In 1976 The Who performed twice at the Oakland Coliseum in California. Zagaris spent three days with them and themembers of The Grateful Dead who opened for The WHo. He captured Roger Daltry’s silly side, Pete Townshend’s quiet strength, and the antics of a lovable, destructive Keith Moon before finishing onstage with them. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press)
To converse with photographer Michael Zagaris is to feel like a bubble inside a just poured Coca-Cola; your head jumps from story to story, happiness swirling around you. Football, baseball, San Francisco, and the music scene all jockey for attention as you speak. Time becomes non-essential because you want to hear more about the parties that ended with broken hearts or disbandment. You want to know what life is like inside the world of sports while the crowd sits outside. To his friends- and he has many- he is “Z.”
His story begins in 1968 when he could have given up hope; his mentor and boss Robert F. Kennedy was shot before his eyes. Instead, he gave up the political life and dove into the music world with a pen and a camera. Eric Clapton, still young and trying to make it himself, convinced Zagaris to put down the tape recorder and focus on his camera skills after looking at his contact sheets. Zagaris wisely listened, making memorable pictures and writing the best, most-detailed captions of anyone in the business. Soon, Zagaris became the staff photographer for the San Francisco 49ers before the days of Joe Montana and during the summers he joined the Oakland Athletics too.
Two years ago Zagaris tackled the herculean task of editing his work in the music industry to create a book entitled Total Excess: Photographs by Michael Zagaris to be published in November by Reel Art Press. We share a few of his stories here but to read the unedited and unbelievable story of a man who lived his life unashamed you have to read the book.
Patti Smith performed at the Boarding House in San Francisco in 1975. Before she went on stage, Zagaris photographed her trying on different scarves and hats as she dressed. “Do you think we got it?” Patti asked him. Zagaris said he thought the magazine editors wanted a portrait. Patti walked into the bathroom. “How is this for a portrait?” she asked. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) Creem magazine hired Zagaris to photograph Lou Reed in 1974. Reed performed at Winterland, feigning use of heroin during the performance, by wrapping the microphone cord around his arm and poking a needle into his arm. The crowd clambered for the needle and the cord afterwards. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) Zagaris befriended Peter Frampton during his days as a member of Humble Pie, long before Frampton Comes Alive was released. Here is a contact sheet of Peter Frampton after he performed during the “Day on the Green” concert in Oakland, CA in 1977. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) Peter Frampton and his first wife, Mary, on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, CA the day after Frampton played at the Altamont. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd prepared to play at the Oakland Coliseum in July 1977. Van Zant carried a photo in his wallet of football player Kennie “The Snake” Stabler, one of his idols. When Zagaris told Stabler 10 years later about Van Zant’s idolization of him, Stabler said, “Hell, I always wanted to be the guy!” (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) Zagaris first met Eric Clapton in 1968 when he played at the Fillmore in San Francisco. They remained friends, and in 1974 when Clapton was ailing with a cold in between sets at the Cow Palace, Zagaris drove him to the beach to clear his head. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) Ronnie Lane of the Faces spends an hour in a hyperbaric chamber at the California Pacific Medical Center in 1983 to slow down the effects of multiple sclerosis. Musicians in New York, San Francisco, and London staged an ARMS benefit that year as well to raise money for his medical costs. He died in 1997. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) The cast of Saturday Night Live including Bill Murray (bearded man) and Laraine Newman (right) watch the Blues Brothers perform on New Year’s Eve 1978 at Winterland. When the clock struck midnight, the Grateful Dead played the first set of 1979. Winterland closed forever at the end of the night. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) Donto, the son of Etta James, dries her hair with a blow dryer backstage at the Boarding House in San Francisco where she later performed in 1979. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) The Sex Pistols performed at Winterland in San Francisco in 1978. With no photographer’s pit in place, Zagaris shot the show from the crowd, full of punk rockers from Los Angeles and San Francisco. “It was like riding an earthquake in the midst of the apocalypse,” Zagaris writes. Afterwards Sid Vicious threw up on Brit Ekland’s fur coat backstage. The Sex Pistols disbanded hours later. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) The Clash performed several times in San Francisco from 1979-1982. Zagaris loved them, describing them as the perfect combination of rock and roll, revolution, and romanticism. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) Iggy Pop waiting for a plane in the San Francisco Airport in 1979. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press) In 1976, before the Grateful Dead and The Who performed at the Oakland Coliseum, Zagaris (right corner) photographed from left: Pete Townshend, Deborah Koons, Jerry Garcia, and Robert Hunter as Phil Lesh and John McIntire looked on. (Michael Zagaris/Reel Art Press)