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Remembering A Rock Star: Photographer Ken Regan

Photographer Ken Regan with the Rolling Stones, 1977 (Courtesy of Ken Regan/Camera 5)closemore
Photographer Ken Regan with the Rolling Stones, 1977 (Courtesy of Ken Regan/Camera 5)

If you've been around longer than me, perhaps you were already familiar with Ken Regan's photography.

I'll admit: I didn't discover him until just the other day, under somber circumstances. A colleague forwarded this obituary in Rolling Stone, advising simply: "He's a big deal." The music photographer died of cancer one week ago.

Elvis Presley, early 1960s, with Nancy Sinatra. "I knew I would have to hustle in this competitive business if I wanted to make a name for myself .... But I had to make it to this one: Sgt. Elvis Presley, stationed for two years in Germany, was flying in to meet with the media at Fort Dix, N.J., on the eve of his discharge." (Camera 5)
Elvis Presley, early 1960s, with Nancy Sinatra. "I knew I would have to hustle in this competitive business if I wanted to make a name for myself .... But I had to make it to this one: Sgt. Elvis Presley, stationed for two years in Germany, was flying in to meet with the media at Fort Dix, N.J., on the eve of his discharge." (Camera 5)

So I got a hold of his book, All Access, which was published one year ago this month; and after only a few minutes with his photos, I was enamored. I pored over his first-person anecdotes: Stories of his first important shoot — with Elvis Presley, who had just returned from Army service in Germany; of catching Leonard Bernstein plugging his ears at a Beatles concert; of accidentally drinking hallucinogenic punch backstage at a Rolling Stones concert; of his exclusive access to one of Bob Dylan's tours.

Granted, there's no shortage of Rolling Stones photos in the world. But how often does Mick Jagger write personal book introductions for photographers?

"As Ken would accompany us on our tours, it just so happened that I would end up accompanying him on his gigs as well," Jagger writes.

Regan's reputation was such that, with his kind of access, even the Rolling Stones would call on him for favors.

There's too much to say and too little space here, so I'll leave you with Regan's photos, captioned in his own words from the book.

The Beatles with Ed Sullivan, 1964. "The audience in the 703-seat theater shrieked nonstop. This was at the deafening dawn of Beatlemania. You couldn't hear a thing. Some fans just seemed to be in shock, staring ahead, tears running down their cheeks." (Ken Regan)
The Beatles with Ed Sullivan, 1964. "The audience in the 703-seat theater shrieked nonstop. This was at the deafening dawn of Beatlemania. You couldn't hear a thing. Some fans just seemed to be in shock, staring ahead, tears running down their cheeks." (Ken Regan)

I didn't know him personally, and regret that I missed the chance to ask him about his experiences. But the beautiful thing about being a photographer is that you're not just a witness to your time, but you also leave behind a visual legacy of your life.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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