FIB MUSIC: What kind of business are you in now?
Don: During the day, I am in the aerospace world. I am a space craft manager. I'm in charge of the next generation weather satellite.
FIB MUSIC: How did you get into that?
Don: I was always a dual career kind of guy. I was an engineering major, electrical engineering, and then also, radio tv broadcasting. I always had it pounded in my head, by my parents, about getting a good career, being able to buy a house, get good credit and all that kind of stuff. I had all these off ramps along the way and I was doing college radio and when I started looking into it, the kind of dues you have to pay...., I'm like, you know, I live in the suburbs, I never had to struggle. I didn't want to move to Nebraska and spin country & western tunes for three dollars an hour and then try to make my way back to a major market. I had a similar type of thing with the rock photography, which I did as a secondary income, while I was going to school and getting my engineering degree.
FIB MUSIC: Nice. I bet some of the guys you photographed wish they would have done something like that.
Don: (laughs) Well, you know, one of the classic stories is when Nikki Sixx....you know, when I was there in the very beginning when he was not only in his group, London, but formulating what would become Motley Crue. Back then, they were always struggling to get by...., but he would say things like, "Man, this is going to be great, you're going to graduate and make all kinds of money, you're going to make like twenty thousand a year". Which in the seventies, it was kind of like where I was starting. You know, these guys were all shacking up, living three to an apartment and just barely making a living, by having their girlfriends make their clothes and make them food and make everything for them....So, just to set the context here....you...., now I went through and looked at some of your site stuff and I'm like, wow, you really captured some of the essence of a lot of the people I knew. What is your connection to that scene?
FIB MUSIC: Thanks. Can you give us a little history about yourself?
Don: So, basically, as far as myself, I'm coming up on a big year. I'm going to be fifty this year, even though I don't look like it. I have always had the music thing. I had parents that came from technical starts, both being in the aerospace industry. As I was growing, going to high school, I had the really long rock musician hair, but at the same time I was also kind of a geek. You know, I had the cool look that I went after, but at the same time, I strived hard to have the cool look. So, I got into music and had no musical ability whatsoever, but went to a lot of concerts and this was back in the old days of the concerts at the Forum and everyting, when tickets were $6.50. You could do things like take a camera in. One of the first major concerts I went to was George Harrison and I remember asking my dad if I could borrow his camera and he said, "sure". He had this heavy metal Minolta camera, the old classic. I remember going to a photo store and telling them that I was going to shoot a concert and they were like, "oh, well, then you'll need really, really fast film, here's some 160 speed", of course, everything now is 400 and up, you know. So, I go to the concert and shot some really, really crappy shots, because I was sitting in my seat and I was taking these pictures of the stage that are heavily spot lit and the camera just wants to average it and create an image that's just and average of the scene. So, you have a really overly lit, spot lit person and not a really good shot. I continued to do that as I went to some other concerts and finally put the engineering side of my brain together saying, "huh, overexposed. I shouldn't depend on the meter, I should depend on trying to guess what the light is, on the performer". After about three shows and some things like Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare" and Led Zeppelin a couple of times, I finally got it. I also started to get better seats at the time, because I knew how to work the line waiting for seats at SEARS, for the Ticketmaster thing. I saw a lot of groups in the beginning, as they were working their way up and there was one show that had kind of an impact and that was.....I had gone to see Bachman Turner Overdrive at Long Beach Arena. One of the opening groups was Jo Jo Gunne, who was kind of a cult group, who had a couple of hits. They were started by Jay Ferguson who had been in Spirit and then there was another group called Yesterday and Today and I really enjoyed the show.
FIB MUSIC: Which they later became Y&T, right?
Don: Exactly. So, anyway, later on, a few months later, there's a show at Santa Monica Civic Center with Jo Jo Gunne as the headliner and I'm like, "oh, cool". So, I got some tickets, Jo Jo Gunne's the headliner and they have these two bands opening up for them, KISS and Yesterday & Today. That was the first time I was exposed to KISS, who was touring for the "Hotter than Hell" album. I thought Yesterday & Today were great. You cut to about a year later, I had the chance to see Yesterday & Today again and this time they were going by Y&T, I saw them at the Starwood. Now, this was the time period, in the late seventies, when it was the absolute golden age of the clubs here in L.A. You had the clubs like, the Starwood, The Whiskey, Troubadour, the Country Club. You had all these intersections of great music. You had the headbangers, you had the emerging hair bands, new wave, ska and punk. All these things were hitting and you had all these small groups, who were playing these great clubs and playing this great music and they were doing really cool stuff. One example is, I go see Y&T and they have this opening act called Dyan Diamond and she turned out to be this Kim Fowley protege, who had been in this group called, Venus and the Razorblades, at age fourteen. I saw her and thought she was very cool. So, a few months later, she came back as the headliner and I went ahead and took my camera equipment again. By this time, I had gotten really good with photography and had mastered taking really good shots....going to the clubs and taking. I got a little cocky and thought, hey, I need business cards. So, I went ahead and did the old method of buying the press on letters and making up business cards that said, Don Adkins, Photographer. I go to the Dyan Diamond show and there I am shooting and some person comes up and says, "excuse me, who are you?". So, I whip out this card; I was so proud of my new card and I said, "I'm Don Adkins, Photographer" and they were like, "Oh, Ok, do you have any images?" and I said, "Sure, here's the last shot I took of Dyan Diamond, I took the last time she was here" and they were like, "wow, these are really good, I'm with Dyan Diamond, why don't you come backstage with me". So fine, I go backstage. Met Dyan Diamond, met her management and after a lot of stuff is said and done, I wind up becoming their photographer and that kind of set the stage. When you are shooting one group at the Starwood, or Roxy, or wherever, then you meet the opening band, then you meet their friends and so on and so on. So, I got in on the start of all of these great groups, because I started meeting them at all the clubs. Pretty soon, I started getting my stuff published here locally, in LA Weekly and Music Connection and / or working for the bands.
Also, in the beginning of all this, I got to meet a great hard rocking band called London and London, as you have on your site, was basically this group that included, Nikki Sixx, who later went on to Motley Crue and Lizzie Grey, who later went on to a lot of other groups. I got to know those guys and become friends with them. Back in those days, I got in really good with the clubs, could always get backstage and hang with the guys and Nikki & I became friends. So, I would be backstage hanging with those guys all the time and pretty soon I was on their A-List and always invited to their shows and then I became their photographer. This was repeated over and over again, with all these little groups, playing in those days, that all wound up doing big things. I wound up shooting Blondie in the clubs, Berlin in the clubs and all these groups that ended up being these other groups like the Bangles. In all of this, London was an interesting relationship, because I got to know Nikki very well and then when they lost their lead singer, a guy named Nigel Benjamin, who had a brief run as lead singer of Mott, which was the Mott the Hoople derivative and that kind of went nowhere. That's when Nikki says, "I found this guy named Blackie (Lawless), he's intense looking, he looks like he would fit our image, he's hard edged." So, I met Blackie, who had this, how do I say this, this aura and image about him. You would meet him and he would come up and say, "I'm Blackie", just this real tough guy look. He seemed real threatening at first, but then you get to know him and he's a real pussycat. Basically, they needed some photos. We went to this studio in Los Alamitos, where they were rehearsing and I brought my bedspreads, stuff like that, to set up backdrops. This became the photo session of London, with Blackie as the lead singer.
FIB MUSIC: And you still have photos of that?
Don: Yes. I have photos from that, that was extremely short lived. Basically, it didn't fit. What you had was, they rehearsed..... Blackie learned all the London songs and Blackie was good and interesting, but at the same time, you don't picture Blackie Lawless being this pretty boy, with a group that features keyboards and a really finesse type of sound, he was more of a hard-edged, three chords in your face, type of guy. Anyways, I went to their one and only show they did at the Starwood, where Blackie is the lead singer and you know, London had the whole....they had these light boxes on stage....it was sort of like a KISS thing, but they had these flashing light boxes and they would stand inside of them as they were playing and they would have the London logo in the background. Blackie is up there and they made him put on, like, the London glam kind of garb....and he was interesting and you appreciated Blackie and everything, but it just didn't hang together well. But right after that, they parted their ways and then London went on to evolve and then eventually devolve, with Nikki going in and starting Motley Crue. I'll tell you how that started later, because I was there when they came up with the name.
A couple of months later, Blackie was telling me.....and I got to know him; I used to go over to his apartment in Hollywood....and he had this little apartment that you go in.......like I said earlier, in the beginning, he was like, "I'M BLACKIE", he's all tough and everything, but once you get to know him, he's a really nice guy. I found out getting to know him, that he was a 90 mph pitcher in high school and actually got drafted to go to the farm team for the Detroit Tigers. Then he came to that fork in the road too, where he was like, ok, do that or go on to rock. He basically wound up doing a brief stint, where he got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to go into the last incarnation of the New York Dolls. Anyhow, I remember going to his apartment in Hollywood and I would even take my girlfriend of the moment. Just for shock value, you'd walk in the door and there's a throne (laughs). You know, he had this seedy little Hollywood apartment...and actually he was in a really seedy area, but he always had good taste...more interesting taste. So, he has the throne in there and then his bed would be up on a loft and you would look up there on the loft and he would have these mannequins. My girlfriends would all say, "Uh, Don, What's with that?" and I would go, "it's just shock value" and then Blackie would look at them, as they're shocked, and just smile.
So, a couple of months after the London experience, Blackie said, "Don, I have this incredible concept, Circus Circus. I went to these video tapings where......he had a group memeber named Randy Piper and Randy had a wife, at the time, named Bell Piper. Anyways, it was a package deal where you'd be with Randy Piper, you'd be with Blackie and then Bell would be the actual videographer. So, I got invited to this taping....I think it was in down in Orange County, in Anaheim, or Garden Grove. It turns out that I was the only photographer ever to shoot this.....so, I had the shots of Circus Circus.
We kind of went our separate ways and then a year or so later, as you have with your Rik Fox interviews, Blackie has this WASP concept. When W.A.S.P. emerged, it was the sweet zone of about '81 to '83. When you had Motley Crue starting out, you had WASP, you had all these bands and it was like, who could do more to get in L.A. Weekly and Music Connection, with the most outrageous show. So, you had this incredible thing where you have Blackie becoming known for playing with WASP and throwing raw meat into the audience. The audience would be worked into a frenzy. You had Motley Crue, just hard-driving music and were absolutely a great band at the time.
FIB MUSIC: Who was Kery Doll?
Don: Around 1980, there was this performer, who I used to see on the scene all the time. His name was Kery McEntire and he played in this group called RISE and, at the time, he kind of looked,.....kind of like this Rod Stewart knock off. It was kind of like this power pop rock band. After I saw them a couple of times, they disbanded and Kery McEntire renamed himself Kery Doll....and came up with this concept, where he was like, "ok, what can I do?". So he really spiked the hair up, he would do things like buy a used casket, modify the casket, so when he would come out on stage, the casket would open up and he would pop up.
FIB MUSIC: Where did he buy a used casket?
Don: I don't know. He was the most industrious I have ever seen. He found ways to make things out of nothing. Kery Doll....it was always about the look and the driving music,.....the voice wasn't the strong suit, but his show was always great. He taught himself how to make flash pots. He would come out on stage and the flash pots would go off. He would have a gun, like a 30-30 type of rifle and he would hollow out the shells and put explosives in there, fire the gun on stage and shoot everyone with confetti. He would start wearing tighter and tighter spandex. He would wear the extremely Motley-esque type of boots. He would wear a skull on his crotch and for his encore, he would light his crotch on fire. He lived up in Cudahy which is almost like a barrio area here in L.A. and he would go to the mexican market, where he would buy intestines. Then he would take the intestines, put them in a plastic bag and then on stage, he would go ahead and...... he had already become very good with explosives, by this time. He would buy M-80's and other types of fireworks, so, he would put these explosives on top of a metal plate, that he would have on his chest, then he would put on the bag full of blood and guts and then put his t-shirt on. He would have a trigger in his hand and when he pressed the trigger, the explosives would go off and it would splatter the audience with blood and guts.
Then his former group, which was called RISE, a couple of other members of that group decided to create another power pop group, called Holiday. They were kind of like these wholesome, valley guys, with slightly long hair. So, one of them, calls me up and asks if I could come out to the show and it was Gilby Clarke. So, Gilby was playing in this power pop band and it was only years later that I saw him in that version of Guns n Roses, that I thought, wow, that's the same Gilby that I used to know. During those days, there was just so much cross-fertilization, where everybody was playing with everybody and then they would find the ultimate combination that would work.
FIB MUSIC: Didn't you also get to know the band Berlin?
Don: Yes. It was after Terri Nunn had left the band the first time and they had this lead singer named Virginia. I got to know them, because I had seen them as an opener for somebody else. Eventually, I became their photographer. Well, their manager, who was named Perry, asked if I would come see one of his other groups called The Box Boys. Perry was going to capitalize on the Ska thing that had happened with The Specials and Madness and groups like that. So I go see the Box Boys and they have this lead singer named Betsy. She was kind of cute and had just come out of New York, or New Jersey, she had this real thick east coast accent and sang this ska music. It was ok, but Betsy ended up leaving the group, because there were musical differences. Betsy ends up starting this other group called Bitch and that was Betsy Bitch. She's comes back with a whole new look (laughs). I wound up being associated with them and Betsy introduced me to her record label owner Brian Slagel. He says, "I have this label called Metal Blade". Later Brian comes up to me and says, "Don, I need an album cover". "Sure". So, they come to my house in Redondo Beach and I shot them in my living room. This was also the time I started working in the aerospace industry, but I was still doing photography, as much as, three nights a week. I had all these groups coming in my little suburban beach neighborhood and watching my neighbors looking out through their blinds like, what the heck is this now. They came over there and I shot the Bitch, "Be My Slave" album cover over there.
FIB MUSIC: Wow, that's one of those classic covers?
Don: Thanks. So, I established a relationship with Brian Slagel, because I was actually pretty cheap at the time. Despite setting the shoots up in my living room....most people would come over and go, "oh boy, look at this set up". But I was a damn good photographer....I could pull it off and you could never tell that it was in my living room. Brian had this producer working with him named, Bill Metoyer, and Brian starts bringing me all these groups. It started off with Bitch and then pretty soon he brought me groups with names like Savage Grace, Tyrant, Fates Warning,...this whole stable of groups who were trying to be the next big thing. When I talked earlier about cross-pollination, you had the new wave, the ska, the pop, the rock, the metal, the hair and then sometimes, they would all end up morphing into one another