Known at the time as “Master Blaster”, the club’s elegant emcee, Daniels kept his camera close to him as he befriended touring artists, gaining free access surveillance beyond the stage and a unique perspective on what turned out to be a germinal moment in rock history.
“An act could be unheard of on a Thursday night and extremely popular by the time it leaves on Saturday,” said Don Law, manager of the Tea Party from 1968 until its closure in late 1970. Now president of Live Nation New England, Law has described Daniels as an “iconic figure” in the club. who was “just there for so many great moments in the early days of launching these bands”.
Now, more than five decades later, Daniels and his followers seek to bring those images to life. They started with a small grant from the Somerville Arts Council, but earlier this year, her friends threw a $30,000 fundraiser to cement his legacy, as Daniels, 79, undergoes chemotherapy for a recently diagnosed blood disorder. The campaign’s goal: process over 3,000 rolls of undeveloped 35mm and medium format film – a sprawling visual story that could include never-before-seen footage of musical acts such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band , The Velvet Underground, The Jeff Beck Group and, if he’s lucky, Jimi Hendrix.
The group has processed around 200 rolls so far, revealing, among other things, candid shots of a young Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood touring with Faces in the early 1970s. Other newly developed rolls contain images by Pete Townshend of The Who, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Peter Wolf, a close friend of Daniels at the time who was in a band called The Hallucinations before he started with the J. Geils Band.
“Charlie captured it all because he was constantly clicking,” Wolf said. “He was a cultural archivist without even knowing it.”
Originally from a small, isolated town in Alabama, Daniels moved north with his parents when he was around 11 years old. The family settled in Roxbury, where Daniels soon began taking pictures after finding a Brownie camera in his parents’ closet. He fell in love with street shooting at the age of 14, learning to capture images better and better as he ventured further, traversing Harvard Square and eventually landing at the Original Tea Party location at 53 Berkeley St.
But while Daniels loved photography and music, it took him time to connect the two.
“I thought of myself as a street photographer,” Daniels said, adding that he initially stored his camera in the club office. “At some point I realized I had an edge doing things that no one else was doing. That’s when I started photographing bands more seriously.
Even so, his shooting style remained laid back. He used the camera almost like a sketchbook, documenting the day’s adventures.
“He uses the camera like a diary, a visual diary,” said his longtime partner, Susan Berstler, who helps organize the fundraising campaign. “In one roll there will be a few pictures of his girlfriend, a few pictures on the T, crossing Boylston Street, and then, oh, yeah, there’s Keith Moon” from The Who.
The result is a rich chronicle of Boston’s cultural life over the past half-century, including portraits, street photographs, images of anti-war protests, dance rehearsals, and performances.
Yet it’s his front-row seat in Rock & Roll history that excites many.
“Having the access he did and having a camera — that was just open sesame,” said David Bieber, owner of an extensive archive of pop culture artifacts. “He had this inner-circle perspective and the opportunity to capture the moment. People can’t wait to see this footage because it’s a time capsule: who knows what’s going to be revealed here?
Ray Riepen, who started the Tea Party in 1967, called Daniels “a fabulous guy”.
“He was just a guy who was on the scene,” said Riepen, who also founded WBCN, Boston’s Groundbreaking Underground Radio, and now lives in Kansas. “We kept bumping into each other and eventually became friends.”
Starting with the Tea Party, Daniels then announced bands at other venues, including the Boston Music Hall (since renamed the Boch Center’s Wang Theatre), the Orpheum Theatre, the old Boston Garden and the Cambridge Common, where the bands often performed on Sundays. after a stint in the Tea Party.
He was a Harvard Square staple, and he frequently accompanied Wolf during his run as a late-night DJ on WBCN, which once broadcast from a Tea Party back room. (It was Wolf who dubbed Daniels the “Master Blaster,” who in turn dubbed Wolf the “Woofa Goofa.”)
Daniels also became close friends with guitarist Ron Wood, touring for three years with him and Stewart as an announcer for Faces in the early 1970s – a loud, hard-partying era, when the band were kicked out of hotels so frequently that Wood once recalled that they had dubbed the Holiday Inn the “Holiday Out” and began checking in under the alias “Fleetwood Mac”.
“We could never register as our own,” said Daniels, who is now a little fuzzy on the details. “I was probably more taking pictures than doing destruction.”
When Faces disbanded, Daniels joined Wood as a guest on the guitarist’s first tour with the Rolling Stones – a 1975 junket captured by the band’s tour photographer Annie Leibovitz.
“She didn’t really like me,” Daniels said. He’s also quick to point out that he didn’t announce the Stones and wasn’t on the band’s payroll. But “being able to hang out and shoot a movie was just as good.”
Daniels was not the only photographer photographing Boston’s music scene in the late 1960s. Other photographers such as Peter Simon, Michael Dobo and Jeff Albertson photographed exhibits in the city, publishing their work in various outlets.
But Daniels was different. Although he printed some of his work over the years, he did not publish it widely. A few of his images appeared in a limited print run subtitled story of Faces released in 2012, and he’s only shown his photos in a handful of shows.
“His friends at that age joke that he didn’t have film in his camera because for years they never saw him,” Berstler said. “They were wrong.”
Now, Daniels is sure there are more rolls from his days with the Stones. He’s already got his hands on previously undeveloped footage of Stewart, Wood, Wolf and Townshend, and he’s holding out hope for the rolls he shot of his idol, Jimi Hendrix, whom he met backstage from the Fillmore East in New York and again to the Boston Garden, where Daniels announced the show.
“I was almost a Hendrix fanatic back then,” Daniels said. “When he died, I went into hibernation for weeks.”
Wolf saw Daniels almost daily in the late 1960s. He said it was his friend’s charisma and lack of artifice that opened doors for him and allowed him to shoot so discreetly.
“Charlie wasn’t exploitative: you never got the sense that he was taking these photos to print and use for commercial purposes,” said Wolf, who recalled he and Daniels often frequented cafes and the boutiques of Harvard Square, a vibrant cultural hub at the time that he compared to the Left Bank in Paris. “I still think very warmly of Charlie, sitting on a wall next to the Brattle Theater and watching metropolitan poetry go by.”
So why did it take him so long to finally want to develop his work?
“I didn’t need to see the end result as much as I just thought I had to be careful,” Daniels said. “It was more or less like being in the middle of it all rather than really finishing it.”
Now, as he prepares for another round of chemo, he and his followers are halfway to their fundraising goal. Berstler goes through thousands of photos. She sent another slice of cartridges to Film Rescue International, the Canadian company processing the film. She is also talking to a handful of universities about placing her images in archives, and they hope to one day feature her photographs in an exhibition, perhaps even in a book.
What form that will take remains to be seen, although Daniels added that he hopes the Hendrix Rolls will arrive – possibly in the fridge, where he keeps his “super film”.
“It’s never lost,” Daniels said. “I have it, but I forgot where I put it.”