Life story of axmen's shooter

rock photog-rapher Robert Knight and guitarist Slash.
rock photog-rapher Robert Knight and guitarist Slash.
Posted: April 03, 2009

Going by its title, you might think Rock Prophecies had something to do with Nostradamus' predicting the rise of the Jonas Brothers, or some similarly uncanny feat of seeing into the musical, or geological, future.

That's not the case. Instead, the poorly chosen title of John Chester's documentary about Robert Knight is meant to imply that the music photographer's ability to home in on young talent destined for greatness qualifies him as some sort of rock prophet. Which is a reach, to put it mildly.

Not to knock Knight's accomplishments as a four-decade shutterbug whose early career highlights include talking his way into shooting a 1969 Led Zeppelin gig at the Whiskey a Go-Go for Rolling Stone. Knight is a gregarious, insecure 60-year-old in a beret who unfortunately narrates his own self-serving, if oddly endearing, life story. He has snapped thousands of photos of scores of fleet-fingered guitarists, from Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana to newer-school axmen such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Vai, Slash, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and up-and-comer Tyler Dow Bryant, who becomes the focus of the latter stages of Chester's unfocused film.

Guitar geeks will love Rock Prophecies, which is full of jaw-dropping solos from some of the biggest names in the business. But mainly, it serves as an unabashed advertisement for the life's work of Knight, who rebelled against a rigid, religious upbringing in Hawaii to pursue a rock-photography lifestyle. We are reminded repeatedly of his refusal to sell out - whether resisting offers to capitalize on having taken the last photos of Vaughan before the guitarist's death in a 1990 helicopter crash, or turning down an offer of $3.5 million for the contents of his photo archive.

The movie includes interviews with Beck, Santana, and six-string-shredder extraordinaire Vai. All the musicians seem well-disposed to Knight, as they should be, since he's a fawning fan who feels blessed to document the deeds of those deities.

Knight becomes more of a sympathetic figure toward the end of the movie, as his need for recognition is framed as a means of making up for the disapproval of his father, and of securing a financial nest egg for his elderly mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Knight's efforts to assist the careers of Bryant and Australian band the Sick Puppies are also touching, though they do nothing to further the argument that the photographer's eye and ear for talent are in any way prescient or prophetic.


Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com.

Read his blog, "In the Mix,"

at http://go.philly.com/inthemix.

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