Sid Vicious bleeding from a knife wound, on a bus with Paul Dacre – Bob Gruen’s best photograph

I learned photography from my mother. After school, I didn’t want to join the establishment, so moved in with this New York psychedelic pop band called the Glitterhouse and ended up taking pictures. When they got a record deal, Atlantic used my pictures. I then sold some photos of Tina Turner and my career started to snowball. I was introduced to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who asked me to take pictures. Their manager introduced me to Malcolm McLaren, who managed the New York Dolls. I ended up touring with them and taking photos.

In late 1976, I went to see my son in Paris, and travelled on to London, where Malcolm took me to Club Louise, a lesbian and gay club in Soho. The Sex Pistols, the Clash, Billy Idol, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Soo Catwoman were all drinking in the basement. I basically walked in on the beginnings of punk. I remember thinking Johnny Rotten was the most obnoxious person I’d ever met. He was just spewing visceral, an unending litany of insults. I thought: “No wonder they call him Johnny Rotten.” But I didn’t take it personally and we quickly became friends.

At the time, I didn’t think the Sex Pistols sounded very good at all. I couldn’t believe people were so interested

I went to see and photograph the Pistols in Atlanta, the first stop on a short US tour. I had already photographed them on a trip to Luxemburg, so they were comfortable with me. As they were getting on the tour bus after the show, I said to Malcolm: “I hope you have a great tour. It’s a shame I can’t get on.” And he said: “Why don’t you join us?” So I did. It was all very spontaneous. At the time, I didn’t think the Pistols sounded very good. In Atlanta, there were photographers and reporters from the New York Times and Rolling Stone. I thought: “What the fuck are you doing here?” I couldn’t believe people were so interested.

After a gig at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we all went to some strip club and everybody drank a lot. I woke up the next morning, hungover, and the tour bus had gone. I saw Sid Vicious and their road manager John Tiberi – known as Boogie – walking across the parking lot. Boogie had hired these macho hippy guys to be bodyguards. They had no knowledge of the punk attitude or lifestyle. Sid had been meant to get on the bus with his bodyguard but they’d missed it too, because they’d gone back to some girls’ house the previous night.

Sid had wanted to know if his bodyguard’s hunting knife was sharp so drew it across his arm and cut himself about one inch deep and three across, and was bleeding all over the place. They took him to hospital but they refused to treat him, either because he didn’t have insurance or maybe because he was too obnoxious. So he just left it open and raw.

We took a taxi to Baton Rouge airport to catch a flight to Dallas for the next Pistols gig. An airport bus drove us from the gate to the plane, which is what this picture shows. I like the way the suit-and-tie types are looking at Sid. The cowboy hippy guy with the beard is his bodyguard. Sid’s in the middle, reading Mad magazine. He was drinking so much that he didn’t even think about his arm. Everybody else was ignoring him, so eventually, on the plane, I bandaged it myself, pulling the wound together with adhesive tape.

Most of my Pistols pictures sat in a drawer unpublished for years. But after Sid died in 1979, everybody was after images. The two men in suits right next to Sid were British reporters, sent over to cover the Pistols. When this was published, I got a call from one of them, the guy fourth from the right, who wanted a copy. He was Paul Dacre, who later became editor of the Daily Mail.

What I love is the juxtaposition of four cultures: the businessman, the two journalists, the punk and the hippy, all coexisting, even though the businessman is clearly shocked. At the time, people were shocked when they saw a punk. They’d think: “Oh my God, look at him – his hair is sticking up.” But these days, junior high school girls have their hair like that.

Bob Gruen’s CV

Born: New York, 1945
Trained: “I learned from life and experience – and my mother.”
Influences: “Man Ray for making art from photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson for catching the decisive moment and Arthur Fellig, known as Weegee.”
High point: “Photographing John Lennon in New York in 1974. The Nixon administration were trying to throw him out of the country. I felt we should be welcoming him.”
Low point: “Turning down Tina Turner for Rolling Stone because another photographer was expecting to do it. Every time I see the other guy’s picture, I think, ‘I could have done so much better!’”
Top tip: “Try to figure out who this person is and what corner of the room they’ll look best in. And if you want to be a photographer, don’t give up the day job!”

• Limited edition prints from Bob Gruen’s exhibition Legendary Moments can be found at