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  • Chester B Simpson

"White Boy!"

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

That time I met Rick James at the Record Plant in Sausalito, CA 1983.

Rick James 1983

Rolling Stone magazine gave me the assignment to photograph Rick James at The Record Plant located in Sausalito, CA. It was a famous recording studio used by Grateful Dead, Eric Burdon, Fleet Wood Mac, Jefferson Starship, Santana, Andrea Bocelli, Metallica, and Carrie Underwood. It closed down in 2008. Fleetwood Mac recorded their famous album, "Rumours" there. The Record Plant was a recording studio and a luxury hotel for musicians to live and record there. Three different musicians could live here and record at the same time.

Rick James complained, that MTV wasn't playing enough black artists on their cable channel and Rolling Stone magazine writer Michael Goldberg was assigned the story with me.

Rick James was recording the Mary Jane Girls and had rented out the whole building of the Record Plant for himself and the girls. Recording time is very expensive, so after several phone calls to Motown Records in LA, I was given 15 minutes to photograph Rick.

I picked up Michael and we arrived 45 minutes early to set up my strobe lights for the photo session.

We were escorted into the recording studio. I first viewed Mr. James behind the recording board directing the Mary Jane Girls singing. Sitting on the table was a large quantity of white powder and a switchblade knife. The knife was used to transport the white powder to people's noses during the evening.

Michael helped me set up the strobe lights and we waited for Mr. James to be ready. We waited, and waited and my fifteen minutes came and went. So, not wanting to waste any recording time, I spoke up to Mr. James introducing myself, Chester Simpson, as the photographer sent out by RS magazine. I said, "Mr. James we're here cause you complained that MTV wasn't playing enough black music artists and I'm ready to start our photo session.

He said, "White Boy I'm glad to meet you! " I said," My name is Chester and not White Boy." He said okay White Boy." Me not wanting to argue with him, but wanting to get the best photos possible, said Okay, turn around in your chair and ladies get around him. I plugged in my strobe lights to my Hasselblad camera with a polaroid back and shot a polaroid, after ten minutes I handed it to him for his approval. He approved it, and we started shooting.

Then he said, "White Boy, you have to get some shots of me behind the piano playing and smoking a joint," which I did. Then more different locations with the Mary Jane Girls singing and taking his directions. The whole time he keeps calling me, White Boy. After a while, it didn't matter what he was calling me, I was getting some great photos and my photo session lasted about an hour. So, I had more than enough photos to please the photo editor at Rolling Stone magazine.

The photo of Rick James and the Mary Jane Girls was published as Random Notes in RS the following month and I received a nice phone call from Motown Records telling me how please Mr. James was. He requested that I send Motown all the outtakes, so he may purchase some. I suggested that we line up a meeting in two weeks in Los Angeles when I'd be there on an assignment and I'd bring all my original slides for everyone to look at.

Two weeks later, I'm in LA at Motown with Rick James looking at all my slides. He picked out over 75 images that he purchased as prints to give away to friends, shook my hand, and said, "White Boy, you're a pretty dam good fucking photographer. I replied, "Thank You mister James!"

Check out my photographs from this story: Rick James Gallery

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