Every picture in this rediscovered photo collection really does tell a story — like Kris Kristofferson partying with Dean Martin, or Janis Joplin in a Hells Angels brawl

By Andy Vasoyan

1969 photographs of Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin are among the highlights of Friedman’s collection

A lot of people have interesting photos sitting in their attic, but Michael Friedman’s rediscovered collection is truly special. Sure, it’s just some pictures of his friends and colleagues from the late 1960s and early ’70s, but it just so happens that his circle included people like Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson.

The former music manager and producer was in his mid-twenties when he took these photographs, already working with big names in the chaotic, intoxicated rock scene of the era. Friedman was taking pictures as something of a lark: no one was paying him to shoot, and he wasn’t a professional (although a picture of Mick Jagger he sent as a Christmas present got used in a book on the Stones). When the roughly 1,500 photo negatives he had saved disappeared, Friedman was understandably miffed, but there wasn’t much else to do.

Forty five years after their disappearance, as the gods of rock would have it, Friedman’s wife found them in the attic. Friedman developed the negatives, and now they’re on the walls of the California Heritage Museum in Ocean Park. “Rock & Roll Legends: The Lost Negatives of Michael Freeman” remains on display through July 15, after which the photos will be archived.

The black-and-white pictures capture interesting dimensions of these artists, and many come with some great stories. A picture of Janis Joplin clutching a mic, singing and squinting gets a new layer of meaning when told it was taken just after a fistfight at a fundraiser for the Hells Angels.

Joplin was dating a member of the Hells Angels at the time, and as Friedman tells it, “one of the Hells Angels girls had a bottle of whiskey, and Janis asked for some. The girl said something obscene to her and punched her in the face, and Janis punched her back, and they ended up on the ground beating each other up.”

Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm of The Band, circa 1969

Their gentlemen escorts subsequently whipped out knives and circled each other as the onlookers called for blood, though the scene ended peacefully with
a hug (and preceded a man and a woman stripping and fornicating on stage).

Friedman’s photo of Kris Kristofferson singing to Rita Coolidge was taken in their dressing room at “The Dean Martin Show,” just before Friedman delivered news that he had unintentionally gotten them all booted off over an attempt to nix a sketch that had Kristofferson lampooning and manhandling a little person.

“We start packing up our stuff,” Friedman recalls, “and we get a knock at the door. It’s Dean Martin with a bottle of whiskey.” Martin and Kristofferson, after a failed attempt to go to Pink’s for hotdogs, “have about five drinks each, and they’re kidding around and having a great time, and Dean says, ‘Come upstairs. Don’t worry about it. Let’s tape this show.’”

With pictures also including members of The Rolling Stones and The Band, Friedman says that finding the trove has been a wonder.

“It’s been really fun to go through this process and remember all the memories, being brought right back to the moment,” he says. “It was that time in history that was very unpredictable, as to what could come next, even with the artists themselves.”

The most obvious example of unpredictability would be Joplin, but Friedman also says the photos capture another side of her.

“The pictures I took of Janis, I took them as I saw her. That was the Janis that I knew. To me, she was lovely and terrific,” Friedman says. “That picture — and the rest — have a fly-on-the-wall quality. It’s just a different way to see these artists.”

“Rock & Roll Legends: The Lost Negatives of Michael Freeman” is on display from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays through July 15 at the California Heritage Museum, 2612 Main St, Santa Monica. Tickets are $5 to $10, or free on Fridays. Call (310) 392-8537 or visit californiaheritagemuseum.org.