Michael Friedman’s Rock Photos: “Exposed”

Michael Friedman has done a lot in his 78 years.

The Staples High School Class of 1961 graduate produced “Hello, It’s Me.” He managed Todd Rundgren and Kris Kristofferson — as well as (with Albert Grossman) the careers of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, Odetta, and Peter Paul & Mary. He did publicity for the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits.

He sold Americana and folk art. He owned the Ash Creek Saloons in Fairfield and Norwalk, along with Darien’s Goose restaurant.

With such varied careers — and so much going on — he could be forgiven for losing the negatives of photos he took half a century ago.

They were not random snapshots of the Friedman family at the beach, or their naked newborn in a bathtub.

These were up close, personal — and superb — shots of some of the biggest names in the music world.

Mick Jagger (Photo copyright Michael Friedman)

The Stones. Janis Joplin. The Band. Johnny Winter. Gordon Lightfoot. James Cotton. Ian and Sylvia. All are artists Friedman worked with in the 1960s.

In 2016, his wife Donna stumbled upon them. They’re remarkable — not just for their power and professionalism, but because they’re atypical musician images.

They’re much more human. Freidman took his photos as a friend, not a “photographer.”

But he was a damn good one, for sure.

Friedman spent several months printing, restoring and mounting the photos.

He displayed them at a pop-up gallery the next year, in Bedford Square. Developer David Waldman offered him the space, after seeing one photo and hearing his stories.

Janis Joplin (Photo copyright Michael Friedman)

The show was well received. The photos were shipped to the California Heritage Museum, then to a year-long exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Attendees in LA and Cleveland repeated what Westport gallery-goers said: Michael should compile them into a book.

More than 5 years later, that daunting project is almost complete.

“Exposed: The Lost Negatives and Untold Stories of Michael Friedman” is in the Kickstarter phase — almost ready to print. Many of the 100 photos have never been seen — not even in the photographer’s shows. They’re accompanied by essays and explanatory text.

It was a long process. One of the hardest parts was figuring out exactly where each photo was taken, and when.

Donna spent many of hours researching. For example, a shot of an outdoor concert with Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge looked like a college — but there were no records they performed outside, on a campus.

Finally, Donna saw a photo online of a building that matched one in the background. The site: Columbia University.

Friedman also had no idea where he took a well-composed image showing a mother, child, VW bus and police officers.

Eventually, he and his wife realized the police officers were not Americans. They followed that rabbit hole all the way to the 1970 Festival Express in Toronto. They found a documentary film from 2003, which showed the same scaffolding behind the bus.

Friedman’s essays complement the photos. They are short but insightful portraits of nearly everyone he’s met in the music industry, from mega-stars to mighta-beens.

The essays also provide context for his life — including his introduction to rock music, as a Westport boy growing up in the 1950s.

He describes Mike Borchetta, the Staples High School student who brought Bo Diddley and Harvey & the Moonglows to town (and who asked 15-year-old Friedman to take over as drummer, when the Moonglows’ percussionist passed out drunk).

Harvey & the Moonglows gave Michael Friedman a signed photo. Leader Harvey Fuqua told their stand-in drummer: “Mike, you count to 4 good for a white boy.”

Friedman writes about his time with Westport’s first rock band, the Schemers (with lead singer Barry Tashian, later of the Remains).

Prodded by Donna, he brings the reader into the photos. “People want to know what it was like to be 25 years old in 1968 — in the middle of the music business,” he says. “I want them to take the journey with me.”

But it’s the photos that take center stage. The Stones on stage. Janis Joplin chatting in a hallway. Todd Rundgren in the studio. Levon Helm being Levon.

Michael Friedman with a photo of Levon Helm, legendary drummer for The Band.

Those images fill the 233 pages of “Exposed.”

Michael gives his wife — who found the negatives in the first place — credit as “curator, director, producer, editor, consultant and psychiatrist” for the project. “She had a clear picture in her mind, of how to put it all together.”

Unwilling to cede creative control to an agent or publisher, the Friedmans are self-publishing.

It’s a risky — and costly — venture. But it’s in fitting with Michael’s multi-varied career.

And his personal philosophy, honed in the music business and articulated by his longtime friend Kris Kristofferson: “By not having to live up to other people’s expectations, I was somehow free.”

(To see the Kickstarter page for “Exposed,” click here.)

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11 responses to “Michael Friedman’s Rock Photos: “Exposed”

  1. I saw some of Michael’s work when it was first displayed at the pop-up gallery—and there were indeed some fabulous photos. If you have a family member or good friend who’s a rock fan of that era, I imagine Michael and Donna’s book would make a wonderful gift.

    PS I love the final line of this piece. How true.

  2. The book is a treasure. My brother Charlie Taylor, a Staples classmate of Michael’s, bought several advance copies of the book and gave one to me. It is so well done and the subject matter is fascinating. Highly, HIGHLY, recommend this book as a gift or for your own enjoyment.

  3. It sounds great – just unclear on how to purchase it.

  4. One of Michael’s framed pictures — a rarity with Levon on Mandolin — has been hanging in my main music room for a few years now. Much gratitude to Michael for his long-standing dedication to musical pursuits and for the gift of these photos, documenting great moments from arguably the most prolific period in music history. And he’s a sparkling and charming conversationalist to boot!

  5. When Donna had the pop-up, I decided that my wife needed for her birthday one of the prints of Mick and also one of Keith from the ‘69 tour. They look great together, but the shots that Michael and Donna have of Janice are really something special.

  6. On a related topic – I played keyboards with the Doo Wopp Hall of Fame of America from 2000-2009. Several times early on I was lucky enough to perform with Harvey and the Moonglows. At Symphony Hall in Boston, before the show started, backstage, they formed a circle… and they prayed. It brought tears to my eyes. Harvey was a gentleman, and I’m happy to say he told me he wanted to use me on other shows, but no more than 1-2 years later he passed on.

  7. Susie Swanson Millette, Staples '58

    I remember Bo Diddley coming to a hall in Saugatuck in ’57 or ’58. Bo’s car was spectacular. The music outrageously wonderful. On the wild side for a 16(+/-) yr old country girl from Weston!

  8. Michael Friedman is a Renaissance Man AND a Rock Star in his own right.

  9. Daniel Guilfoile

    Hey Michael
    Great story will have to get the book!
    Did you wife come across any negatives of 60 Rowland Road?? We still live there and would love to see any if you have them

  10. A really cool book….but don’t expect your wife to see you in the same light after she sees the photos of Kristofferson.

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