Classic Rock – Photographs from Yesterday & Today
Photos by Jim Summaria / Words by Mark Plotnick
Amherst Media, Inc.
Jim Summaria and Mark Plotnick have released a book that features photographs from Summaria’s stints as a Chicago-based concert photographer. Plotnick provides historical and interesting facts to accompany many of the acts featured.
The book starts with “Yesterday: Rockers of the ‘60s and ‘70s.” Here is when we see classic rockers in their prime like Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Rolling Stones. What makes this book more special is getting to see what the lesser known acts actually looked like back in the day – before music videos and the internet. Some of those include King Crimson, Hawkwind and Wishbone Ash.
The next section is “Today: Rockers who are/were still rockin’ in their 60s and 70s.” Now we get to see some of the same acts but in their later years. Some highlights include ZZ Top, Don Felder (formerly of The Eagles) and Buddy Guy.
Summaria and Plotnick recently were honored to have this book included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum’s Archives and Library Collection that is used for education, research and the preservation of rock and roll. Needless to say, but this book is the real deal.
This is a must have if you are a fan of classic rock and/or concert photography!
How to Order:
Send check or money order to:
Jim Summaria Photography
PO Box 414
Algonquin, IL 60102-0414
Price $25.00 includes tax and shipping in the USA
E-mail Jim first at firstname.lastname@example.org for information
Also available at…
Barnes and Noble Online
MRM Q & A with Authors of
Classic Rock – Photographs from Yesterday and Today
MRM: Why didn’t you continue in optometry school?
MP: My real passion was rock and roll. Listening, playing and going to concerts. It proved too distracting during my initial year. I was more interested in Pink Floyd than “pink eye” (the medical term is conjunctivitis)! I already had a B.S. in Science, so I left for a two-year stint selling pianos and organs for the Lyon and Healy Company. At that time, they were the largest musical instrument company in the United States.
MRM: Cool! Could you tell us about your time in piano and organ sales? Any high profile clients?
MP: Yes…I sold piano and organs for one of the smaller Chicago Lyon and Healy outlets. High-profile clients went to the multi-story downtown building where they had a collection of concert grands, orchestra instruments and special auditioning rooms. The company was not interested in rock and roll. Their competitors were. They fell behind the times and consequently went under with the exception of their Harp making business. I learned that a guy in a t-shirt and jeans could have the same means to purchase a $5,000 instrument as could a conservatively dressed person. But I did manage to bring rock and roll to the store I worked at. On occasional Saturday evenings after closing, I would have musician friends over to the store to jam. I had access to a Hammond B-3 organ with Leslie speaker – my dream instrument. Keep in mind how against company policy this was. Very illegal. Although we kept the main lights off, sound was blasting through the storefront windows. We were visible and naïve. I still can’t believe that not one Chicago police car cruising down Irving Park Road didn’t notice and conduct a routine check!
MRM: You came up with The $mart Money $hopper?
MP: I was between jobs. It was a time when outlet and off-price stores were first emerging and elusive. My best friend – a piano teacher – had his finger on the pulse of this trend. He needed a trusted person who could help do the research and had writing skills. That was me. My parents were skeptical but it turned out having a profound effect on my career going forward.
MRM: How was your experience on The Oprah Winfrey Show?
MP: She took a huge chance on two local, unknown bachelors after I sent her a press release. Her producer asked us to appear with a woman from New York who was known as the “Queen of Off-Price Shopping.” Oprah’s producer gave us $1,000 to go out and purchase items at regular stores, then buy the identical items at off-price outlets to demonstrate how much could be saved. We totally outshined the other author. We were putting discounted Air Jordan’s on Oprah’s feet! We handed out discounted food and drink items to the audience, etc. We had a blast. Oprah liked us so much that she gave our book extra plugs. We also got a lot of phone numbers from women in the audience. Strictly to pick our brains of course!
MRM: Did the show air nationally back then?
MP: No. It was early in her career. She was still regional on what was the ABC affiliate in Chicago. But even then, she was becoming the biggest thing in Chicago media and appearing as a guest could have huge implications on whatever it was you were representing.
MRM: How did you first meet Jim?
MP: We met in the late 1970s through a mutual best friend. Among other things, we bonded over music. As time went on, we would have endless discussions about classic rock-era music, concerts, movies, cultural issues, religion, etc. And when I learned what Jim did for a living, I became one of his biggest fans. I think I’m more in awe of his work than his wife. Sorry Sheila.
MRM: How did you come up with the concept for this book Classic Rock – Photographs from Yesterday and Today?
JS: The idea was based on the portfolio I amassed as a 1970s photographer for the rock concert promoter Flip Side Productions of Chicago. Although my individual photos have appeared nationally and internationally in all sorts of applications, I dreamed of having them featured in a book of my own.
But it wasn’t until recently that I visualized the concept of a today section that would contrast the appearance of acts I photographed years ago with how they now appear into their 60s and 70s if still performing. The today section also includes classic rock acts that I had not previously photographed.
MP: The book took many twists and turns from its original concept as an album sleeve-sized publication with larger photos and significantly more text. But compromises were necessary. I am a huge fan of my friend’s work and he admired my professional writing background, keyboard playing and overall knowledge of musician’s jargon and music gear. With both of us being somewhat fanatical about classic rock-era music, it just made sense that we combine our skills and interests to create a book that would bring Jim’s outstanding work together in one place.
JS: I wanted our book to not only be a nostalgic and educational journey for people who grew-up on classic rock, but for younger people who’ve discovered these acts and want to know more about them. I felt that a book with only photographs would not accomplish this, so I asked Mark to do the research and write the fun facts, figures, trivia and quotes for the yesterday section. We wanted readers to not only learn about Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, but acts that were overlooked yet worthy of getting to know for their singularity.
MRM: What were some of the venues where the Yesterday and Today photographs were taken?
JS: Yesterday’s photos were taken at the Chicago Auditorium, Arie Crown Theatre at McCormick Place, the concert club Beginnings in Schaumburg, IL and the Chicago International Amphitheater. The most interesting aspect of that last venue was its proximity to Chicago’s infamous Union Stockyards where at one time, more meat was processed and packed than any other place in the world. The cavernous venue smelled like a barn and the acoustics were undesirable. But some incredible concerts took place there.
The today section consists mostly of photographs taken at the historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL. This beautiful 900 seat venue currently books more classic rock-era bands than any other venue according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and president Ron Onesti. With the help of Arcada management and my artist connections, I was able to photograph many classic rock bands for the today section. Other Chicago area venues for the today section include Reggie’s in Chicago, the Genesee Theater in Waukegan, Riverside Theater in Milwaukee and several outdoor summer concert sites. Chicago and its suburbs explode with outdoor festivals during the summer months
MRM: Who has been your favorite act to shoot?
JS: I enjoyed photographing them all, but my all-time favorite band to photograph were The Who. So much action. Daltrey, Townshend and Moon were so energetic and tailor made for the camera lens. Other exciting acts were the J. Geils Band, Led Zeppelin and the Faces. Most of the bands of that era put on highly entertaining shows and did it without a highly-choreographed support team of dancers.
MRM: Are there any acts you wish you could have photographed but never had the opportunity to?
JS: Bruce Springsteen, Queen and Elton John.
MRM: Could you tell us about the transition from film to digital?
JS: Yes…a monumental change for photographers. In the 1970’s I shot with high speed Kodak Ektachrome Tungsten transparency film pushed to 320 ASA. If I shot black and white, it would be Kodak Tri-X pushed to 800 ASA which I developed myself. I would only shoot 2 or 3 rolls of film for a total of 72-108 photos. Back then I was very patient for that decisive moment before I pressed the shutter. Now with digital, I shoot at 3200 ISO and will shoot up to 1000+ photos per concert. I don’t have to be as patient.
MRM: Back in the day, were you required to shoot the first three songs with no flash? How did that work?
JS: There were no limits at all until about 1978 then the three-song-limit was required by a few bands…but still not many. Flash was never an option. The photos looked better with stage lighting. Flash was too distracting for the band and audience. Still is.
MRM: Did you have to go through the act’s public relations gatekeepers for a photo pass back then? How about today?
JS: Back then, Flip Side Productions would clear it for me. There weren’t a lot of restrictions back then. A person in the audience could bring their camera to a show. Today the Arcada management does it for me. I check in with the head photographer and stage manager of the performing group to see if there are any restrictions. If I shoot at another venue, I get permission from artist management.
MRM: Have you ever been denied a photo pass or has an act not allowed any photography?
JS: George Thorogood. I’m sure other photographers have had their own experiences with particular acts or venues.
MRM: Once you are finished shooting the first few songs, do you stay and finish the show?
JS: Yes…I always watch the show. That’s why I’m there. I’m also a fan.
MRM: Nowadays, what do you think about photographers being escorted around like cattle and then being forced to put their cameras in their vehicle if they want to finish the show?
JS: This only happens with audience members who try to bring in professional cameras. These days, everyone takes cell phone videos and stills but there are occasional zero-tolerance situations. For example, Mark recently attended a Steely Dan concert at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL. Prior to the show, ushers roamed the pavilion and repeatedly gave stern warnings that any cell phone photography would result in one warning followed by ejection.
MRM: Any cool moments when an artist actually posed for you in front of thousands in attendance?
JS: Many times. I had Robert Plant smile at me back in the day (didn’t get the shot as I wasn’t ready) and again recently (got the shot!). Also, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople leaned down and put his face right in front of my camera. Recently Rod Argent of the Zombies gave me a thumbs-up and Dewey Bunnell of America gave me a photographer’s shout-out during the show.
MRM: Do you prefer shooting from the pit or mix?
JS: Back in the 1970’s I shot mostly from the pit but I was allowed to shoot from anywhere I wanted. The side of the stage is a cool spot too. There is really no pit at the venues I shoot at now so I shoot photos from in front or towards the periphery of the stage or from an audience point of view. In the case of a recent Rick Wakeman solo piano concert at the Arcada Theatre, I found it necessary to shoot from the balcony with a long lens to get the best image of Rick and his black concert grand.
MRM: You worked in corporate photography?
JS: I’ve work as a corporate and freelance photographer since 1979. I photograph portraits, editorial, public relations, marketing and events.
MRM: Any advice for aspiring concert photographers?
JS: Start out by photographing bands in clubs. Build a solid portfolio and then make a website featuring your best photos. Then pursue the popular bands. Be persistent without being a pain. Don’t be discouraged if rejected.
MRM: Other than your amazing new book Classic Rock – Photographs from Yesterday & Today, what would you say is your proudest moment as a photographer?
JS: This is a tough one. There have been so many moments. I have been very lucky to have been a professional photographer since 1973. I have passion for a job that I love. And as someone who is so passionate about the music, photographing rock bands and actually meeting many of them has been a major thrill.
I have photographed President’s H.W. Bush and Barack Obama, Michael Jordan and Mickey Mantle, Meryl Streep and Bo Derek. I have photographed CEO’s and janitors, homeless and the wealthy, soup kitchens and famous chefs, inner city life and the privileged. My proudest moment would be when I got to meet all of these people from all of these walks of life.
MRM: What were some of the more enjoyable moments during the creation of this book and after its release?
JS: To date, the most exciting event was our visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame where Classic Rock became part of the Museum’s Library and Archives used for education, research and the preservation of rock and roll history. As VIP guests, we toured climate-controlled museum areas not accessible to the public. We got close-up views of John Lennon’s guitars from The Ed Sullivan Show and the Beatle’s last live performance on the rooftop of the Apple Records building. We also got to hold one of the Purple Haze lyric sheets Jimi Hendrix hand-scribbled as well as seeing apparel, accessories and artifacts. Our hosts at the Rock and Roll Hall Museum were generous with their time and extremely proud of the roles they play at this important cultural institution.
The entire book creating process was enlightening but challenging at times. From the hard work of getting and working with a publisher, editing the photos and doing the layouts. Also, I enjoyed reading the stuff Mark came up with.
MP: Promoting and marketing the book has given me an opportunity to use my professionally-honed skills for something I’m really passionate about. We have been interviewed by some Chicago media legends and getting shout-outs nationally by well-known radio hosts on Sirius XM radio. That’s very exciting!
Along with publisher Amherst Media’s help and Jim’s assistance, we have participated in several author events at national and local bookstores. Classic Rock has been also been picked up by several local independent music and record stores as well as Amoeba Music in Los Angeles, Powell’s City of Books in Portland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum gift shop in Cleveland.
JS: Other exciting moments include an art gallery event and book signing featuring 150 of my enlarged, framed photographs. We have met many classic rock musicians who genuinely like the book. Dewey Bunnell of America and Jim Peterik of the Ides of March and Survivor liked it so much that they bought it! And last but not least, we love exchanging stories with rock and roll fans we have met. Music has been the grounding force that has allowed Mark and me to find common ground with people from every walk of life! The power of rock and roll!