By Nick Neofitidis
It's 1969, New Year's Eve in New York. You're 15 years old, and your dad just dropped you off in front of the Fillmore East on Second and 6th in the East Village. The marquee above you reads, "Jimi Hendrix LIVE Tonight - SOLD OUT." You're armed with unease, excitement and the small Pentax camera your grandfather gave you.
You walk into the venue. Some of your past photos already adorn the walls. Legends such as Frank Zappa refer to you as "the prodigy," and backstage, Jimi Hendrix hands you a funny-smelling cigarette. Somewhere in between all that, you take a couple of amazing photos from the stage — photos that nearly 40 years later hold more significance than you ever could have imagined.
Sound like the best night of your life?
Well, it pretty much was for Alan Herr. That fateful New Year’s night, when Jimi Hendrix recorded the now-classic Band of Gypsys album. Alan would be the one-and-only person shooting color photos from the show, and yes, he was really only 15 years old.
After submitting his earlier work to the Fillmore East's Bill Graham, he was authorized as "house photographer" for the Fillmore East and West in June 1967 — when he was only 13 years old. With an all-access pass to whatever shows he wanted, Alan didn’t waste any time. Over the years, he photographed Cream, the Who, Johnny Winter, Yes, Alice Cooper, Mountain and countless others. But it was his photos of that special night that are drawing a ton of notice today.
Being a crazy classic-rock fan, I just had to head back to my old hometown of Bethel, Connecticut, to visit an old soccer coach and his little photo shop, which had the honor of displaying some of Alan's Hendrix and Zappa collections.
These limited-edition, signed and numbered photos have also now been authorized to be sold by Alan. But don't worry if you can't swing the cash. Since 1999, Paul Allen (Bill Gate's former partner) has bought photos from the "Band of Gypsys" collection and put them in his Experience Music Project museum, where they will be displayed for generations to come.
All the artwork has a special meaning now, since original Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell died Wednesday at age 61. He was the group's last surviving member. It's times like these when it's nice to know we'll always have the photos.