THE GEORGE DUBOSE INTERVIEW
Photographer George Dubose executed several classic Ramones LP covers, including "Too Tough To Die," "Brain Drain," and "Mondo Bizarro." He recently published a collection of beautiful b/w and color photos of the band, plus his own invaluable first-hand recollections of the photo shoots and what it was like working with punk's first band.
George now lives in Germany. See his email at the interview's conclusion, to order his fantastic book!
1) I see you began in photography around '77 (or was it earlier?) and that among your pre-Ramones subjects were Lydia Lunch and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Were they good to work with? Any other early subjects/credits you'd care to mention?
I moved to NYC to apprentice myself to fashion photographers to gain training to be a portrait photographer, a la Yousef Karsch. I was invited to see the B52s at Max's Kansas City and fell in love with the band's music from the first two bars. They played "Planet Claire" the music of which was "The Peter Gunn Theme" from my childhood's exposure to that television show.
Funny enough, Lydia Lunch and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks was the opening act that night at Max's and I didn't care for them at all. I didn't understand what punk rock was at that time.
I asked the B's to come to the studio where I was an apprentice, for a photo shoot that I wanted to present to Andy Warhol's magazine "Interview". Unfortunately, Cindy Wilson had returned to Athens, GA, so Maureen the manager stood in for her in the photo. Interview published the photo and licensed it to a Japanese magazine called "Studio Voice".
The next time I got the B's to come to "my" studio, the band was complete and I printed 1000 16 x 20 B&W posters, gave half to the band and sniped some of the rest to advertise the band's upcoming gigs. The posters, however, were stolen as fast as I could tape them up (I didn't know about wheat paste). I started selling the posters for 52 cents each or two for a dollar.
Two years later, I was contacted by Tony Wright from Island Records and asked to show my collection of the band photos I had from concerts and in the photo studio. I didn't know that the band had already decided on one photo from the second studio shoot.
Tony asked me to sepia tone the B&W photo and the he cut film overlays to colorized their clothing.
Tony hated the group and used the pseudonym "Sue Absurd" as the art director's name.
2) You did a number of cool covers for the Ramones. Any one particular favorite?
Roberta Bayley's first cover photo was how they really were, Too Tough to Die is how the band saw themselves and Mondo Bizarro is how I saw them...
3) Quoted in the introduction, Daniel Rey called you "one of the few people allowed access to recording sessions, rehearsals, video and other 'insider' events" related to the Ramones. Any story not in your book you'd like to share?
Funny Daniel Rey mentions this. I once had a creative meeting for the cover of "Brain Drain". The band didn't want a photo this time, so we contacted Matt Mahurin and bought an image from a painting by him, the back cover was a video still from the video "Lobotomy". While I was at the recording studio, Bill Laswell was producing this LP and wouldn't allow anyone in the control room AT ALL. Not even the band.
I was "upstairs" in a lounge area shooting billiards with Monte Melnick, the tour manager and I looked through a window down into the large recording room and I saw someone playing bass that wasn't Dee Dee. I asked Monte who was that and he said it was "just Daniel Rey adding a bass track". About an hour later, I looked through the window and saw Daniel playing guitar. Again, I asked Monte what was going and he pulled down the window shade and said, "You've seen enough!"
Daniel Rey is a great musician, producer and guitarist. I studied guitar myself for years and always thought that Johnny could have been easily replaced in the group. Little did I know he was the leader and owned the name "Ramones".
A lot of musicians contributed to Ramones albums without credit. Joey's brother, Mickey Leigh was a classic example...
4) You write that you had the best personal relationship with Joey. Was he individually creative? Could he have had a rewarding solo career?
I saw Joey performing with other musicians several times. I thought that Joey always performed 50s and 60s rock'n'roll covers superbly. I often told him that he should just do a solo album of covers. He never got around to it, unfortunately.
5) I know different jobs require different equipment. Do you have a favorite camera? If so, what do you value about it, in terms of what you can do with it?
To me, the camera is a tool, I am not emotionally attached to any camera. I like to work in a square format with a Hasselblad, but no one is willing to pay film costs in these digital daze. Making a great photo is different than taking a great photo, you can take a photo with any camera, making a photo is the idea. Sometimes the cheapest cameras take the coolest shots.
6) What's Germany like? How long have been living there?
I am not living here for the weather. It wasn't a great career move. I have a beautiful German wife and two great little boys I am raising with American spirit.
I don't want to rag on Germans or any other Europeans, but I am not a socialist. The tax situation in Europe is really bad, up to 22% sales tax is some countries. The price of gasoline is absurd. I remind the Europeans that Americans started a war over taxes...anyone remember the Boston Tea Party?
7) In ending the text section, you write "They quit, I haven't." What're you doing, these days? (Still doing photo work?)
I am doing some of the best work of my career, Kukoo da Baggabonz's "Da Grustler" is one of my best ever covers. I have worked with the Traceelords on several packages and do shoots for hip hop and rock magazines. I am working on a series of books that tell the stories and show the outtakes from shoots I did throughout my career.
I have a lot of exhibits all around Europe and have a lot of photo sales in Norway.
8) Any new photographic styles/approaches you're trying, these days?
I only experiment when I have a job. Some of my best shots have been accidents. Throughout my career I have always adapted my approach, the location or environment, even the choice of film according to the needs of my subject. I don't do landscapes, baby or dog photos. Photography is not my hobby, it is my job.
9) Where should interested fans go to purchase your book?
At the present time, I have two books of my work that I have released. These two are part of the series, "I Speak Music". The first is "I Speak Music - Ramones" and the second is "I Speak Music - hip hop - Old School Volume One". There will be 5-6 hip hop books in chronological order, then there will be more rock books beginning with the jazz artists that I shot before I discovered new wave and the B-52s.
I print my books "on demand". The printer charges a small fortune for single books or runs of 100, so I have to ask for 30 bucks plus shipping per copy. You CAN buy the Ramones book on Amazon, but by the time I get my 10 bucks and the printer makes a markup and Amazon makes a markup, the book is over 50 bucks.
Buying directly from me is cheaper and I can sign the book to the buyer or a friend.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, check my website at www.george-dubose.com.
I sell fine art prints from any of the images on my website or in my books. Thanks for reading this. Hey ho, let's go!!!