Every picture tells a story, don’t it?
Vermont’s Rick Norcross has been a musician all his life; that’s how he makes his living.
There was a time – let’s call it 1969 through ’74 – that he went by the title of Rick Norcross, Rock Photographer.
Norcross never really aspired to a career in journalism, and after that five-year stint with the Tampa Times newspaper, he began what’s been a long and prosperous career as a singer, songwriter and bandleader.
His tenure with the Times happened to correspond with perhaps the most exciting era for Tampa Bay music fans. It wasn’t until 1969 or so that national rock tours began regularly “routing” through Florida. And so this University of South Florida student inadvertently documented a pivotal moment in our history.
Norcross has just “published” an anthology, Press Pass, collecting 100 or so of what he considers his best images. Press Pass isn’t a book, it’s being sold as a USB thumb drive, providing access to the photos in high resolution, along with the actual Times reviews they accompanied.
The names alone are staggering: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Jethro Tull, James Taylor and Carole King. And Norcross shot the photos with a musician’s eye: Rather than taking a half-dozen frames, as a professional news photographer would – get in, get the shot and get out – he tended to linger and watch, until he saw what looked good to him.
The results, in most cases, are wonderful snapshots of an age we’ll not see the likes of again. Many of these internationally-known superstars were appearing in Tampa Bay for the very first time. Most of the actual venues are long gone.
His very first assignment, in December of ’69, was to shoot B.B. King and Janis Joplin and Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Hall.
“I had a camera that my father got in the second world war,” Norcross laughs, “a Rangefinder M3 camera. And it was the first time I’d even used it. Six months down the road I had three Canon camera bodies and a bunch of lenses, and I was lugging around a hundred feet of film all the time.”
That Joplin show became legendary, as the singer harangued Tampa police from the stage, and was hauled off to jail after finishing just seven songs. Arrested for hurling obscenities.
“What I put in my review was what I heard her say, which was ‘Don’t f–k with them.’ When they took her out the back door, there was a huge crowd of kids there. The police sergeant in charge yelled out ‘Get her to the airport on time,’ as they put her into the back seat of a police car. The crowd fell back and didn’t hassle them at all.”
In less than a year, Joplin would be dead.
Norcross was also at Curtis Hixon in December, 1970, for the only area appearance of Derek and the Dominos, the incendiary band formed around British guitarist Eric Clapton. For this concert (and one the next night in the Midwest), Duane Allman performed with Clapton and company (he was on the just-released Layla album, lending it much slide-guitar grandeur, but was not touring with the band).
That’s the stuff of legend.
Norcross put this back-burner project together because had time on his bands – Covid having taken more than a year’s worth of performance gigs away from him.
He was able to review his boxes and boxes of negatives, choose those he liked, and assign them a place in Press Pass.
Because of an arrangement with Tampa Times managing editor H. Doyle Harvill, Norcross retained ownership of his film. The newspaper folded in 1982.
He remembers Harvill fondly. “They were going to do a youth section called Etcetera, and I’d heard they were looking for somebody to write reviews. So I applied for the job.
“I had been working at the Slack Shack across from the University of Tampa, which was like the ‘mod’ clothing store. So when I went to the Times I had the duds on – the white bell-bottoms and the orange tie.
“Harvill was a retired Marine from the Korean War, and when I came into the newsroom the city editor and the other guys took bets on how long it would take him to kick my ass out of his office.
“He heard them. And just to spite those guys he hired me.”
Press Pass is available to order here.