I’d been commissioned to shoot a portrait of a young American singer who was getting a lot of buzz. I’d only heard one of his songs, which hadn’t set me on fire, but was excited by the prospect nevertheless.
It very nearly didn't happen. Traveling in Tokyo usually meant juggling a bunch of train connections to get anywhere. Receiving a fax (remember those?) of the location where I was to shoot, a radio station, rather than take two train lines plus long walks lugging my gear between, I decided it would be easier if I rode my bike to a station just 10 minutes away from my apartment, and from where it was only a couple stops to my destination. That bike ride meant I had to carry my two camera bags, one over each shoulder, and negotiate the busy high street, uphill most of the way. Once across the main east-west thoroughfare with overhead freeway, the reward was a steep downhill to the train station. Easy.
A little out of breath, I arrived at the train station only to realise I had left my wallet at home. Damn! No ticket, no ride. What to do. I had no choice. Looking at my watch I figured with a bit of luck I had just enough time to head back and pickup my wallet, but that involved the unenviable steep uphill climb with those two heavy bags, zigzagging down the pedestrian high street, and repeating the route back to the train station. But that’s what I did.
Red faced and exhausted I got to the studio just in time. Literally seconds after my arrival Jeff, jumping like a bean with adrenaline, and his backing band, stepped out of a live studio set on radio. I joined Jeff, the band and the journalist in the large wood panelled basement room. I set up lighting and taping my red cotton sheet as backdrop onto the far wall before sitting in on the interview. Half an hour later I had my opportunity to talk and shoot.
I’d been briefed to not mention Tim, his late folk-rock singer father who’d passed away from an overdose in 1975. Why wasn't made clear to me ... I didn’t know if Jeff held animosities toward his dad, or simply that he didn’t want comparisons, his music would stand alone.
Meeting Jeff, talking, I was taken aback by his shyness. Humble, softly spoken. And his band the same. Given a comp ticket to his show a few days later, not knowing what to expect, the visceral concert culminated in his rendition of Hallelujah … his soul laid naked on stage, and with it the audience transcended into another realm. I was a convert.
Great to see his album Grace climb higher up the Rolling Stone listing of the top 500 albums of all time in 2020.