Bob Gruen captures the immortals of rock

Photos that rock 05:31

(CBS News) Thanks to one pioneering and very resourceful photographer, the golden age of rock music can be seen as well as heard. With Anthony Mason, we look through a very special rock album:

The history of rock 'n' roll couldn't be documented without Bob Gruen's photographs. In a nearly-five-decade career he has shot thousands of bands, and taken some of music's most iconic images,

In his archives in New York's Greenwich Village, you'll find shots of almost every major rock act, like Led Zeppelin . . .

"It was kind of a snapshot," he says of his picture of the band on an airport tarmac. "But it turned out to be one of the most iconic pictures that, you know, really sums up the excess of the '70s. The plane's so big it doesn't even fit in the picture."

. . . The Who's drummer Keith Moon . . . and Tina Turner, which turned into his first Rolling Stone cover.

For the 66-year-old Gruen, it all started in a way with this picture of Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. That's when Gruen got his first press pass:

"I had to kind of talk my way into it, 'cause when I first got there they said no," he recalled. He said his mother had taught him that "No" is not an answer to accept, "but it can be the beginning of an interesting conversation."

His parents were both Long Island lawyers, but photography was his mother's hobby. She gave Gruen his first camera - a Brownie Hawkeye - when he was eight.

She taught him how to develop film and print pictures. Immediately Gruen was hooked.

His early jobs were for small music magazines, usually working freelance for as little as $5. But he had a knack for making his subjects comfortable.

"I've been with a lot of photographers where you just want to run out of the room. You just don't want to be in front of their camera," said singer Debbie Harry of Blondie, who met Gruen in the early '70s. "And with Bob it's just, you know, Bob's here!

"Bob may not have been the biggest, well-known photographer in the whole world, but in our world, you know, he was very important," she said.

Gruen's work, collected in his book "Rock Seen," includes his most famous session, with John Lennon.

Gruen became Lennon's photographer after he moved to New York:

"I used to wear a T-shirt like this all the time, a New York City T-shirt," Gruen said. "And I had given one to John about a year earlier. And when we were up on the roof with the skyline behind us I just kind of said, 'Do you still have the shirt I gave you last year?' We had no idea it was going to become such a well-known, iconic picture."

"I think this image is in every souvenir shop in New York City," Mason said.

"Yeah, it gets around."

The shot is reproduced everywhere - usually without Gruen's permission. We found it at a souvenir stand by the ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

"How do you feel when you see this?" asked Mason.

"Well, I wish I was getting a percentage of the sales," Gruen replied. "Actually, I feel complimented, you know, 'cause these people can steal anything from anybody. They haven't paid for any of these pictures. So I kind of take it as a compliment that they like my picture so much they continually steal it over and over again!"

Gruen and Mason headed to the site of another of Gruen's iconic shots of Lennon, taken in 1974. Gruen said it was his idea for Lennon to pose at the Statue of Liberty:

"That's one of the reasons I'm really proud of that picture. That one was something I thought up because the government was trying to throw John out of the country. And I thought, being the Statue of Liberty would be a really good symbol of 'Welcome to America,' that we should be welcoming people like John Lennon."

They spent about an hour and a half there - and lining Lennon up with the statue in background proved be a tricky shot.

"It is one of my favorite pictures," Gruen said, " 'cause it has so much meaning. Because it is about peace and freedom. And I think those are the most important things we can talk about."

Tourists still often imitate Gruen's shot, and the photographer himself now gets recognized. One visitor at the Statue of Liberty introduced herself to Gruen and showed him the photo she'd just taken with her iPhone.

Gruen, who has become friends with many of his subjects, says he never really saw it as a job. "Yeah, I wasn't there on assignment. I was there 'cause I wanted to be there."

As he says in his book: "It's not just a collection of my work, it's also a family album of my life."

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