New to Boston in the early 1950s, Charles Daniels was on the cusp of adolescence when he found a camera in the closet of his parents’ Roxbury home.
They were transplants from Alabama, where young Charlie had helped bring water to relatives picking cotton in the fields. Exploring Roxbury and venturing to Harvard Square as he grew older, Mr. Daniels brought along his camera, which became a kind of notepad he filled with visual jottings about life.
Then in the 1960s, he began emceeing rock concerts at fabled venues like the Boston Tea Party, announcing and befriending musicians who were becoming more famous by the day and photographing them, too: Peter Wolf and Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix. Those friendships brought access to offstage moments, and Mr. Daniels gradually grasped that his photos might someday become part of history he was watching unfold.
“I considered myself a street photographer,” he told The Boston Globe in 2022. “At some point I realized I had an advantage to do stuff that no one else was doing. That’s when I started photographing the bands more seriously.”
Mr. Daniels, whose thousands of rolls of film — most still undeveloped — may end up being the greatest photographic record of Boston’s early rock history, died Monday in Tufts Medical Center of pneumonia as cancer treatment compromised his immune system.
He was 81 and had lived in Somerville for 35 years in a home where much of his historic trove of cameras, lenses, and film still resides.
When he met Mr. Daniels in Harvard Square in the mid-1960s, Wolf was the overnight DJ on the legendary WBCN-FM rock station and singing with the Hallucinations — his band before J. Geils fame arrived.
“He was extremely dedicated to his craft,” Wolf recalled.
The two became close friends, with Mr. Daniels hanging out in Wolf’s radio studio while they conferred nicknames on one another.
“He was the one who gave me the moniker Woofa Goofa,” Wolf said, “and in turn I gave him the moniker the Master Blaster.”
The friendship and mutual respect the two developed became the foundation for the professionalism Mr. Daniels showed young rock stars strutting through Boston.
As the Boston Tea Party’s ace emcee, he soon was invited to announce bands at places including the old Boston Garden, the Orpheum Theatre, and the Music Hall.
And all the while he shot photos.
“Charles’s talent seemed to be catching somebody unaware, trying to find the decisive moment when somebody was just relaxing and being themselves,” Wolf said. “But he did it in a way — which is so important — that was not intrusive. His aim was an artistic aim, not a voyeur aim. He had great respect for everyone.”
The rolls of film, meanwhile, contained more than musicians onstage and backstage.
“I always felt that the camera was his way of interpreting the world and how much the world changed around him,” said artist Susan Berstler.
Mr. Daniels and Berstler were a couple for about 35 years.
In pre-digital days, when the cost of film was always a factor, “he was very precise in his picture taking,” she said.
One contact sheet she found begins with a few shots of his girlfriend in the morning, followed by scenes from his subway ride and what he saw strolling across Boston Common. “It ends up with four shots of The Who backstage at the Boston Garden, because he was announcing the concert,” Berstler said.
While much of the international attention Mr. Daniels drew over the past few years focused on his treasure chest of concert photos, his undeveloped archive also captured Boston’s day-to-day history in that era — along with the unheralded people who made life possible behind the scenes for famous musicians.
“He had the limousine driver and the stewardess on their jet and the road manager,” Berstler said. “He was taking pictures of everybody around him.”
Mr. Daniels’s work, Wolf said, “is a great chronicle and a great historical record of the times and the culture.”
Charles Daniels was born on Nov. 30, 1942, in Luverne, Ala.
As a boy he spent much of his time on a farm that is still in his family, which during Prohibition ran a speakeasy in the woods, where young Charlie was introduced to the wonders of live music.
“I remember bringing water out to my relatives who were working in the fields, picking cotton. I was like 5, 6, 7,” he told Phil Mistry for the PetaPixel website. “You always had to watch out for snakes. I was convinced there was one snake that was hiding, waiting to scare me.”
Mr. Daniels, who added an “s” to his family’s name, was the only child of Albert Charles Daniel, a cook on the Boston-to-Chicago train after the family moved to Roxbury, and Peculiar McGhee Daniel, a domestic so valued by families that some said their marriages wouldn’t have survived without her sensible advice.
Educated as a boy in a one-room schoolhouse in Alabama, Mr. Daniels left formal education behind early on in Boston.
“Charles was one of the smartest people I ever met in my entire life and one of the most intuitive. And he never made it past the seventh grade,” said Berstler, a visual artist and director of the Nave Gallery in Somerville.
His emcee prowess led to invitations for Mr. Daniels to go on tour with the Faces, through his friendship with guitarist Ronnie Wood, who then asked him to come along for a 1975 tour when Wood joined the Rolling Stones.
Though those journeys produced memories and memorable photos, Mr. Daniels pursued many other jobs over the years, including working as a hairdresser and with horses, but he mostly shot commercial fitness videos and photos.
Meanwhile, his undeveloped rolls of film from the ‘60s and ‘70s waited at home in plastic bags and his refrigerator.
“I didn’t need to see the final result as much as I just thought I needed to pay attention,” Mr. Daniels said, in a 2022 Globe interview, about why he let that last step linger.
With a Somerville Arts Council grant as seed money, he and Berstler began a fund-raising campaign to cover the costs of sending his unrealized work to a developer that specializes in rescuing old, undeveloped film.
In the past few years, Berstler also was caring for Mr. Daniels as he underwent chemotherapy.
“Susan was such an amazing force at trying to rally for his art and his health,” Wolf said. “We should all be blessed with a guardian angel like her.”
She is his only immediate survivor. A celebration of Mr. Daniels’s life and work will be announced.
Generous with time, talent, and equipment, Mr. Daniels encouraged numerous aspiring photographers over the years, often giving them their first cameras.
That same warmth melted barriers that usually protect rock stars wary of hangers-on trying to exploit fame. Many years passed before Mr. Daniels even exhibited his work in galleries.
“It was always totally an artistic endeavor,” Wolf said. “People trusted Charlie, which was important. They knew he wasn’t trying to get a gotcha photo. He was trying to document an artist, and the photographs speak for themselves.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.