The Detroit photographer captured an era

Wilson Lindsey was a 16-year-old Detroiter and aspiring photographer when he embarked on a whirlwind a few years into the rock blast of the ’60s.

Lindsey, now a 75-year-old Northville resident, eventually pursued a career in the recording business. But for an exciting few years, he and his lens have been on the front lines capturing shows and stars in Detroit.

With the Detroit Free Press increasingly devoting serious coverage to pop and rock music, Lindsey became a regular freelancer for the paper. Today, looking back on those early years, Lindsey has delved into her photographic archive to celebrate some of her work, including never-before-published images.

Working with the Freep, Lindsey found himself alongside some of the biggest names of the day as they toured the region. The Beatles. The rolling stones. Jimi Hendrix. WHO. Cream. The faces. There was also the hometown stuff, including the Motown photo shoots.

“I was phenomenally lucky, I think,” he says of landing a freelance job at such a young age. “I got into these missions and really enjoyed it. I worked hard on it and thought I was pretty decent. So it went well. But it was also a lot of pure luck. “

As a precocious teenager who also had his eye on a music career – he played with a Detroit band called The Train – Lindsey said he could be flaky and self-absorbed at this time.

“I was really immature. But I loved what I was doing and I got to meet people who were really my idols,” he says. was a great gig.”

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Wilson Lindsey at 75, left, and early in his career, right.

Lindsey, who caught the photography bug when her grandfather gave her an old Argus 35mm camera, landed her first professional job across the Detroit River. An avid wrestler, he pestered promoter Johnny Doyle into letting him film tapes of matches in Windsor. Doyle eventually relented, and Lindsey’s photos of regional wrestling stars like Bobo Brazil and the Sheik made their way into promoters’ event schedules.

The Free Press caught wind of Lindsey after it published a handful of these promotional images, and the paper asked the high schooler to follow boxer Cassius Clay – eventual Muhammed Ali – on a visit ahead of his heavyweight championship fight heavyweights of 1964 with Sonny Liston.

Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, pictured in Detroit promoting his first fight with Sonny Liston in 1964.

“I was lucky enough to hang out with him for three days,” Lindsey recalls. “They gave me full access to photograph it and just hang out. It was amazing, and now I was totally hooked.

Musically, it was a time of transition for big-city newspapers like the Free Press. Since the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era a decade earlier, pop music had been covered largely as a teenybopper curiosity. The stars and their music were often treated with a kind of bewilderment, even disdain, by the cigar-biting journalists assigned to this task.

Now things were changing. A young Free Press rookie, Loraine Alterman, had come on board to cover pop and rock as a legitimate beat. With Lindsey often by her side, she documented the scene with an approach and vocabulary understood by her audience.

“Loraine was a very progressive thinker in a conservative environment,” Lindsey says. “And she knew I knew something about music. So she was tied to that. She could communicate with these musicians of the time in this hippie culture.

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Bob Seger is featured in a June 30, 1967 Detroit Free Press article with a photo of freelancer Wilson Lindsey.

The mood was loose, freewheeling. Lindsey often found herself backstage, chatting with musicians. By the time he embarked on a label career a few years later, show protocols had changed dramatically and that openness was a thing of the past.

“Access was very different back then,” he says. “We were just hanging out with a lot of these people.”

Ken Settle, who got into rock photography in the early 70s and remains one of Detroit’s best veterans in that field, remembers being “a little kid rummaging through the Free Press every day” when he started spotting a regular music photo credit: Wilson Lindsey.

Today, Settle regards Lindsey, along with rock shooter Frank Pettis, as a trailblazer who paved the way for professionals like him.

“It’s a treasure for us local music fans and photographers,” Settle says. “Wilson and Frank were the two guys who felt this music was important and needed to be told in photos. You can feel that resonance in their work. They really set the pattern for photographers who followed.

Cream's Eric Clapton interviewed by disc jockey Ted Lucas in Detroit.

Lindsey went on to work for several record labels, including a stint in the mid-’70s as Motown’s Midwest regional sales manager and worked in the national promotions division of Mercury Records.

The old photos he has on hand are survivors: twenty years ago, when he was living in Hamtramck, most of his archives were destroyed during a basement flood.

The loss was heartbreaking, says Lindsey. But he remains proud and nostalgic for the work he has done – even if he was unaware then of the historical significance.

“At the time when I was taking these pictures, frankly, I was having a great time doing it,” he says. “I never really thought there would be interest, especially many years later. I’m glad there still is.

Contact Detroit Free Press Music Writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or [email protected]

• • •

Photographer Wilson Lindsey, a freelance rock photographer for the Free Press in the 1960s, recounts some of his memorable shots:

jimi hendrix

I photographed it at the Fifth Dimension in Ann Arbor (in 1967), which was breathtaking. The anticipation was incredible – her (first) record had yet to be released. Word of mouth was amazing. I had the chance to meet him and photograph this incredible performance.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience on August 15, 1967 at the Fifth Dimension in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

He was so cool, so friendly and open. I just jumped on stage and started taking pictures. The guys in the band didn’t care.

And then there was the Flint show (in 1968), which was a disaster on every level. Hendrix was so angry and frustrated. He really looked like he was going through a lot of personal turmoil behind the scenes before filming. Then he came out and broke a rope and that was the end of the set. Just three or four tunes and he was out.

Jimi Hendrix backstage at the IMA Auditorium in Flint, Michigan on March 24, 1968.

I never really understood what was wrong with him that day. But he was a different person, 180 degrees, from the man I had seen in the Fifth Dimension.

The faces

Most of the Faces guys I got along with really well. Not only did we get a lot of snaps for the newspaper, but we really clicked. I remember once being in Ron Wood’s hotel room. I told him that I had to pick up my wife from work. He wanted to develop photos, photos that I had taken. So he accompanied me to pick up my wife.

Kenney Jones of the Faces backstage at Cobo Arena in Detroit.

It was like that. Half the Yardbirds would go to dinner at my grandmother’s.

These guys weren’t pretentious, and there weren’t these walls. When I started working in the music industry, things got complicated. The artists no longer wanted this report.

Smoke Robinson

Loraine was doing a story about the creative process of songwriting (in 1966). Needless to say, Smokey was on top when it came to Motown’s creative entities. I remember he was very approachable, explaining how he wrote the songs. He was just relaxed and joking.

Smokey Robinson at Motown's Hitsville headquarters in Detroit in 1966.

It was in Hitsville. He sat down at the piano and hammered out a few things, basically showing how he built the songs, how they became a finished enterprise. While he was doing this, Stevie Wonder came over and he was very flirtatious to some of the women that were there. That kind of caught my eye – it was pretty funny. The general impression I had in Hitsville at the time was very positive. It was a busy little joint.

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