State museum photo exhibit offers 'Dose of Rock 'n' Roll, Pinch of Country'
Photographer Nancy Lee Andrews shares rare glimpse into era of rock music
As a fashion model working for Manhattan's Eileen Ford Agency in the '60s, Nancy Lee Andrews was the subject, among other pieces, of a LIFE magazine centerfold done by Milton Greene, the renowned photographer best known for his iconic images of Marilyn Monroe.
Before long, though, Andrews found herself taking photos of her own, dozens of which, including disarming candids of Bob Dylan and Dolly Parton, are on exhibit through August under the title A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll and a Pinch of Country at the Tennessee State Museum.
Andrews moved behind the camera not long after she did the LIFE shoot with Greene. She was helping Greene rinse prints in his darkroom, peppering him with questions about photography, when he handed her a Nikon and urged her to shoot whatever struck her fancy.
"I loved it," recalled Andrews, who has lived in Nashville since the mid-'90s and, who, in her modeling days, posed for everyone from Irving Penn to Richard Avedon.
"I remember (Greene) looking over my first contact sheet and smiling, giving me praise and telling me, 'You've got an eye.' "
Greene's encouragement was critical to Andrews' evolution as a photographer, a hobby-turned-profession that really took off after she met and began a six-year love affair with Ringo Starr in 1974.
"Nancy Lee's life with Ringo was flamboyant and larger than life," said Lois Riggins-Ezell, executive director of the Tennessee State Museum. "It enabled her to capture a space in time in popular culture that few people were able to capture.
"She didn't make appointments with these people; she was having dinner with them and going to clubs with them," Riggins-Ezell added, referring to rock 'n' roll stars such as George Harrison, Donovan, Eric Clapton and Keith Moon.
Photographs of all four men, along with those of Harry Nilsson, Kim Carnes and a 2-year-old Angelina Jolie, appear in Andrews' exhibit at the museum. They also can be seen in her forthcoming book, A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll, to be published Sept. 1 by Dalton Watson Books.
'You try to connect'
The circumstances that led to the publication of Andrews' book were serendipitous, to say the least.
"I hadn't really planned on doing a book at all," she explained. "A really dear friend of mine, Ken Mansfield, who was the head of (the Beatles') Apple Records in America, was working on The White Book and looking for pictures.
"When his editor saw the photos of mine that Ken used in his book, he said, 'You know, in the last 30 years, I think I've seen all the pictures and the variations of the pictures of Harry (Nilsson) and Ringo. Whose are these?'
"Ken said, 'Oh, those are Nancy Andrews',' and his editor said, 'Nancy Andrews who was between (Ringo's first and second wives) Maureen Starkey and Barbara Bach?' Within two weeks I had an editor and a publisher sitting in my studio here in Nashville."
Shot mostly with a 35mm camera, Andrews' photos certainly benefit from the remarkable access she had to her subjects. What distinguishes her work, though, is the empathy it expresses. Whether it's Duane Allman snuggled under a blanket on an airplane or a cherubic Bob Dylan backstage at The Last Waltz, the humanity that her images convey is undeniable.
"Everyone loves this picture because anyone who knows Bob, or doesn't know him, knows that you never get him with a real smile," Andrews said of her photo of Dylan during a recent walk-through of her exhibit. "It's the only picture I've ever taken of him.
"I try to either get them out or get in," she said of how she approaches her subjects. "You try to connect, not force it. If they won't let me in, I try to see if they'll just be themselves for me."
After commenting on a series of playful photos of George Harrison, Andrews turned to an unguarded shot of the Beatles' guitarist she took when she and Starr were at his house for dinner. "Here's George with his favorite little guitar," she said. "I love this picture. He's really open. It's like he's saying, 'Hi, Nan. What do you want to hear?' "
'We were camera-crazy people'
A separate room of publicity, magazine and album cover photos of country stars ranging from Martina McBride to Big & Rich, all of them shot after she moved to Nashville in the mid-'90s, comprise the rest of Andrews' exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum.
At the heart of her show, though, are images from the six years she spent with "Richard," the Beatle better known to the rest of us as Ringo.
"Besides being a really cathartic passage for me, it was just so hard to pick and pare it down as to what went in the show," Andrews explained.
"This is from the Ringo the 4th album, the first cover I did for him," she said, pointing to a picture of a mock-serious Ringo with a woman's bare legs wrapped around his neck.
"This one is of Central Park. We were at The Plaza when I shot this. It was the snowstorm of 1977 and that was outside our window."
Other shots were taken on one of the couple's flights on the Concorde, on the veranda of the home they shared in Los Angeles and on trips they took to Japan, Monte Carlo and the Sahara together.
There's also no shortage of madcap photos of Ringo, either in candid settings, such as when he and Andrews were staging a fairy tale with his kids, or on the sets of his movies and TV special.
"I call this the Ringo wall," Andrews said of the series of photos immediately on your left as you enter the exhibit.
"It starts with the first time I went to England with him. It was 1975. We were just running around like tourists. It was a winter day and we were overlooking the Thames River and he just sat down on this bench and just sort of leaned his head over. I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'This is Beatle on Skid Row.' I said, 'Yeah, you really look it with those shiny shoes.'
"This one is in Chichen Itza, deep in the Yucatan," Andrews added. "As you can see, Richard's got a camera in his lap. We were camera-crazy people. Imagery was very much a part of what happened between us, and our friends."
To order a copy of A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll, go to www.daltwonwatson.com.