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Dick Waterman: Blues, Rock & Roll and a Camera

Oxford resident Dick Waterman has probably photographed more celebrities and notables than Mick Jagger has sang that famous line, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Even Jagger couldn’t escape Waterman’s photographic eye, not that he ever hinted he wanted to.

Dick Waterman with one of his most famous photos Photo by Angela Rogalski

“I flew with the Rolling Stones on every flight during their European tour in 1970,” Waterman said,” but we didn’t stay at the same hotels. They always had the absolute best of the best. We stayed in good hotels, of course, but not the same ones as the Stones. We would see them backstage in the arenas and make small talk. We’d do our show and then most of the time we’d leave. But there were those times I’d stay to watch their set.”

The “we” Waterman referred to on the tour was himself, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, which was the opening act for the Stones. Waterman was managing Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at that time and traveled with the band. His all-access position as the opening act’s manager provided him with unlimited exposure to Mick and the boys throughout the tour.

Photo of Ray Charles performing in New Orleans
Photo by Dick Waterman

Dick Waterman was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1935. He is a writer, promoter, and a photographer who has captured more musical legends behind the glass frame than even he can count.

“I was already there as an agent first, so the camera just came natural. I started taking pictures,” Waterman said.

He studied journalism at Boston University in the 1950s and went on to write for Broadside Magazine and became its feature editor. He began promoting local shows with blues artists in 1963; singers like Mississippi John Hurt and Booker “Bukka” White were among his finds. He loved the music and the spirit of the blues and like a strong, sorrowful vise; it had a hold on him; so much so, that the next year he struck out on a quest south looking for Bluesmen. With a couple of friends in a Volkswagen, they set out for Mississippi. They followed the trail of the lamenting, soulful sound to the aorta, the main vein that was the Blues; the Mississippi Delta.

They wound up in Robinsonville, Mississippi, where they “rediscovered” the legendary bluesman, Son House. Waterman spoke to House on the phone Sunday, June 21, 1964, the same day the three civil rights workers, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were murdered in Neshoba County. He takes special note of that, a driving factor in his decision to become an advocate for Son House, and other bluesmen like him, who had no spokesperson to make sure they received their proper due.

Bonnie Raitt
Photo by Dick Waterman

Not long afterward, Waterman founded Avalon Productions, named after John Hurt’s hometown in Mississippi, the first booking agency ever formed to represent blues artists. Within a couple of years, he was representing Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, J.B. Hutto and many others, while still maintaining a foothold in the Boston area by promoting folk and rock acts, such as a young female guitarist and singer he met named Bonnie Raitt.

Waterman and Raitt have kept a long and close personal relationship ever since. He was the one asked to induct her into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010 and since she had done the same for him when he was chosen as one of the first non-performers to receive that honor in 2000, it seemed only fitting that the man who had basically persuaded her down her life’s path should be the one to share in its fruition.

During his long career as a promoter, Waterman’s camera was never far from his side…or his neck. He recalls another one of his famous photos, a shot of Mick Jagger, eyes closed in front of a bathroom mirror in Frankfurt, Germany during an 8 week stint on their 1970 tour.

“The secret of the picture of Mick in the bathroom is one thing and one thing only: Access. If you have access to these famous folk, you have the capability of doing what I did, and still do.”

Waterman is genuinely humble about his talents as a photographer. He doesn’t see the big deal about his abilities. Yet his skillful ideas about the art belie that modesty.

“I shoot with a filmmaker’s mentality. I’m going to wait on the shot I need and want, and wait on it, and wait on it…or I’m putting my camera down.”

One of the most famous shots Waterman managed to capture was of Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.

Photo of Bob Dylan backstage in 1965 by Dick Waterman, signed by Dylan

The singer was around twenty-four-years-old and had just performed for the crowd, with what has since been touted the day “Dylan Went Electric.” The mood was already tense; the atmosphere mushroom-cloud thick with the collective boos from his adoring “folk” fans after he played electric guitar with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a group known for electric blues and rock and roll. Dylan’s temperament was far from tranquil and mellow after the crowd’s response.

He walked down the stage’s ramp and was heading away from the residual jeers that still wafted like bouncing balloons up and over the crowd’s heads, when a voice stopped him in his tracks.

“Hey, can I get your picture?” Waterman shouted.

Dylan stopped, dark sunglasses hiding whatever emotions were living in his gaze, and stared straight down the ramp and directly into the camera’s eye.

“Sure,” clipped and pointed. The one word gave away what the glasses hid: Dylan’s own response to his fans reaction. And Waterman captured that confusion/agitation/hurt/loss with one click of the shutter. Just the right angle and just the right time to press that button, was inherently known to the man with the camera hanging around his neck; definitely not his albatross, but instead, his gift to the world.

B.B. ing in Newport, Rhode Island in 1968
Photo by Dick Waterman

These days Waterman is enjoying life with his wife, Cinda, and their gorgeous feline friends who sashay below photographic treasures that hang throughout his home. From Dylan to Joplin, B.B. to Neil Young; Dick Waterman’s amazing talent and ability to capture people and their emotions is undeniable.

“I’m doing photo exhibits,” Waterman said. “Looking ahead to summer 2015, that will be the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s big 1965 performance at the Newport Folk Festival. I’ll probably have an exhibit booth there in Newport, Rhode Island. And I’m considering the Jazz Fest in New Orleans in early May and the last week in April, I plan on having a booth at the Double Decker here in Oxford.”

Waterman added that when the Blues Museum was built and finished in Memphis, he would be the first exhibit shown there.

“I am going to have 36 photos,” he said, “and they’ll be up from April all the way until summer. It’s going to be opened sometime in April.”

As far as his days in Oxford, Waterman loves the city and his community very much. He’s been a resident since 1986 and said the ambience of the special city is perfect for creativity of all genres.

“I grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which is about the same size as Oxford,” Waterman said. “So, it’s really like coming home to me. I also feel that Oxford is incredibly tolerant of the artistic community. If you’re a writer, painter, sculptor or poet, you will be very well-received here. It’s a great place for creativity. It’s like William Faulkner and the Faulkner legend continues on. Writers feel very comfortable here. From Grisham to Barry Hannah to myself; when I did my first book, the B.B. King biography, I felt very comfortable in Oxford. It’s a community where artists are held in high regard and that’s always very important.”

Angela Rogalski is a HottyToddy.com staff reporter and can be reached at angela.rogalski@hottytoddy.com.