Baron Wolman is a legend in rock and roll — not in front of the camera, but behind it. His images are both iconic and ubiquitous and if you’re a fan of music, you have almost certainly run across his work. An accomplished photographer, he would also become the first staff photographer for Rolling Stone magazine, where he worked for free. Sadly, he passed away November 2, 2020.
Several years ago, Antique Collectors Club released a book of some of Wolman’s work, but this one featured not the musicians, but the women behind the scene — and stage. Groupies and other Electric Ladies is the unedited photo sessions — in their entirety — from Wolman’s sessions for a special issue of a 1969 Rolling Stone issue called the “Super Duper Neat Issue” featuring “The Groupies and Other Girls.” That idea was Wolman’s and he pitched that idea to Jann Wenner.
“I had great affection for every one of the women I photographed,“ Wolman said. “I learned about their lives, their aspirations. I wanted to share what they were doing with the world.”
Miss Pamela — Pamela Des Barres, arguably the queen of groupies and the inspiration behind Almost Famous’ Penny Lane — said that, besides being willing sex partners, they were muses to the bands. Wolman concurred in a recent Guardian article celebrating this book’s release, adding that the influence was mutual: “Many musicians started dressing like the groupies, with stars and jewelry…just look back at pictures of the Rolling Stones.”
And so it is the groupies that are the stars of this show, both in Wolman’s photographs and unpublished contact sheets, and in their own words. Baron has said that he made the decision to shoot them “in as uncluttered a way as possible. I took them into the studio, I treated them like celebrities, in the style of my two favorite photographers, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.”
The word groupie has not dated well and although the essays are also littered with words of the day like “groovy,” “cats,” and “chicks,” and, of course, “balling,” these are all fascinating reads. That last word, or many others meaning the same thing, dominate talk about groupies. And, for good reason. It just depends on how the word is used. (Pamela Des Barres recently launched a campaign to “reclaim” that word!) Most of the women interviewed here think of it as a sexual revolution or liberation of how they own their bodies, their sexuality and what they do with both. That’s pretty revolutionary for 1967/68. They all also uniformly “dig”music. In Holly George Warren’s introduction, she quotes Jimi Hendrix as saying, “Some groupies know more about music than the guys. Some people call them groupies; I prefer the term ‘electric ladies.’” And, yes, he admits that this is what Electric Ladyland is all about; now go back and read that track list again with that in mind!
Upon looking back at some old copies of the magazine, former Rolling Stone managing editor John Burks said, “I’m really struck by the collected works of Baron and (fellow photographer) Jim Marshall. Rolling Stone created the language, visual and written, of that era and it seemed accidental. You can’t do that anymore.”
Groupies and other Electric Ladies is one of those "accidents" that can not and will not happen again. The book, its subjects, and the artist photographing them are each, one of a kind, from an era not likely to be repeated. It is, simply eye opening, refreshing, and honest. Rest in power, Baron. And thanks.
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