Lisa Johnson’s prior book 108 Rock Star Guitars established her as one of the pre-eminent photographers of musical instruments and its follow-up, Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock, is a much more serious-minded affair. Let’s clarify, however. I believe it is impossible for Johnson to tackle this subject in book form without communicating her deep love for the music these instruments produce. Joy comes across on each page of her newest publication.
A collection of photographs chronicling impressive tandems of player and instrument has immediate promise. Johnson, however, builds on that by adding short written passages telling the story behind each photograph and/or describing the effect the band or musician had on her life. Immortal Axes isn’t any one thing but, instead, several and one of those is a love letter to the guitar and rock ‘n’ roll. It isn’t some gushing adolescent love but unconditional nonetheless and infused with palpable gratitude.
Many of the musicians included in the book met unfortunate ends, but many more flourished deep into their careers and continue working today. Some are unsung, respected by their brethren and listeners in the know. One thing uniting them, if nothing else, is the appreciation and abiding love they have for what guitars did for them. Gratitude, again. David Gilmour refers to how his guitars included in the book brought him many pieces of music over the years – as if he regards them as living collaborators rather than mere tools. It’s an attitude that, in one way or another, pervades the entirety of Immortal Axes.
The book isn’t long but robust. Johnson spared no effort laying out its visual presentation, both the photography, book cover art, and writing. She never crowds the page causing the eye to wrestle through an overwhelming amount of detail and the space she leaves in her photography is a hallmark of her style. It isn’t dead space, however. Her use of color affects each aspect of Immortal Axes and, though it is never gaudy, her selection of tones matches up with each instrument.
Several of the inclusions stick out. She opens with Peter Frampton, solo star famous for “Baby, I Love the Way”, among others, and onetime guitarist for venerable English outfit Humble Pie. Reading about Waddy Wachtel’s life in music, even in miniature, is gratifying. David Gilmour, mentioned earlier, is an important inclusion and reading about Ron Wood and Keith Richards’ guitars is especially timely with their recent touring and the death of longtime drummer Charlie Watts.
Johnson includes a few bass guitars for good measure. They are featured irregularly through the book and always paired with a related guitarist. Lisa Johnson’s Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock is coming out at just the right time for the holiday shopping season, but it’s a good purchase anytime. It has exceptional quality on every level and is an obvious labor of love rather than mere product designed to capitalize on the instrument’s enduring popularity. Even non-fanatics for the instrument can appreciate the outstanding quality she achieves with this book.