New York City’s Morrison Hotel Gallery finally graced the West Coast February of this year, taking up residence in West Hollywood’s Sunset Marquis. The beauty of this music-themed photography gallery is in its preservation of rock ‘n’ roll history through 35mm film.
Currently, the Morrison Gallery is exhibiting a collection of Los Angeles-based photographs titled “Hell in the City of Angels” by Blondie co-founder Chris Stein. The collection contains 25 behind-the-scenes photos Stein took backstage at concerts or informal settings.
His subjects consist of 1970s and 80s music icons, such as Iggy Pop posing with Deborah Harry, Richard Hell waking up poolside, Devo, The Ramones, Cherie Currie, Kim Fowley and even a pubescent Anthony Kiedis with his father, Blackie “Spider” Dammett. (For a time, Dammett was the Strip’s resident drug dealer, working out of The Rainbow Bar and Grill. Allegedly, he sold goods to countless rock behemoths including Keith Moon and members of Led Zeppelin, as detailed in his autobiography.)
“Hell in the City of Angels” was hung by gallery director, Gwynne Hantz, who offered her insights on the exhibit.
“We’d been working with Chris for a little while. We got ahold of his book, ‘Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie’ and he approached us and wanted to do an exhibition, something he hadn’t done since the 80s. He had a large archive taken during his heyday in the 70s and 80s, many of Deborah Harry,” Hantz said.
Guitarist Stein met vocalist Harry in 1973 when they were members of The Stilettos. A romantic relationship ensued and the two left to form a group of their own. In 1975, they added drummer Clem Burke, bassist Gary Valentine and keyboard player Jimmy Destri, to form Angel and the Snakes.
Of course, that name didn’t last.
Catcalls directed at Harry from truck drivers provided inspiration for their fated moniker. “Hey Blondie, give us a screw,” they shouted at her. In response, the group re-dubbed itself Blondie.
A long career followed with four No. 1 hit singles, 10 studio albums and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The latest album “Ghosts of Download” is due out this November.
“We were offering Chris’s photos [at the gallery] but it was such a great era in music that we thought we could build a show around it,” Hantz said. “He shot a lot of photos in L.A., so the idea came about to use it as a theme, and he curated 25 images. Chris said he always had a camera on him and was kind of their ‘in house’ photographer. He went to school for photography at SVA (School of Visual Arts) in New York. He has so much stuff to look through, it’s endless. The few photos we have here in the gallery don’t even do justice to all that he’s shot. In Warhol’s Factory or at CBGB’s, or here, [famous] people’s houses, he’s done it all.”
The Morrison Hotel Gallery is a public museum where visitors can purchase prints of the images they love from legendary photographers like co-owner Henry Diltz (who has shot over 200 album covers), Herman Leonard, Bob Gruen, Terry O’Neill and many others.
“Our fine art music photography gallery represents world renowned artist photographers that have large archives,” Hantz said. “Anything from 40s jazz to contemporary bands and everything in between. A catalogue of hand-signed, limited-edition photos, we’re about keeping the history of music alive versus what it’s going to, which is all digital.”
The gallery’s next show “Been There and Gone” opens Sept. 6 and will feature unseen Bob Dylan photographs by John Cohen.