Mark Weiss is living proof of the American Dream. From humble beginnings as a scrawny kid hawking concert photos out in front of Madison Square Garden, to regal treatment by rock and roll’s royalty, there are probably very few photojournalists that can tell the story that he has experienced firsthand. From the boardrooms of major label giants to the private, fantasy-fueled jets of the world’s biggest entertainers, Mark Weiss has traveled the world to capture our heroes in their moments of glory. But just like the struggles he experienced in the beginning moments of his career, Mark Weiss is well aware of the plights and misfortunes of many in our community.
He’s taken his role as illustrator to give back and assist those that need it most. And like his famous subjects, he has the powerful visibility to make a difference for those who truly need our help. Weiss has been involved in many charitable events, and some of those are based right here in Monmouth County.
Lunch Break is a community organization that started from the humble beginnings of a small gathering in Shrewsbury in 1983. They met to discuss local hunger needs and were committed to helping community members who found it difficult to provide even bare necessities for their families. Later, the Reverend Terence Rosheuvel arranged for the group to use the basement of the Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Red Bank where the group began to serve hot lunches. In 1986, Lunch Break opened the doors to its current facility in Red Bank.
The involvement of rock and roll photographer Mark Weiss began several years ago, and he has since become an integral proponent of the program, the people and the effort put forth to give back to individuals that need help now. He has raised $30,000 over the past two years and is involved with creating an art program.
But Weiss hasn’t stopped there. Donating his iconic photographs to aid in the cure for Parkinson’s disease, he continues to push that theme with the Light of Day organization by implementing photography auctions over at charitybuzz.com.
Mark took a few moments out of his hectic life to discuss his involvement with Light of Day and Lunch Break, the intricate details of his career, and the people he cares most about.
Mark, I know you are heavily involved in charity work. What led to your local involvement with Red Bank, New Jersey’s Lunch Break program?
Throughout the years, I had been donating my photographs to various charitable organizations when requested, but never knew quite where or how the funds raised would be used by the organizations. I wanted to be more hands on and develop a working relationship with whomever I was involved with to see the benefits first hand.
I first became aware of Lunch Break—the soup kitchen in Red Bank, NJ—in October of 2011. They had their annual Gala, and I read about a shortage of food in their pantry. After a little research and meeting with Gwen Love—Executive Director of Lunch Break—and her staff of hard-working volunteers, it was a no-brainer. I am so proud of the rewarding relationship that has developed and grown each year and thankful for their willingness to implement some of my ideas. I began that first year by donating a photograph from some hometown heroes, Bon Jovi, from the Slippery When Wet album cover shoot I did in 1986, which was auctioned off along with a signed guitar from Jon.
And now you are involved with donating a 30-plus collection of signed photographs for two different online auctions in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. Care to go into detail for us?
In 2011, I was asked to donate a few photos to the Light of Day silent auction which I actually shot in 2010. Since then, I have returned each year to the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park. I have been proud to donate additional photographs, mainly because I have been blown away by the selfless support of local and established musicians. When asked this year, I thought, “Why not use the power of Charitybuzz online auction and donate the proceeds of my ‘Feels Like The First Time’ campaign for Light of Day?”
There are over 30 classic photos from the ’70s and ’80s on the auction block, all signed by the artists. Two of the photos included are featured performers at this year’s Paramount show—Southside Johnny and Gary U.S. Bonds. A pair of tickets will also be offered to the sold-out Light of Day Winterfest 2015 “Main Event” at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ. Headliners include LaBamba’s Big Band with Southside Johnny and Gary U.S. Bonds. This kicks off the first of two auctions benefiting the foundation in its global battle against Parkinson’s disease.
The photos being auctioned off for Lunch Break and LOD are not only signed by you, but also by the artist. Are these considered rare historic pieces from the past?
When I came up with the idea, I wanted it to be something special. My idea was to have the artist sign six photographs of the same image from the first time I photographed the artist. I took a little poetic license, so it could have been the first time I photographed them live, or backstage, or in the studio.
The photographs have a story behind each one, which I share in the description on the site. Alongside the photos up for auction are shots of the artist signing the photographs. All can be viewed on the website, and I continue to get additional photos signed as I cross paths with the performers. I am constantly adding to the collection with new and different images of “firsts” from the artists. I plan to do this for decades to come.
I know that between your assistance and the dedication of the folks at Lunch Break you’ve raised substantial past monies. What’s the goal for this current event?
It has only been a couple of months since the last auction I did for the annual Lunch Break Gala, which raised $15,000. I will be more than happy if we raise even half of that for Light of Day. I have never done auctions this close together, as it is usually an annual event. I knew I had to try. Knowing any amount would be worthy and not discounting the importance of awareness raised by reading a story in the Aquarian or on the web is a key factor, and one which will be beneficial to the Light of Day.
Who would you say is your all-time favorite subject to photograph?
Ozzy! (Laughs) What can I say? He is the Prince of Darkness? (Laughs) He is a very funny, charismatic and cool guy. In 1981, I had an assignment to shoot him for the cover of Circus Magazine. I went to his hotel room to set up a background and after I was all set up… no Ozzy. Then I heard a yell from the bathroom, “I’m in here, come on in.” Reluctantly I peeked in, and there was Ozzy sitting in a bubble bath with a grimacing look on his face smoking a cigar. I grabbed an empty bottle of Dom I found in the room, and I put it in his hand. It was the first time I photographed Ozzy.
I was lucky to tour the world with him as his photographer. I have known the kids since they were born, shooting Kelly’s first album cover in 2002. I had the privilege to shoot Jack’s wedding a few years ago in Hawaii. I also shot the cover for the last Black Sabbath live DVD, Gathered In Their Masses. It’s been quite a ride with Ozzy and continues to this very day.
Speaking of Ozzy, how did you happen to play matchmaker for both him and Skid Row?
After a photo shoot with Ozzy at my studio in NY, Sharon asked me to go with her and Ozzy to Long Island to check out a guitar player—needless to say he was definitely not the guy. My last words to Ozzy and Sharon were, “I’ll keep my eyes open.” Next day, I called up my high school buddy Dave Feld and asked to meet me at a club in NJ called Close Encounters in Sayreville, NJ. I had no idea who was playing, just wanted to hang out and have a drink. Dave was not interested in meeting me—I told him, “Well, I’ll be there if you change your mind.” Long story short, I didn’t go, and he did. When he went there, a local band Zyris was playing. Dave told me about this kid still in his teens. I heard the tape he made and thought he could be a contender.
I told him to bring him to my studio in NY the next day when Ozzy and Sharon were coming by to approve photos. Dave brought Zakk [Wylde] in, and we waited about 10 hours. Ozzy never came by because he had spent the night drinking with famed wrestler Andre the Giant until he passed out. I ended up taking some photos of Zakk that day and taped it to his demo tape and left it at their hotel. Sharon called me as soon as they landed back in London and told me they want to audition him. A few weeks later I flew out with Zakk. The rest is history.
A few months later in June of 1987, I got married and sent an invitation to Madam X, a band I shot the previous year. Towards the end of the night, Sebastian [Bach] got up and jammed with Zakk. Then me and my best man, Dave Feld, joined Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot on the stage for a rendition of “Bang Your Head.” Dave Feld was friends with the Skid Row guys who were looking for a lead singer, and he told them about this guy [Sebastian] from my wedding. They flew him in; we all met at Mingles in Sayreville, NJ, the band played a few songs and Skid Row with Sebastian Bach was born.
What advice would you give to young music photographers looking to follow in your footsteps?
To stand out, you need to develop relationships with the musicians and managers to get you exclusive access behind the scenes. You need talent but more importantly you need people skills to get into their world and have them trust you, so you are there to capture those magic moments. My advice is to be the squeaky wheel but knowing when not to cross the line and when that door opens make sure it doesn’t shut. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. I have always felt privileged to be allowed to document their lives so intimately and I have never taken it for granted. As the late great Ronnie James Dio professes in “Rainbow In The Dark,” “We’re just a picture—we’re an image caught in time.”
What else is in play for Mark Weiss in 2015?
This summer I plan on releasing my first book entitled The Decade That Rocked. The book will be more than a photo book. It is a detailed recollection of the 1980s—the pivotal era in rock/metal music and mayhem depicted through my photographs along with over 100 interviews of the artists that ruled the decade. I plan to promote the book extensively with tours and galleries and fundraising opportunities as well.
OK, let’s put this to bed. You know them both… Who is the better guitarist, Keith Richards or Jimmy Page?
It’s a tie! Keith Richards for his bluesy old school rock and roll and Jimmy Page for his inspirational fusion of rock and theatrical mystique.
To see Mark Weiss’ photographs being auctioned off for Light of Day, go to charitybuzz.com/lightofday and weissguygallery.com. For more information on the Light of Day Foundation, go to lightofday.org.