Glenn Abbott interview

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Spartacus R. (Osibisa) & Glenn Abbott @ Mar y Sol


On March 2008 I went down to Puerto Rico to visit family and see a very special concert (Iron Maiden). I took the opportunity to meet one of the website’s visitors, photographer Glenn Abbott, who wanted to show me his unique extensive collection of professional photos from Mar Y Sol. I was really excited just to know he wanted to share this with me and when I saw the photos was really impressed. He had also shown me a copy of a 1972 local magazine “Bohemia” where he and his friend Bobby Capó Jr. (actor, singer/songwriter) covered not only the 3 main days of the festival but a total of 8 days (March 27 – April 4).

I thought it would be very interesting to do an interview with Glenn to capture his experience at the festival as a photographer:

NOTE: Glenn’s photos are in perfect condition, however, for now, the images shown in this website are scans from the Bohemia magazine of 1972.

Reniet: Tell me a little more about you, were you born and raised in Puerto Rico? Your last name sounds American and you kinda look like a gringo. Tell me a little bit about your career in photography before Mar y Sol, and the magazine Bohemia.


Glenn:
The name is Glenn H. Abbott Armenteros. Not quite Cuban, not quite Puerto Rican and not quite American. Born in U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Cuban mother, American father. Lived thru the Missile Crisis via evacuation from the base on a U.S. Navy Battle Troop carrying ship. The U.S.S. Upsher to Virginia, sleeping in hammocks for the voyage along with all women, children and elderly (segregated) of the base. My dad volunteered to stay and was given a 45 caliber Colt automatic with two boxes of bullets. Returned to the Base after six months. Very surreal experience. At age 11 moved to Panama for a year plus and from there to Puerto Rico ever since. So yeah, I’m sorta local muchacho. Don’t try to figure it out.

I worked in the ONLY record store in Puerto Rico at the age of 16. Charles’ Record Store. People would come from all four corners of the island to buy records there. All the artists and all the discotheques, you name it. We had all the latest, we would order records on a weekly basis choosing them from Billboard magazine. It was a small store, the owner and myself being the only ones off X-mas season. I worked there part time and shared my job with other colleagues which lived in Condado, rotating hours. I would supply all of the after hours clubs with music on my own time. You know it, I never paid for anything! Freebees for my friends and myself (that made me very many friends as you can imagine). SWEET!. I was employed as an all night disk jockey at one of them, GATSBY THE CAGE, owned by Guy Gatsby. You guessed it, there was a very lovely classy female that would dance in the elevated cage. Very elegant exclusive club.

Bobby Capo Jr. & Cactus (left to right: Duane Hitchings, Bobby Capo Jr., Carmine Appice, Peter French & Werner Fritzschings)
I have a buddy who’s dad was born in Hong Kong and on one of his trips there, I asked him to buy me a Nikon camera because the prices were so cheap.

I kept adding on equipment which became pretty expensive for being a hobby. A friend of mine was moving to California and knew of my passion for the art and set up a job interview with his soon-to-be ex boss in THE top photographic studio on the island, yada yada. Got the job and had a great experience and exposure working there.

I was approached by Bobby Capo Jr., which I knew from my record store days and had a long relationship with Bohemia Magazine which was one of the studio’s customers, to do the spread of Mar y Sol Festival. Too cool, my two passions, photography and musica!!! A good year for me, 1972, I was awarded the Over Seas Press Club award for the best feature photographs of the year for all the media (TV / Radio / Printed Media) for my 15 picture series I did in La Perla in Old San Juan. This was featured in Avance Magazine.

Reniet: I know you like rock music. At the time of Mar y Sol, were you a big fan of any of these bands? I mean, how excited were you about this festival when you first heard about it and when you found out you were going to be taking pictures for the Bohemia magazine?


Glenn:
Fan of any ???, you bet. BB King, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones), Allman Brothers and of course Osibisa to mention a few. One of the best performances musically and for photo ops were my then friends Osibisa, by far (they continue to play and are big in Europe and Australia). Yeah, these musicians were wild crowd pleasers like no other I’ve ever seen (and I have seen plenty). The bass player and one of the founding members Sparticus R. had (has) special powers with the ganja [mariguana] he had brought with him. They were the festival’s closing act that performed from about 4 am to sun up [Tues April 4]. The crowd by then was ready to head home and were going thru their last stashes. You bet, I had my Nikon FTN with motor drive at 4 fps. Great, with 20 rolls 36 exposures each of Kodak Tri X pushed to 1,600 ASA for the night shots. 200 mm, Macro 55 mm, 135 – 200mm zoom, two bodies and going at it with a back stage press pass. Bohemia was only the vehicle to put my moments out to the public but keep in mind that you have to “see” what you’re living to put it on paper, it’s not the film nor the camera, it’s what you live. If not, anyone with a Nikon and tri X film could take kick ass shots. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy some of these moments right here in your web site in the near future as discussed during our meeting here in San Juan. Lamentably, I missed some of the major bands  (ELP, Billy Joel and Alice Cooper), because I had to shuttle back and forth to San Juan for interviews etc., and yes, hind sight is 20/20. If I had known then what I know now…

Reniet: I’ve read many stories from the festival, from Alex Cooley to simple people who went to enjoy the music. I would like to capture the experience from the point of view of a photographer, specially one who was there for more than just the 3 days.

Glenn: From my standpoint, it was a like finding the Mother load. I divided my efforts in three categories :
1) Performers, 2) Crowd shots  &  3) People shots.


Performers – just that, they came to share the goods. Some were good/awesome, others I really didn’t care much for. But all offered me a chance to get the best of them on film.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Crowd – so many people, all colors, ages and nationalities. There was a lot of drugs as you can imagine and there was one place that was known as the “puentecito” (little bridge) that offered the gamma of goodies – you name it, it was for sale. There was a public shower that people would cool off or take a shower. No hang ups whatsoever, every one in their “birthday suit” and of course the horny bunch just gawking and salivating on the sidelines.

 

 

 


People – were the most important part of the experience. I took many shots of the crowd that came down for the fest, but I really enjoyed taking shots of friends having a good time all from different walks of life. Shots of musicians just enjoying the music such as Roy Fernandez (“el FETO”) that played with WE KNOW YOU, one of the best local bands. A beauty queen, a major drug dealer, a disco owner, hairstylists, models, lawyers, Gary Williams (my buddy). Others, that if they saw what they looked liked those days (all fucked up stoned out of their senses) they would put a price on my head (kidding).

 

 

Reniet: Your birthday is on April 2nd too. Anything in particular about that one birthday?

Glenn: Yes, that was indeed a special birthday. Little would I know that besides celebrating that day as the day I was born I would also celebrate the memories that transpired during those days for all times. Before – During – and After the festival.

Reniet: Some time ago you mentioned something about a bombing at the building where they did the magazine and how your Mar y Sol collection survived. Tell me more about that.


Glenn: Yes, I can’t believe that so many memories were erased in an instant the day of the fire bombing of the Pello Bldg. in front of the Capitol, which housed the studio with all the my negatives and the headquarters of Avance magazine. Nothing left. Not a trace in time. Sad. By some reason that I do not recall, I had the Mar y Sol archive of negatives with me along with the contacts – all in pristine condition. Yes, with all the destruction a piece of my persona survived. I feel very fortunate that this also can be celebrated and appreciated on the date of my birth. Destiny that I will share. Damn! how profound and poetic!!! LOL.

Yes, plenty photos but no negatives, a photographer’s worst nightmare. I could wake up in a chill and cold sweat if i think about it too much. Anyway, I still feel very fortunate that at least have some (about 30 of them) to remind me as my early years in the business. Some are quite good if I may add. I have done nothing with them other than have them published in some form or another. I have shots of Humberto Pagán, Luis A. Ferré, Pedro Zervigón, Severo Colberg, Romero Barceló, Noel Colón Martinez, Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, Emilio Huyke, shots looking for Roberto Clemente when his plane disappeared and some others.

Reniet: Tell me a bit about your collection of Mar y Sol photos and what have you done with it through the years.

Glenn: I have been approached on numerous occasions thru the years as to putting these memories on some wall somewhere so the collection can be seen and appreciated by those many that were there and those who for some reason or another could not go. To share as an important part of Puerto Rican Musical History and Culture means a lot to me. And remind the Vega Bajeños just what an important part they played in that chapter of our history of music. I am currently working on this project as you are aware of.

Anything else you would like to add?

Glenn: I was really proud of the opening by our own local group, Rubber Band: Gonchi Sifre (drums), Fernado Rosado (bass), Brian Cuomo (electric piano), Carl Friedman (harmonica and violin) and Juan Melendez (sax & flute). The crowd loved them and it set the way for what was to come. I still see Gonchi from time to time, he is now playing as part of Trio Gandia at a recently opened exclusive club called Mozart Cafe which happens to belong to a singer and composer friend of mine, Alberto Carrión. Great place, great cuisine and ambiance and great music. My wife took me there for my birthday (and Mar y Sol’s 36th anniversary) on April 2nd. We had a blast going thru pics of the Festival.

Nothing else, if I keep going, I could turn this interview into a Autobiography and spoil your lunch.

One more thing, my sincerest congratulations on this effort (website). Your work is inspirational given the fact that you were not even born when all this took place.

Reniet: My Pleasure, thank YOU for your input and most of all for the honor of showing me your collection.

 

To see other photos by Glenn, please visit The Glenn Abbott Collection.