Visual Rock and Roll artist Willard Snow is the subject of a new documentary film, Legends and Idols, created by his longtime friend, director Mark Knudson. The pair, as you quickly learn in the movie, are in many ways a product of the psychedelic 1960s counterculture that informed their shared childhood.
As Snow explains, “We’ve been in one another’s orbits since we were kids growing up in [Southern] California. In fact, our mothers went to each other’s baby showers before we were even born. And we came of age at a time when rock ‘n’ roll and pop art was exploding all around us in new and exciting ways, especially up the road in San Francisco.”
Still, Snow recalled that Knudson was the outsider among his group of exceptionally creative friends. “Mark was always headed towards becoming an engineer or something when the rest of us had already gone all in on pursuing the life of an artist. So, at this juncture, where we were both taking stock of our lives and what we still wanted to accomplish, he probably needed to make this movie more than I needed it to be made.”
As the action unfolds, we see allusions to Snow’s (and by extension Knudson’s) younger self, obsessing over impactful musical groups like Yes and the Grateful Dead in elementary school while simultaneously learning to draw and paint. Mostly, though, you’re thrown into the world that he inhabits now as the film depicts the struggles that an art school graduate must face — divorce, relocation, and disappointment with career growth — while chasing the muse and paying the bills.
Yet throughout Knudson’s film, one thing is very clear. Snow is bound and determined to get to where he is going, one way or another.
Spoiler alert: Snow eventually gets his big break. It comes in several forms. Much of the film surrounds a special snare drum project for Pink drummer Mark Schulman. But the most visually striking deal comes from the Gibson guitar company who commissioned him to create giant guitars replete with his portraits of high-profile rockers such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Jerry Garcia and the like. This gig is the big public push that Snow was looking for in terms of name recognition and success.
It was also important to him on a much more personal level.
“Getting to do the Jerry Garcia piece, in particular, allowed me to come full-circle in a way because I remember going nuts over all of the art that was part of the Grateful Dead scene and later finding out that my sister actually knew Rick Griffin, the guy who had designed the Wake of the Flood album cover and a few other items for the band. So, I always felt in a weird way like I was a part of that tribe already.”
While the story isn’t exactly an exercise in name-dropping, a few special guests arrive at various points. Jon Anderson of the band Yes even turns up for a touching scene that gives the artist some of the validation he was obviously craving. Snow recalls that when he and Anderson were getting acquainted, the star shared his own funny stories about meeting the young Jimi Hendrix — first in a Hamburg bar and then again at a London nightclub — and insists on taking a T-shirt home with Snow’s well-known rendering of the guitar god.
“I am one of the few artists that the Hendrix estate has sanctioned to help keep Jimi’s legacy in the public eye,” Snow said. Not a lot of people know that. But after “Legends and Idols” makes the rounds, the word should get out.
Importantly, as the press kit proclaims, this production, which will be available on VOD starting February 23, not only captures Snow’s art, but “is itself a piece of art.” And that’s as much praise as any documentary director, or subject, can hope to hear. By the closing credits you are left with the feeling that this may be the end of the movie, but it is by no means the end of Snow’s journey.
“I think in a way it has already been a success in that the fact that this film was made at all has put Mark on the path he was always meant to be on while at the same time it documents an important stretch of the road I’ve been traveling my whole life for a whole new audience to see. If it leads to future commissions and sales for me, well, that’s even better.”
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