The Naked Truth
DAVID GIVENS | 2015
This photo has been floating around out there for almost 50 years now. Friends, family, and fans have asked me about the origin of this crazy image. So, once and for all, here’s the tale…
When we were first together in early 1969, Rolling Stone Magazine was only a couple of years old and like a lot of young musicians, we read each issue from cover to cover. Rolling Stone was a product of the counter culture rather than the influential main stream publication it is today and it was the first national publication that took our music seriously. Being an optimist, I used to practice how I’d answer questions for when we got our turn – I wanted to be thoughtful and authentic like the people in the Rolling Stone stories I was reading.
When ZEPHYR signed with ABC Probe records in late ’69, the company arranged for an interview with Rolling Stone that would be published just prior to the release of our soon-to-be-recorded album. Up until that time, we’d been on a roll; our demo tape sounded great and we had scored a major label record deal, we were writing and playing good new songs to enthusiastic audiences, we were getting to know and like each other, and we liked and trusted our manager, Barry Fey. And now, Rolling Stone wanted to talk to us. Wow! We scheduled a meeting with well-known rock writer, John Carpenter, on an evening in Denver.
John was smart and friendly. He sat with us as a group, turned on a small cassette recorder, and asked a series of questions regarding our music, our influences, our relationships, our goals, and so on – a real Rolling Stone interview. We were having fun and like many young wild animals, we had no fear of humans. We gave forthright answers and he seemed to be enjoying himself. After most of an hour, he thanked us for doing such a good job. He told us that the record company had asked him to get some simple biographical information for their files and asked us if we could each give short answers to a series of basic questions. We agreed and he asked each of us where we came from, what sign we were, our favorite color, and some more along those lines. We took it as an opportunity to have a laugh and we gave him what he asked for. Finally, he pulled a camera out of his bag and asked if we’d give him a couple of candid shots for the article. Sure, we said. He took a few group shots and then told us he’d had an idea as he was shooting us for what he thought would be a cool image. “Take off your shirts and I’ll get you from the shoulders up. Don’t worry Candy, I won’t show your chest.” Candy was not self-conscious about being naked in public – we were hippies after all and we didn’t see anything ugly about our bodies. However, she understood that her family felt differently about it and she made a point of asking Carpenter if she should trust him. He reassured her that there would be nothing out of line in the photo. So, off with the shirts and Carpenter’s camera began clicking away. Like I said, no fear of humans.
When the Rolling Stone article showed up, our first reaction was shock followed almost immediately by anger. Why was Rolling Stone sabotaging what up until that moment had looked like a smooth fast road to a great career? Our manager, Fey, made some noise about how any publicity is good as long as “they spell your name right”. We disagreed. We weren’t trying to be clowns, we were trying to make real music for real people and this was a low blow. He wouldn’t call Rolling Stone and told us to go home to Boulder and cool off.
I decided to find out and I stopped at a pay phone and called the San Francisco office of Rolling Stone. I asked to speak to publisher Jann Wenner and was put on hold. I stood shivering in the cold phone booth while Candy and the others waited in the van. After a minute or two, Wenner came to the phone and asked how he could help me. I explained who I was, who our band was, and asked him about the article. I asked him straight up why he had attacked us. He tried to deflect the question and I asked him again why he had decided to come after us, that we were just trying to make our way in the business and that Carpenter had tricked us. He stammered some nonsense about the record company and how Rolling Stone was opposed to the kind of hype they were employing in our promotion, that they had received the article as a press release. I told him that I didn’t believe him, that it was wrong for him to attack us, that he knew nothing about us, that we were good people, and that we didn’t deserve what he and John Carpenter had done to us. He apologized and I asked him what he was going to do to make it right. He said he’d try to find a way and we said goodbye. I wasn’t happy, but I was 20 years old and didn’t have the experience to know where to take it from there. This was one of the first major failures of Fey’s management, but sadly not the worst and not the last.