Joe Stefko, who’ll speak about the collection of rock photos drawn from original negatives that he’s exhibiting (and selling from) at Woodstock Framing Gallery, 4 p.m. Saturday, November 5, stood in front of a pristine print of what the rest of us know as Michael Cooper’s cover for the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties’ Request. Around him are other Cooper prints from The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album shoot, Bob Whitaker’s back cover image from Revolver, iconic shots of T Rex and Iggy Pop, early Beatles photos, John Lennon lithographs, and the pubescent redhead with an airplane that came out on a few hastily-withdrawn covers of Blind Faith’s only album, signed by the girl herself.
“These were the people that formed me and I wanted them around me,” the former rock drummer and current limited edition book designer said. “I collected prints directly from the photographers if they were alive.”
The first print Stefko bought, not on view at WFG, was a Mick Rock shot of Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson…friends from the road.
“I was on the road with Meatloaf and went to an exhibit,” he adds. “That was about 30 years ago.”
It was around the same time that the drummer began designing limited edition books; he currently works with three exclusive authors: Harlan Ellison, Dean Koontz and Tim Powers. He’d already gotten into collecting books while touring with The Turtles.
“We’d have book dealers come back stage after our concerts,” he recalled with a laugh. “We’d look through the yellow pages wherever we were and head out to rare book shops. We were all into it.”
Stefko moved from book collecting to design when he started noticing that modern limited editions weren’t nearly as good as older books. Starting out with nothing but his taste and collector’s knowledge, he asked Powers if he could try his hand at a release. That was 1988.
The man’s career as a drummer started similarly. Born and raised on Long Island to parents who backed all he did, he found no interest in joining or starting garage bands. “I figured if I did that I’d likely just stay in the basement forever.”
Instead, Stefko started heading in to the city to wherever recording sessions were happening and knocking on doors. He was 15, would get in and play a song, then move on to the next room saying he’d played with whomever turned him down. Before long a career started to form. His first big gig was with Jean Luc Ponty. Then he got hired by John Cale. Many, many gigs later, he got tired of touring for a living and stopped two years ago, deciding he could now handle an income solely from his book design work.
We stood before a tour poster for a Hot Tuna trio gig in 1981, his name prominent alongside the iconic Jorma Kaukonan and Jack Casady.
“I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and told my mom that was what I wanted to do and she said, ‘Anything you want, Joey.’ My first concert was Steppenwolf and it scared me,” he tells me. “I moved up here eleven years ago but had no interest in getting together with other musicians. To me it was always a job, a way to afford my life. I had no interest in jamming. I like to know what I’m supposed to do.”
The man, iconic himself with a true blue rockster haircut he’s happily getting done now in his hometown of Catskill, took another look around “his” show of cool images, all pristine in their framing, their original negative quality.
“This stuff means so much to me,” he said.
But why sell it?
“I could never show it all like this,” he says. “I have more.”
Stefko speaks at 4 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at WFG Gallery, 31 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock; the exhibit stays up past Thanksgiving . For more information call 845-679-6003 or see www.wfggallery.com.