The Vision and Sound of Rebel Music
Richard Boch talks to photographer Kate Simon about her start as a music photographer, meeting Bob Marley and coming full circle with her new photobook, Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae.
Kate Simon is a New Yorker, born and raised in the upstate river town that goes by the name Poughkeepsie. Her first camera experience was with a Polaroid that belonged to her father. Graduating high school and in pursuit of higher education Kate left Po Town (as she likes to call it) and two years later was studying in Paris—but it was the camera, ultimately a black body Nikon F-2 that showed her the way.
Kate photographed everyone from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to William S. Burroughs, Dennis Hopper and Patti Smith. She met Bob Marley during the wild time days of 1975 and shot the legendary Marley and The Wailers shows at the Lyceum Theater in London. It was the beginning of what can only be described as a meeting of minds and spirits.
Kate’s time in London resembled a correspondent on a mission. Camera in hand she became friends—or at least acquainted—with nearly everyone with any degree of separation or connection to the heart of London’s scene. Meeting Bob Marley and The Wailers took that mission to the next level when Kate accompanied the band on their fifteen date 1977 European Exodus Tour. It was a bond that remained intact throughout the remainder of Bob’s life, while Simon’s relationship with The Wailers as well as musicians Peter Tosh, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Marley himself can be see as one of the many nurturing links between Reggae and Punk.
Kate moved to New York City in early 1978 with that same urgency, curiosity and love for what was happening. Whether it was on the stage at CBGB, the Public Access TV Party or the apartments and studios of artists, writers and designers—Keith Haring, Cookie Mueller and Stephen Sprouse were among the many she photographed and came to know. It’s been a road well traveled and Kate’s vision—beginning with her father’s Polaroid—brings us into the now with Rebel Music, Simon’s photographic opus of Bob Marley and Roots Reggae.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Kate—so let her tell us how Rebel Music came to be.
Richard Boch: Hi Kate. I’m looking at a photo of you sitting next to Bob Marley on The Wailers ’77 Exodus tour bus—it’s a photo of yours that I’ve come to know and one that I’ve admired for years. For me, it’s a doorway to your camaraderie with Bob and to what’s now become this new edition of Rebel Music. Let’s take a quick step back for a moment and tell me about your initial introduction to Reggae.
Kate Simon: I was a music photographer and in 1973 I was at the beginning of my career, living in London and hanging out at the Island Records, Basing Street Studios. I was exposed to Reggae there and I was hooked—but it was one of my best friends, Anna Capaldi (whose former husband Jim Capaldi co-founded the band Traffic) who took me to the Lyceum and introduced me to Bob Marley.
RB: This brings us to those incredible 1975 shows at London’s Lyceum Theater. Bob Marley’s onstage and you wind up right there in the mix, camera at the ready. Today, when you look at your photos from those nights, how do they make you feel?
KS: I feel really grateful and lucky to have been a witness to those nights. When I got my film back from the Lyceum shows it turned me in a new direction with regards to my work—it was major—and I knew then, from those pictures, that I wanted to focus on photographing Bob Marley.
RB: In 1977 you went on the road with Bob for The European Exodus Tour. You were both a comrade and the tour photographer—and Marley obviously liked and trusted you. How did you respond and how were you affected professionally and personally?
KS: Well, Bob worked with me and accepted me and he seemed to know what I was after as a photographer. He knew that I was serious about my work in the way that he was serious about his work. What I gained from that tour was that I experimented. I knew I had his collaboration and that he would work with me so I tried using and working with all types of different film that I’d never worked with before, particularly in regard to shooting more color. Personally, I was really introduced to the person Bob, who became and has remained a lifelong inspiration to me. He always knew what I was looking for and he was right there with me—it was unforgettable.
RB: You spent some time in Jamaica during those years where you took a number of the photos in the book. I know from our conversations that you’ve returned numerous times since. What is it about the spirit and the vibe of the island that inspires, not only the music but the mindset—and to quote Bob Marley, that “One Love.”
KS: Jamaican culture is fascinating to me—the intelligence and the goodwill of the people—and linguistically, how they speak, their turns of phrase, every ting cool still or I overstand, meaning I understand, or serious ting, when things get serious. The people, that intelligence and that love—I feel very inspired and appreciative that whenever I’m in Jamaica it’s just like every ting cool still. So, about Jamaica—the culture, the tone and the vibe—it’s such a cool place.
RB: Thanks to your vision and dedication, this latest edition Rebel Music brings a beautiful and powerful story full circle. Is there a sense of relief, joy and in a way even a bit of sadness when you look at what you’ve accomplished with this book?
KS: I feel so thrilled that this book turned out really great and that this new release has so many extra photographs along with the brilliant, substantial pieces like the forward from Lenny Kravitz, the afterword from Keith Richards and of course Patti Smith’s introduction. I feel thrilled because I always wanted this book to be available to everyone.
RB: Over the last decade or maybe longer you’ve been digitizing your archive which includes the photos that became Rebel Music. What else are you currently working on—and what can we expect or hope to see next?
KS: I’m currently and always working on new portraits with the intention of publishing a monograph of all my work—this is you know, my heart’s desire. I just recently did a photoshoot with Anna Kenneally, a new young painter whose work is superb—I also shot Damien Hirst’s sons and I’ll be spending time in London, Paris and LA shooting new work. I mean as much as Rebel Music coming out—and in my dreams being on everyone’s coffee table—it’s equally my dream and commitment to myself to put out that book of all my work, and I’m continuing to build on that. That’s some of what I’m working on.
RB: Thanks so much Kate. I can’t wait—and I can’t wait to hold a signed copy of Rebel Music in my hands.
Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae is available for pre-order—here.
INTERVIEW Richard Boch
PHOTOGRAPHY ©️ Kate Simon
Richard Boch writes GrandLife’s New York Stories column and is the author of The Mudd Club, a memoir recounting his time as doorman at the legendary New York nightspot, which doubled as a clubhouse for the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Debbie Harry and Talking Heads among others. To hear about Richard’s favorite New York spots for art, books, drinks, and more, read his Locals interview—here.