Brad Elterman began photographing bands in L.A. in the late '70s and early '80s. He was still a teenager, punk music was hitting and the Sunset Strip was in full effect. Elterman shot everyone from Bowie to the Beatles, but then stopped. “The cool bands who I was friends with, like The Runaways and The Ramones, had broke up and the the PR machine came on the scene and they started to behave like monsters,” he says. “So it just was not fun anymore.”
Elterman put his archives and cameras into storage for three decades, but returned to photography with the rise of the Internet. “I discovered Tumblr and I became hooked,” Elterman says. Now shooting for fashion brands, modern bands and Purple magazine's Purple Diary, Elterman chronicled his Sunset Strip heyday in his recently released book, Dog Dance. Here, in his own words, he tells the stories behind some of his most iconic images.
Robert Plant in a Speedo, 1978
I got a wireless call from mentor [photographer] Richard Creamer that Robert Plant was kicking a soccer ball at my local park in Encino. I lived in Sherman Oaks at home with my parents and it was right around the corner. I got there, found Plant and took a few photos of him kicking a soccer ball in his Speedo. I had already been turned down for a photo pass to their sold-out L.A. gigs, so I felt that I had nothing to lose. Long story shot, Plant went nuts and I got the hell out of there. Looking back now, three decades later, this was so much better than photographing the first three songs of a concert.
Duran Duran on the Sunset Strip, 1982
I was taking photos for Japanese rock magazines and these publishing houses would pay small fortunes for photographs of rock stars out and about in L.A. Duran Duran was playing their first L.A gig at the Whisky A Go Go and they were staying at the Hyatt House on the Sunset Strip. I called their road manager at the hotel and told them that I shot for Rock Show and we made an appointment. I met the lads up on the rooftop pool and then strolled down the Strip. John Taylor told me that he had been seeing my photos in the U.K. and Japan, and that just made my day. Once out on the Strip, Simon spotted a cool, old Lincoln Continental sitting there unlocked. The band piled in and I took some photos. The parking lot is still there, but the car and billboard are gone.
Marie Currie, Vicki Razor Blade and Cherie Currie, 1977
This photo is Cherie Currie, the lead singer of The Runaways, on the right, her twin sister Marie is on the left, and the doll in the middle is Vicki Razor Blade from Venus & the Razor Blades. I had never seen Marie before, and before this day I did not have a clue that Cherie had a twin. My session was supposed to be just with Cherie at home, way out in the San Fernando Valley. At first sight of Marie, I did a massive double take, and it was a must that she be in the photo. Vicki Razor Blade just sort of showed up looking hot and stylish. Needless to say, the Japanese went nuts where they saw these photos. These sort of things just do not happen today.
John Lennon and Ringo Starr, 1976
Photos of any of the members of the Beatles post-breakup were incredibly rare, and there were magazines all over the world willing to publish them. Getting two of them together was unheard of! My dear friend Michelle Myers controlled the guest list at the Roxy. She had the town wired! One day when Bob Marley & the Wailers were performing, she called me and said, “Brad Elterman! John Lennon is on the guest list for the Bob Marley concert! Be there and bring your camera!!” Well, this was all I needed. I lived right around the corner and I planted myself out in front.
Lennon showed up and he was with Yoko, but he was also with Ringo, and that's what made this photo so cool. Of course, they were not about to walk in the front door of the theater, so they proceeded upstairs to On the Rox, a super cool and very private club. Hardly anyone could get into this place. They had an intercom and you would press the button and a voice would ask you your name, and if you were cool, you got in. The megastars did not need to go through that hassle of speaking into a box, they would have their very own key and would slip right in. Ringo had that key — you can see it in this photograph!
Madonna Meets the Press, 1982
I hated those press bullpen situations. I found them degrading to cover, and everyone got the same boring, staged photo. When Madonna made her first trip to the American Music Awards, I was there and I was taking photos for the producer, Dick Clark, and I could go anywhere I wanted. I got in position, called out “Madonna” and took the photo. The photo was published everywhere, and I remember the publicist told me to never do it again since the logo was not in the background! Can you believe it?
David Bowie on Fairfax Avenue, 1975
Even though I was in my teens, I wanted to photograph David Bowie in concert, but my request was denied by the PR at the record company. Bowie and his management were very protective of his image, something rare back in the '70s.
A few weeks later I get a call from a pal that Bowie is back in town and recording nightly at Cherokee Recording Studios on Fairfax Avenue. I cut school and got there before the sun came up in the early morning. Right after the sun rose from the east, Bowie emerged from the studio holding the tapes. He was followed by his producer, Paul Buckmaster. I had never in my life performed a paparazzi photo, and it was an incredible rush as I walked with him for about 30 seconds documenting the moment. He was so beautifully styled with the cap, red sweater and the cigarette hanging from his face. He said two words to me, “Good morning,” and that was it and he was gone. I never saw him again.
Debbie Harry Backstage at the Whisky A Go Go, 1978
Even back in 1978, Debbie Harry was a fashion icon. She reminded everyone of Marilyn Monroe. Before her set, I took this photograph in the smelly dressing room of the Whisky A Go Go.
Michael Jackson, Chasen's Restaurant, 1978
Chasen's Restaurant on Beverly Boulevard was famous for its fried chicken and very expensive bowls of chili. Frank Sinatra and all the old stars would dine there every Sunday evening. One night I went with Michael Jackson to a party, taking photos inside. At one point we took a break and walked outside for some fresh air. There was no press mob outside. A few fans maybe, but certainly no TMZ. Today Chasen's is gone, but the facade of the building and the sidewalk remain. You can go there and stand in the same sport where Michael once stood.
The Ramones at Sunset & Alta Loma, 1978
I was friends with The Ramones and especially Joey. I photographed them several times and noticed that they had a style to their posing. Sort of like they had been practiced in front of the mirror for years. What is rare about this photograph is that, due to the intense heat that day, they ditched their leather jackets and posed in their T's. A few years ago I went back to the location with a crew and the spot was gone. The city of L.A. widened the street, so today there are cars driving over this iconic landmark.
Joan Jett, Poolside at the Tropicana Motel, 1977
Hands down, Joan Jett was my greatest photo subject. We were both on the shy side and we became friends. Most importantly, she trusted me. This photo was taken poolside at the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard. She lived there as a teen, and I would pop over from time to time to hang out and dine at Duke's, the motel coffee shop. We would put away massive burgers and then polish them off with frozen Snickers bars. I would take photos of all this stuff! Life was so easy then.
See also: Joan Jett on Her Sunset Strip Glory Days
Bob Dylan and Robert De Niro, 1976
I was crazy about Bob Dylan. He was so poetic and I dug his songs. I lucked out and got to see him and take photos at his L.A. comeback concert with The Band in 1974. Dylan was not only interesting to me as an icon but he was incredibly reclusive. Sort of like the Greta Garbo of rock & roll, and I liked that aspect. He never went out, and when he did, he wore dark sunglasses and would never pose for a photo.
I guess the stars were aligned when I met him backstage at the Roxy. [Actress] Ronee Blakely introduced us. He saw that I was shy and nervous to meet him, but he was incredibly comforting. He said, “Uou look like me” as he posed up cheek to cheek with Ronee. Word got out in the dressing room that a young actor named Robert De Niro was downstairs and Bob wanted to meet him. He sent [actress] Sally Kirkland and me down to scoop up De Niro, who thought we were pulling his leg. Once upstairs, the two embraced and I took the photo. It was my first publication in a new magazine called People. I was on my way.
Matt Healy of the band The 1975
I take photos of these young bands, give them a book and tell them stories about the British Invasion during the '70s. Matt Healy of the band The 1975 is a major British rock star and a compelling photo subject. The band was handpicked by The Rolling Stones to open for their summer tour last year. I met up with Matt last week backstage at his concert at the Fonda Theatre. We hung out backstage and I told him stories of Bob Dylan, Joan Jett and Bryan Ferry. I found the session rather surreal.
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