Rock Stars and Their ParentsLIFE With Rock Stars ... and Their Folks
They had fame, reams of money, and fans willing to do wild, unmentionable things just to breathe the same air — but in 1971, LIFE illustrated a different side of rock stars: Just like most of us mere mortals, they came from humble backgrounds, with moms and dads who bragged and worried about them every day. Assigned to take portraits of the artists at home with their sweetly square folks, photographer John Olson traveled everywhere from the suburbs of London to Brooklyn to the San Francisco Bay Area, capturing in his work the love that bridged any cultural divide that may have existed between his subjects. Now, as a special treat for Mother's Day, LIFE.com brings back Olson's nostalgia-inducing photos — check out the awesome '70s decor! — and talks with the photographer himself about his memories of those shoots. Pictured: Mothers of Invention frontman Frank Zappa in his eclectic Los Angeles home with his cat, his dad Francis, and his mom Rosemarie.
John Olson: LIFE's Young Photographer at Work
At the time LIFE's youngest staff photographer — he was hired in 1968, at just 21 years old — "I got a lot of the drug stories, a lot of the rock & roll stories, and a lot of the anti-war stories," Olson recently told LIFE.com, calling from the fine-art printing business he now runs with his wife in Chatham, N.Y. "So when this story came up, I guess I received it because of my age." These assignments were quite different from the work that had initially brought Olson to LIFE's attention — his searing photography from Vietnam. "As a journalist, I had the luxury of being able to enjoy both worlds without having to make a huge, significant commitment to one or the other," Olson says of switching gears from the front lines of the war to the cultural happenings at home. "In hindsight, it was a most unusual time in my life." Pictured: Olson sets up to shoot the Jackson Five in their back yard.
Grace Slick With Her Mother, Take 1
The Jefferson Airplane singer poses with her mother, Virginia Wing, in the living room of the home where she grew up in Palo Alto, Calif. Slick, whom Olson had previously met while working on a feature about legendary concert promoter Bill Graham, was the first artist photographed for this story. "We raced out there because she was nine months pregnant," remembers Olson. "And the rest of the story took so long to complete, her daughter was a year old when it finally ran."
Grace Slick With Her Mother, Take 2
In one of the photos that ultimately ran in LIFE (Olson went back to Palo Alto for a re-shoot), new mom Grace dangles her daughter China by the feet. Setting up each shot of the stars with their folks "was really a matter of wanting to, whenever possible, show the contrast between how they were raised and who they were now," Olson says. Virginia Wing, wrote LIFE, was a "soft-spoken suburban matron" — pretty much the opposite of her wild child, who wrote a hit song about tripping on psychedelic drugs and got pregnant with China by her bandmate Paul Kantner. "Grace and I have different sets of moral values," Mrs. Wing told LIFE, "but she's her own person, and we understand each other."
Outfitted in a police costume, Grace steps outside with her mom and little China. "Things change so fast, you can't use 1971 ethics on someone born in 1971," Slick said of her daughter. "Whatever she does is going to look far-out to me. I hope I'll either like it or keep my mouth shut."
Eric Clapton With His Grandmother
Rose Clapp shows off her tea service and the rock-guitarist grandson she raised in the home he bought for her and her late husband in Surrey, England. It's a sweet scene, but off-camera, things got hilariously salty: "They had a parrot in a cage," Olson recalls. "Eric's grandmother left the room, and the parrot talked — it said, 'F--- you!' I couldn't believe it.... So Mrs. Clapp came back and I said, 'The parrot talks. What does he say?' And she said, 'He says "Gobble gobble." I said, 'What?' So Eric came and we're talking and I asked, 'Hey, what’s that parrot say?' and he looked at me like I was crazy. He said, 'The parrot says "F--- you." Apparently Mrs. Clapp's pet had learned the new trick from Clapton's rock & roll friends: "There was a group then called Delaney & Bonnie," says Olson, "and Eric said they stayed here for a couple of weeks and taught him how to say it."
Elton John With His Mom and Stepdad
The former Reggie Dwight laughs with his mom Sheila Fairebrother and her husband Fred (whom he affectionately called "Derf," Fred spelled backwards) in their suburban London apartment. At this point John was just three albums into his prolific career, and still had countless hits — "Rocket Man," "Daniel," "Bennie and the Jets," "Candle in the Wind" among them — in his future. Did Olson have any inkling of the legend Elton John would become? "In some ways, they were all on equal footing," he says of all the music stars included in the shoot. "I mean, some were better known than others. But me knowing the future? No. I liked his music." And so did his mother, from the time he was a boy. "When he was 4 we used to put him to bed in the day and get him up to play at night for parties," she told LIFE.
The Zappas: A Closer Look
"Everyone had told me that Frank Zappa was going to be really difficult, and he couldn't have been more professional," Olson says. As for Zappa's parents: "My father has ambitions to be an actor," Frank told LIFE. "He secretly wants to be on TV." His mom, meanwhile, thought Frank's career was fine and dandy, but envied something else about him. "The thing that makes me mad about Frank," she said, "is that his hair is curlier than mine — and blacker."
Joe Cocker With His Mother
Facial contortions, flailing arms, gallons of sweat: The blues singer poured all that and more into his passionate performances. But off stage, LIFE observed, "he is cool and withdrawn — a temperamental mixture of Harold Cocker, his civil servant father who preferred gardening to posing with his famous son, and his outgoing, chatty mother." Joe told LIFE about his mum Marjorie's constant support: "My mother must get a lot of rubbish slung at her, being the mother of me, because she told me about one instance, it was on a bus. But she just answers them back — that's what she does."
Richie Havens With His Parents
The artist who opened Woodstock grew up with his folks, Richard and Mildred, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, but he bought them this home in nearby East Flatbush when his music career took off. Among the most touching details of the shoot, besides the framed portraits of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr. that sit on the piano: the way Richie's father held his mother. "It was great — the parents looked really loving there," says Olson. The Havenses had nine kids and, as Mrs. Havens told LIFE, "Richie is the only one who's really moved away. I can't get rid of most of them."
Ginger Baker With His Mother
The Cream/Blind Faith drummer flashes a rare smile with his mother Ruby Streatfield inside her rowhouse in Bexley, outside London. "I had worked with Ginger Baker before, I think I had worked with Joe Cocker before, I had worked with Grace before — and some of these people, especially Ginger Baker, the first go-round had been really difficult, nasty," Olson says. "But when they were with their parents, they were totally different people. Ginger Baker, who had been terribly obnoxious before, acted like a grown-up. I don't think it had anything to do with respect for me, so it must have been the parents."
Mrs. Streatfield and 'My Pete'
The world knew him as Ginger, on account of his red hair, but his mother christened him Peter, and to her he was always "My Pete." As she told LIFE: "He would bring people over and they would say, 'You realize your son is brilliant,' and I'd say, 'Is he? I wish he was a bit more brilliant at keeping his room tidy.'"
David Crosby With His Father
With his parents divorced, the "Crosby" of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young posed with his father Floyd, an Oscar-winning cinematographer, in the Ojai, Calif., home Floyd shared with his second wife. "In the last few years we've become good friends," David told LIFE. "What I like best about him is that he seems to feel no need for me to be like him, so we're not offended by each other's differences," said David. "Like he knows I get high. He doesn't do it and he doesn't approve of it, but he doesn't inflict his values on me."
Chosen for the Cover: The Jackson Five
Unlike the other stars featured in LIFE's story, the Jackson brothers — Michael, Marlon, Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie — experienced fame as kids, and still lived with their parents (father/manager Joseph and mother Katherine). At the time of LIFE's shoot, they were the hottest act in pop, skyrocketing in 1970 with "ABC" and "I'll Be There," and had just moved into an expansive new house in Encino, Calif.
Jackson Five: The Boys and Their Toys
With their parents standing by, 13-year-old dynamo Michael (front left) and his brothers Jackie, Marlon, Tito, and Jermaine straddle their motorbikes by the pool. "It was very controlled," Olson says of the shoot. "As I remember, they followed my requests to a T, and were incredibly polite. The dad was pretty stern." Indeed, Joseph — who had been a crane operator in Gary, Indiana, just three years before — hinted at the relentless drive toward fame that Michael would later regret. "It wasn't hard to know they could go on to be professionals," Joseph told LIFE of his young sons. "They won practically all the talent shows and I wasn't surprised when they did make it. Because, you see, we were trying awful hard."
Bonus! Donovan With His Parents
Donald and Winifred Leitch's love for Scottish and English folk music inspired their son Donovan, the singer/songwriter behind such whimsical hits as "Season of the Witch" and "Mellow Yellow." But by the time of his session with Olson, Donovan's fruitful partnership with record producer Mickie Most had soured, and his career began to decline. Perhaps as a result, this was the only shoot left out of the story that LIFE eventually published.
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