Dan Fong's previously unpublished rock photos on display this Friday at the Gallery on Santa Fe
Generally, when you speak with someone with strong ties to rock history, you either get an earful of tedious name-dropping or you're forced to endure an exhaustive lecture about how kids today just don't get it. This is not the case with Dan Fong, the famed Denver rock photographer who has shot legendary acts such as the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Doobie Brothers, among others.
Dan Fong Pete Townshend proudly displaying his injured finger after a mishap with a champagne bottle.
Fong (whose previously unpublished archive of rock photos will be on display this Friday, July 6, at the Gallery at 760 Santa Fe Street), on the other hand, casually drifts into intimate, backstage stories on music's most treasured icons without a trace of pretense or ego. "I've been doing rock photography since the late '60s, but today is a very exciting time to be taking pictures. Denver has such a great music scene."
When Fong first got into the game, the price of admission to see the Stones or the Who was around the same as a Starbucks latte; whereas today, it can cost as much as $350 to see what's left of the Rolling Stones. And this is only one of the many changes that Fong has seen the music industry go through in the last four decades. "Back then," he recalls, "when you're backstage, you meet everybody, and they know you, and then when you walk on stage during the show to take pictures, nobody freaks out. There's no 'Who the hell is that guy?' Now you only get the first ten minutes of the set. And every newspaper photographer in the United States gets that ten minutes -- so all the photographs are the same."
Less a photo-journalist and more of archival artist, Fong has been focusing his lens on historical moments for as long as he can remember. "I've always been taking pictures -- no matter what," he says. "The way I look at it, I've been documenting my own life. I started taking pictures in Junior High School for the newspaper. My first assignment was taking pictures of Eisenhower when he came to town for a fundraiser. I also took pictures of Frank Tripucka, the first quarterback for the Denver Broncos."
Like any career success story, Fong used his wits to hustle his way into spaces that most would consider inaccessible. "KMFL, the big underground radio station at the time, was a few blocks from my house," Fong remembers, explaining that he got a job reading advertisements on air at the radio station in exchange for being allowed photo access to the bands that were traveling through town. "I met a lot of record people, and they needed food for their events when they were in town. My parents ran a restaurant, so I knew how to cook. So I started a catering company for the events. When the Stones came through in '72, I did the catering for their big party at Barry Fey's house."
The Stones 1972 tour of America -- supporting their career-defining album, Exile on Main Street -- was not only one of the most infamous tours in Stones history, but it holds a place in the legacy of rock-and-roll debauchery that has yet to be matched -- death threats, cocaine, Truman Capote, guns, all captured in a road film titled Cocksucker Blues. The mayhem of this tour has been written into bohemian history as something to be longed for and never forgotten. And Fong was there when the circus came to Denver.
Dan Fong Mick Jagger with Barry Fey
"We had a party, a luau, for the Stones after their show, a thirteen course meal that I made," Fong recollects. "The Stones were supposed to play Red Rocks, but they got rained out, so they played two dates at the Denver Coliseum, and then afterward, we threw a party at Barry Fey's house. Everyone sat on the ground, and we had tiki torches and papier-mache mushrooms, movies projected, and a big tongue and lips." This Denver party itself is documented in the book, S.t.p. A Journey Through America With the Rolling Stones.
As an added bonus for catering the Stones party, Fong was allowed on-stage access to the band for both of their Denver shows -- the only photographer granted such a privilege. His photos stand as unique documents of a time in western pop history that has since been lauded as one of the most influential in music culture.