Jay Blakesberg began photographing the Grateful Dead around the country in 1978, but the August 12, 1979, show at Red Rocks, which was supposed to be the first of three nights there, was the only Dead show he didn’t get into.
Blakesberg had just graduated from high school and drove to Colorado from New Jersey in his 1969 Chevy Nova with two buddies.
“I remember even seeing a car pull up to the entrance of Red Rocks on that main road there before you turn into it,” Blakesberg says. “Some guy rolled his window down, and I was five feet away, but somebody was two feet away, and the guy handed five tickets out his window and gave them away, and some guy grabbed them, and I missed them. I missed the moment, and I didn’t get into the show."
Since those were the days before Red Rocks had a roof, heavy rain forced promoters to move the next two concerts indoors to McNichols Sports Arena. Blakesberg was at both of those shows and photographed the Dead there. A photo from the second night at McNichols is one of many that appears in Eyes of the World: Grateful Dead Photography 1965-1995, a new coffee-table book that takes a comprehensive look at the band from several photographers over three decades.
Blakesberg has not only shot the Dead; he's also photographed Tom Petty, Tom Waits, John Lee Hooker, Santana, Neil Young and others, and his work has appeared in numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, Time, Vanity Fair and Guitar Player. He co-edited the Grateful Dead book with Josh Baron, who was editor-in-chief of Relix magazine for ten years.
The initial inspiration for the project happened when Baron asked Blakesberg — who has self-published thirteen coffee-table books of his own photography under his Rock Out Books imprint — why there had been no definitive book of Grateful Dead photos published before. Blakesberg told him that most publishers would be afraid of the licensing fees.
But Baron was able to secure funding for the book and started reaching out to more than 100 photographers.
“We were really looking for things that were very high-quality,” Blakesberg says, “people who had their original negatives that could make good scans. And we were looking for unknown stuff, because there aren't a lot of unknown photographs, but there are things that are emerging on the Internet that haven’t been published in books.”
Take, for instance, photos by James Lee Katz, who’s an attorney now based in Maryland. Blakeberg had found some of Katz’s photos of the Dead on the Internet.
“He used to go see Dead shows in the early ’70s, and he brought his camera to a handful of them,” Blakesberg says. “And he had these really great shots from ’74.... They’re on the Internet, but they’ve never been in a book. Nobody knew they ever existed until his son or his daughter or his friend say, ‘Hey, you should get these scanned and put them up on the Internet.’”
Blakeberg says they found a handful people like Katz, who had collections of photographs, and Alvan Meyerowitz, whom Blakesberg and Baron found through a short film they saw online.
“He had all these great photos, and we have a picture of Phil Lesh and Owsley Stanley together from 1975 that nobody’s ever seen before,” Blakeberg says.
While some of the photos were taken by non-professionals, many were shot by legendary photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Jim Marshall, David Gahr, Herb Greene, Mark Seliger and Adrian Boot.
Blakesberg says that even though people might have seen a lot of the photos in the book, they’ve only seen small versions on the Internet. Eyes of the World: Grateful Dead Photography 1965-1995 is 12 inches by 12 inches, Blakesberg says. “So when you open it up and you’re looking at a two-page spread, that photo is two feet across. It’s big. It’s bold. There are 272 pages in the book, but there are only 220 photos, because there are so many big, bold photos in it. So these photos just jump off and scream at you off the page. They’re just really beautifully reproduced.”
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.