Dick Waterman is a photographer, writer, and promoter from who was born and raised in Massachusetts. As a youngster he used to listen to Dixieland and Calypso music and root for the Yankees just to be a "contrary kid". At the time he went to college, the folk revival was in full swing and Dick decided to study journalism. Although he took a job as a sports writer covering everything from football to boxing, he was being exposed to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Tim Hardin and a lot of others who were performing at the local coffee houses and colleges. At the same time he would travel to New York and catch blues acts such as: Josh White, Reverend Gary Davis, Jesse Fuller, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and more. Dick secured a job with Broadside magazine and began to promote local shows with classic blues artists of the early recording era. He would showcase artists such as, Mississippi John Hurt and Bukka White. Realizing that time was of the essence, Dick and a few friends went to Mississippi to try and locate lost musicians from the early blues era, and this endeavor eventually led to the re-discovery of Son House. Other up and coming blues artists would eventually ask for promotion help from Dick and he would wind up forming the booking agency Avalon Productions. Dick was also an avid photographer, and he always brought his camera to musical events such as The Newport Folk Festivals. He would wind up getting precious photos of blues and folk artists of the era, which eventually ended up in his book "Between Midnight and Day". When songster Mississippi Fred McDowell passed away and was laid to rest in a mismarked gravestone, Dick and his close friend Bonnie Raitt raised money to give him the corrected headstone that he deserved. Dick Waterman was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000. I recently caught up with him.
R.V.B – I’d like to thank you for taking this time to speak with me and I just want to say that the blues community is very proud of the work you’ve done in your career.
D.W. – Well I hope it’s not over.
R.V.B – You can always learn about the blues. Where did you grow up and what kind of music were you exposed to at an early age?
D.W. – I was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts you know near Cape Cod and I liked Dixieland. I grew up on Louie Armstrong and Kid Ory and that kind of New Orleans music in the ‘20’s. I loved Louie and then later I liked Calypso which is different from Reggae. Calypso is its own style so I loved that. Then as I grow older, I moved to Cambridge in the 60’s and I was very fortunate to be there with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and Tom Rush and Tim Hardin, all of those people. Just a really good time to be there, really great people.
R.V.B. – Now when you were a teenager did you have any idea that you would be getting into the music field? What did you want to do?
D.W. – Well I didn’t know that I was much of a music person. I liked the basic 60’s rock and roll but on the other hand I’m about to say Dion and Buddy Holly and people like that so they were kind of my age. Over the years I’ve become a good friend of Dion. He’s a terrific guy and he has really great blues roots. When I was living in Philadelphia, late ‘60’s early ‘70’s – he was playing there, he would come by my apartment and it seemed I always had Buddy Guy or Son House or Fred McDowell or somebody playing that has some blues roots. He wanted to make a blues album and I told him he should, I encouraged it. The album he made got a Grammy nomination. A good friend that he is, I’m happy for his success.
R.V.B. - He’s playing up here on the Island in a few weeks.
D.W. - Yea very nice guy and very approachable. He’s very modest and remembers the old times. He’s a good guy.
D.W. – Right, right I did... I went to Boston University. I was in the Army in the ‘50’s, and then when I got out of the Army I went to Boston University to study journalism.
R.V.B. – You initially started out writing about sports right?
D.W. – Yeah I did... I was a sports writer.
R.V.B. - What did you cover?
D.W. – Well, all kinds of sports. Back in those days boxing was a bigger sport, so the champions boxed three or four times a year. My father was Rocky Marciano’s doctor. He was the Heavyweight Champion of the world... I used to run with Rocky. We used to run on the beaches near Plymouth, right at Manomet with Rocky Marciano, and a lot of other boxers also. So I covered boxing and I covered Pro Football in New York. There was a team called the Titans – The New York Titans.
R.V.B. - That’s my favorite team.
D.W. – They played at the Polo Grounds. As far as baseball goes, I’ve always hated The Red Sox... I love the Yankees. I was a Yankees fan since I was real, real, real little. My all time idol was Joe Dimaggio... oh I loved Joe Dimaggio. In fact one of my screen internet names is his team and uniform number Nyyankees5 actually one of my internet names. I loved him so much.
R.V.B. - That’s unusual – A guy coming from Plymouth becoming a Yankee fan?
D.W. – Well I was a contrary kid. Who does everybody love? Red Sox. Who does everybody hate? Yankees. “That’s my team”.
D.W. – Yea right, for a publication called “Broadside” in Boston. Now in that time period, I had seen: Reverend Gary Davis, Jesse Fuller, Brownie and Sonny and Josh White in New York, so it wasn’t like I was not exposed to blues, because I had seen those people already. So I had a chance to put on a week of Mississippi John Hurt’s shows in February of ‘64... so I did that. A month or so later, I had the opportunity to do Bukka White... so I did that. We were charging that Bukka White was an old blues man who knew Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton and we mentioned Son House. He had mentioned that he had seen Son House coming out of a movie theater. So we went down to see if we could find Son House. I then found out that Bukka was a pathological liar, and hadn’t really seen Son after all. So we went down into the Delta in June of ‘64 and in that in time of Mississippi Burning, and it was a hot political spot to be. So we trailed Son House. It took us about a month or so, and we found him in Rochester, New York. So I thought, "I would do this music thing for a few months or so and go back to sports writing", and I found that I had some skill at it. I got Son a Columbia contract. Columbia at that time, was the biggest most widely distributed record label in the world. Then I got him some jobs at folk societies... you know writing letters on a manual typewriter. A lot of them came to me - John Hurt, Skip James, Fred McDowell, and said to me they were getting lousy money and being mistreated... and Son House was working and had a record label - would I do their business? So I formed the first blues booking agency called Avalon Productions... which is still my business name. I named it after Mississippi John Hurt’s home town. So I did that for a couple of years. Bob Koester on the commercial side said "you know there is a lot of young musicians in Chicago that are dying to get out and are really talented. Muddy’s on the road and Wolf is on the road and there’s a lot of guys here that really need your help." So that is how I went to ahh, Junior Wells was the first one. Then after Junior came Buddy Guy, and then Luther Allison, J B Hutto, Otis Rush. Then as years went by I realized I wasn’t going back to being a sports writer and this music thing is now what I was going to do. Then about ‘69 or so I met Bonnie Raitt who was going to college in Boston. I got her a contract with Warner Brothers. That kind of moved me into a different level. I was now in big Band, Pop, Rock and Roll kind of stuff.
D.W. – In 2003 with year of the blues, came "Between Midnight and Day" which is about a hundred photographs. It came out in 2003, and is now out of print, although I do have some copies and I do sell it on my website. I’m still an ongoing photographer for people who come into my area like Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. I make fewer trips. My wife has been very sick lately. So I make fewer trips to photograph festivals.
R.V.B – I understand you were instrumental in getting a new headstone for Fred McDowell?
D.W. - Fred’s name had been misspelled and they had the wrong year on it. So I was proud to have it corrected.
R.V.B. – So you were elected into the Blues Hall of Fame. How do you feel about that?
D.W. – Well I have a tendency to feel that if you do something long enough something good will come. I suppose that’s just being modest. When you look around and you see Muddy and B.B. and Wolf and Son and Charlie Patton and those people and you look around and they say “You’re their equal, we want you to come into the Hall of Fame”, you know that’s just very special. I’m the only person in the Hall Of Fame who is not either a musician or a record company executive.
R.V.B. – Well that’s something to be very proud of.
R.V.B. – What are you doing with yourself these days to keep busy?
D.W. – I went to St. Louis and I did an exhibit... I fly out to do exhibits. The one in St. Louis was the first one that I didn’t lift photographs out of a box. I’d go there with a big box and lift them out. So in St. Louis we put them on a disc and we just put the images up on a screen and I talk about them. It was really great that I could take a lot more. I could only take about fifty in a box, but putting them up on a screen, I could take about sixty, seventy, or eighty of them. I could talk about a lot more people. It worked out great. I travel with some books which I signed and so people get to see literally sixty years worth of photographs.
R.V.B. - Where did you take these pictures? In Madison Square Garden and the Fillmore’s and venues like that?
D.W. – I took a lot of pictures in the sixties, and I traveled a lot in the seventies, but when I got busy with Buddy, Junior, and Bonnie, I took very, very little in the eighties. Then in the nineties I came back to it. As a matter of fact, I just found a roll of film that had Homesick James, Honey Boy Edwards, and Henry Townsend. Three great blues artists who have all passed away. It was a terrific find – a great roll of color film. So that was a really nice thing. So what I do is I take my photo images, and I go out and I talk about Muddy and Wolf and Mississippi John and "I HOPE" that I personalize them. I hope that I get behind just the images, so you may know what Son House was really like... what makes Skip James different from anybody else... why people loved Mississippi Hurt so much. You know I do a photo selection. I hope I personalize these people behind these images so you get to know them as people.
R.V.B. – Well thank you very much Mr. Waterman for chatting with me.
D.W. – Ok thanks Rob
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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