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TOM GUNDELFINGER O’NEAL

Photographer Tom Gundelfinger O’Neal was at the heart of the West Coast psychedelic-music boom in the 1960s, shooting album covers and portraits for rock royalty such as Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell and Jim Morrison. Teri Saccone meets the man behind the lens…

COVER STAR

“I HAD AN EPIPHANY AT A RECORD STORE, GOING THROUGH THE RACKS. I FELT THAT WITH MY ART BACKGROUND, ROCK PHOTOGRAPHY WAS SOMETHING I COULD DO” TOM GUNDELFINGER O’NEAL

Despite 2017 marking his 50th year as a photographer and sleeve artist, there’s a childlike enthusiasm radiating from Tom O’Neal that’s infectious. His more-than-70 album covers and rock portraits captured the essence of the late-60s West Coast psychedelic scene. He shot visceral images of Jimi, Jagger, Joni, Janis and Jim, and O’Neal’s innate ability to fuse an instant rapport with musicians was a key component of his success.

Long Live Vinyl became immersed in Tom’s world at his Monterey, California off ces, decorated with his iconic images and Gold albums – and we were immediately charmed by his genuine warmth and high energy levels.

Raised in Beverly Hills, Tom relocated to Chicago to study art at university in 1967; he returned to California to attend the Monterey Pop Festival, which proved to be his professional anointment. He utilised his camera “more as a paintbrush than a tool for photo journalism”. When he began, he went by his family surname of Gundelfinger, before marrying and taking his wife’s name, O’Neal.

“I went to Monterey Pop with the intention of becoming a rock photographer, because I had an epiphany at a record store, going through the racks. I felt that with my art background, this was something I could do.

“I came out of that store knowing this is what I wanted, even if I didn’t know how I’d get there. Monterey was the launchpad for Otis, Hendrix, Janis and others. DA Pennebaker’s film made them international superstars. For me, that festival was the intersection of serendipity and good luck. I moved to LA in ‘68 and was soon working on album covers, and the transition of my career from the last night of Monterey Pop to the following year was huge. By the time I’d see Jimi again in ‘68 at the Fillmore, I was a bona-fide rock photographer.”

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