The moment came in the Cotton Bowl when Sammy Hagar jumped through the air on the Texxas Jam II stage.
Rock 'n' roll photographer Vernon Gowdy III, of Oklahoma City, was ready and in the right spot.
He had prepared for the moment and he snapped a picture of the Red Rocker leaping through the air with his “Flying V” guitar. The picture taken June 9, 1979, in Dallas is on the back cover of Hagar's biography. It was used on T-shirts, and it was in JAM Magazine first. Then it made Rolling Stone, posters, a record cover and a biography
Gowdy was an Oklahoma Daily college newspaper photographer at the University of Oklahoma when he had the idea with Daily sports editor David Huff to start their own magazine. Gowdy got hooked to seeing his photo credit and the life of a rock photographer.
Using his newspaper credentials, he took pictures of Pat Benatar, Iggy Pop, The Specials and The Cramps at the Boomer Theater in Norman.
A cover of JAM Magazine in December 1979 shows Benatar backstage at the Boomer, holding a copy of JAM Magazine.
Gowdy established a reputation as a top rock photographer of the late 1970s and early '80s, Huff said.
“At that time we got together, Vernon was one of the best in the world. I could write everything and he could take the pictures. I would have put him up against anybody,” Huff said.
Music scenes in Oklahoma City, at a crossroads for touring bands of the late '70s and early '80s were fertile grounds for new wave and rock music journalism, he said.
“We chronicled the '80s in JAM Magazine,” Huff said. “We covered all of it.”
Greg Garrett, 50, is a Baylor University English professor who was a JAM Magazine editor and writer in the early '80s in Oklahoma City, working closely with Gowdy on assignments.
“Vernon was someone who had made a name for himself as a great concert photographer,” Garrett said. “If they passed through Oklahoma City they went by Vernon's lens.”
Garrett, who wrote a book called, “We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2,” said Gowdy had “a knack,” and a “tremendous eye,” for taking pictures.
“Who would have thought we would have started a music magazine and it would come out of Oklahoma,” Garrett said.
Huff, 57, moved JAM Magazine to Dallas in 1984 and the music magazine thrived and grew regionally. JAM disappeared from print in 1996 but continues an online life today after being revived in 2010.
In 1984, when Huff moved the magazine to Dallas, Gowdy took a break from rock photography for almost two decades.
Gowdy's fascination with music photography goes back to the mid-1970s, when he was studying microbiology at OU. At a Rod Stewart show at the Myriad in 1975, he decided he wanted to be a rock photographer.
When he got a job at a Target in south Oklahoma City, he would get to open the albums and play them in the store in the music section. Soon Gowdy started putting out photographs he had taken at concerts and displaying them.
People would buy prints for $1 from him as he worked in the Target music section.
“When you're a college kid you do a lot of things that are against company policy.”
He rekindled his career taking pictures of Robert Plant in 2006 at the Bricktown Coca-Cola Events Center after nearly two decades off.
“After about 15 minutes it all came back, and I was hooked again,” Gowdy said.
He said he's always used two cameras to shoot concerts, one with a long-distance lens and another to focus on close-ups.
He has a wealth of stories about musicians.
Gowdy and Huff hadn't even put out an issue of JAM when they were kicked off of Tim Curry's tour bus for asking Curry too many questions about “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” in September 1979. Curry wanted to talk about his own solo music career and distance himself from the character “Frankenfurter.”
Huff said Curry went into an obscenity-laced tirade.
“He yanked my microphone out of my tape recorder,” Huff said. “But of course it was still running.”
Gowdy remembers using a Sears cassette recorder to interview Tom Petty in August 1979 at the Civic Center backstage. Then there was the U2 show at Jammys off N Portland Avenue when he didn't take any pictures because he wanted to party. Gowdy booked and promoted that show in 1982. The opening band was Fingers.
He said he still regrets not taking any photographs of U2 and he continues to look for someone who did that night.
He has also lost rolls of negatives of film from a Little Feat and a KISS concert in 1979. He's had several shots published in a book on Pat Benatar. There is still a rush out of seeing a photograph published and seeing his name in print, he said.
“You don't get rich off of doing this,” Gowdy said. “You try to achieve a photograph that is of iconic status.”
His Sammy Hagar photo was that iconic one.
“And now I'm going, ‘How can I get another iconic shot?'”
Next up will be a Jimi Hendrix tribute show in Tulsa at the Brady Theater, he said. He'll have his cameras ready.