Photographer Bill Hale speaks to Trebuchet about 30 years snapping Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and…
For over 30 years Bill Hale has captured the hairs and prayers of a generation of rock and roll players. He was there and captured the beginnings of the Metallicas, the Megadeths, the Slayers as well as hundreds of other bands that rocked as hard.
After the success of his book Metallica: The Club Dayz 1982-1984 Hale is set to release a second compilation in march. Featuring the other side of the thrash coin Megadeth: Another Time, a Different Place captures Mustaine and co at their fiery best. Bill Hale’s unequalled access to musicians is really a gift to music fans everywhere, especially those who might have been too ‘elevated’ on a particularly historic evening. Talking to Bill you know you’re speaking to one of the warmest and most genuinely positive people on the planet and a photographer par excellence.
Trebuchet: What first inspired you to take photos?
Bill Hale: When I was nine or ten my dad gave me a stereo 3d camera, it was very funky, It used 35mm slide film and split the frame in half for the 3d effect. I only took a few rolls with it, mostly on family outings. The first trip was to an orchid farm in Santa Barbara, only two shots really came out but there was one of a palm tree at sunset that was like, WOW! You know that time of day when the sunlight just makes everything “Glow”
The next shot that kept me on the path was on another family trip to Las Vegas. We had made a side trip to the Hoover Dam and made a 3d photo of a warning sign. I don’t remember what the sign said exactly but the sign was mounted a bit over the edge, this made for a great 3d shot!
When you were taking those first shots what did taking the photo mean to you?
Bill Hale: It was like “Cool, I took this” but I came to realize what a photo really was; a moment preserved in time, a memory frozen, something that you came to revisit on a cloudy day….
not just an image,
but what that image
One of the first concepts I got a hold of at a very young age was that a photograph is not just an image, but what that image can evoke: sadness, happiness, any emotion really. It’s truly a great and powerful media!
How did you feel once you saw you’re first prints developed?
Bill Hale: Ha… First, it was like how much did this cost! You know being a kid, money was like, “Mom can I please have some change to get some candy” but when you are talking about 10, 15 or 20 bucks to buy film and then get the roll processed… You better start making sure that you get something on the roll!
I really had no ideal of “f stops” or “shutter speeds” I just matched the needles up and pointed the camera at what I thought was cool.
What was your connection to those early bay area bands (Metallica, Megadeth, DRI)?
Bill Hale: I had a few buddies in High School that always tried to drag me to concerts. Finally I gave in. That was April 1979 and the band was Triumph. It was the loudest thing ever!
I had checked out the school’s camera and got two rolls of film, one colour negative and the other was Tri X.
the band was Triumph.
It was the loudest
The shots were horrible BUT the buzz was awesome! The next year (1980) my (same) buddies and I were talking about how lame the American Rock magazines were becoming. They had no clue about all the cool bands coming out of England at the time you know all that N.W.O.B.H.M. stuff that Sounds magazine covered. We loved all that; Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon, Angel Witch, all that stuff.
So we decided to start our own mag. We called it Metal Rendezvous Int. (1981-89 and 100,000 issues worldwide).
before he formed
We went to a bunch of gigs, big bands and small bands around 82, a lot of bands my age were starting to play out. You know when you have a mag all the bands are your friends. I mean we knew Lars before he formed Metallica.
He would call the office and keep us posted on the band’s going-ons and what not.
We heard the development of their first tune “Hit the Lights” as it was being worked out. All the new and up and coming bands looking for press called on us.
We were like one big gang, the bands, us and the fans. We were all living the Heavy Metal dream! There was a ton of bands in the Bay Area, I think we covered most of the good ones. The Megadeth connection came about when Dave got fired from Metallica. Dave and I were good friends and I had more in common with Mustaine than Lars. I went on to photograph Megadeth up until ‘87ish!
Did you realize that you were capturing history with those early shots or was it that you shot as many bands as possible and couple of them got big?
Bill Hale: Yes, not to sound egocentric, but I was a big fan of rock mags and Rock & Roll photography in general. Knowing Jim Marshall’s work or Baron Wolman, Henry Diltz and all the great 60’s and 70’s British photographers (Ethan Russell, Mick Rock, Fin Costello…) and knowing the impact that they and their work had done for their era… This was my generation’s time and I felt that I had to do my part and try to make the best images possible! Also being on staff of an up and coming mag didn’t hurt.
How did the books come about? Why now – was it from the interest piqued by the exhibitions?
Bill Hale: Everybody I knew from way back in the late 80’s would always hound me to do a book. When I left MRV in 1990, I moved to LA to get away from it all. Took some time off and tried to make sense of the last ten years and organize all my photos. That took a few years and I spent a lot of time in my darkroom! Around 1998 computers started to catch up with me and I bought a scanner and scanned and scanned and I’m still scanning. However, I did come up with a retrospective called “PowerSurge”. Nobody in the publishing world got it.
Like how could Tom Petty and Slayer be in the same book or Neil Young and Celtic Frost. So I put “PowerSurge” on the back burner and around 2008, Tari received a response to a query in an email from an literary agent asking if we had placed “PowerSurge” yet.
She had a publisher that she thought would be ideal, so that’s how ECW Press got involved. Mr Jack David asked if I could cut “PowerSurge” down in half and I did. Then Jack asked if I could produce an all Metallica photo book and I did. So really a lot of the Metallica book credit goes to Jack David over at ECW.
captured the hairs
and prayers of a
rock and roll
Jack, I don’t think is a Metallica fan, and I know for sure that he could not have seen Metallica’s “rebirth” as it was! I do know that Jack does have great timing and a great gut feeling as ECW does have some cool titles! Jack is also the one who got the Megadeth book rolling but they passed on it… Shawna, my agent, took this book straight to MTV and they loved it.
The gallery showing at Proud came as a result of the Metallica book and that was my first gallery exhibition! Luisa and the good people at Proud took a chance with my Metallica photos and cheers for that and we even sold a few prints! …and yes, it’s very cool to have your hard work listed among some of the greats.
Since those early days you’ve taken pictures of many subjects, can you give us a quick run through of what you’ve taken pictures of at various time of your life till now?
Bill Hale: As a boy it was whatever caught my fancy. My teenage years I was a Boy Scout, so trips to camp, Arizona, New Mexico, NYC.
I really got serious in High School… That is also the time when the R&R bug bit me. Spent ten years as the Chief photographer of MRV! The 90s I really got into diversity. Lots of travel shots and I got to explore landscapes again, late 90’s I tried my hand at product shots. I produced images for catalogs and such, but I always had a band to shoot.
Most of the 2000’s was spent working with Henry Kapono! Henry is a Hawaiian Rock and Roll Legend. I shot a few cd covers and a ton of stuff for his web site and all that social media stuff.
The last few years I have been keen on Sunsets! Waikiki Beach has some of the best Sunsets in the Late Fall and Winter months. With technology raising the bar on computers and cameras, I can really let my imagination go. I don’t see in a single frame anymore when it comes to my land or seascapes. I’m putting out prints that are 19, 20, 25 inches long and consist of 3 to 9 images all complied in photoshop! I like making the large images that are “noise” free! Noise is the film grain of digital photography and is prevalent when a frame is blown up way too big.
What have you learnt about photography from each subject?
Bill Hale: Aside from a ton of technical stuff… I always have mantras. In the 80’s I had three:
“Don’t take NO for an answer!”
“I belong here…”
and the most importantly
“If there is a will, there is a way”
Really, starting out as a teenage rock photographer wasn’t easy. When you deal with bands your age… ok… but when you come in contact with some salty old road manager, you need all the help that you can get!
contact with some salty
old road manager,
you need all
the help that
you can get
Now it’s more like be open, you can plan and set up shots etc., but until you are there clicking away… be open to other possibilities. I’m always pushing my vision, trying to get that much more out of an image. Be open to what the subject has to say and what is calling past the view finder. Really just being open with your eyes, ears and mind… Who knows, you just may get the masterpiece that you were aiming for!
Your recent shots of coastal landscapes are quite calm, as someone known for shooting rock bands what drew you to this subject?
Bill Hale: WOW, thanks Kailas. I really started off looking towards landscapes but the Rock & Roll bug bit me hard. Lately, I have been doing a lot of morning walks and I have a few cool beaches within walking distance so when life gives you beaches….
What are trying to capture in your photography?
Bill Hale: Just what ROCKS to me. Whatever I capture, I want that feeling of WOW! If I don’t feel it, I will not show it. I don’t photograph for anyone else but me (unless of course, I’m commissioned to).
What is the Bill Hale element in your photography?
Bill Hale: Great question! I want the viewer to feel like they are right there, either up front at a concert or walking on that beach…. If you are going to take the time to view my photos then I really need to put forth the best images possible, right? But the shot has to rock me first.
Do you ever try and play with the composition of your shots?
Bill Hale: Yes, all the time! All the greats that came before me like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams did.
You really want to do all you can for the image at the time of clicking the shutter, as in framing or cropping and exposure. But in “post” editing that is where I can add tone, density and such.
a ton of work into each print…
and spotting out
Most people tend not to know, but Ansel Adams put a ton of work into each print… dodging, burning and spotting out dust spots, so I don’t understand when some people frown on using photoshop.
For you what is the difference between live band shots and landscapes, and what is the same?
Yes, they are about the same; when you shoot a gig you have to find parking, check in and hope all your passes are in order, gather the band and find a space that looks cool for a group shot, check out the photo pit etc. Then depending on how well you know the band check out spots on the stage to shoot from.
For the Landscapes; finding locations that are less travelled. Getting to your destination a wee bit early, that’s if you are doing a shot of a sunrise or sunset and you need to take in account for the time of year, when and where the sun will rise and set.
The Waikiki sunsets are phenomenal as the sun sets right over my favourite spot!
Is there an area of photography that you’re drawn to at the moment but haven’t investigated till now?
Bill Hale: Yes, want to explore working with models. I told myself when I turn 50 that I could start shooting models. With “Rock Stars” they know and have their own look, right! But to draw this out of a model seems a lot more difficult. So that’s what I’m leaning toward next. Anyone can put a model in front of a camera and say “Smile” but to take that and make it visually appealing that’s where the magic lies!
Thinking back on your past work, what is it like to revisit those shots taken by a young photographer of young bands?
Bill Hale: Ha! Its twofold. First is how and where did we get the nerve to think that we could pull off this rock and roll thing? We, the bands, the fans and the writers, were all in the same gang so to speak. Especially in the early days, it was not like we are the band and you are the fans. We were all living the heavy metal dream! We were all on the same side. Secondly, it was so organic or pure really we/everyone has no precursors… We just went out and rocked and ROCKED AS LOUD AS WE COULD!
and the writers,
were all in
the same gang
Have those bands kept in touch with you over the years? Or have you reconnected again recently?
Bill Hale: Oh yeah, with all the social media sites. I’m in contact with a ton of old pals and a few of my heroes in the photography world as well. It’s very cool to get to interact with these legends because I’m still a big fan/student of photography and Photographers! (Hey Baron, What’s up?)
There seems to be a huge energy captured in those shots, what do you think made those times particularly special?
Bill Hale: We knew no boundaries! We wanted not just to make a name for ourselves but also make a big dent in Rock and Roll… to use a surfing term… It was Our Wave!
Who is Bill Hale outside of photography?
Bill Hale: I’m very much a family man. Have an amazing wife who puts up with me and four children that I lovingly refer to in my postings as “da Kidz”. In producing all my photo books, I can work from home. Tari and I had an ideal that one of us would always be with da Kidz. I still keep up with the music scene. I Love music. With the web nowadays I can find new bands and keep up with old ones, even living on an island. That’s so cool to just sit down and see what is going on in the music world.
What does the future hold for you? Next projects, projects outside photography?
I’m knee deep into book #3 tentatively it’s a Thrash Metal book but it could be a LA Metal/LA Glam book…
Hopefully get a bit of traveling in also.
Many thanks for the interview.
Bill Hale: Mahalo nui. Thank you very much… this was a very cool interview!
All Photos by Bill Hale.