A Word with Bob Egan - Discovery NYC Week


Photo courtesy of Bob Egan.

The presence of rock photographers has been intrinsic to the musical thread that has woven its way throughout New York City’s history over the past century, and many of the most iconic photos in rock n’ roll have been pulled from the covers of musical collections. Bob Egan, the creative mind behind PopSpotsNYC.com, took note of the creative union between music and photography, as well as the context of their marriage, and set out on a mission to uncover the original locales of some of music’s most celebrated album covers.

From Woody Guthrie to the Ramones, The Who to Steely Dan, Egan built a site chronicling the real life settings of album photography, and the portraits they helped to inspire. His effort was initially made out of personal intrigue, yet he soon discovered many others shared in his fancy. Now, in addition to the Big Apple, he’s expanded the site to cover cities around the world where music found a niche.

BTR caught up with Egan to hear more about his venture into the world of rock n’ roll inspiration.

BreakThru Radio: Where did you come up with this idea in the first place, and how did you gain momentum for the site?

Bob Egan: My interest in looking for the locations for old album covers began when I asked the owners of several used record stores in Greenwich Village if they knew where Bob Dylan’s cover for Blonde On Blonde had been shot. I figured their owners had been there for 25 years or more, surely someone would have told them in that time. But they hadn’t so that’s when I started to search for them myself. I started by finding the exact location of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. I knew it was against the wall of the NYU law school because of the fence and the bricks. But I had to circle the building three times until I could find a perfect matchup of the exact spot. Later, the photographer and Graham Nash both wrote me and said I had found the right spot.

The NYU building where the cover for Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush was shot at the Northwest corner of Sullivan St. and East 3rd in Greenwich Village. Photo by Lauren Hawker.

Bob Egan’s recreation. Photo courtesy of Bob Egan.

BE: The site gained momentum through Twitter. If one person has 1,000 followers tweets about my website, suddenly 1,000 people around the world know about it. Then they re-tweet, and soon thousands more know about it.

BTR: What’s been the hardest spot to track down, and what’s a place on your to-do list?

BE: The hardest spot is Blonde On Blonde because, from what I know, the photographer and Dylan drove to the west side of Manhattan, jumped out of the car on a freezing winter day, took the picture against some random wall, then rushed back into the car to keep warm. That’s why the picture is blurry. The photographer was shivering. There are not many clues in the nine or so photos taken that day to pinpoint what building it was.

Workingman’s Dead is another one proving difficult. The band [Grateful Dead] is at a bus stop in the Mission District of San Francisco, but I can’t match up the buildings behind them with any present day buildings. I even have a 1970 map of the bus route!

BTR: Were any of the sites surprising to you – like completely different than you expected?

BE: On Highway 61 Revisited by Dylan, I thought he was sitting on a stage indoors. Turns out he was sitting on the front steps of a beautiful old townhouse on Gramercy Park in New York. How that went undetected for 25 years I will never know.

The location where cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was shot at Jones St. and West 4th in Greenwich Village at present. Photo by Lauren Hawker.

Bob Egan’s recreation. Photo courtesy of Bob Egan.

BTR: In your opinion, what does rock photography offer as an interpretation of the New York music scene?

BE: I think the highpoint of music and rock photography was the early 1970’s punk scene, when both the photographers and the musicians lived in low rent apartments near each other in the East Village and Lower East Side. There was a realism to the rawness of the clubs, the streets, and the apartment of the musicians, that the photographers conveyed. These were people on the edge; living in hard to live in places; trying to create a new sound that was unlike ‘60s rock. And they did. Then after that came rap and the center of the music scene moved to the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Where the back cover photo for The New York Dolls’ self titled debut record was shot at the Southwest corner of St. Mark’s Place and 2nd Ave at present. Photo by Lauren Hawker.

Bob Egan’s recreation. Photo courtesy of Bob Egan.

BTR: What have you learned about musicians – specifically or in general – from tracking down their whereabouts?

BE: For the most part, it seems musicians are photographed during the time they are recording an album often near their studio. It’s like the record companies wait till the last minute (or at least used to) to take photographs, then get the band to walk around the block or go up to the roof for pictures. It was that way with Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Television, Billy Joel, and many others.

The Golden Age of the album cover photo is over. Now CD photos are small. Because they were so big, after you bought an album you would hold it in your hand and look over every inch of it as you listened to the album. Now that photography has been superseded by videos, it’s not the same. When you had to convey a band to its listeners in just one photo, the photographer and art director would work harder to find the perfect shot.