"We thought about going with that shot [for the cover of Music from Big Pink]," Elliott Landy told author Barney Hoskyns about the image that first appeared on the August 1968 cover of Rolling Stone and now graces ours to honor Backbeat Books' publication of the photographer's newest tome, The Band Photographs: 1968-1969. Lined up left to right in the tranquil spring scene are bassist and singer Rick Danko, guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer, singer, and mandolinist Levon Helm, keyboardist and saxophonist Garth Hudson, and pianist, singer, and drummer Richard Manuel, who sit on a bench beside a pond near the house that gave the record its name, facing away from Landy's lens. "They were always coming from a place of integrity about music. Music was music, it wasn't personalities doing songs, so the idea was to keep the egos out of it."
Although in the end it would be other, now iconic pictures that would be used for the jacket of Music from Big Pink—Bob Dylan's surreal painting on the front, Landy's Next of Kin color portrait of the group and their families and black-and-white "Civil War" snap of the quintet inside the gatefold, and the Big Pink house itself on the back—the photo seen here eventually would be used for an album cover, that of 2000's Greatest Hits anthology on Capitol Records. "I felt it really reflected the philosophy of who they were and what they were trying to do musically," Landy told the Huffington Post about the bench image. "I think it was a little too anonymous perhaps."
Landy had been working as a staffer for Rat Subterranean News, a radical underground newspaper based in the Lower East Side, when he met the then still-unnamed fivesome at A&R Studios in New York, where they were recording tracks for Music from Big Pink. He'd gotten the gig through the group's manager, the late Albert Grossman, who also counted Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Peter, Paul & Mary, Richie Havens, and others among his clients.
For the famous cover of 1969's The Band, Landy photographed the group standing in the rain on Woodstock's not-yet-paved John Joy Road. As with the Big Pink shoot, that session produced another unused, introverted depiction of the artists that was considered forthe LP front's art. The photo in question featured an apparently less-than-elated Helm with his back to the camera. "I don't think they were too happy about getting soaked," recalls Landy with a laugh. "Levon had turned around and was talking to Rick, probably bitching about having to stand there in the rain." Portfolio: Landyvision.com.