On September 26th 1960, music and photography came together in Ottawa, Canada, when 50’s rock and roll star Brenda Lee came to sing.
John Rowlands, a 13 year old teen fan of the 15 year old recording artist, combined an advance on his weekly allowance and his paper route earnings to buy a ticket. Sensing it was a long shot that he’d ever she might ever be his girl friend, he took along his father's camera, a single roll of film and 12 flash bulbs. At least he would take her home in a camera.
The show over, he was following the crowd towards the exit, when he spotted a sign in a hallway that would change his life. It read "Brenda Lee and the Casuals" and it was their dressing room. Without a moment's thought, he walked down the hall and knocked on the door, not knowing what to expect.
Brenda's mother opened it and hearing that he wanted to tell her he enjoyed the show and ask for her autograph, she allowed him in and introduced Brenda. The recording star and the fan sat beside each other and talked for half an hour, he got the autograph and her address. Plus, for carrying her suitcase to the car, he got a kiss goodnight!
Once the film was processed, he had a tangible treasure of memories of that girl, that rock and roll star, that sweetheart. He had locked her up in time on photographic paper and it kept the memories alive.
He sent the pictures to her address in Nashville. Weeks later, a letter requesting the negatives and accompanied by a check for $35, arrived. This was a small fortune for a 13 year old in 1960, when gold was $32 an ounce. He mailed off the negatives with no idea that the music business would soon take over his life.
Two months later, John got a call at home from an adult and his mother reluctantly handed over the phone. The man asked him if he could take pictures of the guest on the local Coca Cola Campus Club radio show. "Just show up and take a roll of film, give it to his manager and he'll pay you $50."
TThe radio show ended with thanks and handshakes. Rowlands surrendered the film and collected his cash. The manager asked that Rowlands wait and he could meet the entertainer.
"John" said the manager, "this is Sam … Sam Cook."
It was like buying TEEN magazine one day and meeting everyone in it the next. You had to be insane not to like this!
Phone calls continued and next through his lens traveled Bobby Vee, The Ventures, Duane Eddy and then a rising population of local bands. The "kid", photographing with Dad's camera, was right there to take them. Getting paid was a bonus. There was a lot to talk about at school now and it was all backed up with the goods, the photographs ...the proof.
Rowlands hasn't looked back. As a teenager, he toured with the Dave Clark Five, The Rolling Stones and Beatles. He has worked with Elvis, Dylan and Springsteen and many of the icons of the music industry over the past five decades. Living for many years in California and Arizona, he made intimate, enduring friendships with some of the celebrated music and entertainment industry stars of the 20th century.
John now resides in Toronto, Canada. He continues to photograph celebrities and rising stars, and is a featured speaker at conferences, festivals and fundraisers throughout North America. His "Rock and Roll Memories" presentations stir the hearts and memories of seniors, boomers and music lovers of all ages.
Exclusive editions of his fine art photographs are available here.