Robert Knight in the Arizona Republic
Photographer clicks with rock stars

Larry Rodgers

Robert M. Knight chose his college based on which bands would be playing nearby in 1968. It was his first step to becoming one of the most respected photographers in rock music. That unconventional decision opened the door to four decades of work and friendship with such stars as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Elton John, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. "I was going to the San Francisco Art Institute, mainly because I knew all the concerts I wanted to photograph were going to be there that summer. And they were: JimiHendrix,
  Rolling Stones by Robert Knight
Jeff Beck, Ten Years After. My first month as a photographer, I shot all those bands," recalls Knight, 56, who will show 45 of his classic images in Scottsdale from Friday through Jan. 28.

He would go on that year to land his first assignment for Rolling Stone magazine: shooting a band called the New Yardbirds, which soon would morph into Led Zeppelin. With unfettered access to such musicians as Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, as well as Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton, Knight's relationship with those stars reached beyond a professional level.

"There was no such thing as a publicist. That seems to be the buffer now," says Knight, who grew up in Hawaii. "They were glad that anybody came out to take pictures, particularly Hendrix. I hung out and shot full concerts with no restrictions," says Knight, whose work also can be seen on his Web site,

The Los Angeles-based Knight, who remains active as a music and travel photographer, says the offstage access resulted in images that wild-living bands like Zeppelin became nervous about in later years. "I saw some things as a young man that I probably shouldn't have seen," Knight says.

After Zeppelin became huge, Knight says, he was with the band during an infamous stay at Seattle's Edgewater hotel, overlooking Puget Sound. "I was at the Edgewater with them when they were destroying hotel rooms, throwing stuff into the water, catching sharks, all that nonsense.  . . . I have some (photos) they don't want me to publish. They weren't wearing many clothes, if any at all."

On a more serious note, Knight took shots of guitar master Vaughan that he kept private for years. The two had become close friends, and after a 1990 concert with Clapton, Vaughan offered Knight a ride on a helicopter headed for Chicago, but the photographer declined. The craft later crashed, killing Vaughan and four others. "I have the final pictures of Stevie Ray with Clapton. Rolling Stone wanted them for a cover, but I was so upset that I wouldn't let them out for two years," Knight says.

Those images will be in the show at the Rock Star Gallery, which showcases photos, videos and autographed memorabilia.

  Jeff Beck Photographed by Robert Knight

Despite his time spent with musicians, Knight says, "I have never done a single drug, never smoked a joint." He credits an interest in "alternative energies and psychic phenomenon" with a desire to keep his mind clear. "Sometimes when I'm around artists that I feel passionate about and I see them abusing themselves, it bothers me, and I can't go near them," he says. "There are a few that I've been through some really tough times with."

Knight, whose photos also are displayed at 140 Guitar Center stores nationwide, says his work has given him a ticket around the globe. (He met his wife, photographer Maryanne Bilham, in Hong Kong.)

But his rock-star adventures have carried perils: When he first met Hendrix, in Hawaii, Knight's girlfriend accompanied him. "She ended up running off (with Hendrix) for a couple of weeks, so I had a love-hate thing there."

  Jimi Hendrix photographed by Robert Knight



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