by Kiya Babzani
As we turn onto the dirt road to Sonny Barger's house outside of Phoenix, AZ, the fear starts to sink in. I mean, he is Sonny Fucking Barger, the man that helped found The Hells Angels, the world's largest and most notorious motorcycle club. Photographer Clay Gardner and I are there to shoot Sonny for an upcoming ad campaign for Self Edge (currently running on CH), but standing at his front door with three rabid-sounding dogs barking furiously at the mesh gate, we momentarily contemplated running back to the car.
Living in San Francisco my entire life and having traveled the world, I've never experienced the palpable tension of the motorcycle culture in Phoenix and the nearby Cave Creek area. Over the course of our forty-eight hour stay, every bar we went to seemed like a biker bar, but a true biker bar, not what we call "biker bars" in California. These were real gangs with real beef and real violence between them and it was everywhere. There was an air that something was amiss at all times. Large stacks of motorcycle culture magazines littered every corner of every cafe we stopped at and on every road guys in black leather vests ripped around corners with no helmet to protect them from the hot dry heat or the asphalt.
Before we have a chance to chicken out, Sonnyâs wife Zorana opens the door and lets the dogs out, which only look and sound vicious. Walking into Sonny's house is much like walking into a Hells Angels museum, complete with Hells Angel name plates, comic books, banners, badges and Harley Davidson trinkets.
We spend the next five hours photographing Sonny, starting with a ride out to the open highway, all the while telling us stories about everything from why he rides Victory bikes over Harleys to how Hunter S. Thompson was a coward. He requests that we take a few photographs of his gym so he can send the photos to his friend in prison.
Continue reading and see more images after the jump.
It's no ordinary home gym, but a full-blown body building gym he built in a separate building behind his house. He seemed more proud of his gym than anything else that day. Before we left we took a few family shots with his wife and their dogs outside their home. These turned out to be the Sonny of today, a man that seemed to have built something that became far larger than he'd ever imagined and realizing years later that stopping it would be far beyond his control.
Sonny today spends his days riding to Hells Angels rallies around the country with his wife, working out in his gym, riding his horse, hanging with the local Cave Creek motorcycle clubs, and helping run the Cave Creek chapter of the Hells Angels—all the things your average motorcycle rebel does.
In some photographs Sonny wears an Iron Heartâs 22oz Superblack Denim Vest, the same one he's having his tailor attach all his Hells Angels patches to. A Japanese company reproduced the black rebel vest from the 1950s, which now the most famous American motorcycle outlaw of all time wears. Somehow it all makes sense.
Look out for the full series of Sonny Barger photos premiering this fall in print and online magazines.