B.B. in the Desert 1972

by Tom O’Neal

Tom O’Neal

July 01, 2011 — I was on assignment for an album cover shoot for B.B. King’s “Guess Who” album. At the time, B.B. was headlining at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. I called his room at around 1 p.m. and woke him up. By 3 o’clock I was driving him out to a dry lake bed just outside of the city limits.

At the beginning of the session I was trying to find a rhythm. As the session moved on, B.B. got really relaxed to the point where he took off his shoes and didn’t want to go back to the hotel. He was very courteous and open to my suggestions. I kept shooting until I felt I finally had something. I wanted to be sure to include his unique ring bearing “B.B.” in some of the shots. The actual cover shot of the album is a photo of B.B. lying down on the ground with his famed guitar, “Lucille,” at his side while dozing off.

I used the natural light of the afternoon sun reflecting off the floor of the dry lake bed. I shot this with a Nikon F2 and a Nikon 105mm f/4. The film was Eastman 5247. With the Eastman film I got a negative and a transparency, which I used to project on a blank album cover during the selection process for presentation to the record company (ABC-Dunhill).

A friend of mine recently showed B.B. some of these shots. He remembered the session and said he had a great time.

Tom O’Neal is the owner of TGO Photography Studio and Gallery, a full service studio specializing in wedding, fine art, commercial and portraiture. During the 1960s he privately photographed famous musicians and celebrities. He shot over 80 album covers, including the iconic Déjà Vu cover used by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

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