Last month, the City of Burnaby hosted their 11th annual Blues and Roots festival, with one legendary headliner. Taj Mahal, 50 year veteran of the blues world. An exceptional talent that I had not previously heard of. That is sure to make my next half of the story hard to swallow for many, as I had the opportunity to head backstage and meet the big man himself.
A large perk of press photography is going behind the scenes and experiencing events from a different point of view. It’s about having that piece of inside knowledge and learning how an event works. It’s a little like being back in high school and the sense of being accepted into an exclusive group. That, or it is the nosiness, hidden within every photographer.
On this night Taj held back his start while he waited for a friend to arrive. Not any regular friend, but Steven Seagal. Bringing up another big part of the job: hanging around waiting, then having less than a minute to capture the moment. This night was no different, although the delay did give us all time to chat. What do you talk to a musical legend about? Only his favourite spots, New Orleans Mardi Gras and the differences between the North American and European music scene. And just as we were going to give up the wait, we saw Steven Seagal and a friend running out of nowhere, dodging trucks and technicians to make the start of the set. Quick hug, quick photo and onto the stage the group went!
I remember during my first intern-ship on a tiny weekly newspaper just outside Cardiff, capital of Wales, the head photographer told me that a journalist is doomed to know a little about a lot and a lot about nothing. Never a truer word could be said about our industry, and the question is always whether to show your naivety on a topic. This can be a tender tight rope walk, as you can never lie to agree with your subject as you are sure to be caught out, but many high profile people are offended when you do not know every detail of their life.
On this night, I had done basic re-con as soon as I discovered I was meeting Taj. In a last minute shoot, that mainly consisted of hitting up those around me for knowledge. But I needn’t have worried. Taj was as laid back as they come, treating the group like long time friends and took it in his stride when Willie Nelson’s son Lukas, who was also performing came up to pay his respects. It was at that moment I realised how important this croaky voiced man was to the blues world…something that was confirmed when I saw him perform: