Famed rock 'n' roll photographer Bob Gruen, known for some of the most iconic shots in rock history, is in town this week for the opening of his first-ever solo show at the Los Angeles Morrison Hotel Gallery. We talked to the native New Yorker on Thursday a bit about his photographs of the New York Dolls (many of which were shot in L.A. during the Dolls' first trip to California), about 10 of which will be on display at the exhibition (opening Saturday at 6 p.m. and running until Nov. 11). Gruen, 62, will attend the event to sign copies of his fantastic, just-released book, "New York Dolls: Photographs by Bob Gruen," from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Our brief chat with the photographer follows after the jump...
What was it like traveling with the New York Dolls on their first trip to L.A. in the early 1970s?
It was great. We stayed at the Hyatt. I can remember walking into the hotel and there must have been 40 or 50 groupies waiting for them. It was amazing. [L.A. groupie] Sable Starr rounded up the whole crew. We were here in the summertime.
Did Sable make a beeline for Johnny Thunders?
Oh yes! She liked him and he liked her.
What was the Dolls' attitude toward L.A. in general back then?
The Dolls loved show business. And Hollywood is show business. So they really enjoyed being here. We spent a lot of time seeing the sights, you know, in Hollywood -- the Chinese Theater, Fredrick’s of Hollywood, of course.
Did people stare at the Dolls back then when you were shooting them on Sunset Boulevard?
Even back then in Hollywood, the Dolls stood out. Nowadays, so many people have been inspired by the Dolls, and others doing the glam look, but at the time you didn’t see men dress up or try to be beautiful. But the Dolls were never in any way transgender or anything. There were no women who dressed like the Dolls. Their idea was to be the most beautiful men. The girls knew right away that the Dolls were straight; it was the guys who were confused.
So which one of the Dolls was the most into being photographed on the L.A. trip and in general?
When you get a magical combination like the Dolls, it’s not like one really stood out. They were all good looking, they all liked having their picture taken, and they all knew how to do it. They enjoyed being looked at, and they were all attractive.
Where do the Dolls rank in terms of bands that you have photographed over the years?
Right at the top. They really look good, and they all liked having a good time during shoots.
Tell us about how other bands you’ve shot were influenced by the Dolls, and your shots and videos of the band.
I made a video that’s called “All Dolled Up” that features a lot of video I shot in the '70s. Today, everybody has a hi-def video in their back pocket, but back then, it was really rare to have a videotape machine or camera. I have over 40 hours of [raw] footage. You know, it’s so easy now to make a DVD copy on a computer, but back then it was very difficult to make copies. I had a lot of bands come over to my house to watch the Dolls footage. The Clash were really into the Dolls and came over to my place. I eventually did make copies [on VHS] and bands wanted to see them; Kiss and the Rollers wanted to see them. Kiss actually didn’t think they could be better looking than the Dolls, so they went in the opposite direction, because that hadn’t been done yet.
Speaking of people who were inspired by the Dolls, was it difficult to get Morrissey to commit to writing the afterword for your book?
Not at all. He loves the Dolls. They helped him become the free and open person that he is. That’s what the Dolls did for a lot of people. When you see how many different kinds of groups they inspired, you see how important a band they are. When you look at the New York Dolls back then, they obviously hadn’t learned how to play their instruments, but they were having fun.
Bob Gruen will attend the opening of his first solo show in Los Angeles on Saturday night at the Morrison Hotel Gallery Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard. The event is free and open to the public.
Photo: The New York Dolls by Bob Gruen