Alamo photographer shows off amazing rock star collection
Rock photographer Donna Paula presents her 1960s and '70s rock shots at Round Hill Country Club on August 26
Alamo resident Donna Paula has a rockin' past—and she has the photos to prove it.
On Friday, August 26, the public is invited to Paula's photography exhibition, “A Fan’s Point of View,” an exclusive collection of pictures of rock stars from that Paula took during the 1960s and '70s. Although she eventually became a paid photographer for Warner Electric Atlantic Records and Nightfall magazine, many of Paula's photos were taken during her days as a hardcore fan—Paula would buy a ticket to the concert, bring her camera, and find the closest perspective possible to get the shot. Paula's photos of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Peter Frampton, and the Rolling Stones and many other rock legends will display at Round Hill Country Club in Alamo, from 6–9 p.m.
Why after all of these years, have you decided to take your collection out of storage and share your photographs with the public? I have only shared a few of my photos with family and friends, including my husband, Dan, and sons Greg, 26 and Trevor, 19, who until this show haven’t even seen most of the shots I’ve taken. So, with much prodding, I decided to finally produce this gallery style show of some of my favorite rock pictures I took from the '60’s and '70’s. I was looking for a venue to display my work in the city, but since most of my friends are here in the East Bay, I decided to keep it local.
Define the moment you knew you it was your mission to photograph rock legends?
I was 13 years old when I attended my first major concert, which was the Rolling Stones, on November 5th, 1965. We were in the nosebleed section at the old Boston Garden and I longed to be up close and capture on film what I was experiencing and how it felt to be at a live performance.
I had photographed local bands since the age of twelve, so it was a natural progression to want to take it to the next level. I was passionate about music and to photograph the stars up close as they were performing live, would be a dream come true. I loved their talent and was absorbed in their music, so documenting it all on film was just something I knew I had to do. I shot photos of all kinds of musicians and that was why I eventually kept getting hired, because of my passion and love for music. If you came to town, I shot you! There is no way to describe the feeling of looking through the lens as the music begins to pulsate through your body and reverberate among the crowd. It was exhilarating to be able to capture the moment, which would be preserved forever on film. The enthusiasm from both the musicians and fans was a shared energy with the whistling and applause surrounding me as the musicians gave it their all up on stage. And there I was, getting the shot from right in front of the stage! To talk about it even now after all these years, still gives me the chills.
What experience stands out the most?
Wow! I could never pick just one... I was just telling someone the other day about the time we were partying at a hotel in Boston, when Steve Marriott from Humble Pie admired my jacket and since he was about my size, I let him try it on. It was constructed of multi-colored patches and velvet. Later that evening, I asked for my jacket back and he was surprised that I wasn’t going to let him keep it. He was not pleased that I had the audacity to ask for it back and resisted so much so, that I actually had to take it off of him as he rolled his eyes.
One time members from the Kinks, drummer, Mick Avory and bass player, John Dalton came to our home to kill time before a concert and because it was four o’clock tea time and the proper thing to do in England, we sat and had tea in the dining room, to make them feel at home.
I had met Peter Frampton at a previous concert and the second time I saw him was backstage and I was thrilled that he remembered me because he said, ‘Hey Donna, how’s your camera?’ I told him both the camera and I were doing great and that no one had ever asked me about my cameras before!
Keith Richards was always great to his fans and went out of his way to greet them, including me. I actually met all of The Stones, except Mick.
Bob Marley once asked me to go on tour with him, and I promptly and wisely declined, knowing that it wasn’t just my pictures he wanted from me. He expected much more than my camera and I were willing to give. I got to photograph Rod Stewart seven times. Once he was back stage arguing with the first video jockey from MTV, J.J. Jackson, about who was a better singer, Tina Turner or Mick Jagger, when I finally said, ‘Alright you two, enough already, they are both great singers!’ Speaking of J.J. Jackson, on February 15, 1969, I was visiting him at WBCN radio station when Buddy Miles, who was with the band Electric Flag at the time, happened to also be at the station to visit J.J. as well. When he saw my album of my photos, he bought some of them on the spot that I had taken of him at a previous concert.
Robert Plant took a photograph of himself out of my album because he liked how I shot him, straddling an amplifier on stage at the Boston Tea Party in January of 1969 and when he saw that photo later in May of that same year, in my album, which I always carried around with me, he asked if he could have it. It was remarkable that these musicians wanted my photos, because I didn’t get my 35 mm until the end of 1969. The shots were all taken with either my Insta-Cube Imperial or Brownie cameras and they were impressed with my work and were really excited to see the images I shot of them on stage. I was astounded the slides turned out well enough that the artists actually wanted the photos.”
What about Bob Dylan, did you ever get a chance to meet him other than photograph him?
God no! He was unattainable for sure, except for his inner circle. Another one was David Bowie, he left before I had a chance to meet him. So did Jimi Hendrix.
Talk about what it was like to be up so close to the stage and realize that, Jimi Hendrix, for instance, was a mere few feet away from you?
I had seen Jimi Hendrix perform twice before this particular concert, but again was too far away and I didn’t get my 35 mm camera until the end of 1969. So, in 1970 I’m at his concert and had managed to work my way to the front of the stage. When he came out on stage and started to play the guitar, it was incredibly electrifying! He just oozed sensuality and you could feel his energy as he performed. I got caught up in the moment and emotion of his performance and lowered my camera from my face, staring at his absolute magnificence and presence on stage. I finally had to remind my flustered self, ‘Donna, just pick up the camera and shoot, just pick up and shoot Donna!’ I felt more excitement photographing him than anyone else. I was that awestruck! I was asked by someone if I wanted to meet him afterwards and I agreed, but was scared at the same time, being that I was only sixteen at the time. I was truly relieved when he had immediately left after the concert. However, he died three months later, on September 18th, 1970 and looking back, I wished that he hadn’t left that evening, since I knew I’d never have another opportunity to meet him. To this day, guitar legends such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck have all been quoted as saying that Jimi Hendrix commanded a stage presence like none other.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. You must have some incredible stories and memories tucked away, along with all the old photos, which are relevant to the explosion of the rock and roll scene and the birth of the free love… And so, what was it like hanging with the band members back stage, since they no doubt viewed you as a young woman, albeit with a camera in hand, no less a lovely temptation for them?
The fact that I was there to shoot as a professional photographer, I was taken more seriously than groupies who were there for the party scene. While everyone around me was high, I was 100% focused on my work and absorbed in the music. I relished the experience of seeing these bands perform live on stage, as opposed to playing a record in my living room.
While I was shooting, I was not just looking through the lens, my whole being was into the entire experience from the beginning to the end of the concert and I was aware of my surroundings, the entire time. I actually documented what I saw on a little notepad; each song that was performed, what time they played it and where they were positioned on the stage during the song by drawing little stick figures. While girls my age had diaries about typical teenage stuff, 90% of my diary consisted of anything that had to do with music and photography. My whole goal was that I wanted to capture exactly what I experienced and I was able to preserve the moment with my camera. I was the farthest thing from a groupie, I was there purely for the thrill of seeing the music performed live, which I captured on film. It was pure joy, that’s how I got my high.
I did enjoy some of the perks, however. I rode in limos, went to private parties and participated in the whole scene, with the exception of the drugs and sex. I was in charge of making the choices and I knew my path was to be a professional photographer. I also had people watching my back. When representatives and promoters from the magazines and record companies, such as WEA, Warner Electric Atlantic Record, which hired me to shoot the rock stars, took me to these private parties, they made sure I was off limits in that way and I was not there to mess with their clients. The band members not only respected me as a professional photographer, they respected my boundaries and in turn trusted me, in that they knew I wouldn’t shoot them in compromising situations. Whether partying back stage or hanging out at hotels, I always asked permission first if I could shoot them.
If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I always kept a low profile and looking back now, I wish I had pursued my dream farther and taken it to the next level after that. With the exception of Bob Marley, I wished I had been more open to traveling with the band and shooting them on location, such as my idol, Annie Leibovitz did. She is close to my age and at that time, we were pretty much the only two female photographers of the rock scene. Unfortunately I’ve never met her, but have always admired her from afar.
Looking back at the photos you took, what does the visual summation of your experience represent to you?
That I have always loved anything that had to do with music! However, I’ve never lost sight of the fact that I am a mother and wife foremost. I married a saxophonist and introduced my kids to music, taking them to concerts when they were old enough to go.
There is no admission for the gallery showing and a no host bar will be available to purchase drinks. Round Hill Country Club is located at 3169 Round Hill Road in Alamo. Paula's photographs will be available for purchase that evening as well as on her website, Donna Paula Photos at donnapphotos.com. Email her at, firstname.lastname@example.org and phone, 925-575-ROCK (7625).