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Herb Greene
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Indio, Calif.
Known as the “official” photographer for the Grateful Dead, Herb Greene’s portrait photographs of the leading rock-and-roll musicians taken during San Francisco’s psychedelic sixties graced books, magazines, album covers and rock concert posters. Rather than photographing performances, Greene worked as a portraitist who photographed musicians in his studio, his home, on the street and backstage. Many of his portrait subjects were also his close friends, particularly Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Born in 1942 in Indio, Calif. (near Palm Springs), Greene’s family soon moved to Medford, Oregon, where his father cultivated a pear orchard. Later the family moved to Yuba City, Calif. (north of Sacramento), where he attended high school. Encouraged by a teacher to take up photography, he bought a camera and took a photography class. Greene graduated from high school in 1960 and the following year moved to San Francisco and enrolled in photography classes at San Francisco City College, followed by studies at San Francisco State University. In 1963 Greene went to hear a bluegrass trio, the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, at a North Beach club named The Fox and Hound, and introduced himself to one of the musicians, Jerry Garcia (1942-1995). They became fast friends, and after Garcia formed a new band, The Warlocks, Greene took portrait photographs of the band. It was the first of ten formal photo sessions Greene had over about three decades with the band that became the Grateful Dead. He became the leading portrait photographer for San Francisco rock musicians, including Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane—Greene photographed the band for the cover of its first album, “Surrealistic Pillow”—and Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company. The then-new British band Led Zeppelin came to him for photographs in early 1969 at the suggestion of rock impresario Bill Graham (1931-1991). In the middle of the session Greene learned that the Grateful Dead was at his door and wanted an immediate photo session. The session became problematic when Ron “Pigpen” McKernan of the Dead pulled out a revolver and began firing. Before the worried Zeppelin band left without paying, Greene did get an iconic shot of both bands together. Although Greene began working as a fashion photographer for the San Francisco department store Joseph Magnin and Co., he continued to photograph rock musicians, dividing his time between Los Angeles and San Francisco. His photographs were used by rock poster artists such as Rick Griffin (1944-1991), Bonnie Maclean (b. 1939) and Wes Wilson (b. 1937) on 13 posters for Bill Graham and Chet Helms (1942-2005) of the Family Dog from1966 to 1969. Greene continued to photograph musicians in the following decades, including the Pointer Sisters, Blue Cheer, the Charlatans, Carlos Santana (b. 1947) and Steve Miller (b. 1943) as well as the Grateful Dead, continuing after Garcia’s death in 1995 with the remaining band members. His work appeared on album covers and liner notes for many of these artists, notably for the Dead’s famous album with Bob Dylan (b. 1941). During the 1990s Greene’s work appeared in three books on the Grateful Dead. In 1999 Greene relocated to the Boston area. From 2009 he became more active in exhibiting his work from the sixties, in group and one-man shows, notably his 2015 solo exhibition “Dead 50 Years” shown in Belmont Mass. and Chicago and the group show, “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” shown in 2015 at the Skirball Museum, Los Angeles and in 2016 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. (TNB 8/2016)