Originally published at http://www.thecreativeye.net/text.php?p=article&a=VM
WHAT I COULD TELL YOU ABOUT DAN FONG
BY James Pagliasotti
There are a lot of stories I could tell you about Dan Fong. In fact, he would pay me good money not to tell you some of them.
But I will tell you this: if you care about the time when rock & roll came of age, those days of Jimi and Janis and the Who and the Stones, then I can assure you Dan was there, camera in hand and sharp eyes focused.
I know because I was there, too. Dan and I grew up together in Denver in the 50s, 60s and 70s. We were there when Top 40 radio gave way to free-form, when singles gave way to albums, when wholesome and carefully coiffed performers gave way to all those long haired freaks with guitars.
We were there when Chet Helms brought the Family Dog to town and settled in on West Mississippi; when Barry Fey began producing shows at the Denver Coliseum; when Stuart Green’s Mammoth Gardens erupted in music uptown and Chuck Morris was booking Tulagi in Boulder. We heard it, we saw it, and we spent a lot of time with the people who made it happen. And, unlike many of the rest of us who were too stoned to function at the time, Dan got it all on film.
Most of his photos have never been seen before. Dan in those days was too busy to do anything but shoot them and store them away. Now he has this treasure trove to look through, and he’s finally making them available to the rest of us.
As I pour over these galleries, the memories come back like a tsunami. They will for you too if you were there, or if you only imagined you were, or even if you just wanted to be. These photographs capture memories, but they can make them, too.
It was a time unlike any other and there were indeed a lot of scenes to capture, and stories to be told. Let me tell you just one of them.
When the Stones toured in the summer of 1972, Barry Fey was promoting some of their shows. He’d started out in the business a few years before by putting on a concert of the Byrds at a D.U. fraternity party and thereafter kept getting bigger, both in personal girth and the size of his shows. After the Denver Pop Festival in 1969, he became very big indeed. And, now, success hanging on him like slabs of fat on a roast, he wanted to have the Stones to dinner.
Dan Fong not only was a helluva photographer, he also was a serious chef. He’d grown up in a community of fine Chinese restaurants and this boy knew how to cook.
So Barry hired Dan to cook dinner for the Stones. He’d already done a number of backstage catering jobs at Fey’s concerts, including both of the Stones’ Denver shows, so it was a slam dunk. Mick wanted him so Barry wanted him and that’s the way it was going to be. Barry then partnered up with all the freaks at KFML radio to give the evening some flavor, and before you knew it, it was becoming a rather auspicious event.
Keeping it a secret meant keeping it from the public. In the music business in Denver, everybody knew and everybody wanted to come, but not everybody could.
But then, that’s what being a kingmaker is all about and Very Big Barry doled out the precious invitations as he saw fit. All we could do was to keep the location secret and somehow we did.
About the only way you could squeeze in a friend was to get them a job on the work crew that was going to help Dan Fong with the serving and cleaning. He’d already recruited his family and his friends at Bilotti’s Pizza to help him prep and cook.
So, baby kingmakers that we were, we lined up the best looking girls that we knew to staff the party, figuring those were markers to be redeemed at a later time. I also got my friend Geitz Romo the job as bartender to the stars.
The party was held at Barry’s home in Cherry Hills, which was one of those enormous Jewish modern ranch-style houses on an acre of land on Quincy just east of University. The back yard was scattered with dozens of waist-high, multi-colored paper mache mushrooms. Long low tables were set among them luau like and lanterns provided the light.
The piece de resistance was the Stones’ newly minted lips and tongue logo in a sculpture some 5 feet tall, which was connected to a machine that was supposed to send clouds of bubbles out of the mouth. Unfortunately, the machine malfunctioned and all night long, this gelatinous goo kept pouring out of it, looking like nothing so much as puke.
So, the court gathered in advance of the stars. There was Barry, of course, and Cyndy, his wife at the time. Tall, blond, ice-blue-eyed Jerry Kennedy, the head of Denver’s Vice Squad and Barry’s security crew, was there in his captain’s uniform, keeping tabs, one supposes.
There was Max Floyd of KMYR and Joe McGoey of KFML and assorted other business types that Barry wanted around. And there was Sandy Phelps and Thom Trunnell, Bill Ashford and Judy Roderick, Buffalo Chip and Reno Nevada and Brian the Super Warthog, David Shepardson and Ronnie Katz, Herb Neu and all the rest of the KFML gang, and Marcello Cabus, and me and the girls, and a host of other pseudo-celebrities.
And, behind a wall of grills and ovens, towering flames and truly huge mounds of food, was Dan Fong and his family, cooking their hearts out, while all of us awaited the Rolling Stones.
That night in those long ago times when things took place that today are actually hard to imagine, let alone to believe, Dan Fong cooked and served a 14 course sit down dinner for 100 people. And it was awesome! There was a little of this and a lot of that and oysters and duck and a roast pig the size of a small Mercedes cooked over an open pit. There were intoxicants of every sort, beer and wine, tequila and whiskey, and all sorts of other stuff, too; and there was that most ethereal of drugs: the bending of elbows with real celebrities, the once and future royalty of rock & roll.
You can bet Dan had his trusty camera handy. And somehow, in the midst of the flames and the grease and the chemistry of fine cuisine, he got some incredible shots, as he always did.
The Stones and their entourage arrived fashionably late, but well ahead of dinner. Mick was dressed in a baby blue jacket with feathers that trimmed the collar, the cuffs and the hem, which was cut off at the bottom of his ribs. It covered a sparkling silver shirt of some sort that also bared his midriff. His pants were dark blue tights and his shoes were satin slippers. His eyes were made up with sparkles and mascara. He seemed to be perfectly comfortable.
Keith was a bit out of it in those days and moved through the crowd somnambulistically, supported by two very tall Nordic women who drugged him and dragged him from place to place. Also very tall Mick Taylor was a friendly pile of blond curls, smiling and chatting and as nice as could be. Bill Wyman was sharp-faced, dark and intense, and good ol’ Charlie Watts was just a regular guy.
I was sitting with him on a couch near the window, talking about jazz, and Mick was posing nearby, when Geitz the bartender yelled at me in a very loud voice: “Hey Smooth Dog! Tell that little faggot in the ballerina costume his drink is ready.” Mick barely seemed to notice and smiled at me vaguely when I handed him the glass. Charlie laughed so hard that he fell on the floor.
It was one of those nights that kept unfolding like waves in the ocean, one image lapping in after another. We sat on the lawn at the long luscious tables of food and drink, with the lanterns bouncing light off faces that you knew and faces you only had imagined or seen at a distance or maybe on film. The mushrooms seemed to sway in the glow and the puke kept gurgling from the mouth of the Rolling Stones logo. Beautiful women served platters of indescribably delicious food and looked into your eyes for just a moment as though you were all they ever had dreamed of, and just as quickly they were gone in pursuit of any excuse to get close to Mick.
People that you worked for were passing out in the aisles and others that you barely paid attention to were waxing eloquent. Everybody it seemed got turned around completely and then had to reconfigure their bearings. And everybody went home happy.
Everybody, that is, except Dan. All of us first nighters and all of the staff, those beautiful girls and sharp tongued bartenders, everyone it seemed had wandered off into the night. And Dan Fong was left with a pile of pans and dishes and debris and detritus that defied the imagination of the average man among us. And having no other choice, he spent the night with all the crap and all of his equipment. And the next day, he and a couple of his cousins cleaned it all up, packed it away and took it home.
There among the equipment and the trash was his camera and his bag of lenses and film, and a couple of hundred shots he had taken that night that someday he would develop. The day that followed blended into the next and the next thereafter, and Dan Fong kept shooting pictures of the megastars and the lesser lights and some of the rest of us who peopled the portrait of rock & roll.
It was our story, and it was a helluva story, and all we needed was someone to record it. A good photographer is hard to find and so is Dan Fong. But, lucky you, you’ve found him.