Waterman profile / review (Boston Herald)
Fri Sep 24 15:33:02 EDT 2004
Waterman photos put legends in focus
By Daniel Gewertz, Boston Herald
Friday, September 24, 2004
Any ``really honest'' photographer will admit the key to success is about
one thing: access.
So says Dick Waterman. And no one in blues history had more access
than Waterman. The Plymouth native first gained his reputation in the '60s
as the man who ``rediscovered'' Son House and as the founder of Avalon
Productions, the first booking agency devoted exclusively to the blues. As
the manager of such legends as Skip James, John Hurt, Booker White and
Mance Lipscomb, he allowed the first-generation blues artists to sustain
their comebacks and earn a good living.
Through it all, Waterman pursued his hobby, photography. Now, 41 years
after he photographed Mississippi John Hurt at the Newport Folk Festival,
Waterman, 69, has come out with his first book, the gorgeous, revelatory
``Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive'' (Thunder's
Mouth Press). He'll be displaying his photos and selling his book at the
Boston Blues Festival tomorrow and Sunday at the Hatch Shell.
``I finally got tired of people telling me: `You should do a
book,' '' said Waterman last week.
The book presents 100 new, often revealing looks at legends as diverse
as Furry Lewis, Chuck Berry, Janis Joplin and Sleepy John Estes. It also
frames the art with hilariously honest, poignantly detailed anecdotes from
Waterman's 20-plus years as a blues booking agent and manager.
A few stories are self-serving, but the real gems are intimate,
peculiar, painful and funny looks into the lives of men we now think of as
historic figures. The odd juxtaposition of old, rural blues artists and the
modern world of cities and festivals is a rich, large topic.
From John Hurt's peaceful, spiritual persona to Joseph Spence's
propensity to spit food in the faces of his dining companions, Waterman
tells an insider's story. And he comes off as a pretty funny character
himself. Rushing the elderly Rev. Gary Davis through an airport to catch a
plane, Waterman began racing pell-mell through the crowd, screaming at the
top of his lungs: ``Running with a blind man! Running with a blind man!''
Waterman began his booking work with House, and then broadened his
spectrum with modern bluesmen such as Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. For 15
years, he was Bonnie Raitt's manager.
``In my work, I never had the luxury to stand on a hill and say: This
is the musical legacy. Finding my artists immediate work was my only job.
It was before computers. All my money went into typewriter ribbons and
postage,'' said Waterman. ``I didn't see the full historicalspectrum. I was
too busy figuring out a West Coast tour for Robert P.Williams.''
It is fitting that ``Between Midnight and Day'' is a line from a Son
House song, because the intersection between the lives of House and
Waterman is still a defining event in both men's histories. When hebegan to
search for House in the South, Waterman was a newspaper writer working a
story. But after discovering the long-retired,obscure blues singer in
Rochester N.Y., he knew he had to devote his energies to finding House
work, fame and a recording contract.
``As far as raw emotion, he was so far ahead of anyone else,'' he
said. ``There's a photo in the book, Son in profile, head back, eyes
closed, sweat shining. He just went somewhere else. He hypnotized himself
to another time and place. He went back to the '20s, he went back to
Robinsonville and Greenville, he just left you. When the song was over,
he'd bow his head, nod, bring his eyes up, refocus. It was mesmerizing. I
knew I had a majestic responsibility to make sure this man's greatness was
seen and heard. And I never took it lightly. This is what I was called upon
Related Boston Blues Festival story on promoter Greg Sarni:
Rest in Peace, UP Wilson....
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