Johnson Clicks with Rockers

Edited by James Sullivan, Chronicle Pop Music Writer

Veteran photographer Pat Johnson isn’t one to blow his own trumpet, so a group of his Bay Area friends decided they’d make sure his secret got out.

“I’ve been shooting now for 25 years,” says the gregarious and earthy 46-year-old Cleveland native. “So my buddies started pushing me to get a show together. That was three years ago, and I guess I finally got around to it.”

From Saturday through March 1, the Art Rock gallery at 1155 Mission St. will exhibit “From Bowie to Bone Thugs: 25 Years of Rock Photography,” and eclectic range of Johnson’s work in the entertainment business. (More information is at

The show will feature previously released portraits and action shots of stars such as Coolio, the Grateful Dead, Tupac Shakur, Mick Jagger, No Doubt and David Bowie, many of whom were seduced by Johnson’s shameless love for Cleveland within 10 minutes of meeting him.

I think it ís a strength of mine, he says, laughing. That Cleveland Browns, dog-pound, boogie-till-you-puke, don’t-mess-with-me attitude, combined with San Francisco’s groovy, mellow, artist-friendly community. Combine those elements and that’s kind of me.Within minutes I fid out what’s in their heart and soul. There’s instant rapport, and then you take that and work with it for whatever time you’ve got. That’s what I truly hope these photographs say.

Johnson’s warm manner has given him access to an abundance of strange scenarios,James Brown with the pope, Elton John with a gang of little people, exploding storefront windows with the young Jackson 5. Yet he never confuses the relationships he’s developed with stars as friendships

I wonít be on the phone inviting, say, Mike Fleetwood,over he says. I may have shot these people a bunch of times, but I still don’t really know them.

Although Johnson has taken pictures of rock stars great and small, there ís one who continues to elude him .I would love to photograph Iggy Pop, he says. We saw him at the Cincinnati Pop Festival back in the day the Stooges were bad-vibing everybody with their sunglasses, and he was beating himself up. He jumped on my buddy’s shoulders and smeared peanut butter on him, totally out there. We just went nuts. He was the real deal.