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Dick Waterman has blues stories -- and the photos to back them up

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 24, 2013 - Dick Waterman is best known in the music world for managing artists such as singer/guitarist Bonnie Raitt as well as booking and working with blues legends such as Son House, Skip James, Buddy Guy and many others.

But when the 77-year-old Waterman travels up from his home in Oxford, Miss., on June 25 to appear at the St. Louis Central Library, he’ll be sharing more than stories from his 50 years of experience in the music business.

Waterman, as part of the National Blues Museum’s 2013 Film and lecture series, will also be showing examples of his photography, which includes shots of a who’s who of the blues world – plus artists ranging from Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger to James Brown, Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones.”

Waterman’s appearance came about after he found out that the national Blues Museum effort in St. Louis had become a reality, and he decided to contact the Museum about the possibility of including some of his photography in the collection.

“I heard there was going to be a National Blues Museum in St. Louis, and I wanted to get in touch with them since I’ve been taking photographs of blues musicians for 50 years,” Waterman said during a recent telephone conversation. “I told them that when they started to get their collection going, not to forget about me! That’s when they asked me if I’d like to come up to St. Louis and talk about my photography as well as my years booking musicians.”

Waterman readily agreed to appear in St. Louis, and began the process of deciding which photos to bring for his talk. Given that he’s been taking photos since the early 1960s, and has thousands to choose from, the process presented a challenge.

“I started out with 200 images I really, liked, knowing I’d have to cut it down from there,” recalls Waterman. “So I narrowed it down to 120 or so. But then I heard from the museum that ideally, I needed to only bring about 30 or 25 with me for the presentation. I did my best, but I only got it down to about 60 or so. So I’ll definitely be bringing what I consider the best of my best. And it’ll include musicians ranging from jazz and country to bluegrass and rock as well as blues.”

According to Waterman, the format for Tuesday evening will be fairly free form, but will begin with him talking about his lengthy career as a manager, booking agent and photographer.

“I’ll talk for a certain number of minutes about my life in music, my photographs,” he says. “Then I’ll take questions. I’ll also be bringing photos of mine that will be available for sale, as well as a case of my book, “Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive.” It’s now out of print, so this might be the last of them for awhile.”

Over the years, Waterman has been to St. Louis quite a number of times, and has met and photographed musicians from here or who have performed here. And he’s looking forward to sharing some of his memories of St. Louis with the audience Tuesday evening.

“I’ve got a wonderful photo of Chuck Berry, and one that I took of Oliver Sain is a favorite, too,” says Waterman. “But one of the best photos I ever took was of Etta James when she played St. Louis in 1996. At that time, she was very overweight and was sensitive about it. So when she performed here, she had them kill all the lights except for the red ones. It was a difficult situation to try and capture on film, but it turned out well.

“And one of my favorite memories of St. Louis was coming there with the great blues musician Champion Jack Dupree to play at a club called Off Broadway. It was a great night of music, and I remember on our way down to the club that evening, we drove by the Anheuser-Busch brewery. I told Jack, 'No matter how much you drink, you won’t be able to keep up with that place.' He thought for a minute and then said, 'Maybe not. But I’ve got them working nights!'”

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer.

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