Bob Egan was completely dressed in black when we met him on 50th Street on a 97-degree day. If he noticed how especially hellish Hell’s Kitchen was that day, he never showed it. He was on a mission. Equipped with photos from research on the Internet, he was trying to find the location where certain album covers of Miles Davis were shot, and he had invited us along.
Professionally, Egan finds retail space for businesses. He’s also managed to incorporate this into his favorite hobby: hunting down locations where album cover photos were shot. His website, PopSpots, has thirty album cover locations compiled on it so far.
Together with Egan, we searched for the location of the 1956 album cover for Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. The preliminary research had been done by Bob’s French colleague and correspondent, Marie Fotini. Bob and Marie had a hunch that the photo had been taken near the West Side Highway because of the architectural details from the album cover.
Source: The Birka Jazz Archive.
Marie also stumbled across a rare find: a photo in which Miles Davis was wearing the same clothes he wore on the album cover, which confirmed that he had been in Hell’s Kitchen the day the album cover was shot. In this second photo, Miles stands in front of a Prestige Records Inc. office. A quick search yielded an address for Prestige Records: 446 West 55th Street. Looking on Google Maps, a building down the street had some similarities to the building in the album cover.
We walked with Egan to the former Prestige office which is now Steve’s Editing Barbershop. “Let’s ask Steve what he knows,” Egan suggested. We entered the barbershop, and Steve himself took a break from cutting hair to confirm that his shop was indeed the Prestige Records office. He showed us proof of it in the form of documents, letters and articles a record label enthusiast had given him.
We found the site where the album cover was shot on 50th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, now the High School of Graphic Communication Arts. Egan took out a laminated print-out of the album cover and held it up to building, checking for inconsistencies between the pictured building and the one in front of us. Despite a re-cladding of the facade and new windows, the basic structure of the building–number of bays and the rectangular columns–showed a match. He even pointed out a fire department spout that you can see in the album cover.
Egan adjusted his camera and photographed the building. As with all of his other PopSpots, he would merge the image of the current location with that of the album cover, making for a slightly eerie reminder of the neighborhood’s past.
A completed merging, to be added to the PopSpots website soon
Egan tells us that this was a relatively easy search. The Grateful Dead album cover search took him a year. Afterwards, Egan gave us a brief PopSpots tour of West 53rd Street. He showed us where an iconic Bruce Springsteen photograph had been taken on the intersection of 53rd and 10th Avenue, and the studio where Springsteen and other musical icons had recorded, Power Station, which has since been renamed Avatar Studios. He notes that his project has revealed that many album covers were shot nearby or on top of the recording studios.
He also led us to a mural that seemed like a kitschy advertisement for the adjacent restaurant on 9th Avenue. This mural, it turned out, had replaced the mural that had appeared on the cover of Bob Dylan’s 1989 album Oh Mercy:
Egan’s first PopSpots compilation photo was the album cover for Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, one of his favorite albums. He recognized the spot randomly when he was getting souvlaki on MacDougal Street. After the first post, he received an e-mail from none other than Graham Nash of the legendary folk-rock band Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The singer-songwriter pointed out that he had originally been in the photo too, but had been cropped out.
Composite of then & now on Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush by Bob Egan
Springsteen, Dylan, and other renowned folk and classic rock musicians were the focus of some Bob’s earliest PopSpots. But lately, he’s been branching out. His recent posts have featured film locations of iconic New York movies, and even a probable location of Edward Hopper’s well-known painting Nighthawks. He has over a hundred new posts scheduled to go up on the website, and they include the album cover sites for musicians as diverse as the Ramones and the Beastie Boys, and as contemporary as Alicia Keys and Jay Z. And of course, Bob still browses through old records at the 39th Street flea for new ideas of what album cover locations to look for, and for remnants of New York musical history that are waiting to be rediscovered.
Bob gave us a preview of an upcoming PopSpots post about the Times Square photo shoot for Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” Source: Bob Egan.
Check out more at PopSpotsNYC.com.