So just how did Ken Regan come to be the exclusive official photographer on the first leg of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975?
How did it come about? To answer that, we have to step back. It is the summer of 1975, and Ken Regan is at home in bed. The phone wakes him at 3 am, and on the line is Bill Graham’s partner, Barry Imhoff. Unsurprisingly given the hour, Ken thinks Barry is calling from the west coast and hasn’t taken the time difference into account. But Barry is in New York, and asks Ken what he is up to for the next couple of months. “I could be anywhere. Why, what’s up?”
Barry is circumspect. There is talk of a tour, something a little different. He then passes the phone to Lou Kemp, who introduces himself as a childhood friend of Bob Dylan, and tells Ken that he runs a company called Kemp Fisheries. He is co-promoting a tour for Bob Dylan, and they want Ken to photograph the entire tour and come on the road with them for a few months. It’s 3 am and Ken is incredulous. Dylan? Kemp Fisheries? What? He asks to get Barry Imhoff back on the phone. Ken is a straight talker from the Bronx: “Barry, if this is a f***ing joke, I’m gonna hunt you down and take you apart completely.”
Someone else comes on the line. Ken recognizes the voice immediately – it is Bob Dylan. He apologizes for waking Ken so early in the morning, and explains that Ken is in the frame as the photographer they are thinking of to document the tour. They arrange to meet and go through Ken’s portfolio, and discuss the tour. Ken is wide awake now, and ready to do it right there and then at 3am, but they agree to meet later that day at Studio Instrument Rentals’ space in Manhattan, where Bob Dylan is rehearsing.
At the meeting, Bob explains that this is going to be a different kind of tour, lasting a few months, with Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and T-Bone Burnett on board already, and discussions on many others in progress. Everything is moving fast. Rehearsals are starting in a week, the first concert is at the end of October, and the tour finishes back in New York in the first half of December.
Ken would be the only photographer on the tour and would have complete access. “Bob had given me free rein to shoot it all—onstage, offstage, dressing rooms, parties, trailers, whatever was going on.” There is one minor caveat. Bob explains that his wife and children are going to be on the tour at various times, and while Ken can photograph them, he can’t release those pictures. Ken is hired that day. “We shook hands, and I never betrayed that trust.”