Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Eddie Van Halen, Tommy Lee and Ringo Starr – these are among the legendary artists whose images Rob Shanahan has captured in striking fashion during two decades as one of America’s most esteemed rock photographers. A musician himself – he plays drums in The Hollywood Stones, a Rolling Stones tribute band – Shanahan saw his photography career take off after he moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles in the late ’80s. Following an introduction by Sheila E. in 2005, he became Ringo Starr’s personal photographer, and he’s since worked closely with the former Beatle on a variety of projects.



Volume 1, Shanahan’s first book of collected photography, features 224 pages of his extraordinary work, culled from 15 years of archives. Accompanying the images is a forward written by Starr, along with artists’ quotes and personal anecdotes from Shanahan himself. All the images from the book – as well as the book itself – are available as signed gallery prints at www.robshanahan.com. “I’ve never worked harder on a project,” Shanahan says, describing the effort he put into the book. “For nine months I spent every free moment on it, sometimes working 16 hours a day.”

From his studio in Los Angeles, Shanahan spoke with us about his unique approach to photography, his friendship with Ringo and what he considers to have been the glory years for rock photography.

How did you get into rock photography?

It was something I fell in love with as a kid. I’ve been a drummer since I was 10, and started shooting pictures when I was 14. The two have always gone hand-in-hand for me. Growing up, I studied album covers – reading all the liner notes and examining the photos as I listened to the music. I’ve always associated imagery with music, all my life. When I’m shooting photographs, I’m hearing the music, and when I play drums, I’m thinking about images.

Does being a musician give you an edge in your photography work?

It gives me a rapport. It takes one to know one. Photographing some of the greatest musicians in the world is a tremendous thrill. I always ask questions. I love talking about drums, and of course that’s a great icebreaker with drummers. I remember the first time chatting with Ringo, and asking him about certain drum fills from my favorite Beatles songs. He explained that he plays the way he does partly because he’s left-handed, but he plays on a right-handed drum kit. When I said that I too was left-handed and play drums right handed, it was an instant mutual appreciation for the other and a great way to start our relationship. That was in 2005 and I’ve been working with him ever since.



What’s distinctive about your work?

That’s something I can’t describe. I just shoot from the heart and not always the eyes. People tell me my images pop off the page. When I was at Beatlefest, a few people told me my photos look like paintings. That’s a huge compliment. I’m a big fan of Rembrandt. I’ve studied his work a lot, and maybe he has influenced me. I love his lighting and the way he captured people.

Do you have a favorite circumstance in which you like to shoot – live or in the studio or candid shots?

My favorite circumstance is when I can go in and do my thing without limitations. That’s when I get the best shots. The shot of Eddie Van Halen “fist-pumping” his brother Alex is a good example. Van Halen gave me unfettered access on stage. It’s great when I’m asked to “just do my thing,” whether it be live or in the studio.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had with Ringo?

A few come to mind. I’d have to say when I went to Liverpool with him in 2008. Traveling the streets of Liverpool in a van with Ringo, as he was pointing out places that held special memories for him, was pretty incredible. We toured his old high school, his old neighborhoods and found the flat where he was born and lived until he was five. It doesn’t get better than getting a tour of Liverpool with Ringo Starr. He also did four concerts during that trip. He played on top of St. George’s Cathedral, across the street from the Empire Theatre, overlooking the town square with 30,000 people watching from below. That was incredibly memorable. There was also a show at the Liverpool Arena. I have lots of great memories and photographs of that trip.



Are there a couple of shoots you’ve done that hold special meaning for you?

I keep going back to Ringo, but photographing him and Paul together for The Beatles: Rock Band promotional photos was really cool. I had photographed them together before, but this particular day was magical. Every time I see Paul he has a funny story for me, and that day he told me a story about Clint Eastwood. I had set up a studio in the backstage area of the Galen Center at USC for this shoot. Paul and Ringo were in great spirits, and that’s when I got the photo of Paul kissing Ringo.

Can you sense something special between the two of them that remains deeply rooted in their early years?

I see their friendship up close. When Paul came to Radio City Music Hall in 2010 to surprise Ringo, on Ringo’s birthday, it was really touching. Paul performed “Birthday” as the last song, and Ringo was genuinely surprised. The band and I knew about it ahead of time because we were at sound check that afternoon with Paul, but it was a total secret from Ringo. I was in the dressing room with them after the show, and you could see the deep affection between the two. Ringo kept saying, “Paul, I can’t believe you surprised me. I love you brother.” They still have an incredible bond, and a unique relationship, because of their shared history – something that no one else except John and George could understand. Now it’s just the two of them, and they are happy to have each other. It’s sad to think that one day we will be down to one remaining Beatle. I think that may well be a lonely place.



Will you be going out on the upcoming All-Starr tour?

Yes. We’re in the middle of work on the All-Starr tour book right now. My wife is actually the graphic designer. She and I did the last one together, and it was a really big hit. That was the first time the two of us had done the tour book as a team. The first week of June, I’m off to Niagara Falls for rehearsals. I believe the first show is June 13.

Is there a period you consider the heyday for rock photography?

Definitely the ’60s and ’70s. Photographers worked one-on-one with the band and got to travel and live like one of the band members. I prefer that close one on one contact and working with bands from the inside. Traveling with the Stones on one of their early U.S. tours, jumping into a station wagon with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and heading across the country would have been cool. I’m sure touring back then was a lot rougher than I can imagine. But still, I would love to have done that.