Visions of Greatness: Ron Raffaelli

Bakersfield concert 1968 ©Ron Raffaelli

It was the beginning of an intense professional and personal relationship that the photographer would come to believe was a life debt. 

“We formed a bond that night, and I could trust him and he could trust me,” Raffaelli mused. 

Hendrix would give him complete artistic freedom, including allowing Raffaelli on the stage with him during performances, “and that allowed me to get photographs that no one else could get.” 

The first time he took to the stage with Hendrix was during a clandestine sound check outside of their Hawaiian compound. 

“He couldn’t play in public before the tour, because of contractual obligations, so he had a private sound check,” he explained. 

Hendrix invited Raffaelli to the sound check with the understanding that he’d be sharing the stage with the rocker for the first time, albeit without an audience. 

Bakersfield concert 1968 ©Ron Raffaelli

“I was getting down low to get these shots, and my head was by a wah-wah pedal, and Jimi said something to the effect of, ‘You’ve gotten to know me over the last week, but now you’ll really get to know me,’ and he looked down at me and started playing ‘All Along The Watchtower.’ I’ve never been the same since. It changed my life. It changed a lot of things. I didn’t know how to explain it but it was a life-altering experience to lie there and watch him play that…his way of saying ‘this is who I am.’ ”

As it turned out, the closeness kept him from capturing a historical moment. 

Hendrix invited Raffaelli to his home one evening for dinner, and he asked him to leave his cameras at the studio. Raffaelli felt that Hendrix wanted to dine with him as a friend, and he internally debated bringing a camera before deciding it would be a breach of their burgeoning friendship. 

During the meal, Hendrix and Raffaelli ate with the housekeeper and chef, and enjoyed a casual conversation until the phone rang and the housekeeper brought it to the table via a long cord. 

Hendrix chatted briefly, and announced after hanging up that there would be company. 

The doorbell rang several minutes later, and The Beatles walked into the house. 

“I couldn’t believe it,” Raffaelli said. “The Beatles sat at Jimi’s feet in the living room and they had this high level conversation about musical theory that went right over my head, and then they left to catch a plane.” 

Hendrix sensed his friend’s profound disappointment and acknowledged it while encouraging him to let it go. 

“So that moment exists only in my mind,” he said. 

But it was his mind that was earning him work.

Raffaelli saw the individual components that went into an image, and it made him a highly sought after photographer of album covers. 

For the Rolling Stones’ 1971 compilation release Hot Rocks, Raffaelli decided to make a compilation of the band members’ heads, nestled inside of one another like Russian dolls. 

Today, this would be a fairly easy image to create. 

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