A gallery of rock legends: Clapton, Zappa, Elton John, Grace Slick Jackson Five and their totally square, totally sweet parents.
In its September 24, 1971 issue, LIFE magazine illustrated a different side of the lives of rock stars. Like other mere mortals, they often came from humble backgrounds, with moms and dads who bragged about them, fussed over them, called them on their nonsense and worried about them every single day.
Assigned to take portraits of the artists at home with their sweetly square folks, photographer John Olson traveled from the suburbs of London to Brooklyn to the Bay Area, capturing in his work the love that bridged any cultural and generational divides that existed between his subjects. (via Time)
John Olson is best known for his time as a Vietnam War photographer, notably his five days in the terrifying furnace of the Siege of Hue. His war images were confronting, immortal, framed in death.
He was 19 when he went to Vietnam. While others his age were trying everything possible to avoid doing that, he had to fight to get to the war. He managed to get assigned to Stars and Stripes in 1967, and less than a year later he had won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his coverage of the Siege of Hue, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. He went on to become Life Magazine’s youngest staff photographer.
It was a surprise that he was commissioned by LIFE Magazine to take a series of portraits featuring rock stars with their parents. “A hell of a lot more difficult and unrewarding than war photography,” John recalled. The assignment took over a year, and carried him from the suburbs of London to San Francisco Bay and Brooklyn.
“I got a lot of the drug stories, a lot of the rock and roll stories, and a lot of the anti-war stories,” John said in an interview. “So when this story came up, I guess I received it because of my age.”
He had also worked for the rock promoter Bill Graham for several years and had some experience in dealing with rock stars’ egos and unprofessionalism. “But” he said, “without exception, the performers behaved like regular human beings as soon as their parents were around. They were polite, on time and not stoned. That’s the primal power of parenthood, I guess.”
After LIFE folded in 1972, John became a highly successful studio photographer in New York. Today he runs his own a scanning and printing business with his wife Nancy.