The Original Hells Angels

They're an American motorcycle gang that have captured the world's imagination. So <a href='http://www.life.com' target='_blank'>LIFE.com</a> sent Bill Ray and Joe Bride to spend a few weeks with the notorious Hells Angels, here are the never before seen results.
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They're an American motorcycle gang that have captured the world's imagination. So <a href='http://www.life.com' target='_blank'>LIFE.com</a> sent Bill Ray and Joe Bride to spend a few weeks with the notorious Hells Angels, here are the never before seen results.

From Jesse James to Tony Soprano, outlaws have always held a singular if ambiguous place in America's popular imagination: we fear and loathe their appetite for violence, yet we envy and covet their freedom. In early 1965, LIFE photographer Bill Ray and writer Joe Bride spent several weeks with a gang that, to this day, serves as a living, brawling embodiment of our schizoid relationship with the rebel: the Hell's Angels. Here, in a gallery of never-published photographs, Ray and Bride recall their days and nights with Buzzard, Hambone, Big D, and other Angels (and their "old ladies") at a time when the roar of Harleys and the sight of long-haired bikers was still new, alien, and for the average, law-abiding citizen, simply terrifying.

Click here to see the full LIFE.com gallery of The Hells Angels As You've Never Seen Them Before

1. New Breed - Photo: Bill Ray/TIME & LIFE Pictures/LIFE.com

Bill Ray and writer Joe Bride spent weeks with the Angels on an assignment for LIFE, chronicling bikers and their equally rowdy girlfriends leading lives that -- at the time -- were as foreign to most of the magazine's millions of readers as the lives of, say, headhunters in Borneo, or shepherds of the Gobi Desert. "This was a new breed of rebel," Ray told LIFE.com, recalling his time with the Angels. "They, of course, didn't have jobs. They despised everything that most Americans pursue -- stability, security. They rode their bikes, hung out in bars for days at a time, fought with anyone who messed with them. They were self-contained, with their own set of rules, their own code of behaviour. It was extraordinary."

2.  Here Comes Trouble - Photo: Bill Ray/TIME & LIFE Pictures/LIFE.com

Bill Ray stresses that while the Angels he spent time with smoked pot, and he once saw them "beat the holy hell" out of some other bikers behind a bar, he "never saw these guys involved in anything deeply illegal. Then again, they always had plenty of money for gas and beer. They lived on their bikes -- that is, when they weren't hanging out in bars. Their money had to come from somewhere, but none of them ever worked." Above: A Hells Angel -- with his old lady holding on tight -- pulls a wheelie in downtown Bakersfield, Calif., as his friends watch.

3. Awestruck - Photo: Bill Ray/TIME & LIFE Pictures/LIFE.com

A teen outside the Blackboard seems drawn, like a moth to a flame, by the Angels and their machines. "A lot of the Angels' problems," Bride wrote in the notes that he sent along to the LIFE editors in New York, "come from inquisitive local youngsters ... [T]hey couldn't get rid of those who kept hanging around." It's amusing to think that one of the problems might have been the Angels' reputation for badass, trigger-finger cool taking a hit if they were seen hanging around with pipsqueaks.

4. Meet Hambone - Photo: Bill Ray/TIME & LIFE Pictures/LIFE.com

"Hambone" poses during the ride from Berdoo to Bakersfield. Ray and Bride spent more than a month with the Angels in the spring of '65, "mostly on weekends," Ray remembers, "but the Bakersfield run was around the clock, three days and nights." In Bakersfield," remembers Ray, "I slept on the floor of the Blackboard Cafe -- the bar that the Angels basically lived in while they were there." This photo, like all of the other black-and-white pictures here, has never been seen before.

5. The Old Ladies - Photo: Bill Ray/TIME & LIFE Pictures/LIFE.com

"One thing about the Angels that I found fascinating," Ray told LIFE.com, "and something I'd never given much thought to before I started photographing them, was the role that the women played. The girls weren't there in chains, or against their will or anything. They had to want that life if they were going to be accepted by the Angels. These guys were kings of the road. I don't think they ever felt they had to look around for girls. Girls would come to them, and they would take their pick. And then they'd tell them where to sit and what to do."

6. Women Without Men - Photo: Bill Ray/TIME & LIFE Pictures/LIFE.com

In one of the most extraordinary unpublished photographs Bill Ray made while with the Hells Angels in 1965, a group of women -- including one with what appears to be a bandaged, broken nose -- hang out in a bar while the bikers gather in a separate room. "The men were having a business meeting," Ray remembers, "and the women were definitely not invited there. When those guys were busy, the women just sat and waited. They'd smoke, drink beer, gossip, but they were pretty much just on ice until the meeting broke up. I remember, too, that many of them were surprisingly young: teenagers, or in their early twenties. They didn't look young, though. Riding around on the back of a Harley at a hundred miles an hour in all sorts of weather will age you, I guess."

Here's some other great LIFE.com galleries we recommend :

Maradona: The Highs and Lows,

Muhammad Ali: A Legendary Life

Never Seen, LIFE in Vietnam, 1965

Click here to see more brilliant photography at LIFE.com

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