Rock ’n’ roll pho­tog­ra­pher takes us back­stage for an in­sider’s glimpse.

Lon­don pho­tog­ra­pher tells tales of be­ing back stage with rock stars

The London Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - DAN BROWN

John Row­lands is not a house­hold name. But the peo­ple he pho­tographed are.

The Rolling Stones. The Bea­tles. El­ton John. Alice Cooper. Dolly Par­ton. David Bowie.

He shot them all, so you can think of Row­lands as a walk­ing, talk­ing data­base of ev­ery rock star who rolled through Canada in the last 50 years.

Satur­day night, the 71-year-old Lon­doner takes the stage at the Palace Theatre, as part of his Rock ’n’ Roll Mem­o­ries show.

Each show, he says, is tai­lored to the au­di­ence.

Satur­day’s Palace date is the 16th time he’s pre­sented his col­lec­tion of mu­sic mem­o­ries. He be­gins by ask­ing the au­di­ence, “Are there peo­ple here who re­mem­ber Rusty (the rooster) and Jerome (the gi­raffe, from the long-run­ning chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion show The Friendly Giant)?”

The peo­ple who an­swer in the af­fir­ma­tive are his peo­ple, he says back­stage.

While fans of the rock era may know the names of the acts and their chart po­si­tions and re­lease dates, Row­lands prom­ises to fig­u­ra­tively take the au­di­ence back­stage with him by re­vis­it­ing his many as­sign­ments.

If you’ve ever won­dered, for in­stance, who Mar­garet Trudeau was ro­manc­ing when the Stones played the El Mo­cambo in Toronto in 1977, Row­lands says he can sup­ply the de­fin­i­tive an­swer. Those who say Mick Jag­ger and the ones who in­sist it was Keith Richards are all wrong. It was Ron­nie Wood, he says. Row­lands even saw the out-of-fo­cus shots of Wood the wife of the then-prime min­is­ter and mother of the cur­rent one took in the leg­endary Toronto bar.

“It’s the back story,” he says of what he sup­plies with his sto­ries from the road.

Row­lands’ ca­reer as a racon­teur be­gan in 2009 when he was con­tacted by his in­sur­ance com­pany, which wanted to do an up­dated eval­u­a­tion of his work: neg­a­tives, dig­i­tal files, the whole lot from 1960 on­ward.

Af­ter it was com­pleted, the com­pany con­tacted him and said, “You’ve eclipsed pop cul­ture and you’ve got mu­sic his­tory.”

His first show was in Cot­ton­wood, Ariz., where he was liv­ing at the time.

He re­turned to Lon­don af­ter a stroke in 2012 that left his left side par­a­lyzed.

Part of his ther­apy had been lift­ing cam­eras of dif­fer­ent weights; the same ther­a­pist made him shoot house­hold ob­jects around him. “Pick it up, grab it and shoot,” he was told.

“It’s a fond and warm fuzzy-blan­ket mem­ory,” he says of what he pro­vides for his au­di­ence, some of whom are his age and some of whom are as­pir­ing pho­tog­ra­phers.

On Satur­day night, he even will tell the story of how it all started, with a Brenda Lee show in his na­tive Ot­tawa at age 13.

“I was the per­fect vic­tim for show biz,” he says. Af­ter he sent the shots of the star­let to her peo­ple, he got the shock of his young life when he got a check – for $35 – in re­turn.

“I was floored,” he says.

Does he still have the pho­tog­ra­pher’s eye, all these years later?

“If it’s out there, I can grab it,” Row­lands says, smil­ing.

DAN BROWN/THE LON­DON FREE PRESS

El­ton John Roy Or­bi­son David Bowie Dolly Par­ton in Lon­don Rock-and-roll pho­tog­ra­pher John Row­lands dis­plays a photo he took of a Bea­tles press con­fer­ence. The Lon­don shut­ter­bug has snapped such lu­mi­nar­ies as the Fab Four, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie since he be­gan his ca­reer at a Brenda Lee show in 1960, for which Row­lands was paid $35. Per­haps his most fa­mous shot is of David Bowie, an im­age nick­named “The Archer.”

Steve Martin, who is at Cen­ten­nial Hall with Martin Short for their An Even­ing You Will For­get for the Rest of Your Life show Oct. 19, is in John Row­lands’ cat­a­logue.

Ge­orge Har­ri­son

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