When South Florida photojournalist Larry Singer began speaking at the art gallery, Studio 18, in Pembroke Pines, he rattled off the names of 1970s and ’80s rock legends he has photographed at a rapid clip: U2. Eddie Van Halen. Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen. The notoriously shy Ritchie Blackmore. The “late, super-great” Chuck Berry. The late, “amazing” Gregg Allman.
And then Singer describes the first time he met future rock ‘n’ roll royalty. He was wandering backstage at the now-defunct Pirate’s World amusement park in Dania Beach, searching for a woman named Alice Cooper.
“I thought he was a chick, man,” Singer recalls. “I’d never seen the band before.”
Singer, hired as a stringer for the Chicago rock magazine Circus to photograph an Alice Cooper concert, found the man born Vincent Furnier in a dressing room at the end of a hallway in December 1971, drinking beer with bandmates, his eyes outlined in thick, black greasepaint. When Singer noticed the Alice Cooper stage costume — skintight stretch pants underneath a lace-up leather vest — he felt too intimidated to meet the rocker, and turned to leave. But Cooper, who had a yen for amateur photography, had spotted Singer’s Nikon and Leica cameras, and beconed for Singer to stay.
“[Alice is] in full drag, and he yells after me, ‘Hey, what do you want?’ ” Singer remembers. “I dug my press pass out and gave him an envelope of color prints from a recent Who concert I shot, and he said he liked them and I should stay. My ego inflated to roughly the size of Montana.”
Later that same evening in 1971, Singer would ensnare one of his favorite intimate moments: Cooper sipping a can of Budweiser, his face fixed in an expression of mock anger, in front of a tinsel-covered Christmas tree.
That very image is on display in Studio 18’s rock ’n’ roll-themed group exhibit “Rockin’: The Story of Rock ’n’ Roll,” which opened Friday, June 23. The centerpiece of the show is the Oakland Park-based photographer’s 17 images.
More than snapshots, the pieces are striking frozen moments from South Florida’s concert scene when the region was noisy with big-ticket bands who fired up the Hollywood Sportatorium, the Sunrise Musical Theatre and Pirate’s World, where Singer photographed most of his rock icons.
“People who were soon-to-be rock stars, I had all this access to,” says Singer, 70, an Air Force sergeant in Vietnam who studied journalism at Broward Community College. “It wasn’t some grand plan. I was just a poor, local boy, not some New York hotshot with a $2,000 camera. I worked a deal to give the Pirate’s World concert promoter copies of my photos for free, and he let me backstage any time I wanted.”
Singer is bursting with stories of his work with the gods of rock. One such moment was when he captured Eddie Van Halen striking a midair pose one second after he leaped off his brother Alex’s drum riser. That image is now on permanent display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Michael Edelberg, Studio 18’s curator, describes Singer’s photographs as “historical documents.”
“To be here in South Florida capturing a hard-rocking era, to know that you’ll never get that perfect image again, that’s stunning,” Edelberg says. “It’s sharing a piece of history, because most of these rock gods aren’t here, anymore.”
“Rockin’: The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Studio 18 in the Pines, 1101 Poinciana Blvd., in Pembroke Pines. Admission is free. The exhibit will close Aug. 2. Call 954-961-6067 or go to PPines.com/Studio18.