THE NASHVILLE PORTRAITS, PART I | PHOTOGRAPHY OF JIM McGUIRE
Steve Earle– Born 1955 in Virginia, he grew up in and around Texas. Steve dropped out of high school in the 9th grade and began his pursuit of breakin’ into the music scene, and becoming a real deal singer/songwriter– like his hero Townes Van Zandt, who he was obsessed with. Steve often tells of being all of 17 years old in 1972, and playing at the Old Quarter in Houston in front of a handful of patrons– one of them being Townes. He was petrified up there on that tiny stage with Townes Van Zandt, who he still considers the best there ever was, sitting dead in front of him with his moccasins propped up on the stage right at Earle’s feet– and loudly heckling him between songs. (Steve Earle unabashedly fesses to going out and buying a pair of said moccasins the very next day…) The two became close, and will always be joined in legend and history– it’s flat-out impossible to talk about one without the other. Steve moved to Nashville (like alot of the songer/songwriters did in the 1970s after Kris Kristofferson had become a big star there) and played bass with another future legend, Guy Clark. — 1975 studio portrait, Nashville by Jim McGuire
Townes Van Zandt– One of the great tragic figures of country music, Fort Worth, Texas, native Townes Van Zandt was a folk singer, songwriter, performer and poet. He was particularly influential in the emergence of alternative country in the nineteen-seventies. Steve Earle described him as the greatest songwriter who ever lived, and his influence was felt by many other artists, including Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, and Lyle Lovett. Bob Dylan refers to this Texas native as his favorite songwriter. He wrote hundreds of haunting songs that have been widely recorded, perhaps most notably “Pancho and Lefty” which was a number one hit for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 1983. – 1990 studio portrait, Nashville by Jim McGuire
Texans Guy and Susanna Clark, both singer/songwriters, first came to Nashville at the time that same McGuire did, back in 1972. They became fast friends when McGuire shot the cover photographs for Guy Clark’s first studio album “Old Number One”, which was released by RCA Records in 1975. During the 1970s, when this photograph was taken, the Clark’s Nashville home was a haven for emerging songwriters and musicians. Guy Clark has served as a mentor to many other songwriters, most notably Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell, and numerous artists have recorded Guy Clark-penned songs. — 1975 studio portrait, Nashville by Jim McGuire
Another shot of Steve Earle– Singer/songwriter, country rocker, political activist, and the ultimate hardcore troubador. Steve Earle has been deeply involved in various political causes from the early days of his career, when he allied with anti-Vietnam campaigners. He’s known for penning and performing hard-hitting songs often dealing with strong political and social issues. His 2002 album “Jerusalem” was chiefly inspired by the US led war on terrorism. Earle is the subject of a documentary film– “Just an American Boy”, which explores his outspoken political views as well as his epic music. — 1995 studio portrait, Nashville by Jim McGuire
Kris Kristofferson– An influential singer, songwriter, and actor, he came to Nashville in 1965, fresh out of the army, to pursue his dream of writing country songs. Although best known for such songs as “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” he became a well respected, much-in-demand film actor after his debut in Dennis Hopper’s “The Last Movie” in 1971. He concentrated on film acting for a time, but in the early 1980s he, along with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings, formed “The Highwaymen”, with whom he toured and recorded. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame, he continues to write and record. **** –1990 studio portrait, Nashville by Jim McGuire
Waylon Jennings– A Texas native and self-taught guitarist, Jennings was a disc jockey when Buddy Holly recruited him to play bass in his band. He was famous for giving up his seat to Richie Valens on Holly’s fatal wintertime flight to Mason City, Iowa. Waylon Jennings became a Nashville legend – almost as much for his open rebellion against the constraints of the producer-dominated “Nashville Sound” of the seventies as for his own creative abilities. (Later, he secured creative control of his own recordings, establishing a precedent that is followed still.) He is generally credited with starting the “outlaw” movement in country music – the title track of his 1972 RCA release “Ladies Love Outlaws” lent the movement its name. With his friend and close collaborator, Willie Nelson, he took a career defining step with release of “Wanted: The Outlaws!” in 1976. Later, Waylon and Willie collaborated on their biggest hit, “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”. Plagued by addiction and ill-health, Waylon left the road in 2001 and succumbed to diabetic complications at the age of 64. *–1985 studio portrait, Nashville by Jim McGuire
Johnny Cash and Dr. Billy Graham– Two legends in their own fields of endeavor, they were great friends for many years. –1978 studio portrait, Nashville by Jim McGuire
Born and raised in New Jersey, Jim McGuire was an unlikely country music-lover, but one song changed all that. McGuire was twelve years old on the day he heard Hank Snow’s “Spanish Fireball” for the first time, and he instantly fell in love with country music forever. Music has since been a huge part of McGuire’s life — a muse for his photography.
He became a photographer at the request of an Air Force captain who “volunteered him” for an aerial reconnaissance mission in 1964, which entailed photographing Vietnamese villages while hanging out of a single-engine plane. McGuire then enlisted the help of a Vietnamese portrait photographer, who showed him how to construct a makeshift darkroom in an old army tent, process film in muddy water, and make bad black and white prints that were actually used by helicopter pilots to plan missions. He became the camp photographer and began a photographic document of the war that he continued until his honorable discharge in 1965.
Realizing photography might serve as a suitable career, McGuire moved to New York to explore the photography opportunities and learn his craft. There, he landed a job assisting fashion photographer John Foote, who introduced McGuire to the strongest photographic influence of his life, Irving Penn.
“Penn’s small trades series was the most honest and powerful visual thing I had ever seen…still is…transporting real, working people to stand in front of a timeless canvas in their ‘work clothes’ and with their ‘tools’ was such a simple and honest approach it opened up a whole new way of looking at people,” commented McGuire.
He was so taken by the power of those plain images that he had to try it myself. He painted a canvas that looked like Penn’s backdrop and invited a local teenage bicycle gang to come in for a portrait — exactly copying one of Penn’s photographs. Thirty-five years later he is still using the same, hand-painted canvas backdrop for his Nashville Portraits.
McGuire went freelance, which gave him the freedom to travel and photograph the bluegrass and folk festivals that were then making their way east as part of the folk revival of the late 1960s. This led to a stint writing reviews of new records and live concerts for The Village Voice. It was during this time his interest in music and photography merged as he spent more and more time at festivals and writing reviews of New York’s emerging country music scene.
Then, in 1971, McGuire caught a performance in the Village by John Hartford and the Aereo-Plain Band– consisting of Hartford, Vassar Clements, Tut Taylor, and Norman Blake. With the help of friend and record producer David Bromberg, he was able to get them all back to his Gramercy Park studio for some late night, impromptu portraits. The portraits of Hartford, Tut and Vassar shot that night, were the beginning of what evolved into the Nashville Portraits.