“Bathrooms at bars are either really bad—and that makes them good—or they’re just bad,” says Ezra Ace Caraeff, the owner of the Sandy Boulevard drinkery Paydirt. Sometimes there’s a little quirk that makes relieving yourself a little more interesting—like chalk to draw on the walls, Pac-Man floors, artistic murals, or just the slightest smidgen of charm in the standard graffiti-covered stink hole where you don’t want to spend any more time than you have to.
As a bar owner, there’s very little you can do to discourage bathroom vandalism—unsupervised drunks make unpredictable decisions. Yet, somehow Paydirt has escaped this customary plight.
“I think it’s Dolly. She’s there and people know,” Caraeff says of the giant, wood-framed portrait that hangs above his bar’s pisser. It’s a photo from Parton’s 1978 shoot for Heartbreaker, a record that was “half country, half disco, and all incredible,” reads the Caraeff-penned caption that hangs below.
Still though, is a bar bathroom the best place to honor your father’s legacy?
Rock photographer Ed Caraeff captured classic images of Jimi Hendrix (notably burning his guitar at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in ’67), The Stooges (like Iggy Pop on the cover of Fun House), and album artwork for Strawberry Alarm Clock, Elton John, Steely Dan, Carly Simon, Tom Petty, Three Dog Night and Tom Waits.
And then there was Dolly. The elder Caraeff shot four of her covers. “I would shoot 1,000 photos of Dolly in a session,” he tells. “And then we’d pick two shots: one for the front, one for the back.”
Between ’77 and ’79, Caraeff photographed a Parton album cover every year, the first being Here You Come Again. Parton had a new manager and that’s when “everything changed,” he says. They wanted to make the queen of country appeal to the pop world, adding her now distinctive insignia (the swooping Dolly signature) to her records—art directed by Caraeff with lettering by Michael Manoogian.
Her 20th studio album, 1978’s Heartbreaker continued her crossover success, with some songs verging on disco. Caraeff’s wife was pregnant with Ezra when the photo was taken, hence, it was an album the son discovered as an adult, but one he was immediately enamored with—not to mention his father’s “ridiculous” cover shot. “It’s a record that I love and I love the photo,” the younger Caraeff says. His dad later went on Parton’s tour bus, snapping photos along the way, and she gifted him gold and platinum records with his name on them.
Caraeff was 17 when he captured the legendary Hendrix shot—the only image that’s ever appeared twice on the cover of Rolling Stone—that would launch his career, and over the years, he amassed an archive that contains stellar pictures of Frank Zappa, Marvin Gaye, George Harrison, CCR, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Bee Gees, Linda Ronstadt, Jim Morrison, and Dylan. Then he quit the music biz in his mid-30s, moved from Southern California to NYC, and became a chef.
Unintentionally following in his father’s footsteps, Ezra Ace Caraeff spent 11 years at the Portland Mercury (several as its music editor) before opening a trio of local bars: The Old Gold, Paydirt and, most recently, Tough Luck.
Sitting in a booth at Paydirt, the man behind the camera, now in his late 60s, reflects on his time in “the hospitality business.” Whether photographer or restaurateur, both are about “making people feel comfortable,” he says. That’s how he was able to capture so many iconic images as well as be a successful chef—that and his passion and drive.
After spending seven months in Portland, his dad is back to his nomadic lifestyle, traveling around the country in his VW camper, Moonbeam, and documenting his life. Although he was around musicians and hippies and music fests, “I worked so much at an early age,” he says. “I never just drove around and camped and slept in my vehicle.”
A fraction of his 300,000 photo archive can be enjoyed in two books published in June: one on Iggy and the Stooges (Iggy & The Stooges: One Night at the Whisky 1970) and another on Jimi Hendrix (Burning Desire: The Jimi Hendrix Experience Through the Lens of Ed Caraeff)—the latter retrospective coincided with the 50th anniversary of Monterey Pop. And look for one on Tom Waits out this June.
“I’m on the road,” Caraeff says. “The day I’ll be speaking in Monterey is two years.”
Between four Rolling Stone covers, prints in the permanent collection at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Paydirt’s bathroom, Caraeff’s body of work is mind-boggling. Yet for him, his present endeavor lights his fire. “And I tell ya,” he says, “I’ve done a lot of cool things, but this is probably the coolest.”