Decades old, never seen photos from Seattle’s go-to rock photographer

Oct 11, 2018, 5:40 PM | Updated: Oct 12, 2018, 8:52 am

nirvana, rock photographer...

Darrell Westmoreland's photo of half the members of Nirvana appears in his new book. (Photo courtesy of Darrell Westmoreland)

(Photo courtesy of Darrell Westmoreland)

What do AC/DC, Cyndi Lauper, Hall & Oates, Nirvana, Little Richard, Tom Petty and Weird Al have in common? They’ve all been photographed by Darrell Westmoreland, Seattle’s go-to rock photographer for the past 47 years.

“That picture there of AC/DC, that was in the Tacoma Dome in 1983. In fact, it was one of the first acts in the Tacoma Dome,” said Westmoreland, referring to a photo in his new book.

This is his first book, a 12×12 record sized photo collection called Snap Click Flash, that spans his career photographing rock stars.

When bands would come to the Puget Sound region to do promotional events and meet and greets at record stores and radio stations, the labels hired Westmoreland to spend the day and night with them, taking photos.

“What I witnessed and what I’ve documented in the last 47 years in this industry, I would say not too many people have. I just started getting into scanning and bringing this stuff back again. For probably 35 years I used film.”

Life of a rock photographer

Westmoreland started taking photos for his high school yearbook. When he graduated, he moved on to a local paper and in 1971 he got his big break. He was invited to shoot bands at a four-day rock festival at the Satsop Riverfair, in Grays Harbor County, Washington. This was our state’s version of Woodstock; 60,000 people attended and Steve Miller Band played.

But his favorite time to shoot was in the ’70s and ’80s.

“The ’80s, actually, that was the big hair, spandex. That was probably the most decadent sex, drugs and rock and roll. And it was prevalent.”

In the book is a never-before-seen photo of John Cougar Mellencamp that Westmoreland shot at a Seattle radio station in 1984.

“It was probably around eight in the morning. Mellencamp starts to do his acoustic set and all of a sudden he just stops and he walks around the corner and goes into the conference room. For some reason nobody got up. And so probably a couple minutes went by and everyone is like, ‘What’s going on here?’ So I went in there, I just walked in, and he looks about as white as the page on this book. He goes, ‘Hey, can you get me some water? I’m not feeling well. In fact, I’m feeling real bad.’ I said okay. So I went back out and told the record rep. So they went in there and probably 15 minutes later here comes the ambulance.”

Turns out Mellencamp had a mild heart attack.

Of the hundreds of celebrities he’s photographed and spent time with over the years, Dolly Parton is one of his favorites. But he’s also worked with plenty of prima donnas.

“There’s been a lot, really. David Lee Roth, of Van Halen, he was a diva, an ego maniac, that’s what he was,” Westmoreland recalls. “I mean, seriously, just off the charts crazy as far as I could see and witness. Kid Rock, he seemed to have his moments. I think I worked with him six times and out of the six, four weren’t very pleasant. On the sixth one he said, ‘I want to take you on tour.’ I’m going, I don’t think so!”

Westmoreland’s book features 177 large, black and white photos that he took between 1974 and 2010. He has so many photos, he plans to release a second book just featuring rap and hip hop artists. And 47 years later he’s still shooting. He’s the house photographer for the Tacoma Dome and shoots bands at the Washington State Fair.

You can buy the book here.

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Decades old, never seen photos from Seattle’s go-to rock photographer