Fillmore is a very bizarre place. About an hour northwest of Los Angeles and half that time from the beach city of Ventura, it is the Bermuda Triangle of Southern California. Even people who live less than 10 miles away often don’t know where it is.
That quality brings some truly amazing people to my home town, however. A few years ago some new neighbors moved in a couple houses up from ours. This particular house is back from the road a bit, up a surprisingly steep driveway and surrounded by trees — literally hidden from view. When we introduced ourselves to the new neighbors we were greeted by yet another gem: Ronnie Wilkins.
Ronnie co-wrote the classic Son of a Preacher Man and has been writing ever since. His is a life filled with incredible stories straight from the heyday of now-classical music. He was being interviewed for a magazine article and didn’t have any images of himself he liked enough to submit, so he asked me to make a portrait of him. I could hardly say no.
Ronnie brought his keyboard over to my house and I set him up in a wood-paneled room lined with old books and the generally dross of everyday life. I asked him to start playing a track so I could get a feel for what I wanted to get from the scene and he launched into a song that would take me years to be able to play at a basic level and I began seeing what was really important — his hands.
Without his hands, a songwriter becomes an author. Songs become short stories. It is the melody that is behind the words that elevates the diction to the status of lyric. Everything is secondary to his hands. So, letting the aperture slip into the low single digits, everything behind the keys began to blur — promoting his hands but maintaining the visual connection to that classic mid-century ideal from which his perennial lyric was derived.