Visions of Greatness: Ron Raffaelli

But in 1971, it involved physical manipulation of the negatives in a darkroom. 

Bakersfield concert 1968 ©Ron Raffaelli

“This is the rig I used,” Raffaelli said as he pulled an aluminum panel with guide rods along the edge out of a box in the main room of the theater. “I had it machined so that I could line up the negatives,” he added. “They had to be just so. I came up with the idea when we were flying over to England, and then I took the images back to the States and spent some time in the darkroom.” 

The negatives had to be physically carried back to his studio on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. There was no hard drive to back them up on, and that was part of the adventure. 

So while the association with Hendrix opened doors, like, to The Doors, his talent kept him in the room. 

“There is a verbal intercourse that is necessary when shooting rock stars,” he said. “They don’t want to be there, and they are uncomfortable at being told what to do.” Raffaelli went to great lengths to make them comfortable in his home turned studio on Melrose. 

Bakersfield concert 1968 ©Ron Raffaelli

Sometimes he had to go to greater lengths to earn their respect. 

“Led Zeppelin was coming into the studio to be photographed, and they were being chippy,” Raffaelli explained. “So I had a beautiful nude model bring my camera to me on a silver tray, and their eyes got huge, and they were very agreeable after that, and maybe even gave her a ride home later,” he said with a wink. 

Raffaelli was creating art that helped sell hundreds of millions of records, and while many musicians got rich with his help, he did not. 

“I wasn’t in it for the money. Making images was my heroin,” he said. “I could come up with an idea, shoot it, develop it in the darkroom, and then, later that night, I’d have this creation that didn’t exist the day before, and I absolutely loved that.” 

Raffaelli explained that he would supplement his income by shooting nude spreads for gentleman’s magazines. 

“I would make more money from one nude shoot as I made for three album covers,” he said. “It just never occurred to me to ask for more money. I’m sure they would have given it to me.” 

But he was just there to create images. 

“I think any artist should have a wife, or a spouse, that they can trust to make money decisions for them. Because the artist should be, and usually is, completely consumed by the business of creation,” he explained. 

He isn’t bitter in the slightest, though. 

“I love the technology,” he said of Photoshop. “It’s going to add ten years to my creative life. I don’t have the energy to lug around physical props and equipment, but the computer puts all of those things right at my fingertips. These folks who insist on shooting film? I don’t have time for them. They are like cavemen grunting and smearing colors on the walls. Why would you not take advantage of every tool at your disposal?” 

And so that is the encore to Raffaelli’s creative concert. 

He recently settled a long and drawn out lawsuit over the rights to his images, and he is eager to exhibit the images to satisfy his life debt to Hendrix. And he is willing to sell original prints to those that want a unique perspective on a historical show that often turns up on “best of rock-n- roll” photography lists. 

He becomes emotional when he talks about Jimi. Said he was an old soul and a tremendous spirit.

He remembers the last time he saw Jimi, and how tired he was; Raffaelli felt that Jimi was wrung out…drained by the myriad demands of the American Media Machine.

Raffaelli wants the world to see the images of his sensitive friend; the ones that were taken on the Hawaiian estate before the antics at Woodstock, and before the world watched Hendrix light his guitar on fire in a possessed trance. 

The photos show a gentle man with deep brown pools for eyes. 

“That’s Jimi…that’s what I want folks to see.” 

There aren’t many photos at the Jimi Hendrix Museum in Washington, but there is a priceless library of them in McFarland, waiting to be seen by the world. 

Many of the images on these pages haven’t been seen by the public before. 

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