Guy Webster, whose photographs adorned album covers and billboards for acts like The Rolling Stones, The Mamas and The Papas, The Beach Boys, The Doors and Simon & Garfunkel, has died, his daughter Sarah Webster confirmed to Variety. He was 79. According to Harvey Kubernik, Webster’s biographer, he had been suffering from diabetes and liver cancer.
His album covers included The Doors’ debut album, The Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn,” Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” the Stones’ “(Big Hits) High Tide & Green Grass,” The Mamas and the Papas’ “Deliver,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” Van Dyke Parks’ “Song Cycle” and Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Midnight Ride” and “Just Like Us,” which manager Roger Hart wrote on Facebook were the group’s two best. Individual music subjects included Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Herb Alpert, Jerry Lee Lewis, Judy Collins, Jose Feliciano, Janis Joplin, Micky Dolenz, Ricky Nelson, Ravi Shankar, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Sonny Bono.
He came from a show business family. His father was lyricist Paul Francis Webster, who won three Oscars for Best Original Song for “Secret Love,” “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” and “The Shadow of Your Smile.” The latter also won Song of the Year Grammy in 1965.
“I never meant to be a commercial photographer. I was going to be a fine art photographer,” he told Kubernik. “(Record producer) Terry Melcher said, ‘Hey, let’s do an album cover for The Rip Chords.” And I was still in school. It was for their Three Window Coupe album, with their song ‘Hey Little Cobra.’ … Terry actually got me started thinking, ‘I can shoot some album covers and make some money.’”
“Guy… set the bar extremely high for ‘pop and rock’ photography and photographers,” Record producer Lou Adler told Kubernik, who with his brother Kenneth, co-authored “Big Shots: Rock Legends and Hollywood Icons: The Photography of Guy Webster,” which profiled his work. ”His creativity…sensitivity and understanding of the subjects’ art and vision helped start and endure many careers.”
Webster recalled to Kubernik the session for the controversial album cover “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” by The Mamas and The Papas. “We were sitting around and … we were all really stoned. And in that apartment was that 1920s and 1930s bathroom with all the tile. I put them in the bathtub and I set up my tripod and my big two-and-a-quarter camera and shot that picture. And in that picture was the toilet. You can’t put a toilet on the cover of anything and sell it at Sears or one of those chain stores. So Lou came up with a great idea to put a little sticker on the shrink-wrap that said, “Including ‘California Dreaming’.” That covered the toilet. It became one of the most controversial album covers of its day. Which pleased us to no end.“
Webster said he loved shooting Captain Beefheart. “He was free thinking and not afraid to take chances. Not a corporate guy who was going to get the most money out of whatever it was. He was an artist.”
“Guy Webster translated the music’s essence in an understandable way, helping to define The Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas & The Papas or the Brian Jones era of The Rolling Stones,” author Domenic Priore, who used a Webster photo of Brian Wilson on the cover of his book “’Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece,” told Variety. .
Webster also photographed Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan along with numerous celebrities, including Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Natalie Wood, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Edward G. Robinson, Elizabeth Montgomery, Eva Gabor, Jack Nicholson, Jane Fonda, John Belushi, Larry Hagman, Leonard Nimoy, Marlo Thomas, Priscilla Presley, Raquel Welch, Rock Hudson, Truman Capote and William Shatner.
“My dad was loved by all,” his daughter Sara told Variety. “He was a peoples person and touched the lives of so many. He will be greatly missed and we are heart stricken that he left us so prematurely but rejoice in the thought that he had a f–ing awesome life!”