With a new photography book out—“Rock ‘N’ Roll Lens 30 Years of Music Photography and Stories”—showcasing decades of his rock ‘n’ roll pictures, TREATS! sits down with Jimmy Steinfeldt to talk about his three decade career shooting everyone from Miles Davis to Guns ‘N Roses—and what happened when he was asked to deliver a vintage amp to Keith Richards backstage at a Stones show. by Harvey Kubernik
Hey, Jimmy, how are you?
Growing up who were your photographic heroes or biggest influences?
Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Jim Marshall, Herb Ritts and cinematographer Karl Freund.
What drew you to photography?
I wanted a tangible memory of the events I witnessed.
What took you so long to publish your first book?
I started in 1982 so 30 years is a nice demarcation. It takes time for music to change and you can see these changes in my new book. The book was very challenging. It gave me an opportunity to look back over my body of work. I’m certainly very proud of it. I want people to see these photos—on paper! Not on a computer screen. And the only way that happens is to put out a book.
“Rock ‘N’ Roll Lens 30 Years of Music Photography and Stories” chronicles your life in Minneapolis and Hollywood. What flashes through your mind when you see the book in front of you?
Boy I spent a lot of money on film! But aside from that I learned that it’s good to start in a smaller market and if you can make significant progress there then it’s good to try something bigger, to push the envelope.
Let’s go over some of the selected images. Say the first few things that come to mind. Madonna?
The photo editor at Rolling Stone, Laurie Kratochvil, asked me to send my portfolio. When I explained I didn’t have one she said that was no problem, just send her some 8x10s of what I had. One week after I sent her 10 photos, I came home to a message on my answering machine: “We got your photos and love them. We’re going to use your photo of Madonna in the year-end issue.”
I first photographed Aerosmith at Harriet Island on the Mississippi River. Before the show began I had managed to get autographs on an album cover of everyone in the band except Steven Tyler. After the show I asked Steven to sign it. While signing, he became distracted and the next thing I know he had signed it and was handing it to some other guy. “Steven!” I yelled, and when he realized what he was doing, he ripped my album in half and gave me the half with all the autographs. Then he signed the other half and gave it to the other guy.
Minneapois/St. Paul had a strong underground music scene. Bands like The Replacements, Husker Du, and Babes In Toyland influenced bands around the world and especially the Seattle music scene. Out of this milieu came bands like Nirvana.
Guns ‘N Roses?
Backstage with Guns N’ Roses was a Rock ‘N’ Roll sight. Bottles of beer and liquor were strewn everywhere; wardrobe cases stood open, clothes everywhere. Between the band members and all the girls there was barely room to turn around, but Slash was gregarious and friendly. Axl had an attitude; his arm was in a cast that night.
Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.?
Dean Martin is my favorite singer of his era. Along with his fellow Rat Pack members, he did a Reunion tour, but just one day before the show Dean got sick. I was lucky enough to photograph Frank and Sammy, but I’ll always regret never having a chance to see Dean.
Bob Dylan and Tom Petty?
My photo of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty was published in Rolling Stone. Soon thereafter Dylan and Petty would create the terrific band the Traveling Wilbury’s with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison.
Before one of his shows I was outside the stage door where Marilyn was hanging out visiting with 2 or 3 fans. He was dressed Goth but without much makeup, acting and sounding pretty darn normal. At the time I didn’t know much about him; I had come to photograph the headliner Nine Inch Nails. But watching Marilyn I thought, “What’s all the controversy about this guy?” Then I saw his show!
My friend the legendary vintage guitar dealer Pete Alenov called me and asked if I would go with him to deliver a vintage amplifier to Keith Richards at a Rolling Stones show. When we delivered the 1958 Fender Twin Amp, Keith acted like a kid in a candy store. That night I shot one of my all-time best curtain call photos.
Finally, what advice do you have for young photographers?
Try something new on every shoot-experiment with lighting, film, filters and gels. As for your camera, never leave home without it!