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Cleveland Rocked

I'm not from Cleveland so I have to admit I'd never heard of Upbeat before. But now I've got the Internets and so I'm clued in. Upbeat was to Cleveland what Shindig and Hullabaloo later became to teen America in the mid-60s: The TV cradle of everything that mattered in rock 'n' roll. Everyone who meant anything to rock's classic era played on that show, which was syndicated out of WEWS-TV in the mid- to late-60s. The reason they did is that Cleveland, of course, was rock 'n' roll's greatest testing grounds: If you could score a hit record there, the theory went, you could score one anywhere.

Upbeat had a staff photographer during that golden era: George Shuba. He had a chance to take some of the most amazing, luminous, black and white shots of the likes of The Beatles, The Who, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, pretty much everyone who appeared on the show during the most exciting time in music history. Those pix are now on display in a new exhibit at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in, naturally, Cleveland. They're not the same ones you see all the time of these legends.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer did sort of a mini-documentary of Shuba's work, with the man himself narrating it, as an adjunct to the RRHOF exhibit. I'm including it below, but jump below the fold because I've singled out some of the highlights of what Shuba says not only about the photos shown in this presentation, but also of the art of rock photography in an era when there no 35-millimeter, digital SLRs!

Rock and Roll photographer George Shuba

George Shuba on:

The city of Cleveland: We are the home of rock 'n' roll. We started it. (Editor's note: Eat our shorts, Memphis!)

The Beatles: I wasn't in tune with them. I had to watch The Ed Sullivan Show to find out who they were. At the concert I got beat up by the police because the kids started to riot. I was taking pictures of the police, and they didn't want to be portrayed in that light. I managed to get some important shots.

Aretha Franklin: She served me coffee backstage. I said I should be getting coffee for you. She said, "No, you're the media. You make us famous." (Editor's note: YES, dammit! That's how all rock stars should treat the media.)

Jackie Wilson: After his performance, girls just threw him down on the ground and lip-locked him. I was using a roll-film camera, no 35-millimeter, motor-drives. I had to re-crank it, re-cock the shutter, and shoot the next photo. You had to anticipate what they were going to do before they even did it.

James Brown: He would drag his hand across a line of silk suits, touch every one, until he felt that was the suit for that night and that performance.

Stevie Wonder: Why did they put him on riser? He's blind. He knew exactly how far he could go.

Jimi Hendrix: I never knew who Jimi Hendrix was. I spent the whole day with him.

Jim Morrison: I told Ray Manzarek, Jimmy's out of it. He said that was part of the act. I said, yeah. Look at the dilation of his eyes. They were so dilated, I could read the back of his head.

-

From the Beachwood Country All-Stars to Dylan's Grammy Museum, the finest bones of rock 'n' roll are rattlin' 'round Don's Root Cellar.



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Posted on October 22, 2008


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