Jim Marshall was a bad ass

Posted on March 25, 2010

Jim Marshall signs his iconic Johnny Cash print for Brad Mangin in his San Francisco home on February 11, 2009. (Photo by Grover Sanschagrin)


The voice on the other end of my cell phone had a sense of urgency. My friend Tim Mantoani was calling yesterday afternoon to tell me that his very good friend, legendary rock and roll photographer Jim Marshall died in his sleep Tuesday night in a hotel room in New York City. How could this be? We both had just seen Marshall at the 65th birthday party for Michael Zagaris (The Z-Man) last month in San Francisco. Many thoughts raced through my head. Tim told me to call the Z-Man to find out what had happened.

Jim Marshall flips off Kim Komenich as he photographs Marshall in front of his iconic Johnny Cash image hanging in Brad Mangin’s photo gallery in Mangin’s home during a party on July 11, 2009 in Pleasanton, CA. (Photo by Robert Seale)

Thanks to Zagaris I had the good fortune to meet Marshall and get to know him  a little bit over the past few years. The Z-Man and Marshall were dear friends who met while photographing the music scene in the 1960’s. They hung out together all the time, meeting for coffee on Fridays and spending time with each other on holidays like Thanksgiving. They knew everything about each other. There was no bullshit between them. Spending time with the two of them over dinner and listening to their stories was an unforgettable life experience.

Jim Marshall and Michael Zagaris pose for friend and photographer Tim Mantoani and his 20 x 24 inch Polaroid camera in San Francisco, CA on January 11, 2008. (Photo by Brad Mangin)

Zagaris and Marshall were the first two photographers to be photographed by Tim Mantoani with a 20 x 24 inch Polaroid camera for his Behind Photographs Project in December of 2006. It was only fitting that Marshall was the very first living legend who Mantoani documented. The larger-than-life Marshall loved Mantoani and would make it a point to come visit him at the studio in San Francisco whenever the San Diego-based photographer came to town to photograph new subjects for his ongoing project.

Kim Komenich, Michael Zagaris and Jim Marshall hang out and swap stories during a break in a photo session with Tim Mantoani in San Francisco, CA on January 11, 2008. (Photo by Brad Mangin)

After meeting Marshall several times at some of Mantoani’s photo shoots in San Francisco and some other events I finally had the amazing opportunity to attend a dinner with him, Zagaris,  my new friend Baron Wolman, and some other friends a few years ago in San Francisco. At this dinner I marveled at the camaraderie and respect between these three dear friends. They were all such amazing photographers who could spend all night telling the most exciting stories about the people they had met and the places they had been. There was no need to impress each other. There was also no need for me to say anything. I just listened. All night. It was amazing.

As Michael Zagaris looks on, Brad Mangin hands Jim Marshall $2,000 in cash to buy some prints in Marshall’s San Francisco home on February 11, 2009. (Photo by Grover Sanschagrin)

Zagaris had always said he wanted to get me over to Marshall’s house so I could buy some prints for my growing photo gallery in my home. My gallery would not be complete until I had some signed Marshall prints on my walls. I finally had the amazing opportunity on February 11, 2009 when Zagaris arranged for Grover Sanschagrin and myself to join Marshall and him for dinner at one of Marshall’s favorite restaurants on Market Street, just steps away from his long-time him in San Francisco’s Castro District. What an great night! Marshall knew all the waitresses and they treated him like a king- and deservedly so! After dinner we walked to Marshall’s house for a tour of his collection and then got down to the business of shopping for prints for my gallery. His living room was set up like the most amazing store I had ever been in with Jim Marshall prints all over the room in custom racks arranged by size. 11 x 14’s over here on one wall and 16 x 20’s over there on the other wall. Where to begin?

With Grover’s help I eventually picked out the three prints I wanted: Johnny Cash, The Beatles and Miles Davis. I knew that Marshall loved cash, so I came prepared. We struck a deal that were were both happy with. Nothing could wipe the smile from my face.

As Michael Zagaris and Brad Mangin look on, Jim Marshall signs a 16 x 20 print of his famous Beatles picture for Mangin in Marshall’s San Francisco home on February 11, 2009. (Photo by Grover Sanschagrin)

My three new Marshall prints were the key acquisitions to my updated photo gallery that I wanted to show off to my friends with a Gallery Opening Party in my home on July 11, 2009. I had friends flying in from Texas and driving in from Los Angeles for this event. It was going to be an amazing night. The only thing that could send this Opening over the top was to have Jim Marshall himself attend. Zagaris told he that Marshall wanted to come and he would bring him from San Francisco to my home an hour away in the east bay suburbs of Pleasanton. I wanted to make sure we had Marshall’s favorite drink, so Zagaris told me to get some Macallan 12. Done. When Marshall showed up a little past 6pm I could not believe it. As more and more photographer friends arrived to my opening they were astonished to see who was holding court in my living room telling stories. We made sure his glass was never empty.

“That was an amazing evening at your house listening to him (Marshall) talk about his photos. What an incredible body of work he left. My favorite is his Jimi Hendrix sound check photo but there are so many more,” said San Jose Mercury News photographer Patrick Tehan.

“I feel truly fortunate to have been at your home last July to hear Jim talk about his pictures in person. What an incredible life,” said Oakland Tribune photographer D. Ross Cameron.

“That was one of the greatest times meeting Marshall and your party Brad and getting the chance to talk with him. I loved the story he was telling me about hanging out with John Coltrane in Berkeley. Kim Komenich took a photo of me and Jim Marshall and gave it to me on my 59th birthday last summer. He had so many wonderful stories that night,” said Contra Costa Times photographer Dan Rosenstrauch.

Marshall hung out and told stories while going through all of his books I have in my collection for hours until he got tired and left around 11pm. There were three Pulitzer Prize winners in my house that night, but all of them were speechless as they listened to Marshall’s tales throughout the evening.

Jim Marshall shows his knife to Deanne Fitzmaurice as Andy Kuno, Bob Binder and Michael Zagaris look on during the Gallery Opening Party at Brad Mangin’s house in Pleasanton, CA on July 11, 2009. (Photo by Robert Seale)

I got to know Jim the past few years through our personal meetings and his books. The more I learned from him the more I respected him as a businessman and someone who did things his way. I love that. He didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought. He lived his life the way he wanted and refused to conform to corporate America and the bullshit that comes along with it.

It was while reading his book TRUST that came out last year that I really began to be inspired by his words and actions and how his wisdom could help my own photography business. Marshall talks about the TRUST he had with his subjects:

“I don’t sign shit either, I own all of my photographs and no one I’ve shot, not Dylan, not Miles, not Cash, has ever complained about how my pictures of them have been used.”

Later in the book is my favorite quote from Marshall that he said when talking about Thelonious Monk:

“I pretty much have every roll of film I shot… I looked after my negatives and now they look after me.”

I have fought hard to own all or most of my images that I have produced over the past 20 plus years. The older I get the more and more I grow to appreciate Marshall and what he stood for. This man fought hard for everything he had, and no way in Hell was he ever going to let anyone fuck with him or his pictures.

This is the great man I called Zagaris about when I heard the news from Mantoani yesterday afternoon. Zagaris answered his cell phone immediately and I could hear the sadness in his voice. He was at Marshall’s house with Marshall’s assistant Amelia going through his things, answering phone calls and discussing plans for a memorial service. Before long Zagaris was telling stories about Marshall and laughing hysterically as only the Z-Man can.

One of Marshall’s closest friends in San Francisco was long-time Associated Press staff photographer Eric Risberg. Marshall had shot portraits of Risberg and his wife Elizabeth when they were married almost 19 years ago. Risberg kept in contact with Marshall over the years and last saw him in February at Zagaris’s 65th birthday party in San Francisco. “I am so glad I had one last chance to see him.” Risberg told me last night as he was on his way to meet a friend for a drink. “I am going to toast Jim with a glass of John Powers,’ he said.

There will be an upcoming event in San Francisco to honor and toast the great Jim Marshall. I will be there- and so will many others. He meant so much to all of us. Knowing Jim he will be pissed that he can’t attend.