Live rock ‘n’ roll through a lens

By Anthony Welch

For rock ‘n’ roll photographer Larry Hulst it’s never been about the money.

Having shot photographs at concerts for more than 55 years, Hulst’s love for music has fueled his hobby.

“I’ve never been on the path to make some money. It’s always been having fun is the number one thing to do. I was interested in music all along,” he said. “The first band I saw was Simon and Garfunkel in 1964.”

After returning from serving in Vietnam in 1969, a 23-year-old Hulst wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with his life. He thought he might go to college. In the meantime, he started going to the Fillmore in San Francisco and took up photography as a way to go see concerts.

“I thought that if I brought some photographs of bands to concerts where those bands were playing that night, that I could sell them outside and use the money to purchase tickets to the concert that night and buy some beer,” he said. “Shows were $3, and my photos were $1. I just needed to sell three photos, and I could go in.”

The first band Hulst captured photos of was The Who with Fleetwood Mac in 1967.

“I’d shoot them again if I had the time,” he mentioned. “They were good.”

Hulst often frequented concerts and would make his way to the front near the stage. On occasion he’d obtain a photo pass from someone backstage.

“He’d stand at the back door, and he’d have security take a photo to the band and try to get a photo pass,” said Hulst’s wife of 40 years Laura. “He hustled it pretty good.”

A pivotal meeting with Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, was a key moment in Hulst’s photography career.

“He’s the person that put me on the path to where I am now. He owned all the Tower Records across the world. He was located in Sacramento, where we were based,” Hulst said. “He said he had a plan to make like a little exhibition in front of his store and asked if I’d sell my photographs there. I ended up in front of his door for 18 years. We’d have 100 photographs on the sidewalk. I was stupid and thought I’d be cool by saying the records are $4, so the photos are only $3.”

Sitting in front of the record store is also where Hulst would hear about new bands. Back then, word of mouth or magazines was the only way to hear what bands were touring and where, according to Hulst.

“I didn’t know that bands did tours. I didn’t know you could go find out where a band was. I was watching Jimi Hendrix play at the Golden Bear Raceway, and three weeks later he played in Berkley,” he said. “There was no communication. It was really hard back then. It was all word of mouth. Someone would come up and say, ‘There’s a really good band coming to town. This band called Genesis.’ Or, ‘The Clash are playing next week.’”

Hulst has 15,000 black and white negatives from shooting concerts all these years. His concert photography has graced the pages of Guitar Player, Rolling Stone, and Time magazines, several biographies, and numerous books. His image of Jimi Hendrix adorned the terminal walls of Los Angeles International Airport. At last count, Hulst’s photos are on 18 albums including ones by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC.

“I never wanted to go backstage. I wanted to be where the action is,” Hulst said. “After all, the ‘show’ is
projected out onto the audience. I wanted to shoot from the audience perspective.”

While building his anthology of iconic rock imagery, Hulst honed his craft at less manic venues. For 27 years he worked as a U.S. government photographer. Hulst’s lens caught military activities by day and rock stars by night. His work covered the gamut of Defense Department activities at two Air Force bases, as well as the U.S. Air force Academy. He retired from civil service in 2010.

“Working at the Academy got me to get a lot more involved in digital photography. I went to my first digital photography class in 1994,” Hulst mentioned.

When asked what his top five favorite bands to shoot are, Hulst had a simple answer:

“Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin,” he said. “I saw them seven times.”

One of his photos also is on Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” album.

The best place to see a concert is right up front, according to Hulst. The energy is much different that close, rather than the back of a venue. It’s a part of why he loves shooting concerts so much. And there are other reasons.

“When the artists connected with me. When the artists were looking at you because you were taking photographs. It was all the excitement. It was much more exciting than watching football. I was excited that the band was playing to me versus the beautiful lady standing next to me that the band was actually looking at,” Hulst laughed.

For more on Hulst, visit his website

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