This is the third one. This was an awesome one to be a part of. Get to know Ken Hoge with us. We met Mr. Hoge at SouthPop for a conversation and that led to a privàte tour through his photos on display there… The stories behind the photos are the gold. If you have any interest in music you need to read this. Rockslide and I made a new friend that daze… Thank you Ken.
Check out his work : www.kenhoge.com
Daze: How did you wind up documenting the Austin music scene?
Ken Hoge: I went to UT in Austin and graduated in 1977. I was in Radio-TV-Film. I wasn’t a really good filmmaker, but I enjoyed photography, which I had done in high school. I worked for the Daily Texan at UT, so I was shooting photographs. When I graduated I decided I wanted to go back one semester to take a class in the Art Department with Garry Winogrand who is a well-known photographer.
I was hanging around in Austin and decided to apply for work with the Austin Sun, which later became the Austin Chronicle. They hired me and, pretty quickly, I hooked up with Margaret Moser who was just beginning to work there at the same time. Well, we kind of became a team.
Basically, I would get $5 from the Sun for every photograph I published. We would go out. She would do interviews; and I would shoot pictures. It got to be a lot of fun and, eventually, I got press credentials from the city; so, we went and shot everything. From late 1976 to 1981 when I moved to Houston, that is just what I did—I went out every night and shot photographs and tried to get them published in as many publications as I could. I have about 400 concerts cataloged from that period.
On January 8, 1978, Margaret and I bought tickets for like $3.00 at Joske’s and drove to San Antonio to see the Sex Pistols play at Randy’s Rodeo. I took photographs of that, some of them are in this show. That show changed the music scene in Austin substantially. Within a few months, I shot the first performances at Raul’s, and a huge punk scene bloomed.
In 1981, I had been in Austin for 8 years and decided to go to LA or go to Houston–I wound up going to Houston. I have been doing Scientific work ever since then, but I had this body of work that had been published in lots of magazines, lots of books, album covers, documentaries, VH1, HBO… for everybody who was doing documentaries about the Armadillo, or Antone’s, or Soap Creek, or Austin back in the day, Willie Nelson, any of that stuff.
Daze: How did your show here at the Austin Museum of Popular Culture come about?
Ken Hoge: I have the old blues artists, I have the rock and roll, I have the world music, there’s Genesis, there’s Todd Rundgren. My work runs the gamut from Willie to the Sex Pistols.
I started to get a lot of interest. People would find me on the web and want to publish the pictures; so, a few years ago I went to Fotofest, a big photography festival in Houston that’s been going on for a number of years. It’s one of the bigger photography conclaves in the world.
I went through a process there where I took my portfolio, a large part of which is hanging on the wall here, and had it reviewed by collectors, and curators, and publishers–people from Russia, from Italy, as well as people from Texas. It’s great but it is a really weird experience. You go in this room, and there are 50 tables, and they’ve got numbers on them. They might be curators, or whatever. Before the process you make a list of these people and pick out the ones you want, and they go through a lottery. You get about half the ones you want, and half the ones you don’t. By the end of that process, I’d gotten a lot of positive feedback on the work. So, I thought, “I’m going to go with this. I’m going to share it.”
Daze: So what’s next?
Ken Hoge: I’ve been represented at Wild about Music for 4 years now. I am selling prints through them. I am going to try to carry this show…get as many bookings as I can across the country; and, I am looking at several different book deals.
I feel like I am preaching to the choir here because South Pop is all about preserving the culture that goes back to the Armadillo, sort of, as a core. Those were the days when I was twenty years old, and it was something I just did day in and day out.
I broke this show up into a couple parts. I did this (wall with large contact sheet surrounded by a jumble of left over prints) to show people that…you know, you walk into a gallery and everything is just framed and it’s all so precious. All you can do is go around and look at it; then, you are done. I wanted to make more context for it, so I came up with the idea of blowing up a contact sheet and, then, do all this (points to the prints) to show people that you shoot a lot of stuff, and you edit. Not everything makes it. Back then it would be one picture and I would move on.
I plumbed through my catalog. This photo of Muddy Waters and Angela Strehli right here was taken in 1978. That’s the final print right there on the wall just opposite. That was the choice I made, but you can see I had lots of choices. Here is Jimmy Vaughan playing guitar behind his back, while Muddy comes over and strums on it. But I chose the print because I liked Muddy’s face so much. It’s like a contour map, and he’s just lost in the blues.
It was a magic time in Austin. I know people probably get tired of hearing that if they weren’t there, but it really was. It was awesome. We had so much fun. I was the typical slacker. I managed an apartment complex for free rent. Then I could afford to go out and do this kind of stuff. We had all kind of weird jobs. Margaret worked at Piercing Pagoda in Highland Mall for a while. I was like, “Don’t you have to go to a class or something to learn how to pierce ears.” And she was just like, “No. They just show you how to do it.” She’s in the mall just punching holes in little girls’ ears…but she never had a problem. I worked for the State. Oh, god, I worked in darkrooms. It was horrible because some client would come in with a precious photograph. It would be so hard to print; you’d spend all night to get this cibachrome print which is a nasty hard to do process, and they’d come in the next day and go, “No. no.” And you’d be like, “Shit…”
But going out was so much fun that I’d do anything to keep doing it. I wasn’t the writer, so a lot of times I was just going around taking pictures of stuff, and I didn’t necessarily get to know everybody’s story. I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with a lot of people, but I am very visual, so I just had the camera.
Daze: Did Margaret retire, so she could write the stories behind the photos?
Ken Hoge: No, that had nothing to do with her decision to retire. It’s possible, but she has lots of projects to juggle and so do I; so, we don’t know if it will ever come together. But, yes, we’ve discussed it. She has this incredible memory. She can remember the details. She was almost always there when I shot. I hope that comes true.
Daze: There’s that quote, “If you remember the Armadillo, you weren’t there.” If you were there, though, your photos are a cue that brings a lot back.
Ken Hoge: A lot of times I think my memory is manufactured from the photos. I don’t think I ever forget anything; I just can’t pull it up. I’ll have memories sometimes of the most obscure things. Sometimes somebody will ask me a question and two days later, I’ll remember the answer. But I won’t be able to remember a name of somebody I see on a daily basis. I will just blank. That’s just the way memory is. I’ve made my peace with it—I had dinner with a couple of friends the other night who are in my age group, and I took solace in the fact that they shared in this conversation where we all went, “Remember that place where that person was, and we did that thing.” The conversation kept stalling because we’d get to, “Oh yeah, we stayed at…” and we were all going, “What was the name of that?” It was a shared experience. We all have mental overload. All this is in your head, and you’re supposed to remember all these details. Sometimes, though, I think the fact that I took those pictures is the way I have any memory at all of a lot of these events. You remember specific things in your life, but you misplace a lot. Like, “What were you doing, you know, in the summer of 1992?” I don’t know.
Daze: That’s where you need cues, like this photo of the Armadillo.
Ken Hoge: That’s a 360º pan. Mose Allison the famous pianist and jazzy blues artist, that’s him up there on the piano. The Armadillo was a big place. It was an armory. It was huge; I mean it was freaking huge. My flash would barely reach back there. I was standing in about the middle of the room; so, I kind of centered on the stage. This would meet over there (points to either end of the panorama), and you would have the whole 360º. They have software that can put that stuff together, but I just made a bunch of prints and just stuck it together the best I could.
That was sort of ground zero. I’d gone to the Armadillo three or four years, I came here in ’73, but I didn’t have a camera to take with me. The only camera I had was a twin lens reflex. I shot for the Daily Texan with that, but I finally got a 35mm and that was it…I took every single picture with the same Nikon FM2.
I had a beautiful Beretta 30 gage shotgun that my Dad had given me. I grew up in Waco, and I used to go dove hunting. I wasn’t a big hunter, but I had a friend who had a farm; so, I had frequent opportunities to go dove hunting. I had this beautiful engraved shotgun, and I hocked it to get $200; so, I could buy my first Nikon. And I shot every picture with that kit.
I still pick up a camera, put it to my eye and, then, have to remember whether it’s a camera I have to look through the viewfinder, or look at this (the screen). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled out a little point and shoot camera and tried to do that. I have a Nikon D7000 that I love. It’s in the trunk, and I haven’t taken it out in like eight months. I just use my iPhone.
I even use my iPhone at work now doing documentary work for medical studies because it’s so easy. I can take my iPhone, take a picture of that tack from this far away (maybe the width of a hand) and have it come out sharp. That’s really hard to do with regular equipment. You have to have a macro lens; you’ve got to worry about the lighting. Or, you can just take your iPhone and go click. Nine times out of ten, it’s not a work of art, it’s just documentation.
This was serendipitous, this display (points to another collection of smaller prints mounted together in a collage). I brought my show with me and it had pieces, and then there was this built in display area in the gallery and I didn’t know what to do with it. I was going to have a photo album that was just stuff that I thought some people from back in the day would like to look at. We were going to put it on a table, so people could flip through it. And then it occurred to me to do this instead which is probably good because it forced me to edit.
Ken Hoge: That is one of my favorite photos. It’s in front of OK Records which was next to Cat Man’s Shoe Shine Parlor and the original Antone’s on 6th Street. You can see the Driscoll Hotel reflected in the glass. OK Records sold all the old blues records, Freddy King, Chubby Checker, Fred McDonald, Albert King.
Margaret was writing about the Vaughan brothers, so we took them both down there to 6th Street, which was the blues scene hangout, for photographs. Stevie and I were both 22 years old when I took that picture. Sometime in the ‘90’s, Sony Records put out a compilation of SRV recordings called Blues at Sunrise. They used that for the album cover. That was probably the most widely seen picture that ever I did.
Daze: Do you know who this is in the refection? Is that Margaret?
Ken Hoge: She is just standing to my right over here. You can see her outlines. That’s her head. She’s holding my camera bag or something. In fact, that’s an apt metaphor for the whole show because Margaret and I got married in ’78, I guess it was, and were married until ’83. That relationship opened a lot of doors for me, and once those doors were opened it was fun. She got us in, every show. It made it a lot easier to take interesting photographs.
Eventually, I did get press credentials, but she helped a lot. There were always shows that were like touring shows, the bigger names, that might have some restrictions. Having a press card got me past that. That was a big leap, and once I made that leap, I got access. And I took advantage of it.
Daze: What was your favorite show?
Ken Hoge: You know, that’s a toughie; but, the show that changed my life more than anything was the Sex Pistols. There’s the print from that show. I was right in front of Sid Vicious. It was a bowling alley; and, then they turned it into a country western nightclub. The marquee on the nightclub said the Sex Pistols tonight…Merle Haggard two days later. We’d never been there, you know. We drove to San Antonio for it. It was the craziest thing you ever saw. The thing I came away with was it wasn’t just a concert; it was performance art. They deliberately came out and insulted the crowd, provoked them. The crowd started participating. They started throwing things at the band. You can see there’re pieces of whipped cream on his outfit here; you can see where things have splattered there. Everybody was throwing empty beer cans at the band. In fact, at one point, somebody hit Sid in the head with a half full beer can. He got pissed, took off his bass, and stated raking it over the crowd. I was about this far away, just out of reach.
They stopped the show and there was all this hubbub, and Johnny Rotten looks over and says, “Oh, Sid dropped his guitar.” There was general mayhem, but believe it or not, they settled the crowd down…Sex Pistols came back out, and they finished their set. They didn’t really play worth a shit; but, I’d heard Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and I loved that album—I still love that album. It’s one of the best albums ever made. I knew the songs in my head, what they were supposed to sound like, so I didn’t mind that they could barely play. It was performance art.
Six months later at Raul’s in Austin, it was the same thing. The Huns came out, and they would slash the banner behind them. It would be Jesus on a cross…all this really provocative stuff. Audiences would start throwing things at them; and the band would come out and go at the audience. It was participatory. It was all kind of a put on. Until I saw the Sex Pistols, I thought you go, and you are an adoring fan, and if you are lucky, maybe they’ll look at you, you’ll get a guitar pick. But this was different—at any moment chaos could have broken out, holy shit could have gone wrong. So, it was very exciting.
Groups like the Uranium Savages, I hung out with them. I took a bazillion pictures of them back in the day. People would dress up and go to the concert like it was Halloween—everybody dressed up. Whatever the occasion was, they turned it into a costume ball. Everyone participated. That was really cool. I was really attracted to that.
That was the big impression, that one concert. I bought a book once called the 50 concerts you should have attended, and one of them was the Sex Pistols in San Antonio. That’s the only one I attended, but I was like, “Yes! I got in the book. I was there.”
One other time that made a big impression on me was Townes Van Zandt. Margaret and I went to interview Townes Van Zandt and, as it happened, it was in Houston. I had family in Houston, so we decided to make the trip to see him at Liberty Hall. We got there that afternoon, we sat around with Townes, and I shot like three and a half rolls of film with him back stage, just passing the time. We got totally blitzed. This guy liked to drink vodka, so he is swigging vodka out of the bottle, smoking dope. By the time he went on, we were so plastered I only took three pictures of the performance—really bad pictures. But we had so much fun interacting with him; that’s one of my favorite photos, that portrait of Townes. I shot a whole lot of pictures that didn’t work, but I just love that portrait. It’s not posed at all. He just was there, and I was shooting.
Daze: What is this display about?
Ken Hoge: It’s a memorabilia wall that was really popular at my last show, so I decided I want to continue to do it. This is what my bedroom wall looked like at the time. Didn’t everybody, when they were young, stick the posters on the wall? Well, this is pretty much what mine looked like. I used to make posters sometimes. Here is a Raul’s poster we distributed on the drag. There’re song lists, there’re the old tickets, the old buttons, backstage passes. A lot of these posters were my photography, or somehow I was involved—I was at the show. Or sometimes it’s just zeitgeist stuff, like Bob Dobbs. Do you remember Bob Dobbs’ The Church of the SubGenius? You need to look up Bob Dobbs.
Daze: So when the poster artists made a poster, they would call you and say, “Do you have a print?”
Ken Hoge: Yes; or they would maybe ask me to come and shoot promotional work. That’s the Neville Brothers up there at Antones, they asked if they could use that. I shot a lot of stuff of the Judys, the Uranium Savages, the Cobras. This is the B-52s backstage looking very bored, which is why I love that photo. They just look like they couldn’t care less. They did a great show that night at the Armadillo. I wanted to put stuff up so you could linger a little bit, and maybe find something of interest in all of this…a context for the pictures.
Daze: The people that come tonight will bring a lot of context, their own context.
Ken Hoge: That’s what I mean about preaching to the choir. I feel very honored to do the show at South Pop because these are the people who were around when I was enjoying this time in Austin. They were good times. I really don’t have any tragic tales. We were poor as dirt and skinny as hell, and twenty-two years old. You know, life was good. This is a picture of Margaret Moser and me about the time we got married. It was fun to hang out with her because she knew everybody. She had a way of getting us into any situation.
About the only negative thing that ever happened was I went to a Patti Smith concert once at the Texas Opry House. There were a lot of people there. This was when she was at the height of her popularity. Here is the ticket stub right here, July 1979. I positioned myself on a chair in sort of like the mosh pit area, there wasn’t a mosh pit, but in that area where that would be. I was over a little bit towards stage left. I couldn’t move because I was surrounded by people standing. There was this huge bank of speakers on either side of the stage. And, she cranked that music up louder than any concert I ever heard. I didn’t remember to bring earplugs; and I was stuck there for the entire show, like ten feet from these speakers. I held my camera against my head to try and protect my ear. It was agonizing. For at least two weeks I felt like, you know after you mow the lawn you have this buzz in your head? It was like that. I blame her for my like 60% hearing loss in my right ear to this day. And, I didn’t forgive her for over twenty years. I finally forgave her when she put out an album I liked, Trampin’, and I thought, “Oh, I’ll let bygones be bygones.” There’s no reason to play music so loud that people’s ears bleed. But she did, and I guess it was kind of a punk thing. I know I have permanent hearing loss from that.
Daze: The show is called Man on a Mission, is that a reference to the mission you had when you went out every day in the ‘70s and ‘80’s?
Ken Hoge: That’s exactly it. Actually, the gallery came up with it, and I had to ask them what it meant too. That’s not unusual. The same thing happened at my show in Houston. It was an official Fotofest show, kind of like a dream come true for me because I had gone through that Fotofest process where I was judged over and over again. I decided okay I think I got enough validation, I’m going to go ahead and push this. But, they came up with the name for it, and it was called “A Day in the Life.” And I was like, “Okay, you know, that works.”
When South Pop asked me to do the show, they knew my work; and, that’s what they decided they wanted to call it. What it refers to is that I was trying to shoot everything that was going on. I talk about it in my artist statement that the camera was my ticket. I got to where I’d get access to go back stage or something. I didn’t feel comfortable unless I had my camera there and was taking pictures. As long as I was doing that, I was cool, I had a place; but, a lot of times I was too embarrassed to talk to people. I wasn’t one of these real pushy, go up and try to chum with everybody guys… and it is the same thing in my current work.
What I do now is for the Texas Heart Institute. We do advanced cardiovascular research. We’re working on artificial hearts, mechanical and biological hearts, stem cells, and all these things. I have to go in and move among these people. I can be sort of like a Red Cross person in a war zone because I’ve got an anesthesiologist, and surgeons, and nurses, and people to run the heart lung machine, and people who do all these other support services, and they’re all dickering with each other over this case or whatever it is. And I get to kind of float through like I have no rank, I’m just sort of there.
If I play my cards right, I get good access and people ignore me because it’s cool that I’m there. The trouble is if you come in and you don’t fit, if you interrupt or you bother the process; you don’t get good pictures that way.
When you see a good documentary film, you always sit there and wonder, “How did they get the people to ignore them?” I’ve seen wonderful documentaries that are so intrusive; and yet, it’s like the cameras not there. Well, that’s what you have to do. You have to get to the point where they are so comfortable with you that they don’t even look at you, and they forget that you are there.
Part of being ubiquitous when I was shooting music was people just started waiving me through when I’d show up at the Armadillo. People knew who I was, and why I was there; so, they’d ignore me backstage. I went through gauntlets at the beginning. “Who are you? Why are you here? What are you doing? Who are you taking pictures for?” But after a while, nobody asked those questions anymore. I learned to just stay out of the way and take pictures. I just think that’s the way. That was the accomplishment, honestly. It wasn’t so much the pictures although thank god I was able to take what I think are good pictures of that time. It was getting access and being part of it. That was the big deal.
I just wanted to be part of the scene. My role was as the photographer.