When “Almost Famous” music journalist William Miller filed his Rolling Stone cover story on the rock band Stillwater in 1973, there was one epic incident left unmentioned in the final draft of “Stillwater Runs Deep!“: the great Interview Tape Hostage Crisis.
Had the crisis gone another way, we may never have heard about Miller or Stillwater, because “Almost Famous” writer-director Cameron Crowe’s much-loved rock movie and soundtrack might have never happened in real life.
We learned this from renowned rock photographer Neal Preston, a longtime friend and collaborator of Crowe’s who was directly involved in the missing-tapes imbroglio and knows the true behind-the-scenes story.
He recounted the incident – which is funny now but wasn’t so funny then – in his massive career-spanning 2017 coffee-table photo book, “Exhilarated and Exhausted” (Reel Art Press).
And during our two-hour interview at his Burbank studio in early 2018, Preston shared the story in even greater detail.
In August 2021, “Almost Famous” was all happening all over again with a massive 20th-anniversary (plus one) box set reissue of the soundtrack, deluxe editions of which included a 40-page book with – for the first time – the complete text of the mythical Rolling Stone cover feature William Miller filed.
In the movie, the story is almost killed by the Rolling Stone editors because Stillwater gets paranoid and claims none of it was true. Eventually, Russell Hammond comes clean and tells the editors every word is indeed true, and the piece makes the cover.
But – gasp – there was no mention of the tape-napping. We must investigate further.
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‘Almost Famous’ Nutshell
You probably know most of the “Almost Famous” saga: Turned on to rock a few years earlier by his older sister (Zoey Deschanel), prodigal 15-year-old rock journalist William Miller (played by William Fugit, with Michael Angarano as young William), goes on the road with Stillwater, an aspiring new rock band – lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), bassist Larry Fellows (Mark Kozelek), and drummer “Silent” Ed Vallencourt (John Fedevich), accompanied by their road manager Dick Roswell (Noah Taylor) and later their new manager, Dennis Hope (Jimmy Fallon) – to research and write a cover feature.
It’s the up-and-coming young but uncool rock journalist’s first big assignment from Rolling Stone magazine, working with writer-editor Ben Fong-Torres (Terry Chen). Fong-Torres had read some of Miller’s stories in other magazines and was offering $1,000 for a 3,000-word feature, without knowing how young and green he really was.
Bluff in play with Rolling Stone, William seeks guidance from his mentor, veteran music journo and Creem magazine editor Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He’d earlier given the kid his first assignment for the rock mag – a Black Sabbath story, $35 for 1,000 words.
Bangs warns his young protégé to keep his distance, not get too friendly with the musicians, lest he lose his objectivity about the music. Write what you see. Be honest. Unmerciful. And forget about trying to be cool.
William’s mother (Frances McDormand) had a different piece of advice for her son, not old enough to drive, when she drops him off at the backstage entrance of a local arena for a Black Sabbath-Stillwater concert: “Don’t take drugs!” she yells out the car window, much to his embarrassment.
Miller’s not on Sabbath’s backstage list so the burly, surly doorkeeper won’t let him in the door. Rejected and dejected, the kid then runs into a gaggle of groupies, Estrella, Sapphire, Polexia Aphrodisia, and Penny Lane (played by Bijou Phillips, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, and Kate Hudson). But Penny insists they’re really “Band-Aids,” not groupies, because they’re in it for the music, to aid the musicians’ creativity, not to service their libidos.
The Band-Aids think William’s cute and adorable; they call him “Opie” (after Ron Howard’s goody-goody kid character on TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show”). Another groupie friend of theirs already backstage comes out to take them inside, but the gatekeeper won’t let the girls bring their new friend. As Penny she disappears backstage, she promises to help him get in.
With miraculous timing, the four members of opening act Stillwater and their manager show up at the backstage door, banging and yelling to get inside. Miller identifies himself and asks them to help him get in, too. Not for the last time, refer to him as “The Enemy” because he’s a journalistThey him .
But he them with his knowledge of their music Stillwater finally opens the magic backstage portal for William, who gets his first taste of what goes on behind the scenes at a big rock concert.
The kid basically heeds his mom’s advice about drugs but ignores Bangs’ warning about fraternizing with his story subjects. William immediately makes very personal connections with the Stillwater guys, who invite him to go to their next gig in L.A.
Then comes the call from Rolling Stone. Once on the bus for the assignment, Miller eventually has to chase Stillwater almost 3,000 miles across the country, to New York City, trying to get the last definitive interview with the elusive Russell Hammond (and collecting hotel souvenirs and assorted swag at every opportunity).
Penny and the Band-Aids adopt and look after the virginal young man, and eventually, three of them introduce him to the wonders of nature. At the same time. A coming-of-age story indeed, and just about every teenage boy’s fantasy.
Penny has a crush on Russell, who’s actually married, but he treats her like a groupie; William observes this, doesn’t like it, and winds up crushing on her, too. So there’s love triangulation tangled up in the “Almost Famous” tale.
The entourage shares a series of wild adventures traveling cross-country on the bus, as well as on a small plane, where a near-death experience prompts some startling true confessions. What they learn about each other and life along the way, what it takes Miller to get his cover story done and published, which of , the of the .
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The Movie and 20th Anniversary Soundtrack
The “Almost Famous” movie and soundtrack are Cameron Crowe’s enduring love letters to rock & roll, to everyone involved in the making of rock records and staging of concerts, and to all the fans who support the music and the life.
Crowe wrote the partly truthful-partly fictional “Almost Famous” screenplay largely based on his real-life experiences growing up in the San Diego area and as a hotshot L.A.-based teenage rock journalist in the ’70s.
Stillwater is a composite of several bands Crowe toured with and wrote about, but the primary model for the story was the notoriously hard-partying Allman Brothers Band (the Russell character does bear more than a passing resemblance to ABB co-founder/co-lead guitarist Dickey Betts).
The Macon, Georgia-based rock-blues-jazz outfit was at the top of the rock game in 1973, even after the death of co-founders Duane Allman in October 1971 and Berry Oakley a little more than a year later.
The Band-Aids were inspired by Pennie Ann “Pennie Lane” Trumbull and her Flying Garter Girls, as well as Pamela Des Barres, who recounts her adventures in a 1987 memoir “I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie” and the 2007 follow-up “Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies,” and model/musician Bebe Buell, a paramour of Todd Rundgren, Steven Tyler (Buell’s actress Liv Taylor’s mom) and several other prominent rock stars (the Jeff Bebe character’s last name is an homage to her). Buell co-authored a memoir in 2001 with Victor Bockris titled “Rebel Heart: An American Rock ‘n’ Roll Journey.”
Working from his script, Crowe also directed “Almost Famous,” released theatrically in 2000 to wide critical acclaim and multiple awards, including an Oscar for his screenplay, a pair of Golden Globes (Best Film – Musical or Comedy; Best Supporting Actress for Hudson).
Crowe also won a Grammy for the hit soundtrack album he and Danny Bransom compiled, which included ’70s rock classics and Stillwater’s EP of five previously unheard songs in the same blues-based hard-rock groove.
Three of the songs were co-written by Crowe and Heart’s Nancy Wilson, his wife at the time, with another pair penned by Peter Frampton (the ex-Humble Pie and Frampton’s Camel guitarist who cameoed in the film as Pie’s manager and served as technical consultant), with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready contributing lead guitar to all five tracks.
Two decades later, with the director’s “bootleg cut” augmented by unseen footage and other extras out on Blu-Ray, DVD, and premium video streaming platforms, “Almost Famous” has achieved superstar status, almost universally revered by movie fans, rock fans, industry pros, and critics alike.
The Uber-Deluxe 5-CD/7 LP set – a limited-edition of 2,000 boxes – is packed with 47 songs from the film including classics by Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac, plus six songs by Stillwater, seven unreleased Stillwater demos, and three unreleased Stillwater jams.
Along with the movie’s original Grammy-winning soundtrack album, the box includes 36 previously unreleased tracks like the “Almost Famous” versions of “Tiny Dancer” with Elton John and the cast, The Who’s “Amazing Journey/Sparks,” and Neil Young’s live “Cortez the Killer.”
Also featured are 37 minutes of Wilson’s superb original score (including 14 tracks not featured in the film), plus snippets of memorable dialog from 18 key scenes, and more.
The Uber-Deluxe edition includes extra Stillwater posters, photo prints, and replicas of business cards, Stillwater concert tickets, and backstage passes.
All iterations of the box include a 40-page book with a cover replicating Miller’s high school notebook. The book’s stuffed with unreleased photos, dedications, anecdotes, and memories from Crowe, the cast, and the crew, and a “reprint” of Miller’s “Stillwater Runs Deep!” cover story for Rolling Stone.
But, as previously noted, Miller didn’t mention the Interview Tape Hostage Crisis – which actually happened to Crowe in real life while on tour with the Allman Brothers Band.
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Inside the Interview Tape Hostage Crisis
Neal Preston, who would become almost famous in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s as the official tour photographer for Led Zeppelin, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Stevie Nicks, and more, was Cameron Crowe’s first roommate when the 15-year-old writer first moved to L.A. from the San Diego area in the early ’70s.
Preston was a few years older and originally from the East Coast, but they quickly became fast friends. They’ve been pals and frequent collaborators ever since.
Crowe, in fact, wrote the heartfelt foreword for Preston’s career-spanning 2017 photo book, “Exhilarated and Exhausted” (Reel Art Press).
Preston was in the thick of the Interview Tape Hostage Crisis with Crowe and the Allmans, and reveals the whole hair-raising story in his “Exhilarated and Exhausted” chapter titled “Allman 101.”
But during our 2018 conversation at his Burbank studio, Preston filled in a few more blanks.
He also talked about his experience as the unit stills photographer on the “Almost Famous” movie set and locations, and said the story eventually filmed was quite different from the story originally scripted.
Stephen K. Peeples: Can you just provide an outline of when you met [Cameron Crowe], under what circumstances, how you guys became friends, and how it’s evolved over the years?
Neal Preston: Well, at the time I met Cameron, I was living with a girl who was a PR girl in the music business. She came home one day and she said, “You’ve gotta read this stuff this kid wrote for a newspaper called the San Diego Door.” And I read it, and “Eh, eh, it’s OK.” She said, “He’s 14.” OK. 14 and a half, whatever.
He was living in San Diego and came up to L.A., and we immediately hit it off because he was smart and he was funny. He was also five years younger than me — I think he was just turning 15. All I know is we completely bonded, we became friends.
Cameron couldn’t drive. He wasn’t even old enough to have a learner’s permit. So I used to pick him up at the Greyhound station in downtown L.A., the bus station. I just got my driver’s license. I never had one when I was growin’ up in New York. I’d pick him up, we’d drive to the Hyatt House [on Sunset in West Hollywood], lovingly referred to as the Riot House, or wherever it was that he’d have an assignment.
Creem magazine assignments, or Changes magazine, or Crawdaddy, I can’t even remember half of them. I’d go and do the pictures and he’d do the stories. The magazines were always happy to have me go along, and they just pay me for what they would run.
So, this went on for a long time, till he became a director. [laughs] No, he finally got his driver’s license, but we were together, and we’ve been together ever since.
Our first Rolling Stone assignment—well, Cameron had written for Rolling Stone, but his first cover assignment and my first cover assignment was to be with the Allman Brothers in ’73.
There’s a great story in “Exhilarated and Exhausted” about it [on Page 34-35]—just so you people [reading] know, [Peeples] is behind the camera doin’ this [motioning], “Give it up! Give it up!”
I write the story in the book about Gregg Allman and how Cameron chased after Gregg to get the key interview for the piece.
Now, he had done one interview. We were out on the road with the Allmans—this is the first big band that we’re ever touring with—and we did this small interview I think in Phoenix, at a motel in Phoenix.
It wasn’t the key interview, but it was the first time [Cameron] was sittin’ down with Gregg and talking. You can only talk to the other guys in the band so much. Gregg Allman’s holdin’ the keys to the interview kingdom, as it were.
We’re doin’ this interview. Gregg…he’s a little high, a little out there. Gregg has these little vials on the end table next to the bed where he was sitting, and he’s got an acoustic guitar and he’s playin’ a little. And the vials, he keeps tryin’ to pass the vials around, and Cameron, the writer, politely would decline every time a vial would pass by. But the photographer would politely accept. You know, boom-boom-boom-boom-boom.
Cut to X number of days later, and [Cameron and I] are sharing a room, ‘cause Rolling Stone wasn’t gonna pay for two rooms. The phone rings early one evening, I pick up the phone, and it’s for Cameron. He slams down the phone and says, “Gregg’s gonna do the interview. Finally.”
Now, he’d been chasing Gregg around a week at this point and it was getting iffy if it was gonna happen, just like in “Almost Famous” when the kid’s chasing Billy Crudup around for the key interview. This all comes from the Allman Brothers.
So Cameron goes up, does the interview. I go up with him and take some quick photos of Gregg, one of which 40 years later became the cover of his autobiography. It’s weird how life points you in that direction.
Then I leave and Cameron’s up there alone, does the interview, comes back down a couple of hours later, says, “Oh, man, what an interview!” And he’s holding this brown paper bag with the little recorder and all the cassette tapes in the bag.
He says, “Gregg was really out there, but he was talkin’ about Duane and it was, you know, the real shit.”
He’s in the middle of tellin’ me this story, the phone rings again. I pick it up, “Hello?” and it’s Red Dog, one of the Allmans’ roadies.
“Hey, it’s Red Dog.”
I say, “Hey, Red Dog, it’s Neal, what’s up?”
He says, “Is your little buddy there?”
I hand Cameron the phone and he starts talkin’. The color kind of drains out of his face, and puts down the phone and he says, “Uh, Gregg wants me to come back upstairs, bring all the tapes. I don’t know what to do. Something’s up,” blah blah blah.
I didn’t have any words of wisdom, although, I mean, in retrospect…“Don’t go up there.” But he did what he did and he came back down a little while later, no tapes.
Cameron said, “Gregg thinks I’m a cop.”
“Why did he think you were a cop?”
[Preston aside to Peeples]: ‘Cause he wouldn’t get high with him, like I did. Gregg didn’t think the photographer was a cop.
“He thinks his dead brother Duane’s in the room telling him I’m a cop, that he can’t trust me.”
This is a disaster. First cover story. You’ve now given Gregg all the tapes back. And you’ve got killer shit on the tapes, but you’ll never be able to use it. And Cameron’s distraught. We were both distraught.
When he was up there, bringin’ the tapes back, I had taken my film and put some of it under the mattress, figurin’ if they tried to get some of the film back from me, I’d just say, “Oh, the film went to the lab,” not that I knew the names of any labs in San Francisco. This was at the Miyako Hotel [in San Francisco].
At any rate, the next day, many phone calls ensued between Cameron and his Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres and [RS founder/publisher] Jann Wenner and Mike Hyland, the Allmans’ PR guy. Phil Walden got into the act too; he was their manager and owned their record label [Capricorn].
Cameron called me and said, “I just got a call from Phil Walden, and Phil says, ‘Hey, Cameron, how you doin’? It’s Phil Walden. Hey, you know what, buddy? You know, Gregg found these tapes, this bag of tapes, he doesn’t know how he got ‘em, man, but they’re yours. We gotta get ‘em back to you.’”
However, that was the good news; the bad news is the Allmans are already checked out of the hotel, and on their way to Hawaii, where they had a gig, and Cameron couldn’t…his mom would not let him stay on the road one day longer. Just like Fran McDormand in the movie: It’s like, “You’ve got tests.” And he had to go back to San Diego.
So, it was decided that someone needed to be drafted to go to Honolulu to get the tapes. And I got on a plane, either that day or I don’t remember, as soon as possible, and got to Honolulu. Happy to say that I saw the greatest show of the entire tour, at least when we were out with them. Oh, man, they were smokin’ hot.
And I got the tapes back. I don’t remember who actually handed me the tapes, but they were in the same brown paper bag that Cameron brought them up to Gregg’s room in, and obviously hadn’t even been opened, much less the tapes been listened to.
That’s the story of how we saved the Rolling Stone story.
And it’s funny ‘cause we were talkin’ about that recently. Cameron’s had a wonderful career as a writer and a screenwriter and a director and an author, and things could have turned out differently if he would have lost his job at Rolling Stone over that. So, I like to think that was my little contribution to keepin’ the status quo.
I haven’t really talked about that story in such detail in a while, but it’s just one of a trillion stories that cemented our friendship.
Cameron wrote a remarkable, and I do mean remarkable, two-page intro, foreword if you will, in my book that makes me cry every time I read it. It’s very, not gut-wrenching, but it really pulls at my heartstrings and captures our friendship and how he looked up to me when we were growin’ up. Oh, man.
Peeples: Go figure.
Preston: Go figure. To Alice, Cameron’s mom, I say I love you very much, you are my surrogate mom because my mom’s not around anymore and I will always have your son’s back.
Peeples: Sweet. Now, how did that develop, at what point did that develop into a story idea and an idea for a script and a film?
Preston: Well, I can’t really say, but I know that the early incarnations of “Almost Famous” had a different title and it was pretty much a different story. However you writers figure out what you want to write about is beyond me, but at some point, it morphed from the early script that I had read, which had a different title and was pretty much a different story, into this true story, which was autobiographical, about a kid who’s a 15-year-old rock writer on the road with a rock band for Rolling Stone.
I like to think that whether you like “Almost Famous” or don’t, it is probably one of the most original movies ever made. No one else could have written that because no one else had that experience, and it’s nailed. Aside from a few little things here and there…the real groupies back then were not quite as sweet and sugary. They were bitchier and nastier and higher and more competitive. But the movie really nails the feeling of how it felt bein’ out with these guys and being part of the circus that moves around them. As the kid found out in the movie, it’s not all glamorous.
Stills Guy on the ‘Almost Famous’ Set
Peeples: You worked as the stills guy on the shoot, right? What was that experience like?
Preston: Oh, it was wild workin’ on that movie. Cameron called me and said, “If you’re into it, you should do the stills on ‘Almost Famous.'” He had finished “Jerry Maguire” and I guess he…we’ll just say he felt that I was a better match for “Almost Famous” than the guy who had shot stills on “Jerry Maguire.”
So, I had to make the decision—he’d never seen me on a job for more than a day here or a day there. He wasn’t sure how I’d fit in with the whole crew mentality, ‘cause there’s a structure to it. What he didn’t realize is that was right up my alley because I was startin’ to get really tired of all the travel. This is in 1999, right? God, 19 [now 22] years ago. So the time was just right.
I couldn’t have worked on the movie without being a member of the union, Local 600, Cinematographers Guild. I had to join the union. I had the requisite number of days I’d spent on film shoots or video shoots. [Cameron] had to prove I had 100 days, and I had way more than that. But he still had to write a fairly passionate letter to the union to get them to let me in.
Turned out the letter he wrote landed square on the desk of a lady we knew who had been a photographer in the music business earlier on and was now the No. 2 person at the union. She rubber-stamped the letter tout suite, and all of a sudden, I was the unit guy on “Almost Famous.”
I remember the night before we started shooting—it was either the Friday night before Monday or Saturday night before Monday—I went up to the director of photography, John Toll, who had won two Oscars at that point, and I introduced myself to him and I said, “I just thought I’d say hi and I’m gonna be around,” which is somethin’ I normally do on a tour.
And I said, “Anything I need to know or you wanna point out to me?” John Toll looked at me and said, “You’ll figure it out.” That’s all he said to me [chuckles], which I now take as a supreme vote of confidence.
I didn’t know what to think of it at the time, but to this day, if I were to run into any of the members of Stillwater, you know, in real life: Billy Crudup or Jason Lee or Mark [Kozelek] or John [Fedevich], to me they’re still members of Stillwater; they’re not the actors that they are or that they were playing then. It’s very bizarre. It was like a tour in and of itself.
Peeples: A tour within a tour.
‘What KIND of beer?’
Preston: Yeah. Keep in mind that the actual girl that got traded for the case of beer was a groupie I used to fraternize with in San Diego. I was around for pretty much all the real stuff that happened, but I wasn’t written in as a character, nor did I care if I was or not. I’m not part of the story. But it was like a tour within a tour, it really, really was.
Strangely enough, after we wrapped, I believe, I remember goin’ to dinner with Kate one night, very innocently, and she told me she had just met this guy…
Part 4, Preston: … named Chris Robinson. And right after that, she found herself on the road, essentially with Led Zeppelin, because Chris was doing the Black Crowes and Jimmy Page record. So there’s Kate Hudson in real life with Chris Robinson and Jimmy Page, and she’s just come off of “Almost Famous.” There was a lot of amazing stuff that happened like that.
See SKP’s complete eight-part interview with Neal Preston. And check out Preston’s October 2020 collection of Queen photos from Reel Art Press.
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On a Personal Note: Jumping the Generations
Neal Preston and I met in July 1980, backstage at a Queen concert at the Oakland Coliseum on the band’s tour supporting their No. 1 album “The Game.”
He was shooting the show and I had just left Capitol Records to join the Media Relations crew headed by VP Bryn Bridenthal at Elektra/Asylum Records, Queen’s U.S. label.
My task in Oakland was to see the concert and meet and hang out with the band to get info to be used later for press releases, newsletters, and bios. It was a “pinch me” experience.
It’s also funny in the “Almost Famous” context because I had a chance to meet and talk with Brian May (very friendly and funny), John Deacon (cordial), and Roger Taylor (very friendly, and we could talk drums), backstage in the dressing room (locker room) for a couple of hours before the show. But Freddie Mercury proved elusive beyond a brief introduction.
A couple of years and several more Queen concerts later, when E/A released the soundtrack to Crowe’s breakout hit “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Preston introduced his friend to me when they visited the label’s office on La Cienega in West Hollywood.
We talked about the movie and soundtrack and he gave me some quotes to include in the PR department’s bi-weekly “Newsbe/at” newsletter that was mailed out to media types. As I recall Cameron also asked me what was new on the label; just then I was high on “True Democracy” by Steel Pulse, the reggae band from Birmingham, England, that Bruce Lundvall had urged Elektra to sign (that may be why Cameron dubbed me “Peeps-Mon”).
Fast-forwarding from “Fast Times” past Crowe’s subsequent earlier films “The Wild Life,” “Say Anything…,” “Singles,” and “Jerry McGuire” to “Almost Famous,” in 2000, I was producing editorial content for Warner Music Group’s websites. By then I’d been writing about music and musicians for print, radio, records, and the web for 25 years, so many of young William Miller’s experiences and perceptions resonated with my own.
When “Almost Famous” hit theaters, I saw it with my Millennial son, Scot Peeples, who was 15, in high school, and studying alto sax. He’d already been my music research assistant for a few years and endured hearing my rock & roll war stories. Working together was always a bonding experience, for me, at least, but seeing “AF” together was one of the best. It somewhat vindicated my career choice as a media guy and stoked his teenage dream of producing soundtracks.
In 2015, after studying at UCLA and CSUN and working key industry internships, Scot launched his career as a music supervisor for film, TV, and new media. To date, he has more than half a dozen credits.
Along the way, “Almost Famous” has remained a touchstone for both of us; Scot’s also kept up with every release of the movie and soundtrack in just about every format, and in fact, gifted me with the “Bootleg Cut” Blu-Ray disc when it dropped in 2011.
In October 2019, Scot made the pilgrimage to San Diego for the debut of the “Almost Famous” stage production at The Old Globe, and had an opportunity to meet and talk with Crowe as well as members of the cast. The encounter provided further encouragement.
And when Scot got wind of the Uber-Deluxe 20th-anniversary soundtrack box, it was the only thing on his birthday wish list. As he found out later, it was already on our radar because we know him so well.
So happy birthday, Scot, with love from Mom, Dad, your sister Veronica and your Aunt Ruth, who all chipped in. May “Almost Famous” continue to inspire you.
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Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated multi-media writer-producer and radio/record-industry veteran raised in Miami and Los Angeles. As of fall 2021, he is co-authoring a book with John Van Hamersveld commemorating the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the pop culture legend’s iconic poster for “The Endless Summer” in 2023-24. Peeples is also developing an art book-biography of notorious Texas Artlaw Boyd Elder. For more info and original stories, visit Peeples’ website and YouTube channel.
Article: ‘Almost Famous’: Neal Preston Recalls the Interview Tape Hostage Crisis
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Category: News and Reviews
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com