Boomerocity

Iconic Interviews & Reviews

Search - Content
Search - Tags
Search - Categories
Support Our Sponsors
  • Andy Timmons Discusses Sgt. Pepper

    Posted December, 2011

     

    Photo by Simone Cecchetti

    Once in a great while, one comes across an artist who is not only good but scary good.  One such person is former Danger Danger guitarist, Andy Timmons.  As I shared in my interview with Timmons last year, when I heard the strains of Cry For Youwafting across the Dallas International Guitar Festival, I became an immediate fan . . . for life.

    Since that interview, I’ve become increasingly aware of the level of high respect given to Timmons among his peers.  Some might even go as far as to say that they would just be happy to be able to play his mistakes.  Yeah, he’s that good.

    During that interview, Andy mentioned that he was working on a new CD wherein he covers the entire Sgt. Pepper album instrumentally.  A year later, Andy shot me a note to ask me to meet up with him for coffee and to pick up a copy of his Pepper.  Boy! Is this album ever worth the wait!  You can catch the Boomerocity review of Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepperhere but, suffice it to say, I think you should add this album to your listening library.

    After practically wearing out the CD, I, of course, wanted to chat with Andy about the album.  Between touring in support of the album and his continued work with Mesa Boogie as well as Olivia Newton-John, it was tough to get our schedules in sync.  We were able to carve out some time while he was on tour with Olivia.  In fact, it was during some down time during the tour, while Andy was paying homage to John Lennon at Strawberry Fieldsin New York City’s Central Park.

    Before we got down to talking all things Pepper, I briefly continued discussion on a topic that Andy and I bantered back and forth on via e-mail a few days prior.  The subject matter was the theme song from a kid’s TV show that ruled the airwaves in the Phoenix area for over 30 years: The Wallace and Ladmo Show. The theme song was written and played by the late Mike Condello who was the musical force behind anything musical taking place on that show.  Andy had mentioned in a previous chat that the Wallacetheme song was the second record he ever bought so I started our conversation on that subject.

    Before you roll your eyes and fast-forward to Pepper chat, just hold on to your Walrus.  This has everything to do with the Beatles and segues quite nicely into our discussion about Pepper.

    “That 45rpm record – I still have the original copy of it. It’s just one of those haunting instrumental tunes.  It’s a very sad, pensive kind of melody. I don’t know if it strikes you that way but for me the tune is very melancholy for a kid’s show. It must’ve been recorded in ’67 or ’68, obviously. It sounded very Abbey Road to me before Abbey Roadcame out – the way the harmony sounds – like Paul and George singing together. Mike always did a great job of copying Beatle-type stuff. He had quite a history of that. But, yeah, it was one of my first records. It’s an instrumental tune and I love it so much.”

    And, just in case you folks think that this is purely a Phoenix thing, realize that greats like Alice Cooper and Steven Spielberg were heavily influenced by The Wallace and Ladmo Show and that the show’s reach spanned the globe.  Andy attests to this fact.

    “I was actually in Sydney, Australia, back in about 2000 with Olivia. I was in a really cool collector’s CD shop and I found Wallace and Ladmo’s Greatest Hitsin Australia of all places!  They had the theme song so it was nice to have a clean version of the theme song! It had all of the Mike Condello hits like Ladmo In The Sky With Diamonds!” Andy laughs at the memory of the fun of it all and concludes by saying of the theme, “It will always be one of my favorite recorded pieces of music”.

    It goes to show you that kids are indelibly impacted by music at a very early age and underscores the importance of music education in the lives of our kids.  It’s a sad thing to see funding of music education fall victim to budget cuts in our schools.

    We shifted our chat to Andy’s current tour with Ms. Newton-John and how his Pepperwork factors into it.

    “We’re actually right in the middle of it. We’ve done three shows and have four more. It’s a brief run.  She’s been very gracious and she’s asked me to open her show with some of my Peppertunes.  So I’m out there doing that. That’s pretty cool.  She loves the CD and is very into it and very happy to help promote it.  She’s a sweetheart like that.”

    As I mentioned earlier, Andy told me last year that he had already started working on the album.  I asked him how long it took to put the project together and out the door.

    “The main time spent was just me coming up with the arrangements. I called it kind of a hobby for a couple of years because I wasn’t specifically setting out to make a record initially. We were doing Strawberry Fieldslive and it was going over great. A suggestion from my Italian promoter was, ‘Why don’t you do a whole set of Beatles?’  I really didn’t think that I could pull that off but it kind of got my wheels turning and I started experimenting with other Beatles songs but not necessarily Sgt. Peppersongs.  I think Lucy In The Sky was the next one that started to develop nicely.

    “I thought, ‘How would it be to play the whole record just by myself in my studio just for fun?’ So, I just started working on other arrangements. I thought, ‘What if I did When I’m Sixty-Four or Lovely Rita?’ – like how I had approached the Resolutionrecord in that I wasn’t doing any overdubs. I was using chords and melody together a lot. So that’s how I approached this whole project. I didn’t want to approach it as far as ‘I’m going to do a bunch of overdubs and try to exactly replicate the record’. I wanted to see how much I could incorporate into one performance while really getting across all of the nuances and memorable things about each song.

    “As I went about it, I also decided that I was just going to do it completely from memory. That should tell you how much I’ve heard this

    Photo by Simone Cecchetti

    music. Obviously, so many people have. It’s very ingrained. But I think it actually helped make it easier for me in that, going back and transcribing the record, per se, would have been a daunting task. Whereas this allowed me to replicate the music as I hear it in my head meaning that, depending how you experience music as you think about it, the important things tend to stick out to me - like whether it’s the vocal or guitar chord or an orchestration from George Martin, or whatever it might be. It’s what helped me thin it out and do what I could in performing it.  It made it fun and extra challenging. I think it’s also a cool story. People like to know as they listen to the record – it makes it more interesting than just somebody who sat at home with 24 tracks or whatever and tried to replicate it exactly. It makes it much more of a personal statement for me as opposed to the other direction.”

    As Andy mentioned earlier, Olivia Newton-John loves Andy’s Pepperproject.  I also knew that other of his guitar playing peers had received copies of the disc – folks like Steve Lukather and Andy’s label prez, the incomparable Steve Vai. I asked Andy what their feedback was.

    “I think one of the most gratifying is Steve Lukather one of my early heroes for many years and we’ve gotten to know each other over time.  He couldn’t be a sweeter, more supportive kind of guy. There’s a handful of guys that I consider when I make a record and I think, ‘Man! I hope they dig this!’ because I respect their ears and I certainly respect their taste in music. My guitar player friends that are definitely Beatles fans , I’m really hoping they’ll connect with what I’ve done because there’s a lot of nuance there that the casual listener may not pick up on but some of the musicians will definitely understand and realize, ‘Alright, this wasn’t an easy feat’ and they can hear the labor of love.

    “Steve – he was so sweet!  I sent him a link to the record before it was released.  He sent me a couple of e-mails over the course of a month, saying, ‘Hey, man, I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet. I’m traveling but I’ll get to it.’  Then, apparently, he listened to it while he had a day off in Osaka (Japan). I probably got six e-mails. He was going off on how much he loved it. He called it maybe his favorite instrumental record of all time.  Heavy praise from my hero!  That was very sweet!”

     

    And what has Steve Vai had to say about it?

    “He was the first guy to hear it – the first guy I sent it to. One of the most gratifying things he said was, ‘How did you get all those chords in tune?’  The guitar, in general, is a very imperfect instrument. You cannot possibly be perfectly in tune – especially when you have distortion. It magnifies all the impurities of the tuning – especially the more complex chords you’re trying to voice with distortion - it exaggerates the tuning imperfections. I spent a lot of time on that. Some songs happened very quickly on the CD and some I had to figure out how I could achieve the tuning, per se, to really make it listenable for me. It’s a blessing and a curse having great ears in that you know exactly what it sounds like in your head and to get it can be extremely frustrating. We went through a lot to get the tuning just right.”

    Bringing his comments back around to what Vai had to say, Timmons said, “He also said that he thought it was a beautiful record and, ‘This is the kind of project everyone talks about doing but never does.’  As I would tell people what I was up to, everybody would have that look like, ‘Really? Is this going to work?’ 

    “I have to admit, over the course of a couple of years – after I had the idea, ‘Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool to actually record this?’ I came in a confident mode where, for a while there I thought, ‘Man, this is really gonna work!’ and then when we did the recording, I thought, ‘Man, I don’t think this is going to work.” It took me quite awhile to get the confidence to really be sure, ‘Okay, I love this. I really think it’s going to work.’  Once I got to that place, it was really exciting!  I thought, ‘Regardless what happens, if a couple of my friends dig the way I’m digging it and the way the band’s digging it, then I’m successful.’ 

    “For Steve Vai and Lukather and other people who have been hearing it along the way – no matter what happens commercially, I’m already way successful with what the goal was – to try to present the music in a loving tribute, so to speak. But obviously, it’s nice that it’s getting out there and it’s selling pretty well. I think there’s potential to broaden my fan base that tends to be other guitarists – which is awesome and I’m so thankful for that – but, you know, largely, I want to appeal to a wider group of people and not just people who play the same instrument. I’m hoping this will translate to connecting with Beatles fans in general.

     

    Photo by Simone Cecchetti

    “Oddly enough, I get e-mails from people now that will start off by saying, ‘You know, I’m not really a Beatles fan but I really like your record!’  I’m like, ‘How could you not be a Beatles fan?’  I was fortunate that I was born in ’63 and I had older brothers that were all big fans so I grew up with every record that came out then. So it’s just ingrained in me. If you don’t grow up in that environment and aren’t exposed to it, you’re not as likely to be as connected.  The youth are obviously connecting when they’re exposed to it. It continues to appeal on such a large scale. 

    “For me, it’s an honor to add anything to the realm of the Beatle world and to have it be so positively accepted by a lot of Beatles websites already.  Beatles Examiner and Steve Marinucci, I’ve subscribed to his Beatles newsletter which has come out every day for 15 years. I sent him a copy. I’ve never met him before but he immediately picked up on it and loved it. I was blown away because I’m sure he gets hammered with Beatle related releases every day. But he really took a liking to it and is helping spread the word.  It’s a very cool time for me.”

    As he finished that particular thought, Andy interrupts himself by saying, “I’m sitting here staring at the Imagine mosaic, by the way, as we’re talking. I don’t know if you ever saw the back of my CD, ear X-tacy, there’s a picture of me sitting in this mosaic which had to be taken in 1993. Here I am, how many years later.”

    With Andy’s extensive network of incredible musician friends, I asked if he’s heard whether or not Paul or Ringo have heard his CD yet.

    “No, I haven’t. But that would be a dream of mine!  I know that (Beatle engineer) Geoff Emerick has it. I haven’t heard back from him. My publicist, Carol Kaye, actually manages Geoff so she gave him a copy a few weeks ago.”

    I caught one of Andy’s performances recently in which he performed several cuts from Pepper, much to the crowd’s delight. I asked Andy what his favorite tune to perform from the disc.

    “Ooh!  Interesting!  I do love all of it. We haven’t performed the whole record yet so it’s hard to say. We’ve done about half of it. Strawberry Fields is still a really strong song to perform live. I really enjoy playing She’s Leaving Home, as well. It’s one of the high points of the record just because it was always the most emotional Beatles song for me. It’s kind of like Paul had really gotten to the same emotional place that Brian Wilson was coming from on Pet Sounds. You hear Brian’s influence on Paul’s bass playing all over the record. But, vocally, that’s one of the influences you hear on that song where Paul gets into that high falsetto stuff. That’s total ‘Brian Wilson’. But he’s mentioned it many times how Pet Soundswas his inspiration, basically, for the Pepper record.

    “But Brian Wilson’s music, for whatever reason, is highly emotional to a lot of people, obviously.  When you think of his ballads - not the surfing tunes - In My Roomand Surfer Girl come from such a delicate, sweet place and, when you know more about his history and his painful childhood, you kind of understand where that stuff is coming from.  That one Beatles song kind of gets to that level.  It’s a very sentimental lyric, obviously. But what Paul did melodically is really strong.

    “Anyway, I took a lot of time trying to get to that same place on the guitar – trying to get it through the guitar in that same way. People seem to really like that, as well.”

    As for what he thinks the crowd favorite is, Timmons said, “Strawberry Fields, I think, for sure. It’s fun when we do things like Little Help From My Friendsand Lucy In The Sky. No matter what country we’re in – anywhere in the world – the crowd is signing as loud as the band is playing. It’s so cool! Everybody knows the music so well! It turns into these wonderful sing-alongs. It’s awesome!”

    For you musicians, guitar techies and gear heads, I asked Timmons about the equipment he used to play on Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper.  You can thank me with tens and twenties.

    “Essentially, its four amps running at once. Again, being just one guitar performance we wanted the tone to be as stellar as possible. It’s essentially four Mesa Boogies. There was one Marshall amp involved on a couple of songs but my Mesa’s were basically beating out my vintage amps. When it comes to recording, it’s not about what logo is on the amp, it’s the best tone wins. It’s gonna last forever, hopefully. It’s gotta be right no matter what. I had two Mesa Boogie Lone Star’s and two Mesa Boogie Stilleto Deuce Stage Two heads all running through four separate Mesa Boogie rectifier 2x12 cabinets with vintage Celestion 30 watt speakers.

    “So one guitar is basically feeding four amps in a variety of ways, split with an A/B box – one side going to the Lone Stars and those being split by a TC Electronic chorus delay. The other side is split by an A/B box and tube driver feeding into two tape echoes feeding into the Stilettos.  That’s the overall sound of the record, essentially.

    “The guitar was my original AT100 Ibanez signature guitar – the prototype from 1994.  On Within You Without You I used a brand new production model AT100 that I set up with the tremolo floating slightly to get those Eastern inflections. I also used a 1968 Telecaster on When I’m Sixty-Four.  I was trying to replicate George Harrison’s Gretsch Tennessean tone like he used on Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and Honey Don’t, those kinds of songs – his Carl Perkins tone. I have a ’62 Tennessean which is very similar to his guitar but the Tele actually sounded ‘Gretschier’ than the Gretsch. I use that old Tele for that ol’ rockabilly/country tone that I got as a tribute to George. But that’s it –those three guitars but it’s mainly my old AT100 – my old faithful – that’s just the home base for me.”

    One thing about Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper that intrigued me was why he included Strawberry Fieldsat the tail end of the album.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled that he did. I was just curious as to why he did.

    “Well, two reasons. Obviously, that was the arrangement that got us started in the first place. But, actually – and a lot of people do know this – but Strawberry Fields was the first song recorded for Sgt. Pepper. When the Beatles came off of vacation after they stopped touring in August of ’66, John went to Spain to film a movie called How I Won The War – another Richard Lester film. While he was there, he wrote Strawberry Fields. When they reconvened in the studio for what became Sgt. Pepper, that was his offering so they worked on that first in late ’66. Then Paul had Penny Lane as an answer. When I’m Sixty-Fourwas the next one. EMI came to Brian Epstein and said, ‘Hey, we need another single.’ So the label pulls Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane as a single. The Beatles didn’t want to put singles in front of the album. But that really was the first track recorded for Sgt. Pepper.

    Timmons added, “We’re about to release an official video of us playing it in the studio.  We shot about six videos a couple of months ago and they’re just now being edited. Simple – just us in the studio playing the tunes but it’s kind of cool to see.”

    I followed that bit of revelation by asking if he was planning to do like he did when he released Resolution and that was to film a full-blown concert video of the album.

    “Yes! Absolutely!  We’re working on logistics as far as how and when and where we’re going to do it.”

    When I interviewed Andy last year, he mentioned that he was also working on another CD in parallel with Pepper.  I asked him what the latest scoop was on that CD. 

    “The only scoop at this point is that there’s 14 new songs that were recorded essentially at the same time as Pepper. So that’s going to be one of those situations like Resolutionwhere I’m going to scrap everything I recorded guitar-wise and redo it. It will be awhile because I’m so focused now on promoting the Sgt. Pepper record and getting that out there. That’s why the Pepperrecord happened before that did because I cut about half of the tracks live with the band and I thought, ‘Okay, this is closer to being done. Let me finish this and then I’ll work on the other thing and get that to the place to where I’m happy with it. That was quite handy by the time we did the Pepper record. I knew exactly what I wanted arrangement wise because I’d been playing it by myself for a couple of years. The band hadn’t heard the arrangements. They had them thrust upon them over a 2 ½ day marathon of Beatles songs. Fortunately, the performances were good so I ended up keeping about half of what I did live with the band. I’m happy to have gone down that path the way we did.”

    As we were wrapping up our chat, I mentioned that I had heard that he was going to be interviewed by David Lowry on Live From Music City and had heard that he (Andy) was going to phone in from a very interesting location for that interview.

    “My dear friend, Uliana Salerno, has a hair salon in the village in New York City. It just happens to be Jimi Hendrix’s old apartment. That’s where I’m going to do the radio interview from. I decided that I would call in from her place. What a cool place to be able to do it from.”

    Indeed, it is.  You can catch that interview here.  If you weren’t already an Andy Timmons fan, I’m sure that you are now.  You can keep up with all things Andy by visiting his website, www.andytimmons.com.  While you’re there, why don’t you load up on all of his CD’s and DVD’s in addition to ordering Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper? You’re going to love everything he’s recorded.

    If you’re interested in catching his work with Olivia Newton-John, you can find her latest tour dates that he will be working with her on at www.olivianewton-john.com/tour.html. Who knows? You just might be treated to an Andy Timmons performance before her appearance.

     

  • Rob Shanahan

    Posted March, 2010

    robshanahanringoShanahan on Drums Behind Ringo Starr - Photo Courtesy of Rob ShanahanWhile working on my interview with Aerosmith drummer, Joey Kramer, I needed some great photos of him to grace the pages of the interview.  As I was checking out various shots on Kramer’s website, I noticed that my favorite ones were shot by photographer, Rob Shanahan.

    I tracked down Shanahan to ask for permission to use his photos.  My search for him led me to a huge array of photographs of many other easily recognizable artists – not only from “my day” but many current celebrities.

    While he was gracious enough to allow me to use some of his great pictures, it reminded me of an idea that I had when I launched Boomerocity.com: Interview some of the better rock photographers who have “shot” some of the icons of our day.  After checking out Shanahan’s online portfolio of artists he’s photographed, I knew that I wanted to interview him.

    I’ve had several conversations with the 42 year-old Shanahan.  The first observation that I had was that, though he takes his craft very seriously, he’s clearly having the time of his life doing what he does.  When he mentions who all he’s had the privilege of photographing, it’s not in the spirit of name dropping but of sharing the excitement and awe just as he surely did when he first started shooting pictures at the age of fifteen.

    Since those early days, Shanahan’s work has appeared on such international publications as Rolling Stone Magazine and has been used for such album covers as Ringo Starr’s latest album, Y Not.

    Early in the conversation, Rob immediately confirmed what I gathered from his photographic portfolio:  Not only is he an incredible photographer, he’s also a professional drummer (and a darn good one, at that), having pounded the skins for 16 years with his band, the Hollywood Stones. He’s been drumming since he was 11 years old. 

    Let me stop right here to plug his band, Hollywood Stones.  The band is probably THE best Rolling Stones tribute band in existence today.  I’m a huge Stones fan and I don’t like my Stones music messed with – even by the Stones.  But these guys are REALLY good.  Seriously.

    Don’t believe me?  Well, then, will you believe accolades from the L.A. Times, NBC News or Showtime! Magazine?  Or, if you think you can’t trust the press to get it right, how about the likes of Dick Clark, Slash, and Eric Burdon?  Yeah, they’re THAT good.

    Their uncanny ability to mimic the Bad Boys of Rock ‘n Roll has taken them, not only all over the U.S., but to the U.K., South America and other parts of the world.  Did I tell you that they’re THAT good?  Well, they are.

    Back to the Stones in a moment.

    It’s obvious that Shanahan’s role as an acclaimed professional drummer has guided him to shoot photographs that reflect not only the perspective of audiences and readers but the perspective of the artists (especially drummers) as well.  His musician’s eye guides him to produce the kinds of shots that his subjects and the readers love and are captivated by. 

    Early in our first conversation, Shanahan had me spellbound with his story of how he met Stones drummer, Charlie Watts.  The story was prompted by my comment of the pictures on his website (www.robshanahan.com) of Watts and that it must have been “a dream come true” for him.  His telling of the story reveals his almost childlike awe of the circles he travels in.

    “Unbelievable!  I should probably tell you how that came about because it’s a really great story.  Do you know Jim Keltner?  Jim Keltner is one of THE drum studio session guys.  He did all of George Harrison’s and John Lennon’s solo records.  He played drums for Lennon on ‘Imagine’ and on so many great songs we’ve all heard a million times on the radio.  He’s just a really terrific guy.

    “I met Jim through the Paiste cymbal company. I’ve become really good friends with Jim photographing him probably a half a dozen times over the years.  Every drum or cymbal ad of Jim within the last seven years, I’ve photographed.  I love working with Jim, I feel that he’s the older brother that I never had.

    “He knows my love of the Stones and I told Jim that I’d love to meet Charlie.  He made the call to Charlie and made it happen.

    “I think the first city that I went to see him was in Las Vegas at the MGM. I go to the ‘Will Call’ and I get my pass and I noticed the initials ‘C.W’ on it.  I realized that it’s Charlie Watts initials, signifying that I was his guest. 

    “I go in and get escorted to the back.  Everyone was really nice.  They knew that Charlie was coming out to meet me.  All of a sudden, Charlie comes in and I was like, ‘Holy crap!’  So, I met Charlie backstage and we had, maybe, five minutes so he asked me, ‘What are you doing the next couple of days?’

    “I’m sure that I had something going on.  I don’t remember but I said, ‘Whatever you want to do!’  He asked, ‘Why don’t you meet me in Little Rock?  I’ll have a lot more time.  I’ve got a lot going on in Vegas with ‘meet and greets’ and such.’ So, I went to Little Rock to meet up with him again.

     “So, when Charlie says, ‘Why don’t you meet me in Little Rock?’, you go!  I went and had a really good time with him there.  He took me backstage and showed me around - hung out in his dressing room.  We talked about old drummers and all the drummers that I had been working with lately – recently, etc., etc.  And then, when they came back into Los Angeles, I had an idea - to get Charlie and Ringo together – again – back together! When was the last time these guys had seen each other? 

    “So, I called Ringo to ask if he would be interested in doing a shoot with Charlie. He said (sliding into a perfect English accent), ‘Oh, that would be lovely!’

    “So, back in LA, the day before the Dodger Stadium show, Jim picked up Charlie at the hotel and came up to Ringo’s.  I was there with Ringo, waiting in the driveway for Charlie. The car pulls up and out comes Charlie.

    “Ringo yells, ‘Charlie!’ and Charlie yells, ‘Ringo!’ and they go running towards each other.  I just grab my camera and just start shooting.  I have this great sequence of them running towards each other with outstretched arms and hugging.  It’s a fantastic sequence.

    “We hung out at Ringo’s house for the afternoon, for like four or five hours.  He has a couple of rooms in the house just devoted to drum kits.  One is with an electronic kit and the other one has an acoustic kit.

    “They went back and forth and played and talked.  I shot pictures of everything and then, at about four o’clock, Ringo looks at his watch and says, ‘Oh!  It’s tea time!’  So the four of us - me, Charlie, Ringo and Jim – are sitting there, poolside, at this little table, having tea and we’re talking about drums, recording, what the Stones are doing now, family, this and that.  I had to pinch myself! 

    “What I did is I put together a book of that day and had it published.  I did just a small run of five copies.  I sent one to London to Charlie.  I gave one to Ringo, one to Jim and I have two copies here.  One that I don’t touch – it’s just tucked away and then one that I show people that sits out in my office.  People freak out and go, ‘Holy crap! Do you realize what you’ve got?’

    “The important thing is the four of us like the book.  I’ve received a call from Ringo, Charlie and Jim, all completely thrilled with the book.  It was a special day and I am thankful I was able to document it.”

    Having been immediately blown away by such an incredible story, I had to ask the obvious question: How did Shanahan break in to the rock photography field?

    “I landed in California in the summer of ’88, fresh out of school in Minnesota.  I went to Minnesota State- Mankato.  Studied Photography and business then moved to California.  I just started taking pictures of whatever I could to make money.

    “It’s a long story but I started shooting sports – I was the big long lens guy on the sidelines of the football field.  I was shooting for the NFL and Major League Baseball. I did that for about ten years. I’m really not that big of a sports fan but I love my Minnesota Vikings! 

     “I enjoyed shooting but my real passion was music.  I just felt that I really needed to start shooting music so I started poking around in the industry.  I figured that I would just go with what I know.  I know drummers and I know drums.

    “Every time I‘d look through a drum magazine, I would think, ‘I should be doing these photographs. Why shouldn’t a drummer be the one to photograph drummers?”

    “So I got busy shooting in the music industry.  The next thing you know, I’m shooting more drummers and more ads, then other musicians– and the phone started ringing. It just kinda goes from there, you know?  You never really set the path – it just kind of happens.”

    My next obvious question:  How did he manage to not only meet, but become the personal photographer and a friend of, Ringo Starr?

    “I met Ringo through Sheila E. I photographed her for a Paiste cymbal ad and she really loved the ad.  Ever since then, she’s called me for all of her stuff. I’ve shot her record covers and her drum and cymbal ads.  Whenever she needs photos, she calls me. 

    “She was out on tour with Ringo in ’06 for the All Starr tour. When they came through L.A., she called and said, ‘Rob, you’ve got to come, take pictures.  I’d love to get some shots live, backstage with Ringo, etc.’ I was so nervous.  I was about to meet Ringo.  I couldn’t believe it!

    “At the time, in the band, were Billy Squier, John Waite, and Richard Marx. So, I’m back in her dressing room and those guys are popping in and out, saying, ‘hi’.  She’d introduce me and I’m, like, ‘Hi, Billy, how’s it going?  I’m a big fan.’ ‘Hi, John, I love The Babys and all that stuff.’  ‘Hey, Richard . . .”

    “The whole time, I’m thinking about Ringo.  Where the heck is Ringo?

    “Finally, he comes in and she (Sheila) goes, ‘Hey, Ringo, this is Rob.’  The first thing he says to me, and this is hilarious, ‘Oh, so you’re Sheila’s photographer.’  That’s all he said to me and he walks out.

    “I’m, like, ‘Okay, that went well.’”  I thought, ‘That’s Ringo!  I was in the same room!’  I freaked out.

    “Anyway, everything went fine.  After the show, I’m hanging out and talking to Eric Singer, the drummer for KISS. I’d never met him before so it was cool sitting and talking to him.  Ringo’s publicist came up to me and introduced herself and said, ‘Hey, Ringo wanted to know if you would be interested in shooting the next couple of shows for him – a band photo and some things for the press.  He wanted me to ask you.’  I’m like, ‘Holy crap! Yeah, of course!’

    “So, that was it.  I drove down to San Diego the next day for the show down there.  I brought lights, brought the back drop and did the band group photos after the sound check and before the show.

    “I remember Elizabeth, Ringo’s publicist, telling me in San Diego, ‘Just do your thing.  Whatever you want to shoot during rehearsals, sound check; if you want to be up on the drum riser – whatever you want to shoot.’

    “I’m up on the drum riser shooting, three feet from Ringo while he’s playing.  I can feel the drums and he’s playing with the camera.  We had a good relationship from the beginning, you know?”

    Shanahan also enjoyed the unique privilege of traveling with Ringo during his trip to his home town Liverpool a couple of years back. While Rob shot around 1,900 photos of the historic shows that took place in England, he also accompanied Ringo and Barbara on their visit to Ringo’s high school and his two childhood homes on Madryn Street and on Admiral Grove.

    While we were chatting about all of that, Rob also mentioned that he was traveling with Ringo the following week to New York City for a PR tour for Ringo’s new record, Y-Not, which Rob also photographed the cover.  While he was in New York City, he also had a shoot with Steely Dan’s drummer, Keith Carlock, as well as shoot Ringo’s various appearances there (The Jimmy Fallon Show, Jon Stewart, TV and print media interviews, and the like).

    I asked Rob the same question that I asked Bob Gruen: Were there any photo gigs that “got away” that you regretted missing.  Again, his answer was revealing in ways that I wasn’t counting on.  He indicated that, while he hasn’t really missed any photo shoots that he regretted, he did miss the chance to do some drum session work for KISS’s Gene Simmons. 

    However, what Rob DID get to do is play drums for Ringo Starr at his Eden Prairie, Minnesota, All-Starr stop during the 2008 tour. He played on the last two songs (All You Need Is Love and Give Peace A Chance) while Ringo was singing up front of the stage.  Shanahan says of the event, “This was near my hometown so there were approximately 50 family and friends in the audience, including my high school band director and his wife.  For all of them to see me play drums on stage with Ringo, Billy Squier, Edgar Winter, Gary Wright, Colin Hay, Hamish Stuart and Gregg Bissonette was a dream come true!”

    Is this guy living the dream or what?

    One of the more surreal moments of Shanahan’s career was when he got to meet one of his other drummer idols, Mitch Mitchell, of Jim Hendrix Experience fame.

    I pick up the story as Rob tells of catching the Experience show at the Greek Theater.

    “I went to their gig at the Greek Theater last fall.  I met up with Mitch during the sound check and had a photo shoot with him with his brand new DW drum kit that he was so excited about.  It was the day before his birthday and he was getting birthday cards and calls from family.  He was in really great spirits.

    “We were talking about his new drum kit from DW and the photo shoot went great.  Then we had dinner with Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, who was playing guitar on the tour. I’m telling you, that was a trip!  It was really a great experience.

     “The show was fantastic.  Then, three or four days later, I’m driving home from the gym and I hear on the radio, ‘This just in: Mitch Mitchell was found dead in his hotel room.’   I couldn’t believe it!”

    “After the initial shock and disbelief, my first thought was that I may have the last photos of him alive. And it turns out that I do – the last real photo shoot.  He had a show after the L.A. show in Seattle and there were a photographer from the local paper that had a few live shots that went around on the news wire.  But, my shots were the last one-on-one posed shots. I had a few on Getty Images’ website that went world-wide but I didn’t really want to exploit them, you know.  His wife, Dee, called me to see some photos.  I sent her a real beautiful print, and also sent one to Drum Workshop – the company that made his drum kit.  They got Mitch’s kit back after the tour was over, and have it displayed at their showroom up in Oxnard.  It’s really beautiful.  They have it under beautiful lights, on display, along with my picture of him sitting with that very kit. I wish I could tell his daughter how much the birthday card she sent had meant to him. He proudly carried it around and was showing everybody that night I was with him”

    What hasn’t Shanahan done that he wants to do, photography-wise?

    “I’m still dying to do some work with all of the Stones – the whole band.  I would love to be able to be their number one photographer – their go-to guy.  I think that would be fantastic!  Kind of like I do for Ringo.

    “There was a rumor going around the internet a couple of months ago that Charlie Watts was retiring, was quitting the Stones.  He didn’t want to tour any more.  I immediately got on the phone and called five drummers, friends of mine who had worked with the Stones, Curt Biscara (Jagger’s solo records), Charlie Drayton (Keith Richard’s old band, Expensive Wino’s), and I called Jim and I said, ‘Man, if the Stones are going out on tour and they need a drummer, obviously, I would LOVE to do the gig!’ That would really be my all-time goal.

    “Curt has seen my band play and he said, ‘Dude!  You have to do that!  Nobody else can do that but you.  You would have to do it!’ So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  It’s a far out dream but, you know, hey?”

    As our chat progressed, Rob drops another gem into my ear canal.

    “I should tell you about my working with Paul and Ringo together.  It was at the Love - Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas. I was hired by Apple Corps to do photos for the one year anniversary. Paul was there; Ringo, Olivia and Yoko; George Martin; all the Apple people; all the EMI people; all of the record execs.  It was a pretty big thing.

    “So, all I did was follow Ringo and Paul around the whole day. Larry King was there and they taped a show. Just before we were going on to the Larry set I asked them, ‘So, when was the last time you guys danced?’  They looked at each other and started spinning around so I started shooting.  I have this really great photo sequence of the two of them having a dancing moment.”

     “So, fast forward to June of this year when the Beatles’ Rock Band was coming out.  They hired me to do the promo photos for the cover of USAToday.  It was downtown at the USC Galen Event Center.  It was the official press launch for Beatles Rock Band. CNN as there; USAToday, CBS, NBC, etc. – all the biggies.

    “We’re waiting for Paul and he walks in.  He’s the last to arrive. He eventually walks over to where I had a studio set-up and says ‘Hey, Rob, how’s it going?’  I’m thinking, “Wow.  This is Paul McCartney and he just remembered my name!  He’s freaking me out!  He then asks, ‘How ya doin’?  How ya been?  I’m glad you’re on this!’

    “I put him and Ringo in the white background and started shooting.  They started clowning around – their usual selves.  It was fun to shoot those two again.  I realized that, whenever those two get together, I get the call.  It’s a good feeling.  It’s something special.”

    No doubt, this speaks volumes of Rob’s work and his respect for his clients who then become friends.

    Still speaking about that particular photo shoot, Rob continues, “Paul actually wanted to go through and pick out the shots with me.  So, immediately after the photo shoot, while he went off to do interviews, I uploaded the pictures into my laptop.  I quickly edited the shots down to about 40 before he came back to view them.”

    “Paul and I then went through them and picked out 10 shots – it was just me and Paul, working at my computer.  It was a trip, man!  It was funny because he was chewing gum during the photo shoot, which is a big no-no, and you could see it in the corner of his mouth on a few of the shots.  Of the ones we liked, you could see the gum!

    “So, he asked me, ‘So, can you remove the chewy?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, of course!’ So, I retouched out the gum. Did my magic with PhotoShop. The photo ended up on the cover of USAToday.  I couldn’t have been prouder than getting a copy of USAToday and seeing my photo with my photo credit with Paul and Ringo on the cover.  I thought it was going to be on the cover of the music section but it was on the cover of the ‘A’ section, the front page, above the fold – like BIG!”

    With Rob’s legacy in the business, he obviously has a vast collection of photos of a myriad of people playing a wide variety of instruments across all genres of music.  As has already been mentioned, Shanahan has been shooting all the top talent who endorse Drum Workshop drums.  It was during one of the calls with Rob that he mentioned that the company wants to publish a book of his photos of their artist.

    While describing the book project, he says, “Unfortunately, it’s not going to be the definitive collection of all of my drummer photos.  Since it’s a Drum Workshop book, they only want to use the drummers that play their drums, of course.  There won’t be any of my ‘Ringo’ or any of the non-DW drummers, although, some day, I’ll have THAT book out.

    While it’s obvious that Rob’s formal education in photography has served him well, his business studies from his college days has come in handy, too.  In listening to him describe some of the agreements and licensing deals that he has negotiated, it caused my inner business geek to salivate with envy.  The guy is certainly no dummy, that’s for sure.  Case in point, while discussing the cover shots for Ringo’s latest album, Rob shares the following story:

    “I was able to negotiate a licensing deal with Universal Music because they wanted to use the cover art for t-shirts.  So, that was in addition to what Ringo paid me for the album and the design.  Universal came out and said, ‘Hey, we really like the cover.  Ringo wanted us to contact you to find out about licensing the image and the art.’  That was actually a nice bonus surprise that I really wasn’t thinking about.

    “So, as a result, I’m more keenly aware of licensing opportunities and doing stuff like t-shirts and merchandise and limited edition prints and stuff like that.”

    As the old Ronco commercials used to say, “But wait!  There’s more!”  Rob shares this story about the events leading up to the retrospective/gallery show of Ringo’s career in the historic “Studio A” at Capitol records.

    “Ringo, Barbara and I got together at his house, looking through a bunch of photos on my laptop.  We needed to pick some photos to display at the Walk of Fame event at Capitol Records. Ringo was getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and having a party in Studio A. We ended up picking ten, and of those ten, seven were mine and three were from a collection I got from Apple Corps in London. I had all ten of these photos printed 4x5 feet and hung on display for the party.

     “In dealing with Apple, they sent me their FTP site and password and all of that.  I got into the folder and I’m looking at these photos that I realized have never been released!  Old Beatles photographs that, through the years and for whatever reason, have been sitting in their archives.

    “A lot of them have been digitized – probably just scanned and sitting in this folder at Apple.  It was amazing going through these because I’d never seen 80% of them.  It was their own private collection - pretty amazing stuff.

     “I showed them a ‘before and after’ of what I did with one of the photos.  They go, ‘Wow, we really need to have you do that (the restoration).  It would be great to have you restore them for historical purposes.’”

    Later in the conversation he shares this story about the iconic, “Abbey Road” photo and its restoration.

    “I zoomed in really close and started looking around in that photo, which is kind of eerie because I know that the license plate means something to a bunch of people.  Paul’s barefoot.  There’s a guy standing on the right side of the frame, looking at them.  There’s all these little things going on in that photo that, through the years, the total Beatles freaks have claimed to be some iconic meaning.

    “So, I’m diving into that photo in super high res, seeing that picture big on my 30” monitor.  I zoomed in on that thing at 400% or 500%.  I noticed that there was trash on the right side of the frame in the gutter – like wrappers or an empty cup or something. 

    “I realized that I could clean up trash on the curb and I could clean up the photo a little bit. But do I really want to alter the historical significance?  So I decided not to and left that one pretty much alone.  But the other ones – there’s a photo of Ringo playing drums – an old black and white photo that Ringo really liked.  But it was a scan from a black and white print that was made in an old dark room.  You can see a bunch of dust specs and little hairs.”

    The story begged the question:  Was there a particular photo that he saw and restored that had a particular impact on him?

    “Let’s see.  There’s one shot of Ringo sitting on his drum riser, like it might be between takes on a TV set or something.  He’s got the classic black oyster pearl drum kit up on the drum riser.  The drum riser looks like it’s about five feet tall.  Ringo’s sitting on the drum riser – on the high hat side. He’s got a cigarette in his hand, just kind of leaning down, looking at the floor. 

    “It’s a moment that the photographer captured, in the middle of the mayhem and the screaming and the Beatlemania.  This looked like this is one of the only places that Ringo felt truly safe – on his drum riser - his place of Zen. I had a good time studying that photo.  It was good to see my friend, Ringo, enjoy a little peacefulness in the middle of the madness that was his life at that time.”

    How does Ringo compare to the other drummers Rob knows?

    “To compare Ringo to other drummers is really hard for me because, of all the drummers that I’ve met over the years – and I’ve met a lot of them – I don’t think any of them can relate to what Ringo has gone through.  To be a member of the Beatles, the British Invasion and all of that stuff, I don’t think anyone can relate, except, maybe, Charlie Watts.

    “I would say that Charlie is really quite different than Ringo.  Ringo has a real outgoing personality.  Very funny and witty.  He likes talking to people and interacting with people.  What he doesn’t like is people coming up to him and asking for a photo or to sign stuff. 

    “Charlie, on the other hand, is really quiet – in his own little space.  He doesn’t like all the adulation.  He would rather be playing in a jazz band in Harlem somewhere with 50 people in the audience.  He’d be happy with that.”

    It’s clear that Rob knows it photographic subjects from a perspective that I would dare say no other rock photographer does:  From their place on the stage whether it be the microphone, the keyboards, guitar or drum riser.  When you couple that with the profession respect and awe that Shanahan brings to the photo shoot, one understands why he connects with his subjects in a rare and refreshing way. 

    Rob will, no doubt, continue to make his incredible mark in the realm of Rock photography.  You can keep up with his work by visiting www.robshanahan.com.  As hinted at previously, keep your eyes open for books that showcase his incredible work.

Featured Photo

Jim Keltner.Broken Glass DW

Our Featured Photo by Boomerocity friend and famed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan (robshanahan.com), is is a bit different from past featured photos. 

 

 

The Boomerocity Interview Vault

Interviews

Posted July 2017 Rarely does an artist grab one’s attention right out of the musical chute. Sometim...

Read more

Boomerocity on Facebook