Title: I Shot Frank Zappa
Subtitle: My Life In Photography
Author: Robert JH Davidson with John Elliott
ISBN: Amazon Hardback : 978-1-899750-53-5
ISBN: Amazon Paperback: 978-1-899750-66-5
ISBN: EPUB/Kindle : 978-1899750-59-7
Amazon Hardback Publication Date: 8 July 2022
Amazon Paperback Publication Date: 28 October 2022
Amazon Kindle Digital Edition Publication Date: July 2022
EPUB Digital Edition Publication Date: July 2022
Hardback Price: £20.00
Paperback Price: £15.00
Kindle Price: £4.99
No. Pages: 202
No. Illustrations: 60 Black and White Photographs
Size: 23.4 cm x 15.6 cm
BGA Autobiography: general
AVH Individual composers and musicians, specific bands and groups
AJB Individual photographersAVGP Rock and Pop music66-5
I Shot Frank Zappa – About the Book
On the 16th of August 1967, 25 year old Robert Davidson was at The Royal Garden Hotel with band promoter Tony Secunda as part of a press call for Frank Zappa’s upcoming concert at the Royal Albert Hall, a day that was to change his life forever. It was swelteringly hot. The room was heaving with press. Zappa disappeared to go to the bathroom. Wandering around the penthouse apartment, looking for a photo opportunity, Robert found Zappa, stripped, with his trousers around his ankles, sitting on the loo chatting to his wife Gail on the phone. The open doorway framed the shot perfectly. It was too good to miss. Robert asked permission to take some photos. Zappa saying to his wife. “Some limey wants to take my picture on the John. Sure, whatever turns him on.” This set of images, immediately gained cult status, a sentiment echoed by Zappa himself in 1983, when he stated, “I’m probably more famous for sitting on the toilet than for anything else.” Despite one of the photographs becoming a worldwide bestselling poster, Robert never received any royalties. I Shot Frank Zappa chronicles Robert’s efforts over the years to reclaim copyright and ownership of the negatives, and in the process takes the reader on a journey through the drug fuelled Swinging Sixties of London up to the current day, where characters like the Krays, the models Twiggy and Celia Hammond and later Kate Moss trip lightly over the pages. It is not just a story about stolen copyright. It describes a man’s personal journey and his struggle to balance the demands of family life with failing mental health. I Shot Frank Zappa is a story of serendipity and redemption and the refusal to give up when the world seems against you, all seen through Robert’s eyes, which filter events with warmth and humanity, like the lens of the camera, behind which he prefers to hide.
I Shot Frank Zappa – About the Author
Born in Dundee in 1942, Robert Davidson took what he calls “early retirement” at age 17 and left school for Paris. While there, he met and was heavily influenced by legendary 60s Time / Life photographer Emil Cadoo. Robert returned to London two years later and began portrait and fashion photography, taking the first test shots of Lesley Hornby (soon to become known to the world as Twiggy).
In 1965, Robert became friends with Tony Secunda, the infamous Svengali and manager of The Moody Blues, Procol Harum and The Move. Appointed Secunda’s official photographer, Robert worked with The Action, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Arthur Brown, amongst others.
He was responsible for many memorable images, including The Move’s “Psychedelicamania” riot at the Roundhouse in 1966 (who can forget the images of Carl Wayne wielding an axe) and the Flowers in the Rain court case during which Prime Minister Harold Wilson sued Secunda and the band (and Davidson himself was arrested). Probably the most famous photo Robert took during this period was the iconic image of Frank Zappa on a toilet in the Royal Garden Hotel in London.
This is his story.
Many years in gestation, the story was written after a series of interviews with co-author/ghost, John Elliott. John who was broadcasting regularly on Soundart Radio, initially invited Robert to join him for a programme dedicated to the music of Frank Zappa. They soon realised however, that they needed more than one interview to do justice to the whole of Robert’s life. A life whose trajectory was dramatically altered after his meeting with Frank Zappa. A weekly get together resulted in over thirty hours of recorded memories. Having covered the past, the story then began to unfold in real time. The missing negatives were re-discovered, an exhibition was mounted in London and the pair, Robert & John, flew to Germany to attend the annual Zappanale. Robert also began giving a series of talks. All these experiences and memories were distilled and edited into the narrative. Then began the task of discovering and collating representative photographs to tell and enhance the same story.
Like an innocent abroad in a crazy world, Robert has let events guide his life. With a knack for meeting unusual and interesting people, he has also struggled with loss, hardship and being homeless. The accompanying photographs make real his quest to regain those missing negatives and thereby reclaim his life. His unwavering belief in himself is rewarded after nearly fifty years of searching and shows that, despite everything, dreams can come true.