A native of New Jersey, it was fitting that one of the first concerts Blakesberg shot took place at Giants Stadium in 1978 with the Grateful Dead in performance before the group headed to Egypt for a series of shows in Giza.
Since that time, Blakesberg honed his skills and followed his passion for photography and film making which ultimately led him to the San Francisco Bay area. Guitars That Jam, his eighth book, opens with a heartfelt foreword by Warren Haynes who spent nearly 25 years with the Allman Brothers Band and has fronted Gov’t Mule since it formed in 1994.
“There is a saying that there’s music inside the instrument,” Haynes notes. “That’s why I hate to see any instrument behind glass. Guitars need to be played, to keep them vital, someone needs to keep music running through them. The electric guitar is blank canvas, capable of producing thousands of sounds. It gives you more choices and range than any other instrument.”
Blakesberg takes an interesting approach with his latest work, a stunning collection of photographs in the nearly 200-page offering, capturing his subjects — the musicians and their instruments — in action on stage. A combination of close-ups of the instruments and full-page shots of the players, coupled with the manufacturer and history of the guitar along with the musician sharing the significance of the instrument to them.
“People think of guitars as pieces of art,” Blakesberg said in a recent interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, “and when you put them (guitars) in the hands of musicians, they create more art from that. It made sense to get the story directly from the artists because guitars can be so personal — they’re all great stories”
Based on him being based in San Francisco, there’s no surprise that Blakesberg features a trove of artists — Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Carlos Santana, Steve Kimock, Pete Sears and Jackie Greene — associated with historically Bay Area-linked groups.
Nearly 70 guitarists are featured in the book, representing many styles of music and fear not, the focus is not all on electric axes. Neil Young is captured in his ragged glory on a 1939 Martin D-28 acoustic; Derek Trucks plays slide on a 1936 Gibson L-00; and Willie Nelson on a battered 1969 Martin N-20.
There are a handful of oddities: Luther Dixon playing a 2010 Daxendale Canjo Diddley Bow and Ben Kaufmann’s five-string G. Edward Lutherie Eminence upright bass.
As the book’s title might suggest, there’s numerous guitarists featured who are oft-associated with jam bands – Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Anders Osborne, Reed Mathis, Trucks, Dan Lebowitz, Grace Potter, Jimmy Herring, Dave Schools and John Bell to list but a few. There’s the funky element of George Porter, Jr. and Michael Franti; jazz with Stanley Jordan; and the heavier sound a la Les Claypool.
Blakesberg’s work has appeared in numerous print publications, including Rolling Stone, Time, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Relix and Guitar Player. His photos have been used on dozens of albums and his production and direction has been part of a number of concert films and video projects.
The Grateful Dead has long been one of his favorite subjects to shoot and 24 years after the aforementioned Giants Stadium gig, Between the Dark and Light: The Grateful Dead Photography of Jay Blakesberg (Backbeat Books) was published in 2002 and featured 900-plus color and black and white photos chronicling the band from the late 1970s onward.
Blakesberg oversees the licensing of the legendary Jim Marshall’s images. Click here For more information about Blakesberg’s work.