The exhibit Rock ‘n’ Roll Icons – Photographs by Patrick Harbron is currently on view at Albany Institute of History and Art, through February 12, 2017. The images, both performance and portrait, are of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll artists captured on film by the longtime music-industry photographer between 1976 to1992, and in 2001. The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. published a portfolio of images from the exhibit on November 16, 2016. Here, we similarly present a selection of his photos of Canadian rock ‘n’ roll icons , with his stories about working with each of them.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen
Photographed on the I’m Your Man tour, at Toronto’s Massey Hall, on Nov. 9, 1988
The first time I met Leonard Cohen was the summer of 1973. I was writing a cover story about Cohen and his new play, Sisters of Mercy, for Beetle Magazine. Based on his words and music, it opened at the George Bernard Shaw Theatre in Niagara-on-The-Lake. We spent the afternoon chatting about his music and fame, performing and what it meant to be successful. I wasn’t a photographer then. It would be 15 years before I saw him again when I photographed his concert at Massey Hall. A lot of time had passed and I hadn’t followed his career closely but seeing him again, engaging his audience, was a pleasure. When I interviewed him in 1973 he said he didn’t want to do many concerts, but as the years went on he came to embrace performing more, building a new and larger audience. His concerts went from something sporadic to treasured events.

kd lang

kd lang
Photographed at Harbron Studio, in Toronto, in February 1987
One of my favorite sessions was with kd lang. The entire day prior to the shoot was chaos, missed connections and bad weather. I was stuck in a cab on my way to the Newark airport in the middle of a nasty winter storm. I made it just in time to watch the airline attendant close the gate and my flight to Buffalo. I was to meet kd and my staff in Toronto for a mid-afternoon shoot, but it didn’t look like I was going to make it. After disembarking in Buffalo, I booked the last rental car and fish-tailed out of the airport to the QEW and home. I arrived in the early evening and the snow had stopped. I went to the empty studio to drop my stuff and headed downstairs to the Montreal Bistro. Sitting at the bar was kd and my studio crew. The following shoot was one of the best sessions I’ve ever had. kd was full of energy and fun as we developed ideas and shot one set-up after another, until two in the morning. Everybody was so focused and driven. It couldn’t have been planned to go as well as it did. There were so many images to edit, it was hard to make final selections for the Canadian Musician cover story. The image here illustrates her interpretation of my request to impersonate a musical note.


Photographed on the “Drive ‘Til You Die” tour (supporting the Farewell to Kings album), at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, on Dec. 29, 1977
Rush, one of Canada’s biggest rock exports, might have never made it without the help of Donna Halper at Cleveland’s WMMS. When she added the band’s single “Working Man” to the playlist it met with a huge response and opened doors that never closed.

In the summer of 1977 I wrote and photographed an article, for the Globe and Mail reviewing Farewell to Kings. At the time I was conflicted about whether to continue as a writer or become a photographer; when the Globe ran the piece with a huge photo, the decision was made. Toronto is our mutual hometown, and I met Rush after they recorded their first album. When I began as a young photographer they were one of the first bands I worked with. When I took this photograph, the band was enjoying their place as headliners in large venues, where they’ve remained. Since their recording debut in 1974 Rush has released more than 30 albums, 10 compilations and numerous DVDs.

In February 1997 the three group members were appointed as officers of the Order of Canada, and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Buce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn
Photographed at the Canadian Musician office, in Toronto, in 1987
As a Torontonian and a longtime Bruce Cockburn fan, I always feel nostalgia about winter in my hometown when I see the cover of his second album, High Winds White Sky, and hear its “Happy Good Morning Blues.” The record was released in 1971, the year I started in the music business. I think of how important a sense of place is to a musician, and to those who appreciate them. It reminds us of where we come from and who we are. It’s not hard to understand why Bruce has been such a mainstay of Canadian music since the late ‘60s. The portrait here is from a session in 1987. I wanted to illustrate Bruce in a straightforward manner. I chose to photograph him without a guitar:  just the man, in a serious but open portrait. I photographed Bruce several times during the ‘80s, including the shoot for his second concert album, Bruce Cockburn Live, from 1990.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell
Photographed during the “Conspiracy of Hope” Amnesty International Concert Tour, at the Giants Stadium show, in Rutherford, New Jersey, on June 15, 1986
Joni Mitchell’s history with large rock concerts are recalled as less than auspicious. She dealt with an unruly crowd at the Isle of Wight festival, missed Woodstock altogether to be available for the Dick Cavett Show, and performed a tense set during the “Conspiracy of Hope” Amnesty International Concert tour stop at Giants Stadium. This was the last time I photographed her and this selection is my favourite. There’s no other performer and songwriter with such a remarkable voice, wistful, insightful lyrics and unique use of polyphonic chords. Equally comfortable with folk and jazz, Joni created a most original collection of songs. My first opportunity to photograph her was in 1983, during the Wild Things Run Fast tour, and then at the Amnesty concert, where she made an unscheduled appearance before headliners U2 and The Police. This photograph of Joni reminds me of her early roots; she seems transcendent.

Kim Mitchell, Pye Dubois

Kim Mitchell and Pye Dubois of Max Webster
Photographed on Grandview Avenue in Toronto, in March 1978
This is one of my early assignments, for Roxy – a short-lived Toronto publication, and one of the first magazines I worked with in the late ‘70s. Among the artists I photographed for them were The Tubes, Peter Frampton, Bob Marley, Garland Jefferies and, in this shoot, the guy from Max Webster with his lyricist, Pye Dubois. Max was a full-on rock ‘n’ roll band with a satirical, even cynical point of view. Their album Mutiny Up My Sleeve was released in April 1978. There’s usually some give-and-take between a behind-the-scenes co-writer and a performing partner in the spotlight. With this in mind, I set out to illustrate their relationship while showing their evident bond. With tongue in cheek, we dragged the couch to the street, our de facto studio. The playfulness in the photo became a trademark for my portraiture. I shot everyone in the band but keyboard player Terry Watkinson, who was away that day. When it was time to go, the van pulled up, Kim took the wheel, posed for another shot in his mirrored shades, and drove the band to that night’s gig.

Rock 'n' Roll Icons