When tens of thousands of people gathered at California’s Monterey County Fairgrounds in the summer of 1967 — 50 years ago next month — even though TIME dismissed the audience as “members of the turned-on generation” in funny clothes, it was clear that the music was worth serious consideration.
“Onstage in the 7,000-seat arena, an English group called The Who set off smoke bombs, smashed a guitar and kicked over their drums,” the magazine reported. “American Singer Jimi Hendrix topped that by plucking his guitar strings with his teeth, and for an encore set the entire instrument on fire.”
One of the thousands of people present that day was photographer Ed Caraeff, whose photograph of that moment has been called one of the most famous rock photos in music history. It’s one of the dozens of images of Hendrix featured in the new book Burning Desire: The Jimi Hendrix Experience Through the Lens of Ed Caraeff. As Caraeff notes in the introduction, he might not have taken the picture at all had it not been for a lucky bit of advice from a stranger. Caraeff had gotten himself on the press list for the Monterey Pop Festival on the strength of photos he’d made starting as a teenager taking photos of bands that would come through Los Angeles and showing the results to the artists, but he didn’t really know anything about Hendrix. Few people there did. A German photographer, however, tipped him off: “save some film for his Jimi Hendrix cat.”
After delivering the results to Hendrix’s hotel, he was invited to come along and photograph the artist at other gigs. Caraeff ended up working as a photographer for 20 years before moving to New York City and becoming a chef.
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