Bob Gruen in the West Village, NYC

June 09, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Bob Gruen

Bob Gruen at his New York City studio May 16th 2024.



Bob Gruen has been a huge contributor of documenting the musicians who, through their art, helped to sculpt the minds and the emotional worlds of teenagers across America and beyond.

For fifty years, Bob Gruen’s photographs have been seen around the globe.  He has authored books including John Lennon: The New York Years; Rock Seen; New York Dolls; Green Day; and Right Place, Right Time: The Life of a Rock and Roll Photographer.

His photographs include musicians; John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Alice Cooper, Deborah Harry and Tina Turner to name just a small portion of subjects.

According to Right Place, Right Time: The Life of a Rock and Roll Photographer, “Tommy Ramone once said that in order to create a successful rock band, ‘The image and the sound must gel.’  Punk author Legs McNeil (Please Kill Me) concurred, ‘You have to have a great song and you also have to have a great image to go with it.’”  Gruen’s photographs helped create the images of music idols who touched many young souls seeking to connect the dots of their developing youth. 





In 1971, Bob met and became John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s personal photographer.  They became friends, and he remained their personal photographer until John’s death on December 8, 1980. According to John Lennon: The New York Years, “Yoko told Bob very directly, ‘We want you to keep coming back, to hang out and take any pictures you want.  We’re not hiring you or paying you because you’ll sell pictures to magazines and make money for your photos.  But we’ll give you access as long as you show us what you do and let us choose which ones you use.’”










Thursday May 16th 2024

West Village, New York City



Our yellow cab pulled up to the Westbeth Artists’ Housing in the West Village at about 3:20 pm, 10 minutes early from the pre-arranged meeting time of 3:30 pm.  Cheri, my assistant, and I climbed out of the cab with four medium-sized bags of photography equipment. 

The extra 10 minutes gave us a moment to look over the famous structure built in 1898.  Westbeth had housed a number of influential artists and musicians including photographer Diane Arbus whose 1971 suicide in her apartment A945 caused a stir in the community.

The Westbeth Artists Community Building.                       A plaque as seen on the side of the building.


We walked along the side of the building and into the entranceway of the Westbeth.  At a desk sat a security guard with a couple of people off to the side talking with one another.  All three looked up as we walked towards them.



I asked them where to find Bob’s apartment number.  They gave me quick directions which were confusing.  The Westbeth is a difficult place to find your way around as we headed up the elevator to find the apartment.  The elevator doors opened, and we walked out to a dark, gloomy, old and musty hallway.  The place was mystical with the walls and ceiling painted a pale blue gray and a carpet to match.  The lights fixed proportionately along the ceiling cast a dim yellowish hue.  We headed down the hallway and notice the old-style architecture had a kind of aura and life to it.  We checked out the number of each doorway to make sure we were headed in the right direction.  Every doorway was a little different. Each had some sort of individual artwork either drawn or painted on it: a kind of identifier created by the renter of the apartment.


We approached Bob’s door which has his last name Gruen next to the doorbell.  Next to that is a Keith Haring image of a photographer.  A young woman opened the door.  “Hello, I’m Richelle.”  “Hi there,” I answer, “I’m Charlie and this is Cheri.” 

“Please come in.”



We came into the small, narrow foyer area where the walls, painted with many coats, are white, and jackets and hats hung on hooks.  The foyer turned past a small utilities area and to the small kitchen.  Standing in front of us, a smiling Bob Gruen appeared, “Hello.”


We introduce ourselves and shake hands.


Bob is a tall and slender man, dressed in a black shirt and pants.  He has a receding hairline with short gray hair on top.  With his piercing blue eyes, he appears younger than his actual age of 79.  I immediately recognized him from all the books, articles, and YouTube videos I’ve seen.


He politely asked Richelle to take us down to his studio on the next floor and have me set up my equipment while he could go over some lingering computer work he needed to finish.




Led by Richelle, we went out into the hallway and into an elevator close by.  Richelle is a thin, young, and attractive lady.  She is a brunette with shoulder-length hair and a calm demeaner.  During our short walk to the studio, Richelle tells us she has been with Bob as an assistant for 15 years, after first being an apprentice.  She opened the studio door.  The studio seems small congested with many boxes of photographs and archives



Elizabeth, Bob’s wife, was sitting at a table. She is a slender, attractive middle-aged lady.  With a cloth she was wiping off a large photograph of the rock band the Sex Pistols.  She introduced herself and started up a conversation.  Elizabeth and Cheri hit it off, and their conversation seemed to go on for the whole time we were in the studio.  One gets the impression Elizabeth is an integral part of Bob’s business.




Elizabeth spoke about Bob’s archive of photographs, “Not much, but some of his stuff went missing.  A lot of the colored slides got sent to some magazines or somewhere and they just didn’t turn up.  While trying to establish the price of the vintage, there’s a lot out there that turn up on eBay or turn up in the UK or here.  It could be any kind of platform possible.  So, it’s hard to keep up.  When the photos are found, Bob’s here to authenticate it - tell the story for it. 




Tell and provide that personal experience for it and give it that authenticity.  We have to figure out how much we have of everything, and he has to sign everything which is a negotiation (Elizabeth laughs at the difficulty of getting Bob to take the time to sign his photographs).  I tried to slip boxes in there and say, ‘Ok, sign this too.’  It’s been a big project and had a whole bunch of graduate students help us archive the photographs”



Bob entered the room and Richelle excused herself to go upstairs to the apartment to work on some other business.



Never in a comfortable position


“Some weeks you sell some, and some weeks you don’t,” Elizabeth adds.  “Thankfully, Bob can spin a good tale so he can entertain as well.  We sell primarily through the Morrison Hotel Gallery.  They’re very good.  They have a good sales force. They started off with Henri Diltz and two other people and have plans to expand to other cities.  Their team is outstanding.  Bob does exhibitions.  He’s done a huge one in South America.  Everywhere is unique.  We have to make this a legacy especially for his grandchildren.”


Bob notes, “I never got comfortable with money. It was never in a comfortable position where I thought, I’m on top.  Being on top still doesn’t pay the rent, so I never had those epiphany moments and thought, wow I made it.  Although I am very well-known, fame doesn’t equal fortune, so it’s frustrating.   A lot of months I’m struggling to pay the rent.  I’m looking for checks, and I’m asking people all the time to buy pictures. 




Thankful to be at Westbeth


We’ve had the luxury to be at Westbeth and the luck to have this commercial space since 1997 (although Bob has had his apartment at Westbeth since 1970).  There’s a lot of people in this building. All the apartments in the middle are duplexes and you have to be a family with 2 or more kids to live in one.  There are well over 1200-1500 people in the building.  It’s a utopian dream to have artists live all together, but artists are notoriously independent.  The tenant meetings are interesting because everyone has their unique vision of how a utopian world should be.  There are 400 apartments and 400 visions of a utopia.  We get to discuss it once a year and it can be kind of funny.  Some people can have a conspiracy theory, where others have issues with their radiator.”


An early self-portrait.





At the beginning


Bob, at what age did it click in that photography was a passion for you and it was something you wanted to do for your life?



“Well, I was 4 or 5 years old when my mom did it for a hobby, and with our new house she put in a darkroom.  I was too little to go to sleep early but too big to leave out running around the house, so she took me into the dark room with her and taught me how to develop pictures.  In those days we didn’t have tanks, we had trays.  We kind of had to lift the film in and out of the trays and count off the seconds in the dark.  That’s some of the earliest memories of my mom developing film in the darkroom.  And then, I kind of took to it.  I liked to see the magic of watching that white piece of paper turn into a photograph in the developer. 



When I was eight years old my parents gave me my first camera for a present, a Brownie Hawkeye, and I immediately started taking pictures.  I became the family photographer.  I was good at it, and I became the school photographer.  My first published picture was in the town newspaper of a fire.  I was always taking pictures as a hobby.  My parents were attorneys, and they didn’t see photography as a serious job.  They felt that a person should have a decent job and go to work in an office.  That didn’t really work for me   I tried a couple of colleges but that didn’t work and I had a few different jobs.  More and more I was taking pictures.  My cousin had a connection with a famous photography school.  The director of the school gave me a recommendation to Richard Avedon and Alfred Eisenstaedt.  He later wrote a letter back to my parents saying I was a very good photographer, and I guess that was a turning point when I didn’t have to look for another job. 


I had to get a job in the business of photography.  I started working for a company that made slide film strips.  I learned how to run an Oxberry camera, which was a highly detailed camera where you can take six different pictures on the same frame.   That job became boring.  I then worked for a fashion studio for a while, which was a little less boring.


I lived with a group of guys in a rock and roll band when I moved into Greenwich Village.  When they finally got a record deal, they used some of my pictures and they introduced me to Atlantic Records.  That was kind of the beginning of my entrance into the music business.



My big break came when I met Ike and Tina Turner in 1970.  They started using some of my pictures, and they introduced me to a publicist who brought me to Alice Cooper and Elton John.  At that time things just started snowballing.  Every time I went somewhere, I met somebody else and they would hire me for another job.

Bob’s photo of John, Yoko, and Sean



I’ve had a very exciting life, but it wasn’t by accident. it’s because I went out and did it.  One of the benefits of my life is that I don’t like to watch television.  I cannot stand to stay home and just stare at the fucking box. It’s not real – you can pull the plug and it doesn’t exist.  It’s mesmerizing and it’s so unreal.  I feel like their level of intelligence is dumbed down so much during the commercials and such.  I cannot stand to be talked to that way. It’s just annoying.  I don’t understand how people can just sit there and watch tv and watch it just flow over them.  It is so fucking stupid.  I just go out.  I want to see things in real life.  I don’t like reading about it. I don’t like hearing about it.  I like seeing it in real life.  Some people like to smoke a joint and stay home.  I like to smoke a joint and go out somewhere.”




Did you mainly shoot tri-x, black and white? What kind of film did you use? 



Bob explained how he was able to photograph in a darker environment.  “I shot tri-x at 1600 and used Acufine developer.  That would automatically double the speed.  For me tri-x was 1600, plus-x was 400.  If you develop it in Acufine, you’re not really pushing it.  It just developed it at higher speeds.  I didn’t have to develop it longer than normal, and it was much finer grains.  For color film I used Ecktachrome and usually pushed it one or two stops.  It was too touchy to develop my color at home, and I sent it out (to be processed).






Were there any conflicts on who owned your photographs during the time you were working for magazines?



“Not really, because magazines didn’t pay me enough to buy out.  I always owned the copyright.  When you click the shutter, you owned the copyright.  You owned what you make.  I never had to have any discussions about that. 



I’ve read many of your books and there is a lot of information there.  How do you remember all the detail?



 “I did it.  I was there, and also I have a lot of pictures to remind me.  When I see the picture, I remember the sound and the smell of the event.  I remember because it was my life.  There was a lot of things I don’t remember, and every once in a while, I’ll think, ‘Holy shit I remember THAT night.’  Bob laughs, “Sometimes I don’t want to remember.”


David Bowie


Bob, as I’m standing here speaking with you, I can’t help but notice all of these great photographs you have on the wall behind you.  Please tell me how was David Bowie to shoot?



 “Oh, David was a prince.  He’s an English gentleman -- absolutely proper.  Very creative with a voracious appetite to know things.  He just wants to know everything.  Mick Jagger says, ‘David is like a vacuum; I don’t want to wear new shoes around David Bowie.’”

(L-R) Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols playing with straws at a cafe in Luxembourg. November 1977. © Bob Gruen/

Please contact Bob Gruen's studio to purchase a print or license this photo. email: [email protected]

Image #: R-128

The Sex Pistols by Bob Gruen


Jimi Hendrix


At the beginning, have you met Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin?



 “I actually met Jimi Hendrix briefly for a moment.  I had printed a photo of Tina Turner, and I was taking it home.  I came out of the subway and Jimi was walking across Sheridan Square, and I followed him down Christopher Street where he went into the Pink Teacup.   I didn’t want to bother him but finally approached him and showed him the printed photo I had of Tine Turner.  He said, ‘That’s a really good picture.’  I said, ‘I’d like to take your picture sometime.’ And Jimi said, ‘Okay, we’ll meet again.’   But he lied: we never met again.”



 “I saw Janice on stage when the Fillmore opened here in New York, and I never saw her again.  I saw her at a distance at Woodstock, which was a 180-degree difference.  The first time, at the Fillmore, it was the most amazing show I’d ever seen, as a blues singer.  Not better than Tina Turner.  But, in the Janis style, it blew me away.  I went to Woodstock as a fan.  I went as a Who fan.  I bought as I bought Woodstock (festival) tickets to see The Who.  I still have them.  There weren’t any ticket booths at Woodstock.  They put up the fences so quickly they neglected to put in ticket gates.”

Led Zeppelin & Jones, John Paul & Bonham, John & Page, Jimmy & PLed Zeppelin & Jones, John Paul & Bonham, John & Page, Jimmy & P

Bob’s photograph of Led Zeppelin





Bob’s photo of Debra Harry at Coney Island.



Keith Haring

I like your business card with the Keith Haring design on it. (Keith Haring died of aids on February 16,                  1990 at the age of 31)



“He was a friend. I saw him draw that.  He did that as an autograph in his book.  It was amazing to watch him make his figures because he knows exactly what he’s doing and he draws the outline perfectly.  He knows where it’s coming from and where it’s going.  He sees the whole thing ahead of time.  Keith came to a party at Yoko’s, and I gave him some pictures of him and Andy Warhol and Sean (Lennon).  I got permission from his estate to use the drawing for my card.” 



John and Yoko


During your time with John and Yoko, are there any moments that really stand out during your relationship?



All of them.  It was always special to be with John and Yoko.  Yoko is a particularly generous and intelligent person.  I’ve learned a lot from her.  She’s given me tremendous and good advice.


I don’t know of any moment but, I’ll say going to the statue of liberty with John was a lot of fun.  That was a very special day.  Any day with them was special.


According to John Lennon: The New York Years, The Nixon administration continued its efforts to deport John, fearing he would stir up political opposition to their policies.  I’ve always been drawn to symbolism in photography-where with just a look at an image, you can get the meaning- and it dawned on me that taking a picture of John at the Statue of Liberty would help dramatize his case.  After all America stood as the worlds most welcoming nation, and yet we were throwing out one of the world’s greatest artists.”


Right Place, Right Time: The Life of a Rock and Roll Photographer, “The next morning we went down to Battery Park to catch the Ferry to Liberty Island.  As we walked around waiting for the ferry, John looked up at the buildings around us and said, ‘I bet I’m paying rent on every one of these buildings.  There’s a lawyer working on something for me in every one of them.’  He told me how every lawyer he had ever visited seemed to move to a bigger office as soon as he hired them.  ‘And it always has my picture on the wall.’


We were waiting for the Ferry and a crowd gathered, a bunch of schoolgirls who saw John and immediately started screaming.  John told them that if they’d quiet down, he’d sign autographs.  After that, nobody bothered us.


We went to the statue, walked around to the front, and took pictures for a while.  The hard part was trying to get the proportions right, a person 5 feet 10 inches tall standing in front of a statue 305 feet tall.  That took a little adjusting but, eventually I got it.”


It was only later, after John won his case, that the Statue of Liberty picture really became an iconic image representing peace and personal freedom.”

Lennon, JohnLennon, JohnJohn Lennon in front of The Statue of Liberty, NYC. October 30, 1974. © Bob Gruen /

Please contact Bob Gruen's studio to purchase a print or license this photo. email: [email protected]

Image #: C-01

Bob’s photo of John Lennon in front

 of The Statue of Liberty





Can you speak of any advice you received from Yoko?



Oh, from Yoko?  Well basically, when you sign a contract, you should get the biggest advance you can because that’s the only amount of money you’ll ever get.  Whatever they promise is in the future and remains to be seen and usually doesn’t appear.  That always seems to ring true.


Yoko gave me a recipe for a ginger tea that’s a miracle cure for a sore throat.  You just boil 6 or 8 inches of ginger for 45 minutes and add lemon and honey in it.  It cures your throat.


My photo of Bob






Bob, on the wall behind you I see the photograph of John Lennon with the New York City t-shirt on.  Can you tell me how that photo happened?




John asked me to come to his apartment.  He had a little penthouse on the rooftop (during a time John and Yoko were separated).  He needed a whole series of his face all the same size.  They were making an album cover where they would cut the face into strips and fold the strips over.  He sat there and made faces.  John said let’s make pictures up on the roof so we would have a publicity kit ready.  I had given him that (white New York City t-shirt) shirt a year earlier.  I had six of them, and I used to wear them almost every day.  The graphics are very powerful, and there’s something about the phrase that people react to.  If it says Cleveland, people will just look at you.  If it would say New York City, there is a more edge to it and a power to that phrase.  I remember I gave John one of my shirts.  They were just made by some guys who sold them on the street for five dollars.  Now you can get a designer style for about $150.  I bought one for my agent and my girlfriend.  One day I was on my way to the studio, the guys were there, and I bought one for John.  I liked to cut the sleeves off because it gave it a more New York macho look.  I used to carry a buck knife in those days, and I took it out and I cut the sleeves off. 


It's now a year later, we’re on the rooftop taking pictures, and I asked John if he still had that shirt.  He had been back and forth to L.A. a few times - have you heard of the lost weekend?  So, I was impressed that John knew where it was because a lot of people gave him things.  We took the pictures and had no idea they would become as iconic as they have.  It looks self-revelatory. 

Lennon, JohnLennon, JohnJohn Lennon on rooftop in New York City. August 29, 1974. © Bob Gruen /

Please contact Bob Gruen's studio to purchase a print or license this photo. email: [email protected]

Image #: R-2

Bob’s photo of Lennon on the rooftop



John and Yoko had a realization of their relevancy in modern music and their part of the history of pop culture.  Can you speak of John and Yoko’s acceptance of having their photo constantly taken.



By the time I met John and Yoko, they were the most famous couple in the world, and they knew that.  They knew most people had an interest in them, and they felt that their life should be documented.  They would sometimes have film crews around when they were doing certain events.  They liked the fact that they got along with me.  It wasn’t like they were hiring a photographer, and I enjoyed hanging out with them.  At the beginning, there was a lot of drinking and it was one big party.  I also stayed friends with them separately when they were separated.  In many cases in my life, I’m like Switzerland. I get along with everybody.  I don’t make judgements, and I don’t embarrass people.  During the time they were separated, I didn’t go to L.A. and get involved with John’s drunken chaos.  I went to Japan with Yoko and made all kinds of contacts which benefitted me a lot for the rest of my life.  My autobiography has just been published in Japan.  I have a long history there, thanks to Yoko.



December 8th 1980

Colvin Avenue, Buffalo, NY.

11 pm

The Day the Music Died, Part II




It was a typically long weekday.   After work and the usual family chores which included getting my 6-month-old daughter in the crib for the evening, I finally had time for myself.  I remember how I was slouched on the couch nodding off while watching Monday Night Football, a game between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. 


The Monday Night Football games were quite a big weekly event back in those days, and the games didn’t start until 9:00 pm eastern standard time.   For the working people, this time of the evening makes it a late start.  With the unmistakable and legendary voice of Howard Cosell resonating through my apartment, I began stirring from an on-again, off-again slumber.


The time was approaching 11:00 pm and the game was on the line with an upcoming, deciding field goal.  I will never forget these words from Howard Cosell:


Yes, we have to say it.  Remember this is just a football game.  No matter who wins or loses, an unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City.  John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the westside of New York City, The most famous perhaps of all of the Beatles.  Shot twice in the back.  Rushed to Roosevelt Hospital – dead on arrival.


This horrifying and numbing news immediately sobered me up from a kind of hypnotic state.  Cosell’s words couldn’t have knifed through any deeper.  John Lennon, a legend who helped shape my childhood with his words and music, was gone.


Memories of Don McClean’s epic song American Pie came to mind.  Albeit, the day the music died, part II









Thursday May 16, 2024, 4:00 pm

West Village, New York City



Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?



”Yeah, I was in the darkroom developing pictures I had taken two days earlier.  It was the worst news I ever got.  I had seen him on a Friday night; he was murdered on a Monday night.  I had seen him on that Friday night into Saturday morning.  There was a glitch in the taping (at John’s music studio), so we sat on the floor for like two or three hours just talking.  He was very happy that his record was going up the charts.  He was doing really well, and he was planning a world tour.  So, I went home that night thinking come March or April I was going around the world with John and Yoko. 




On Monday night that all came crashing down.  The fact that he was a friend and not just a famous person or poet that I liked.  It was very difficult with the whole world watching to deal with the grief of losing a friend when everybody else was losing an idol.  To me, it was much more real than that.  It was such a difficult time; it was also so stupid (speaking of the reason John got shot).  It was the stupidest thing in the world to actually happen.  Which called into question everything.  I just had to question everything, and it took me a long time to get over it.  I’m not over it.  You never get over it; you get used to it.  It’s like when you get a cut and it’s really bad and it really hurts, but eventually it will heal and there’ll be a scar.  If you touch that scar, you will feel the pain again and you never get over it. And that’s the way I feel about it.


“I’m old enough now and I miss a lot of people,” Bob laughs, “I have people dropping dead every week.”


I heard it from Howard Cosell.


“Yeah, I think the whole world heard it from him.  He didn’t want to do it from what I understand.”


 “I was in the darkroom and my doorman heard it.  He called up and said, ‘Do you have a radio or TV on?’ and I said, “No what happened?”  He said, ‘John Lennon’s been shot.’  “My first impression was – New York was kind of dangerous in those days, and I thought he would be shot, like, in the arm.  That’s not dead.  So, it was kind of awkward at first. 



I thought he’d gone out to get something to eat.   He never carried any money. He didn’t buy things. People did things for him and maybe somebody tried to rob him and he got shot.  Then a friend of mine called up from California and said, ‘I just heard on TV that John was dead.’ 


I just kind of sank to the floor with the reality of it all, just sinking in because dead is the most permanent word that I heard.  I like to fix things, and I remember sitting there just trying to figure out how to fix that, and you can’t.  Then my phone just started ringing, and I realized the whole world was watching.  I started pulling up files because I realized it was my job to make them look good in the newspapers.  I had a lot to do that week and I didn’t sleep.



When you first met Yoko after that event, can you speak of how that went down?




We were pretty much in shock. Yoko was eating chocolate, and we weren’t saying much at all.  She was a pillar of strength.  I don’t remember if it was a Thursday, but within a few days she mentioned, ‘When you’re in a crusade or in a campaign when the guy with the flag goes down, someone else has to pick it up. You don’t just leave it there.’  John was carrying a big flag, so it took a lot of people to try to pick it up.  That’s the point (referring to Yoko) is that you keep going on and you don’t stop.  Yoko didn’t stop.  She was a great inspiration for all the rest of us to keep going and not stop, which was really difficult because nothing made sense after that.



When Richelle wrote to me explaining you lived at the Westbeth Artists’ Housing, it came to my mind that Diane Arbus had lived here.  Did you ever run into her before her death? (Diane Arbus died July26, 1971 at the age of 48 due to an apparent suicide).


She was here at the beginning, but I didn’t know her.  She died in the building but only a few months after I moved here.  In fact, a couple years later when her book came out in 1974, I remember looking through it with John Lennon.  I told John she had such a grasp of reality and John said, ‘Look what it got her?’  Bob laughs, “Maybe it’s okay not to know too much.”

Bob and I at his studio.



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