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Oklahoma photographer Vernon Gowdy III keeps the focus on musicians

Vernon Gowdy III has been taking pictures for more than 30 years at live Oklahoma music shows and helped start JAM Magazine in Oklahoma City. His shots are on magazine covers and in books about rock stars.
by Robert Medley Published: March 4, 2012

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.

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by Robert Medley
Breaking News Reporter
Robert Medley has been a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1989, covering various news beats in the Oklahoma City metro area and in the Norman news bureau. He has been part of the breaking news team since 2008. A 1987 University of Oklahoma...
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