Madonna’s first «solo» gig

Photographer George DuBose shot the first pictures of Madonna as a solo artist in 1981. Even her band didn’t know she was going solo, but her manager knew.

FOTO: GEORGE DUBOSE

Tuesday July 28th and Thursday July 30th is a big day for Norwegian Madonna fans. The pop diva is doing her very first concerts in Norway. Time to publish my unabridged interview with photographer George DuBose, from a story originally published in D2.

Back in 1981, Madonna had played in new wave bands such as Breakfast Club, Emmy, Madonna and the Sky and The Millionaires. But then she met ambitious manager Camille Barbone, who decided she should get solo. She hired rising rock photographer George DuBose to do some shots of her at a Breakfast Club gig in Roslyn, Long Island. Earlier this year, I met DuBose, and got to speak with him about his assignement. This is the interview in full:

ØH: I want to know a bit more of the musical scene in New York in the early 80’s.
GDB: In the late 70’s there was a music genre called new wave, and to me it was every music except jazz, classical, pop music and disco, punk rock. The B-52’s, Talking Heads, Madonna, Klaus Nomi could all be put in the new wave category. I like all music, my roots are in the 60’s, with Jimi Hendrix, psychedelics and Cream, all kinds of music.

I was an apprentice photographer working in a studio, but at night my boss would let me use his camera, and I began photographing jazz musicians. Then I discovered CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, and started to go to this rock clubs when I had time. Hurrah’s, that was a big and popular club among the new wave artists. I used to sleep from 18:30 to 22:30, wake up and go to the Mudd Club or Max’s, and party till 4 in the morning. Then I went to sleep, and get to work again. I split my sleep in two I was around.

ØH: How did you get the Madonna assignement?
GDB: I got a phone call from a woman called Camille, who was managing an artist who was going to perform about 30 miles outside New York City, in a small town called Roslyn. She told me the name of the club, and told me she would pay med 250 dollars and my train fare to go there and photograph the singer. Not the band, only the singer. She didn’t tell me the name of the singer.

ØH: Sounds like a strange assignement?
GDB: Yeah, it was, but but 250 dollars is 250 dollars. It was a big club, with a capacity of about 500, but there was maybe around 20 people there. The gig was advertised as the Breakfast Club, and I took pictures of the first 45 minutes. The singer was wearing sexy clothers, leather top and leather skirt.

I noticed that she was dressed very sexy and acting very sexy, but she seemed very nervous about it. After the first 45 minutes, the band took a break after the first set, and I went back to the dressing room. I introduced myself: «Hi, I’m George your photographer. What’s your name?» She said «Madonna». «What’s your real name?» I asked. She answered: «Madonna». I continued: «Okay. Listen, I just wanna say, I’ve seen many groups and really like what you’re doing. You’re being sexy, but you seem nervous about it. Don’t be shy.» Her manager heard me say this, and kicked me out of the dressing room. I went back, took pictures from the second set and went back to New York. But the manager never called me, never paid me and never used the pictures.

ØH: When did you see Madonna again?
GDB: I think Madonna played a set at the Underground, underneath Andy Warhol’s factory. But I saw her at a show at the Danceteria, at the roof at the building. Then the band was gone. It was Madonna, her brother and a black girl, a dancer, and they sang to a tape. It was very different, even though I don’t really remember any songs from the Breakfast Club concert, but here she was performing songs from what would be her first album.

ØH: But Breakfast Club belonged to the same scene as The B-52’s and Talking Heads?
GDB: Yes, and the guys in Breakfast Club were very good musicians, one of the guys produced some of Madonna’s early songs. But she went to something very different, from more of the new wave and rock’n’roll sound of the Breakfast Club to a disco/pop sound.

ØH: Did you work more with Madonna?
GDB:
Once. Some guys in Boston were having a New York night once a month, bringing artists from New York to show the Boston kids how the new wave scene in New York was. They liked Madonna a lot, and I helped them organise a three camera video shoot. I took photos, but she never released the video. She won’t give the okay for it, and that was one of her first concerts. I went up to the dressing room again. «What are you doing here?» she asked. «I got you the gig», I answered. That was basically the end of my Madonna career, and I started to sell my photos a few years later.

ØH: Has Madonna ever used your pictures?
GDB: She has wanted to. Maverick Records, Madonna’s record company, wanted to buy the photos. I wanted 1,000 dollars, since I didn’t get paid the first time. I was mad. They declined, and next time they asked I wanted 2,000 dollars time. Now Madonna’s making a new book, and wants every picture of her taken, from baby photos to album covers. But they’re not paying, so I’m not letting them use them.

ØH: Are you sad you didn’t get to work anymore with Madonna?
GDB:
Yes, I would’ve like to do more. That was my motivation for doing these concert photos. If I made some good free photos for a band, I hoped they would hire me to do their album cover. That was what happened with The B-52’s: I showed them my photos, and asked them to come to my studio. I’ve liked Madonna’s covers, she changes her look so much. Now she’s 50 years old, and she still looks pretty good.

PS! There exists some confusion of which band Madonna played with the evening DuBose shot his photos. According to Lucy O’Brien, the author of the recommended Madonna biography Like an Icon, Madonna played with Emmy when she got Camille Barbone as a manager. O’Brien writes that Barbone told Madonna to get rid of her band and go solo if the two of them should work togheter. I asked O’Brien about this gig, and here’s my answer:

Lucy O’Brien: As far as I understand it, the Breakfast Club was 1980, and Emmy 1981. There might have been a bit of overlap, but I’m sure that by the time Camille met Madonna, she was performing with Emmy.

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