county dancing. So perhaps not too bad for a guy from a small town in Oklahoma that has not shot a show in years… Besides the recent Deep Purple and Angel CD reissue and various magazines the past year it has been quite a ride recently to have so many images used.

For new projects I don’t have anything in the works in the way of my own book, but I did have an email about a film in the works and needing some stills for that and also trying to get some pictures cleaned up to send to someone else for a possible book project in the works but it’s still under wraps so I can’t mention any names… It would be nice to do another self-published book in the future but I would rather it be one where I could get several hundred copies printed at one time to get the price down. I still feel that the print on demand photo books run a bit high to do but just didn’t have the funding to print several hundred at a time. So it looks like my KISS photo book will be more of an item for the hardcore KISS collector. I would have loved to have had a book about twice the size and twice as many photos along with passes and tickets. So I guess I will see what happens…

For more information about Richard Galbraith, visit his official MySpace page.


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