“In the course of 30 years, I’ve photographed just about every musician you could name,” says Oceanside-based rock photographer Rick Gould.
His list includes Michael Jackson, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Tom Petty, and Elton John, all for a variety of music magazines and album and CD covers. He began shooting music for fun in the 1970s.
“It was a lot different back then. Anyone with a floor seat could walk up to the stage, take a picture, and go back to their seat.”
Gould says the lack of any meaningful security during arena rock’s infancy is what led to the creation of iconic portraits by rock shooters, some of whom became as famous as their subjects. But the laissez-faire approach to rock-star photography, says Gould, changed in the 1980s.
“Nowadays, if you go to a rock show and are granted a photo pass, you are not allowed backstage, on the stage, or even in the photographers’ pit until just before the show starts.” In a word, he says, it’s boring. “Even the clubs have gotten to be this way.”
What are you working on right now?
“I just had a great shoot with Albert Lee. He has the Gibson J-200 Elvis played in G.I. Blues and Don Everly’s original J-200 that he played a lot of the [Everly Brothers] hits on, as well as the 1958 Les Paul Custom that Eric Clapton played with Bonnie and Delaney. I’m a guitar geek at heart, so getting to see and play famous instruments is always a real kick for me.”
What was it like to start out as a concert photographer?
“If you’ve seen the movie Almost Famous, that kid was me. It sent chills down my spine watching those portions of the movie that were photographed at the San Diego Sports Arena because I had the exact same things told to me at the exact same spots where those scenes were filmed. ‘Wait at the top of the ramp,’ they’d tell me. I think I’ve spent half my professional life waiting outside backstage doors.”
Your first big score?
“A photograph of Andy Summers of the Police, which got used in Guitar Player magazine. A couple weeks later, I got a check in the mail for 35 dollars. After that I told my folks, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
What did they say?
“They didn’t know what to think at first, but they were supportive, especially when I made enough money to move out.”
You’ve shot portraits of megastars like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Jeff Beck. How do you gain their trust?
“I think it has a lot to do with my personality, but it helps that I am a guitar player because I can converse knowledgeably about their guitars, amps, or other gear that they are using. When I was working with Jeff Beck in New York last February, we spent more time talking about guitars, hot rods, and friends in common than we spent taking photographs.”
What are the signs that a session is going downhill?
“When your gear is malfunctioning. I have only had one artist walk out of a session in 30 years. I was doing a shoot with Rob Halford in a prop room at the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park. He was not in a good mood to begin with, and my strobe stopped working after about six shots. I tried in vain to get it to work, and Rob eventually got frustrated and mumbled, ‘Get it together, man,’ stood up, and walked out.”
Did Halford get over it?
“Not that day, but I have worked with Rob so many times, it was no big deal. He’s always cool with me.”
Is there an artist you haven’t yet worked with on your bucket list?
“I think the only guy left on that list would be Bread founder and songwriter David Gates.”
Anybody pissed off at you for getting shots they’d rather have kept private?
“In 1985, right after Rick Allen [of Def Leppard] lost his arm, I was hanging out with the guys in Dublin during the recording of Hysteria. I took some photographs of Rick learning to play drums again and some other candid photos of the band. When I returned to the U.S., their manager confronted me at a show at the Long Beach Arena about some unauthorized photographs that had been taken. He said that I had no right to take the photos and that I’d better not release them.”
So did you?
“Yes. They were meant to be personal snapshots, but there was such a hunger for images of Def Leppard during that period, I did release four or five. They were used on VH1 and in some magazines.”
Six albums everyone should own:
1) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
2) Rubber Soul, the Beatles
3) Led Zeppelin III
4) Blow by Blow, Jeff Beck
5) The Best of Bread
6) Hemispheres, Rush. ■