If he only did that he would be considered one of the great rock photographers of all time. But Russell, who has roots in Carmel Valley, has had a long and rich history not only photographing iconic rock figures, but also as a pioneering video director and book author.
Russell will be in attendance when an exhibit of his photographs over the years, "Ethan Russell: The Best Seat in the House," opens Sunday afternoon at the Winfield Gallery in Carmel.
As an added bonus, 20 per cent of any purchases made during the opening will benefit Youth Arts Collective, a Monterey Peninsula-based non-profit arts organization that mentors high school and college-age artists.
Russell was at the disastrous Altamont Speedway concert with the Rolling Stones during its 1969 American tour. He shot the "Let It Be" cover for the Beatles and was on the rooftop for their final concert. He took the controversial cover image for The Who's classic album "Who's Next," and received an Grammy nomination for his work on the band's "Quadrophenia" album.
Russell was one of three photographers at the final formal photo session of the Beatles in August 1969 and he also directed the last video with John Lennon the week before he was murdered.
His early career coincided with a cultural storm of music, art, politics, civil rights, power, change, and evolution that reshaped the world and became the collective story of a generation.
But Russell shot more than the great triumverate. His list of subjects includes Jerry Lee Lewis, Phil Everly, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, The Moody Blues, Cream, Traffic, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, John Hiatt, Rickie Lee Jones, Audioslave and Rosanne Cash.
Later in his career he switched gears and added video director to his résumé. He produced and directed films with, among others, Leon Redbone, Rickie Lee Jones, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, k.d. lang, Rosanne Cash, Hank Williams Jr. and Randy Travis, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
In addition to all that Russell is the author of three books: "Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones 1969 U.S. Tour" (in both a 400-page collector's edition with 600-plus images and a 256-page trade edition) and "Ethan Russell: An American Story," an ebook.
"Let It Bleed" prompted the London Sunday Times to proclaim: "You think you've seen all there is to see of the Rolling Stones. You haven't. Ethan Russell's photographs reveal a completely different side to the band — relaxed, unguarded and light years away from any rock-star posturing. The only way you'd get closer would be to join them on tour."
And members of the Stones and the Who were effusive in their praise for Russell.
"It struck me that his was no ordinary eye, and I found out no ordinary mind behind it," said Keith Richards of the Stones. "A quiet thoughtful man with a blinding vision. Enjoy his work. I do."
And: "His contributions were poetic and dramatic. His photographs were what I would call 'fine': they felt like the classics of Paul Strand. They look ready to put up in the National Gallery. As an artist himself, Ethan is the civilized eye on an uncivilized art-form: rock 'n' roll," said Who guitarist Pete Townsend.
In addition to "Let It Be" and "Who's Next," his photos have been used on the covers "Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2)" and "Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert," The Who's 1988 compilation album, "Who's Better, Who's Best" and Linda Rondstadt's "Hasten Down the Wind."
And, in addition to his Grammy nomination for his work on "Quadrophenia," Russell received his second Grammy nomination for the video "There's A Tear In My Beer" by Hank Williams Jr.
Russell will also host a multi-media presentation, which he calls "The Live Show" that includes almost 400 photographs, stories, music and a Q&A, at Carmel's Sunset Centre on Feb. 8, 2014.GO!