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

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.

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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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