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Never-before-seen photos of an outlaw biker gang published by LIFE

By David Banks, CNN
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Rare biker gang photos revealed
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LIFE photographer Bill Ray rode along with the Hells Angels in 1965
  • The story and photos were rejected by a LIFE managing editor
  • Now they're being published

(CNN) -- America loves its outlaws, but few of us actually dare to live the lifestyle. Veteran LIFE photographer Bill Ray got about as close as anyone, riding along with a notorious biker gang.

In 1965, the Hells Angels were little known outside the American West. Ray spent several weeks in Southern California, photographing and traveling with the San Bernardino chapter of a gang that would soon become notorious for its hedonistic, lawless swagger.

See more of Bill Ray's Hells Angels photos at LIFE.com

The Hells Angels are now a worldwide phenomenon -- incorporated, licensed and branded. But the gang Ray traveled with, two years before the Summer of Love and four years before the deadly violence at a Rolling Stones concert at Altamont speedway made them infamous, truly lived on the fringes of society.

In a culture where the Beach Boys and the Beatles fought a squeaky-clean battle for the hearts and minds of America, the Hells Angels were, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, a "burst of dirty thunder" that shocked folks wherever they went.

It was a time when the roar of stripped-down Harleys and the sight of long-haired bikers on the freeway -- or riding into a sleepy town -- was still new, alien, and for the average law-abiding citizen, more than a little frightening.

Forty-five years after the story and photos were rejected by a LIFE managing editor, they still have some of that shock value, a reminder that outlaws still have a secret sweet spot in the American psyche.

 
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