The Dead are rocking their way across the states and we already have books from the Greensboro, NC and Washington, DC shows up in the The Dead bookstore. While they’re busy touring, we stole a moment of band photographer Jay Blakesberg’s time to get the inside scoop on traveling with The Dead and shooting photos for this limited series of Blurb books.
What inspired you to create books around The Dead tour?
I am a “book guy.” As a photographer, even in this digital age, the tactile felling of a book still appeals to me. When Jill Lesh from Dead Management came to me with the idea of original books for the tour, I jumped at the opportunity, and knew Blurb was the right partner.
How did you become the photographer for The Dead?
I started seeing Grateful Dead concerts in 1977 as a 15 year old kid from NJ. By 1978, I was bringing a camera to shows. I was and am a fan! The Grateful Dead changed my life. When I moved to The Bay Area in the mid 80′s, I was trying to figure out how to make a living as a photographer. I shot LOTS of live music, the birth of the “alternative music” genre, but always kept with my roots and The Dead. By the late 80′s I was doing PR work for Bob Weir’s solo projects outside the Dead. I also did a little work for Mickey Hart, but it was after Garcia’s death that I connected with Phil Lesh and more or less have been his photographer for the last 10 years for all his solo projects as well as the various times the original members re-grouped (first as The Other Ones, and later The Dead). Band management asked me to come on the road and do photography for PR purposes and the Blurb books, plus video production.
How do you convey the spirit of a show into images for a book for people to remember it by?
You try and capture those magic moments in a split second! You wait for those moments of intensity – “peak moments” and grab them! It can be Bobby rocking out, or a great smile from Phil, or the intensity of the drummers during their “drum” segment…It all happens, and I try and capture the music in an image so when you are looking at the photos, it brings you back to that magical musical moment you just shared with your friends, or family.
If you had to choose one moment from your career as The Highlight, what would it be, and why?
In Grateful Dead land, it would be the portrait I did of Garcia in 1991. Overall, there have been MANY! Working with Tom Waits, Neil Young, Phish, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, John Lee Hooker, and the list goes on and on. I just published my 30-year photography retrospective, “Traveling On a High Frequency,” and it’s about 1200 photos, so as you can tell I think highly of many of my images.
How does creating these books via Blurb compare to working with traditional publishers?
It’s a different experience for sure because usually I spend a year or more to create a book. The quality of Blurb is outstanding, so I do not feel like I am sacrificing anything there, and I can get a book out very quickly! I just published a Jackie Greene book – he is a Bay Area musician who is incredible – on Blurb and we put the whole thing together in about 4 weeks. This is a very cool collectible book! I like the idea of “micro publishing”. I have many ideas for books, and see Blurb as a way to share my work with whoever is interested in the subject matter I choose without a huge financial risk to me, which is what traditional book publishing usually is.
Big thanks to Jay for taking the time while out on the road to fill us all in on being the photographer for The Dead and here’s to many more shows and books in the making!
(Looking for the book from your concert? Check out The Dead Bookstore!)