by Larry Marion / Director of the Not Fade Away Gallery
Click here for a photo gallery featuring rare images of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, from the Bob Bonis Archive. The Lost Beatles Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964-1966 and The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964-1966 are available at the Museum store and for viewing at the Library and Archives.
Bob Bonis may have been the luckiest person in the world. From 1964 through 1966, he served as both the Beatles’ and Rolling Stones’ U.S. tour manager. For the Beatles, that included all three of their U.S. tours and it covered the Stones’ first five US tours.
In addition to being a great tour manager, Bonis was also an amateur photographer of extraordinary talent. He brought his camera on the tours and captured historic and iconic images of what would become two of the most important bands in the history of rock and roll. [Pictured above: The Beatles relax poolside and play with a balloon. Bel Air, California, August 1964. / Photograph by Bob Bonis © NFAgallery.com]
The Beatles and Stones are among the most photographed groups in history, but virtually all of the images we’ve come to know and love were posed or staged photographs, taken by either a photojournalist or a photographer hired to do a photo shoot for an album or magazine or for publicity or concert shots. Candid, unguarded and intimate photos, especially from this time period, are extremely rare. But Bonis was an insider. He was their tour manager and their friend and guardian. He had unqualed access.
As a trusted member of their entourages, Bonis was allowed to capture images of the groups not only onstage, but also backstage preparing for concerts and talking with other stars, traveling from city to city, relaxing in those rare moments of personal downtime and just being themselves. In the case of the Stones, he also extensively photographed them recording at both Chess Studios in Chicago and RCA Studios in Hollywood, California, and rehearsing for television and film appearances. [Pictured left: A revealing photograph of Mick Jagger at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, in May 1965. / Photograph by Bob Bonis © NFAgallery.com]
Bonis spent his earlier career as an agent and manager with a variety of jazz artists who often performed in the mostly mob-run clubs in New York. Standing more than six feet tall and weighing around 200 pounds, Bonis cut an imposing figure and was the kind of no-nonsense guy that didn’t stand for any shenanigans.
When the Rolling Stones were set to come to America, their U.S. agent knew he had to get someone that could handle the band that had earned a reputation as the bad boys of rock and roll. He thought of his old friend Bob Bonis and convinced him to take the job, even though Bonis was not a rock and roll fan or anxious to go on the road with a bunch of troublemakers. When he met them in June of 1964, he quickly found that they were not a bunch of hooligans, but rather a group of kids in their early twenties who were being positioned by their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, as a counterpoint to the Beatles clean and wholesome image. Bonis and the band clicked.
A few months later, when the Beatles were ready to embark on their first full U.S. tour, they asked the Rolling Stones’ management for advice, and Bonis was recommended and soon thereafter hired. Bonis was so good at his job that the Beatles retained him for all three of their American tours. In that time, he took almost 900 photos of George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. He stayed on as the Rolling Stones’ American tour manager through 1966, when the band took a break from touring. While traveling with the Stones, Bonis captured almost 2,700 images of them. After his time with the Beatles and Stones, Bonis went on to work with artists, including Simon and Garfunkel, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Chicago and Frank Sinatra.
During his lifetime, Bonis only ever allowed a small handful of his photographs to be published in a teen magazine. He felt it was a privilege and honor to have worked with these great stars and that it would be inappropriate to try and capitalize on that relationship and good fortune. Instead, Bonis kept the negatives and photographs for his own personal enjoyment. He always refused offers to publish them or tell stories from on the road with the Beatles and the Stones. [Pictured above: John Lennon in a somber moment on a plane en route to St. Louis, Missouri, August 21, 1966. Only five shows before their last ever U.S. concert. / Photograph by Bob Bonis © NFAgallery.com]
Bonis passed away in 1992, and the negatives, slides and few prints he made remained “lost” or hidden from the public until 2008, when I met Bonis’ son Alex. I convinced him that we should honor his father’s legacy and unveil these unique and remarkable photographs that his father had taken during a turning point in the careers of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, coming to and poised to conquer America.
We formed a company and embarked on a journey to let fans and collectors see and have access to these never-before-seen shots of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart and their managers, friends, fellow musicians, engineers and fans.
This adventure led to the publication of two books: The Lost Beatles Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964-1966 and The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964-1966. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum curatorial director Howard Kramer noted: "The Bob Bonis collection is an unmatched view into the inner circle of the most iconic groups of all time. It's illuminating, humanizing and intimate."
Keith Richards used several of Bonis’ photos in his autobiography, LIFE, published last year, and several others are going to be featured in other books coming out this coming year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones.
[All photos courtesy of Larry Marion/Photographs by Bob Bonis © NFAgallery.com]
About Larry Marion:
Larry Marion is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on rock and music memorabilia, especially concert posters. He has worked with many of the leading auction houses, set several world-record prices for Beatles memorabilia, and written and designed 16 catalogs of music-related memorabilia. Larry is one of the owners, founders and directors of NotFadeAwayGallery.com, which exclusively represents the photography of Bob Bonis. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, collects memorabilia related to stand-up comedy, music and the 60s, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.