Q&A with Texas-based photographer and cattlemen Watt M. Casey Jr. his work appears in numerous albums and books

"I hope that music and the many images I have will resonate with people from all walks of life, encourage them, cause folks to think about what they see and hopefully have a lasting positive impact that helps them view then climb new horizons."

Watt Casey, Jr.: My Guitar Is a Camera

Watt M. Casey Jr. is a professional photographer and cattlemen from Albany, Texas. His work is also featured in the Grammy's Museum touring exhibits Pride and Joy: The Texas Blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Lee Hooker: King of the Boogie. His photographs also appear in numerous CDs, box sets, music books, and publicity material for various musicians including the Steve Miller Band and many publications. Born in Texas to a pioneer ranching family, Watt Casey, Jr., began photographing musicians in 1970 then studied at The University of Texas-Austin. He graduated w/a Bachelor of Journalism, w/an emphasis on photojournalism where he studied under the late Garry Winogrand. Special projects throughout the state and beyond include photography for albums, posters, publicity materials and numerous books.                       (Photo: Watt Casey)

Watt has photographed countless artists including Johnny & June Carter Cash, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Albert, B.B. & Freddie King, Steve Miller, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen & Stevie Ray Vaughan. His book “My Guitar Is a Camera” w/200 1970-2016 photographs, introduction by Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band and a large amount of great text by nationally known authors published by TAMU was released in 2017. Numerous photographs of SRV are in “Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan” the New York Times best seller biography by Alan Paul & Andy Aledort released August 13th, 2019.

Interview by Michael Limnios                            Photos © Copyright Watt Casey

How do you describe your photo art philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

Much of my photography is documenting what is taking place in the world around me whether it is in the music world, ranching which I also do and at times other situations I find myself in. These days primarily in the worlds of music and ranching are where one can find me taking images both locally or in other locations around the US. God had given me a good eye for spotting humans or scenes that I feel should be documented and given me the ability to take images at the right time. That said I have missed a few images due to my failure to plan. I do love taking photographs and sharing them.

Which photo shoots have been the most important experiences? What´s been the highlights in your career so far?

Some of my favorite opportunities were photographing Stevie Ray Vaughan who I knew WAY before he became a household name. From 1975 till a few months before Stevie died I was able to photograph him when he was broke and struggling working hard to succeed to the years he became well known and famous on all levels.  

There are so many experiences photographing Bruce Springsteen over and over, Dylan particularly during the Rolling Thunder Revue show in Houston January 25, 1976. There are others but these three have been so fun to be a part of. Fortunately, numerous photographs have been used in multiple albums by those three, the single of Bruce’s best selling single WAR, books, documentaries, magazine and publicity material. With respect to the WAR single the art director had three photos selected for Bruce to select one from he thought mine fit the anti-war theme best… One of the things that worked in my favor was photographing people like Stevie Ray Vaughan when most people were not taking photographs of him. When a musician becomes well known there will be record companies, film makers, authors, etc. who will want those images. Same for his brother Jimmie who is about to have a box set come out on his birthday. The folks doing it are in England and will be using 5-7 photographs taken of Jimmie when he was not well known and yes I have countless images of Jimmie taken in recent years.

"Much of my photography is documenting what is taking place in the world around me whether it is in the music world, ranching which I also do and at times other situations I find myself in. These days primarily in the worlds of music and ranching are where one can find me taking images both locally or in other locations around the US." (Stevie Ray Vaughan / © Watt Casey Photography)

How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music has been very important in my life. Songs and their lyrics can convey ideas, thoughts, feelings and give us something to relate to when we realize my gosh that song or those lyrics are helping me understand what I am dealing with or in some cases the lyrics give us a sense of hope and expectations for something better. FYI the Greek word for HOPE in the Bible can also be translated expectations. There are songs that bring me to tears, songs that lift us and songs that take us to another place far away from what at times can be a mundane life.. 

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Other than Ed Sheeran who is a brilliant composer I find myself listening to songs from music of the past as you put it.  Since I am not up to date on all the so called new music I am not qualified to answer this very well. I don’t think people will ever tire of hearing a good song especially love songs. In April 1987 I was in London and stopped by the British museum. Looking at the handwritten words and sheet music of Handel’s Messiah and adjacent to that timeless piece of music was The Beatles song Yesterday scribbled on a piece of paper. I love it!!! Good music with thoughtful lyrics is timeless.  Regarding the future I hope that well written lyrics will continue to be composed and the accompanying music will continue to resonate in our heart, mind and soul. 

How started the thought of your book "My Guitar Is A Camera”? 

I started photographing musicians in the 1970’s both local bands and national and international touring bands that came through Austin TX where I was living and attending The University of Texas.  Over the years I have built up a substantial number of images.  My cousin Tom Reynolds, a fine musician himself and friend of Steve Miller, along with others had asked why don’t you do a book it wasn’t till May 2008 when Tom and I were on Steve’s bus before a concert in Dallas TX that after giving Steve a B/W 16 x 20 print of Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Junior Wells taken offstage after a concert in Austin that Steve immediately said “Do you have a book?”  Steve really got the ball rolling with My Guitar Is a Camera the result. With thousands of images another would be possible….

"When I look at the print it takes me back to the struggle he faced and we all face: how are we going to live our lives to make our time here better for others no matter the adversity and circumstances we face..." (Photo: Watt Casey's book “My Guitar Is a Camera”)

What do you think is key to a "good photo capture”?

Much of it is being in the right place at the right time. Throughout my life that has occurred repeatedly providing opportunities to shoot photographs of a diverse group of subjects from musicians to cowboys working on ranches all over the US and in Mexico to other settings which led to some image being worth pressing the shutter.  Working on Eric Clapton’s 1974 summer tour was one of those right place at right time moments. For years I had almost idolized him or at least his musical skills. To get to work on his tour was amazing and more importantly years later Eric getting clean like so many musicians have including Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ronnie Wood, Steve Miller the list goes on and on was inspiring for people of all walks of life. 

What would you say characterizes Texas music scene in comparison to other local US scenes?

I am not overly familiar with the music scene in other cities that said something in Texas has brought out the best in a wide range of musical styles.  From some incredible country music to black men singing the blues on street corners and in clubs who went on to be discovered by others primarily English musicians who they had a great influence upon. In addition to country and blues music there have been MANY internationally known and respected jazz musicians to come out of Texas particular from the I.M. Terrell school in Fort Worth where the list of men who went on to acclaim is staggering: Ornette Coleman was in the school band until he was dismissed for improvising, other musicians included John Carter, King Curtis, Prince Lasha, Charles Moffett, and Dewey Redman who all attended I.M. Terrell with Coleman.

Others include Julius Hemphill, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Cornell Dupree, Billy Tom Robinson, Thomas Reese and Ray Sharpe (who was a rhythm and blues, rock and roll and country so versatile). Who can forget Glenn Miller band members from Fort Worth Gordon “Tex” Beneke, Clyde Avery and Ray McKinley… Other Fort Worth musicians include Delbert McClinton, T-Bone Burnette, Stephen Bruton and Glen Clarke. Townes Van Zandt born in Fort Worth raised in Houston and Roger Miller born in Fort Worth raised in Oklahoma. I could rattle off countless others at the risk of leaving important figures off the list here are a few Roy Orbison, Janis Joplin, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Doug Sahm, Flaco Jimenez, Willie Nelson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Steve Miller raised in Dallas, George Strait, Red Steagall and last but not least one of the most influential guitar players ever T-Bone Walker think his song Stormy Monday Blues recorded perhaps hundreds of times….the man B. B. King said if T-Bone Walker was a woman I would marry… My proximity to Fort Worth weighed heavily on this list.

"Music has been very important in my life. Songs and their lyrics can convey ideas, thoughts, feelings and give us something to relate to when we realize my gosh that song or those lyrics are helping me understand what I am dealing with or in some cases the lyrics give us a sense of hope and expectations for something better." (Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters & Junior Wells / © Watt Casey Photography)

How has the art of photography influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Not sure if I can answer this but here is one memory I have of a very young black boy at a Klu Klux Klan march through downtown Dallas Texas in 1979 who I attempted to capture what would be going through his young innocent mind. When I look at the print it takes me back to the struggle he faced and we all face: how are we going to live our lives to make our time here better for others no matter the adversity and circumstances we face...

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experiences in the music and photo paths?

In the pre digital era (2004 for me) be sure my cameras have film and the film is advancing when taking a photo. After graduating a classmate at the University of Texas was hired for a large paper here in Texas and the first assignment, he was given didn’t work out he didn’t have film in his camera. This fellow went on to win all kind of awards including a Pulitzer. When photographing people who have some degree of fame don’t forget they put their pants on just like the rest of us one leg at a time. There are some who are arrogant, but I have found most to be just like the rest of us hard working men or women doing what they love sharing their talents with the world and they don’t want to be put on a pedestal…

What is the impact of music and photo art on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

In some ways part of question four answer applies here. I hope that music and the many images I have will resonate with people from all walks of life, encourage them, cause folks to think about what they see and hopefully have a lasting positive impact that helps them view then climb new horizons.

Watt Casey Photography - Home

(Albert King / © Watt Casey Photography)

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