You may not know his name but you probably know his work, now destined to be an important footnote in the rock canon. American photographer Jim McCrary – whose images of Carole King, the Carpenters, Gram Parsons and others enlivened many important albums from the 1970s – died April 29 in California of complications from a chronic nervous system disorder. He was 72.
According to an obit in the Los Angeles Times, McCrary created more than 300 album covers for A&M Records although his image for King’s bazillion-selling Tapestry was the most famous. As the story goes, McCrary was shooting King at her Laurel Canyon home when “he asked if the cat sleeping across the room could be part of the tableau.”
As the L.A. Times notes, “he carried the tabby and its pillow to the window ledge and into the frame. By the third click of his camera, the cat had slipped away but McCrary had what he needed: a picture of both the barefoot songstress and her whiskered feline that became the cover of King's landmark 1971 album.”
That explains why the cat, Telemachus, looks so sleepy and docile in the image. And isn’t that the funny thing about photography: how spontaneous things can become iconic just like that?
The self-taught McCrary also shot the debut album from brother-sister pop combo the Carpenters (titled Offering) and once shot a young Michael Jackson. According to the Times, “Musicians were still on the roster in the late 1970s when a shy Michael Jackson arrived for a photo session for his Off the Wall album. The shots ended up not making the cover because Jackson was unhappy with how he looked in them.
“He took an informal photograph of the Flying Burrito Brothers on the A&M lot in Hollywood for the group's self-titled 1971 album. By then, rock-country pioneer Gram Parsons had moved on from the band, but photos McCrary took of Parsons in Nudie Western wear — complete with marijuana-leaf embellishment — to promote the Burrito Brothers' 1969 album became the most-requested images from McCrary's archive.”