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Bob Gruen's rock 'n' roll flashback: The story behind 9 iconic rock images

Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop, Sid Vicious: If you can picture a classic rock star, odds are Bob Gruen shot the picture you're thinking of. Working for Rock Scene Magazine in the 1970s (and as John Lennon's personal photographer), Gruen was able to capture some of the most iconic images of the emerging punk and new wave scenes. While his work has been compiled in various albums before - and posted on the walls of dorm rooms, dive bars and rehearsal spaces around the world - his new hardcover book, Rock Seen, is the first that spans his entire 45-year career. "It's like a diary of my life," he said in an interview from his New York gallery. "I didn't just visit the rock 'n' roll lifestyle as a journalist, I live it and I enjoy it, so it is very personal for me." From the 500-plus photos contained in the book, here are a few notable selections - and Gruen's behind-the-scenes recollections. (Bob Gruen's photos are on display at Liss Gallery, 140 Yorkville Ave., Toronto, until Nov. 3.)

1 of 9

Tina Turner – Paris – Eiffel Tower (1984) I was returning from a family trip in 1984 and found out that Tina was in Paris recording a video, so I went there and I was able to take those pictures with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It really came out pretty well. Ike and Tina Turner were one of the first bands I travelled with in 1970. I was good friends with Tina by that time and they were happy to see me.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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Sex Pistols – With Straws (1977) They were preparing in a bar for an interview with Radio Luxembourg, and at one point I noticed they were all on the same side of the table, so I went to take a photo. The band worked together as a group in the sense that they were like the Marx Brothers or something – they were very funny and very quick to pick up on what each other were doing. They all grabbed their straws and fell into that funny pose in a very natural way. They were drinking mostly vodka and orange juice.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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KISS – Dressed to Kill (1974) We were working on a photo novella for Queen magazine [now Harper’s Bazaar UK]. The story was about KISS in their secret identities going to work in the morning. You can see that they’re wearing suits, so no one would recognize that they were KISS. Nobody knew who they were, it was still early days, and KISS wasn’t well known at all, even in New York. You have to be more than weird to get attention here. People kind of glanced at them, they may have thought it was a little early for Halloween. It takes a lot to shock a New Yorker.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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Jackson 5 (1975) There was a press reception for Jackson 5 before they played Madison Square Garden, kind of a meet and greet. As you can see, Michael hasn’t changed any of his features yet, he still kind of looks boyish there. And Janet was what, 7 or 8 years old? The picture captures the early innocence when they were still up and coming.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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John Lennon – NYC T-shirt (1974) I had given John that shirt as a gift about a year earlier – some people get this story a little mixed up and they think I took my shirt off and handed it to him. With the skyline all around us, I said, do you still have that shirt that I gave you? That’s what impressed me: After having been to Los Angeles and back several times during that year – you’ve probably heard about his “lost weekend” year he went through – he knew right where the shirt was, he went and got it, put it on and was very comfortable wearing it.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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Sid Vicious – I'm a Mess (1978) In San Antonio, Sid and I were having a hot dog during sound check. I picked up my camera to take a picture of him, and he told me to wait a second – and he took ketchup and mustard and put more on the hot dog and smeared it all over his face. He went the extra step to actually look like a mess. I was just impressed that he knew enough to do that – they don’t credit him with being too smart, you know? – he certainly knew how to help create his image.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop (1977) That was when Blondie was opening for Iggy Pop – it was actually taken in Toronto at the beginning of their tour [at Seneca College Field House]. Before they started the show, I asked Iggy and Debbie if I could take a picture of them together. Instead of just putting his arm around her, Iggy started climbing on Debbie and really putting his leg around her and really grabbing her. And she responded by licking his chest.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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The Clash – NYC (1981) They were doing an interview in the RCA building in Rockefeller Center. I knew that building had the best view of any building in New York. A lot of people come here, they tend to go on top of the Empire State Building to take a picture with the city all around them. And if you do that, you miss the most recognizable picture in the New York City skyline – the one including the Empire State Building. It didn’t really take very long, maybe 10 to 15 minutes. But it’s become the favourite of a lot of people, that triumphant moment on top of New York.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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Led Zeppelin – In Front of Plane (1973) It was a 727, a really big plane. When we got to the airport, Robert [Plant] asked if I could take a picture of them in front of their plane. I only took about a half-dozen shots. I mean, it didn’t seem like such a big deal, it was just a band with their plane – even though it was a really nice plane. But it’s become one of the most iconic images, most well-known images of Led Zeppelin. There’s just something about the excess of the 1970s that you really see: a bunch of bare-chested guys proud of their giant airplane.

Bob Gruen/Bob Gruen/

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