In the 1960s and ’70s, when classic rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Cream, Queen and the Doors were packing arenas with fans, a young equipment tech named Tom Weschler began documenting these scenes of wonder with his very own camera.
Almost five decades later, and Weschler’s catalog of more than 40,000 snapshots seems almost as important as the music itself. By recording and preserving such an influential period in music history, Weschler has given fans the opportunity to do the impossible—to travel back in time and get a glimpse of this bygone era of Rock n’ Roll.
We were lucky enough to sit down with the accomplished Detroit photographer and former Bob Seger road manager recently and wax nostalgic over his adventures, including his years behind the lens and burning rubber with the “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” himself.
Weschler’s first commercial gig fell into his lap in high school in 1964, when he used his new Brownie Super 27 camera to photograph his TV when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. “I developed the film in our bathroom, which doubled as my darkroom,” Weschler recalled. “I dried [it] with mom’s hair dryer and proceeded to print a bunch of images of my TV with the Beatles on it!”
“The next morning I boarded the bus and sat next to a very cute senior girl who was not happy that this little kid sophomore chose that seat,” he continued.
This disdain turned to fondness when Weschler pulled out his binder loaded with prints of the Beatles on the past night’s Ed Sullivan. The senior smiled and asked if she could borrow the binder until lunch.
“We met in the cafeteria,” said Weschler, “and she slid a pile of money ($39) across the table to me. ‘What’s this money for?’ I asked. ‘You have the negatives for these photos don’t you?’ she said, and then gave me a list of images to print.”
“And that became my very first commercial photo gig!” he said. “I figured girls, music, photography and some money would be a good career, and that’s how I began my life’s endeavor in photography… I’ve never looked back.”
After high school, Weschler began his “roadie” work with Artist’s Music, a Detroit store that provided and set up sound equipment for visiting acts.
“Back then,” he recalled, “bands like the Doors and Hendrix didn’t carry all their equipment with them. They would come in and they would be sponsored by various music instrument companies like Vox and Fender or Gretsch. They’d call our store and say, ‘Okay, we need this type of PA or monitor system,’ and I’d be the kid bringing that in. I was like 18, the guy driving the truck, and that’s how I started. Because of this, I was well-versed on equipment by the time I started working with Seger.”
Besides band equipment, there was one other tool that the budding roadie would never fail to bring to shows: his camera.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Weschler was able to take up the craft of photography full-time and use his connections in the business to access and photograph such historical rock legends as Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Cream, Queen, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Pink Floyd, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, the Ramones, Van Halen, the Romantics, Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, the Runaways and both line-ups of Fleetwood Mac.
One of his favorite rock star encounters entails none other than the ‘Guitar God’ himself, Jimi Hendrix, when he graced Detroit’s Masonic Auditorium in 1968.
Weschler recalls standing next to the iconic guitarist in the “elitist” photographer position that he got to know so well over the years—behind the stage looking out at the acts and the crowd.
Hendrix let him in on a prank he was planning to play on the audience, where he would start playing the riff from “Sunshine of Your Love” so the crowd would think Eric Clapton was coming out. Of course, Clapton wasn't actually there, but for Weschler, Hendrix was more than enough.
“...the curtain opened, and he played, and that was one of the best shows that I’ve ever seen—it was fabulous.”
Another band cited by Weschler for their unparalleled stage mastery and talent was the Doors:
“I was there in ’68 and then in ’70, when they recorded their live record in Detroit—the coolest show,” he said. “They were great live, especially because Ray Manzarek was a genius, rest his soul. I only met him around 20 times, but he was a friend of mine and a cool guy that I got to know well.”
“Jim [Morrison] was a cool guy too,” Weschler continued, with a chuckle, “especially because he always had Budweiser, which he always shared generously.”
Between snapping his camera away at rock legends and roadie work with Artist’s Music, Weschler would find his way onto Bob Seger’s road crew in 1968. Within less than a year, the 20-year-old equipment tech had climbed the ladder to road manager, at the request of Edward “Punch” Andrews, Seger’s overall manager.
“It wasn’t so much qualities as always being on time,” said a humble Weschler when asked what personal attributes landed him the role. “Before that, they sometimes had trouble getting to gigs on time… They were notorious for sleeping in. But I was more of a bully, I’d go to their houses and wake them up, ya know, if I had to.”
On the road with Seger from 1968 to 1974—the period of time that rock buffs call his “Wilderness” years, Weschler experienced the rocker’s transition from local artist to national success, and watched the concert crowds grow from 300 to 80,000.
During his years on the road, what also hit “Wesch”—as Seger and crew always called him—was exactly what drew him to photography as a teen: the girls.
“There were some girls that would do anything to get close to the band,” Wesch explained. “They would hang out for hours before sound check … wait in the rain, and when we started getting bigger and were playing on actual stages—not just risers at the bar—they would climb onstage. We had to actually pick girls up and take them off.”
Aside from wrangling female fans, setting up equipment and snapping photos in his free time, Weschler’s five-year stint as Seger’s full-time road manager also entailed some creative work.
Not only was he responsible for creating the album art for 1971's Brand New Morning and 1972's Smoking OP’s, among others, but it was also Weschler who became the inspiration for Alto Reed’s iconic saxophone solo on one of Seger’s most beloved hits.
Wesch set the stage for one of the coolest Rock and Roll stories you’ve never heard, telling us about the time when Alto was struggling to lay down his tracks for “Turn the Page” in the studio.
“I said I got an idea... ‘Hey Alto, pretend it’s like three a.m. and you’re in New York and it’s raining. There’s a little drizzle coming down and you’re under a streetlamp and you’re leaning against a wall with your axe in your hand… tell me what that sounds like,’” Weschler recalled.
“And he lets out that ‘dunnn nuhhh nuhhh nuhhhhh.’ And there was just silence. And he goes ‘Was that any good, guys?’ because everyone was quiet. Then the engineer goes, ‘That’s a hit right there!’ and Seger says, ‘Tell him another story!’”
When it comes to stories, Weschler says he has a “million” that speak volumes of Bob Seger’s modesty, despite fans holding him up to some type of demi-god status.
“He’s like a regular guy,” Wesch assured us.
While his photographs have been published in every music publication of note, like Rolling Stone, Billboard, Record World, Music Life, Cashbox, Cream—it’s easier to say what he hasn’t been published in—Weschler’s proudest career accomplishment is the fact that he was “part of the rise of the Gamblin’ Man.”
When the “Old Time Rock and Roll” singer took his short, but sweet solo run in 1971, it was just him and Wesch. “When he decided to go solo,” Weschler said, “I went down to this hippie store—the Village Green—and bought a yellow rug. I would throw that on the stage with a microphone, light up a cigarette and pull out my camera and that was it, time for the show!”
Although Weschler still works with “Punch” Andrews and rejoined the Seger camp in 2010, he took a long hiatus in 1976—right at the cusp of Seger’s booming success—to pursue marriage and a family. “What happened was I eased out of that because wanted to have kids,” said Wesch, “and do what I was supposed to do.”
On top of becoming the proud father of two boys, the ‘80s saw Weschler draw upon his years of knowledge and experience behind-the-lens to become a photography teacher at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, a girls-only school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
In 2009, after sifting through his 4,500+ photographs of Seger, Weschler teamed up with renowned music journalist Gary Graff to publish the photo essay book, “Travelin’ Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger”— currently the only one of its kind that is out on the Detroit rocker.
“Of all the bands that I photographed over the years,” said Weschler, “I had a 10-minute story about each picture of Seger.”
“We never told Bob about it because we wanted to surprise him,” he continued, “among other reasons. So we put the book out with Punch’s acquiescence and it came out great. It sold out really quickly, and we had to reprint it four times!”
Coming off of his success with the Seger photo book, Weschler is in talks with Graff again to put out a book of all of his photos, which will include snapshots of some of rock history’s lesser-known artists, like the Jam and the Style Council, and then, of the course, its icons: like the Doors, Clapton, Hendrix and more Seger.
“I also plan to make a film, a documentary, based strictly on my [Seger] book,” Weschler shared. “It’s really a story about me and my boys and how we helped Seger get over in the earlier days.”
“Without us,” Wesch continued, “somebody else would have done it. But we’re the ones who did it!”
Despite considering himself more of a historian than an artist, Weschler believes that his catalog of rock photographs has become art because of the public reaction to it. “It’s all art if you get a response,” he said. “If they hate it, it’s art. If they love it, it’s art. If you don’t get a response or people are indifferent, then it’s not an artistic endeavor.”
“If I don’t get an ‘Oh wow!’ then I haven’t fulfilled my purpose,” added the photographic historian.For “Oh wows” galore and a glimpse into the golden era of rock and roll as captured by Tom Weschler, check out his website, and please share your thoughts on his story with us in the comments section below!
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