THERE IS A story that Charles Peterson, the renowned Seattle music photographer, tells about attending an exhibit of his images.
That was at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, for his 2003 book, “Touch Me I’m Sick,” named after Mudhoney’s debut single and depicting the grunge era that started here.
A woman he guesses was in her 80s came up to Peterson and said, “You know; I really know nothing about rock ‘n’ roll, but after seeing your photos, I feel like I do now.”
Peterson says it’s the best compliment he’s ever received.
In this story, you’ll see selections taken by six Northwest rock photographers. They span the era from the 1960s, and pioneer Jini Dellaccio — among the first, if not the first, U.S. woman rock photographer — to the present, and Mari Tamura and her photos at a Georgetown bar. Four of the six photographers featured in this story are women.
The common thread among these six photographers is best summarized in the description of a collection of rock images for a 2017 Smithsonian book (“Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen”).
Author Bill Bentley said, “A great rock ‘n’ roll picture is, simply, one you can’t take your eyes off. At the same time, it spurs the memory to play the music inside your head. The image brings the music to life. When it can do that, it’s magical.”
Teen girls encounter a rock ‘n’ roller backstage
The photo was taken at a teen event in 1965 in Vancouver, B.C., featuring The Wailers, a seminal Northwest 1960s band.
The image was taken by Jini Dellaccio, who died in 2014 at age 97. She documented legendary Northwest 1960s bands, doing LP covers and publicity also for the Sonics, Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts, Paul Revere & the Raiders and numerous others.
Photographer Lance Mercer, an admirer of Dellaccio, has a large version of this backstage image at his home. “There is so much happening in this photo. The way the girls are looking at this really good-looking musician (the late Ron Gardner, singer and sax player), and they’re in awe. And he’s looking at the camera. He’s got a cigarette, that swagger. This was taken during a time when most rock ‘n’ roll photography was in the studio. Rarely did you have a live or a backstage photo. Here the curtain is revealing a bit.”
Retired Seattle Times music critic Patrick MacDonald, in an Aug. 2, 1987, story, described her work this way: “ … Dellaccio took action-oriented, creative shots that were years ahead of their time, expressing the kinetic energy of rock with skill and daring. She never took a standard, static photo of a posing group. She always had them jumping, climbing, clowning, sprawling. If she wanted a more reflective shot, she made the background intriguing: Merrilee in a polka-dot suit in a field of daisies … ”
The Sonics “BOOM” 1966 album cover that still sends shudders
This is the LP cover that screams out what the Sonics were about — the explosive, loud, raw garage band that would influence punk music with tunes such as “Psycho” and “The Witch.”
These days on the internet, you can buy tote bags, T-shirts, blankets and hoodies with that image appropriated by a marketer.
The astounding cover image started with a Dellaccio photo, but it was what Zane Baker, a young graphics designer, did that catapulted it into renown.
Then 22 and out of art school, he used Kodak Kodalith film, which gives a very high-contrast print with very dense blacks.
In that era before Photoshop, remembers Baker, now 77 and retired from Boeing as an exhibit designer, he used opaque paint to further mask out anything other than the band members.
Now he had the print as he wanted it. He pasted it onto black paper, and to create a ripped look, he, well, literally ripped the paper.
He never met Dellaccio. If he had, says Baker, he would have told her, “I’m the guy who destroyed your picture.”
The Wailers in their 1965 outfits split down the middle, half-beige, half-black
The duotone stage outfit didn’t last long, says Chuck Pennington, an adviser to Dellaccio’s photo collection. “They were stolen from the dressing room backstage in Portland,” he says. “Never found.”
Merrilee Rush’s mesmerizing portrait
In 1968, she had the breakout hit “Angel of the Morning,” which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Two years earlier, Merrilee, as everyone calls her, was well known in the Puget Sound teen dance circuit. Now living with her husband on a farm outside Redmond, she says, “I got wind of this photographer who did rock acts.”
Merrilee patterned her looks — the long hair with fringe — after Jean Shrimpton, the British 1960s model of “Swinging London” fame.
The resulting portrait, she says, “is probably the most iconic picture of me.”
Neil Young meets a fellow cat lover
Dellaccio was asked to photograph the artist at his mansion in the Malibu Hills. “He was a bit suspicious of me at first,” Dellaccio told MacDonald, but they had something in common. They liked cats. The most famous image from that session is of Young, in his fringe leather jacket, looking down. Dellaccio had asked him to get up on his roof and “fly like a bird.”
Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys sketching backstage
Pat O’Day, the late, legendary KJR-AM disc jockey, staged teen dances and events, such as this “New Year’s Spectacular” at the Seattle Center Coliseum on Jan. 1, 1966. He gave Dellaccio total access to all his shows. She was thus able to take such candid images as Dennis Wilson backstage, drawing on a blackboard, with the middle sketch appearing to be Beach Boys singer Mike Love.
Was it that long ago? 31 years ago, stage-diving at a Nirvana show at the University of Washington HUB Ballroom.
Charles Peterson was there to photograph grunge right from its beginnings, when there were maybe 25 people at a show.
By 1990, it wasn’t 25 people at a Nirvana show but a frenzied audience at the University of Washington. Peterson was watching a young guy get on top of a PA stack, ready to jump off into the audience. Peterson remembers tugging at the guy’s pants leg, shouting, “ ‘Don’t do it!’ I thought he was going to break his neck. But he was going to do it.”
So Peterson quickly got ready for the shot. The kid was caught by the crowd and was fine.
The image is one always associated with Peterson. “I think it’s because it’s dramatic, and it sums up a time and place in our lives,” he says.
Peterson is through and through a local, a 1982 Bothell High graduate, who earned a fine arts degree in 1987 from the UW.
He began his photo career “by just sort of bringing my camera along” to shows, then taking pictures for friends who were in bands, then for the Sub Pop record label here.
Kurt Cobain exhausted at a show for the release of “Nevermind,” Nirvana’s second album
On Northeast 45th Street, just off I-5 in the University District, there is a Petco store across from the Blue Moon Tavern. It used to be the location of, first, a Peaches record store, then Beehive Music and Video. It was there on Sept. 16, 1991, that Nirvana performed.
“After they played, Kurt went outside to get some fresh air, not realizing that all of a sudden he’s been projected into this other sphere of being a rock star, dozens of people surrounding him, pushing posters, etc. I don’t think he really expected that,” says Peterson.
Even with his face hidden, you know that’s Chris Cornell
The band “didn’t want to keep repeating a screaming Chris Cornell,” says Peterson. “They wanted to transition into something a little more abstract.”
The photo was taken when Cornell’s band, Soundgarden, performed at the now-closed Berkeley Square club in that city. A story in the Aug. 25, 1991, Los Angeles Times described the image as, “Cornell — lean, bare-chested, head shrouded in curly hair — as a new-metal icon.”
Cornell himself told the paper of the album cover photo, “ ‘The quintessential angry young man,’ I got that a lot … I wouldn’t dispute that. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not really angry.”
Stadium magic at Pearl Jam Home Show, Safeco Field, Aug. 8, 2018
“We’re Pearl Jam, and we’re from Seattle, Washington. So I guess that must mean we’re home,” a grinning Eddie Vedder told the crowd.
Peterson had full access to take images, not the customary access with which photographers can take pictures only during the first three songs.
That allowed him to roam the stadium and go up to the third level for this panoramic color shot that includes downtown Seattle in the background. A Leica wide-angle 18 mm lens rendered an extremely sharp image because of its large depth of field.
At the time, Peterson said, “If you look closely, you can even see the whole band, and Eddie doing one of his signature mic-stand moves. Extra epic!”
Exuberance: Eddie Vedder carries Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready on his shoulders
Peterson accompanied Pearl Jam on its 1996 “No Code” tour, so named because in the United States it bypassed Ticketmaster, the giant ticket company.
On Nov. 25, on the European leg, the band played in Cascais, Portugal.
Vedder decided to hoist guitarist Mike McCready on his shoulders and carry him around the stage.
“Whenever you’re in the moment,” says Peterson, you start shooting. He says that in half to three-quarters of the pictures he takes, he’s not looking through the viewfinder.
He tells other photographers, “The camera is taking pictures whether you’re looking through it or not.”
A “best” moment for Marieke Havoc, lead singer for Wildcat Rose
The band, which says it mixes early rock ‘n’ roll with country and punk, played in February 2020 at El Corazon/Funhouse on Eastlake Avenue East. It was the last show for the band before the pandemic.
The photographer was Mari Tamura.
Says Havoc, “She documents your best moments as a performer. Moments that I myself would never even see if it weren’t for her lens! That moment was just a split second in time where I moved a certain way. I can look at it and INSTANTLY remember what it felt like to be there in that moment, on stage, at a sold-out show during the last song, giving all I’ve got.”
Tamura, who grew up in Japan, came to Seattle in 1989, ending up at the University of Washington and earning degrees in sociology and anthropology. Fast-forward 25 years, and she started accompanying her husband, Zack Hoppenrath, who is currently in the punk band Zack Static Sect, to shows, and began taking pictures with her iPhone.
That led to professional camera gear, and Tamura capturing the Seattle live music scene in performances by numerous bands. She’s 51 and considerably older than audiences. “I mix in and try to get my shot,” she says.
That’s what punk rockers do. Roll.
Tamura took this photo of the Derelicts in December 2019 at Slim’s Last Chance Saloon on the west end of Georgetown.
Their song list includes such titles as, “—- You” and “Time to —- Up.”
Says Tamura, “The singer, Duane [Bodenheimer] started rolling around at my feet. Nobody in this picture is looking directly at the camera. I think it captures the overall mood of music at a small club.”
Tamura took the image in April 2019 at Slim’s Last Chance.
The alternative rock group, whose beginnings go back to 1981, reunites infrequently, such as for this gig.
Tamura says that in this photo, “I tried to incorporate what was going on onstage as well as the audience’s expression,” with obvious success.
Bloch says he’ll never stop playing rock. “I can’t imagine not doing it. It’s the funnest thing to do. Let it rip, and jump around,” he says.
A wrinkly Iggy Pop
In July 2017, Tamura showed up at Mosswood Park in Oakland, California, with no photo credentials, simply hoping to get close to the stage. Her goal was to capture Iggy Pop’s many crags and wrinkles on his torso, as he doesn’t wear a shirt during concerts.
“There was a fence around the outdoor stage, but it broke with people pushing against it,” she says. Tamura got within 10 yards and got her wrinkled shot.
Kurt Cobain, the loving dad
On Dec. 13, 1993, at Pier 48 in Seattle, Nirvana had just recorded a show for MTV’s “Live and Loud” that would air that New Year’s Eve.
Alice Wheeler, who over the years documented the band photographically, managed to score a ticket to the event. “I wasn’t supposed to bring a camera. I smuggled a tiny point-and-shoot Leica in my bra.”
She managed to make her way backstage.
Wheeler got this image of Cobain as a dad, letting his daughter, Frances Bean, reach out and play with his face.
Wheeler took a photo class in high school in Omaha. She borrowed her dad’s camera, 35 mm, no flash, and in 1978 took her first rock photo. It was a Ramones show in her city.
Wheeler attended The Evergreen State College and took a photo class, “which allowed me to check out for a whole quarter a real professional camera.”
One of her first paid assignments (“I got paid $25”) was taking photos of Nirvana for its debut single on Sub Pop, the Seattle record label.
The result was a cover photo for the single showing a shaky photo of Cobain, taken using infrared film that with its high-contrast blacks and whites produced ethereal images.
A Riot Grrrl gives thanks to Alice Wheeler
Based in Olympia, feminist punk band Bikini Kill started the Riot Grrrl movement. The group believed, its website explains, “that if all girls started bands, the world would change.” The photo shows the band on Oct. 20, 1991, at St. Joseph’s Hall on Capitol Hill.
On the left is singer Kathleen Hanna, who now lives in Pasadena, California, and is married to Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.
She says about Wheeler: “I have a degree in photography from Evergreen. Alice was a big reason for the Riot Grrrl movement. She lived in Seattle, which we thought enormously cool. She’d let me stay on her floor at her apartment — this crazy apartment with hot pink photos all over. I had never seen that before. I thought, ‘That’s what the future could be like. I don’t have to get a 9-to-5 job.’ ”
Fame has arrived for Kurt Cobain
Backstage at that same MTV show taped at Pier 48, Cobain spotted Wheeler, put on a make-believe snarl and said, “Take my picture! I’m a rock star now!”
That is NOT Kurt Cobain’s ghost
On assignment for Seattle Weekly, Wheeler wandered around a homeless camp on Beacon Hill in April 1999.
She met a young guy named James George, who, in his dyed blond hair, plaid shirt and Nirvana T-shirt, had an uncanny resemblance to the real Cobain, who had died five years earlier.
George, now 42, lives in Summerville, South Carolina. He’s no longer the skinny kid from two decades ago. He identifies himself as an “I.T. guy by day, musician by night,” and plays for Marytree, a grunge band.
George had driven here with his then-girlfriend/now-wife, Lynn, and a guitar in a beat-up Dodge Daytona.
“I was young and naive and figured grunge metal, Nirvana … ” he remembers. Of course, they drove to Aberdeen to see the home where Cobain grew up.
“I didn’t realize how extensive it was,” George says about his Cobain look. “I guess we always emulate our heroes.”
Eddie Vedder the acrobat
In an incredible image, Vedder hangs from the scaffolding above the stage at a Sept. 20, 1992, “Drop in the Park” show at Magnuson Park.
The free event was for a “Rock the Vote” registration drive. By then, photographer Lance Mercer had gone on tour with Pearl Jam and had become friends with members of the band.
“A big part of shooting live music is being in the right place prior to what will happen,” he says. “Shooting the same band, you realize that most of them have about five moves or variations of those moves.”
Something that Vedder did was climb on something on stages. Before the show, Mercer watched Vedder checking out the scaffolding, and a special microphone cord with duct tape to make it stronger.
Mercer positioned himself at the rear of the stage, and after Vedder climbed a rail and shimmied across the scaffolding, he had his shot. Then Vedder used the mic cord to make his way down.
In the 2011 documentary “Pearl Jam 20,” the singer said about those days of acrobatic stunts, “You do one, and you notch it up because you survived the last one … if that means risking your life, we’re gonna do it.”
Mercer says that image ended up on various unauthorized merchandise. He’d send out emails about the bootlegs, but, he says, “You can’t chase these things down.”
From that same show, Mercer took this photo of Vedder being interviewed, deciding that standing outside a portable toilet would make a good background.
Mercer is another through-and-through local guy, “born and raised in Seattle.” He enrolled in the photo program at Seattle Central College. By age 23, he says, “I became self-employed as a photographer and haven’t had a regular job ever since.”
For Mercer, as with several others profiled in this story, his preference is black and white photography.
“My inspiration was from street photographers. I wanted things to be gritty,” he says, citing Robert Frank, the documentary photographer The New York Times said was known for his “visually raw” and “immediate, off-kilter and grainy” images.
The camera loved Chris Cornell
Here are two photos of Cornell, lead singer for Soundgarden, who died May 18, 2017, at age 52 by suicide.
In one, he is performing in 1992 at Lollapalooza, the traveling music festival that played at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton.
The other is at a 1996 shoot for the video of the band’s “Pretty Noose” single, at the OK Hotel, the club that used to be under the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Pioneer Square.
Says Mercer, “I heard other people say, ‘Holy —-; he’s good looking.’ He knew how to captivate a crowd. He was just an amazing, gifted singer. His singing voice was beyond what anybody else was doing. I tried to photograph him as much as I could.”
The late, tragic Andy Wood, who simply wanted to be a rock star
Wood was the lead singer for Mother Love Bone, a promising grunge band formed in the late 1980s.
“This person wanted to be Freddie Mercury. He wanted to sing in huge, sold-out stadiums. He loved having his photo taken. He embraced the camera. He was just a rock star,” says Mercer.
Of course, that is Wood, right in the middle of the fish-eye-lens photo.
He died at age 24 on March 19, 1990, at Harborview Medical Center of a heroin overdose.
The challenging art of photographing rock stars
Karen Moskowitz was hired in 1999 to take photos in conjunction with the release of the Puff Daddy “Forever” album, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Puff Daddy, along with P. Diddy and others, is a name used by Sean Combs.
“The concepts were to make Sean look ethereal,” she says.
But, says the Seattle photographer, “I have to say it was one of the most stressful shoots ever. Crazy scramble to get it all set up.”
Moskowitz is known for her work with ad agencies, magazines and big names, finding memorable ways to portray her subjects, whether with intense colors or how her subjects are posed.
“I grew up in the era of albums and album covers. I’d buy an album, take it home to listen and stare at the album cover, look at the liner notes,” she says.
Having studied fine art photography at Indiana University, she ended up in Seattle in 1979 at age 20. She took photos of musician friends (she’s married to Michael Cozzi, guitarist for Sky Cries Mary and owner of a recording studio here). That led to photo assignments for The Rocket, the Northwest music newspaper that shuttered in 2000, and then with Moskowitz flying to New York with a portfolio. She landed an assignment for Vanity Fair, and doors began opening.
Photographing the big names, she has learned that with some, she’ll get only a few minutes. About 20 years ago, shooting President George W. Bush, “I had exactly five minutes.”
She stages and makes screen test shots in advance with stand-in models.
The Combs shoot was supposed to take place in a New York City studio, along with shots along the shoreline at the singer’s place in the Hamptons.
For the studio, Moskowitz had a replica made of a background she had created in Seattle: sheet metal with a pattern brushed on it.
“This allowed me to use light in such a way to create a glow around his figure. The water shot was to make him look like he was standing on the surface. We got a bunch of white doves that we were having him release in the air. This was going to be crazy to pull off on its own, but then just when I had the whole thing lined up, the shoot had to be moved to L.A. for the following week,” she says.
Some of Combs’ wardrobe wasn’t ready, it turned out.
Combs and his large entourage of some 20 people went to Los Angeles.
Once the shoot started, though, Combs was a trouper, says Moskowitz, even when the doves kept pecking his hands before they were released.
“I just cranked the tunes and let him do his thing,” says Moskowitz.
No entourage for Brandi Carlile, “just really sweet and kind of quiet”
In the early 2000s, Carlile showed up for publicity shots at the 4,500-square-foot studio and loft Moskowitz then rented on Capitol Hill.
They walked around the neighborhood; Carlile posed for photos; and, at the end, it was simply Carlile on Moskowitz’s bed.
“She was really one of the more pleasant people I have photographed,” says Moskowitz.
Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, a nice guy after an insane show
On assignment for Rolling Stone on Aug. 7, 1999, Moskowitz was at the Endfest festival at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton.
“I was taking live shots in the front. People were throwing water bottles at the stage. Me and another photographer had to crawl to get out of there,” says Moskowitz.
This image was taken after the show. Hoppus, the band’s bassist and co-lead vocalist, “just had a completely spent look on his face.”
Courtney Love was a trip
Moskowitz had an assignment to shoot Courtney Love and her band, Hole, for Creem, the gonzo music magazine, for its May 1994 cover.
“She was very much a character, a kind of chaos creator. She was talking really fast,” says Moskowitz.
What eased things was Love spotting some little plastic ballerinas that Moscowitz had on a light table.
“She said, ‘Oh, wow; those are really cool.’ That broke the ice,” says Moskowitz.
After the group shot, Love changed into black pants and a black top.
“She had that baby doll thing going on,” says Moskowitz, who took more photos of Love, after the band shots.