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Bruce Kessler's Incredible Houston Concert Photo Archive

ONLY IN HOUSTON

Bruce Kessler's RockinHouston.com is quite simply the best collection of Houston's rock and roll concert past, period. Kessler, a former Pace Concerts house photographer, has amassed a database of every show that he and others shot in Houston from 1965 up until 2005.

The works of the late Larry Lent and James Townshend are also sprinkled throughout the site. Townshend, who passed away around 1990, shot Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, no big deal. Lent passed away in 2000, and after he died, it was Kessler who went about bringing the departed photogs' body of work to light.

From Bruce Kessler's Rockin' Houston archive, ZZ Top in April 1980
Photo courtesy of Bruce Kessler
From Bruce Kessler's Rockin' Houston archive, ZZ Top in April 1980
From Bruce Kessler's Rockin' Houston archive, Prince at the Summit, January 1985
Photo courtesy of Bruce Kessler
From Bruce Kessler's Rockin' Houston archive, Prince at the Summit, January 1985

Kessler stopped shooting shows in 2005. He continues digitizing the rest of his archive, and right now on the site you can view his pictures all the way up to 1983. He's currently working on 1984, including some killer Jacksons reunion tour shots from the Astrodome.

He has a long way to go until 2005, but it's a labor of love. Kessler wants the site to be a reference source for Houston rock fans and their kindred all over the world.

His mini-bio on the site even reads like a Hollywood movie: Young, in love with rock and roll, and ballsy to boot.

While taking pictures, he learned all about access. Having never heard of a backstage pass — let alone a photo pass — Kessler quickly learned from Lent how to gain better access to the front of the stage by impressing concert promoters or road managers with his photo portfolio.

The site is a wondrous time-suck, with thousands of images of some of the greatest rock shows to come through Houston, at venues that have long since been torn down for the sake of progress. Of course Numbers and Fitzgerald's are still standing.

Did you know that Stevie Ray Vaughan played on the same stage that your local favorites play on every weekend? (Fitzgerald's.)

As a rock writer in Houston, my brain aches at the idea of having been able to cover some of these gigs. Iggy Pop at Cullen Auditorium. U2 at Cardi's. T. Rex at the Houston Music Hall. The Clash at Hofheinz Pavilion. Bruce Springsteen at Liberty Hall. The Doors at the Sam Houston Coliseum.

Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, and Isaac Hayes all at the Astrodome for Dylan's "Night of the Hurricane" benefit concert in 1976? Man, Rocks Off would have needed three photogs and two writers there. And the tweets would have been flying furiously.

And the photographic documents these guys kept are top-notch. Backstage happenings, scans of the tickets, press badges and record-store appearances, all in beautiful, colorful scans. Kessler also hints at a lot of debauchery behind these shots.

Check out the shots of the after-party that Keith Moon attended in 1975 after the first rock concert at the Summit. Ahem.

Plus, the site is easy to use and navigate. Obviously you cannot right-click and save these shots, and Kessler says that he does not intend to sell prints of these. All the same, I could see signing over my power of attorney for a glossy, matted, ZZ Top print from 1971, 1976 or 1983.

Kessler's body of work is utterly jaw-dropping, but in his opinion, what's the best thing he ever shot?

"There isn't one," he swears. "Just when I thought it couldn't get any cooler, it did. When you have told Elton John how to pose for a backstage shot, or shot Jimmy Page and Robert Plant onstage together, you cannot pick one thing."
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SXSW

5 SXSW Keynote Speakers Who Would Be More Fun Than Dave Grohl

By Corey Deiterman

It's official: As of November 16, your 2013 SXSW keynote speaker is Dave Grohl. He's a reliable choice who commands a great deal of clout and respect in the music industry, the same as speakers of years past such as Bruce Springsteen. I'm sure Grohl will do a great job, and I have only one little complaint: He's not a fun choice.

Grohl is a safe choice, like when they chose Paul McCartney for the Super Bowl Halftime Show the year after the Janet Jackson debacle. He's good and solid, but we already hear from him regularly and know that nothing too crazy will happen. Were I choosing the speaker, I would go the more, let us say, interesting route.

Fiona Apple: Fiona Apple has been on the outskirts of the music industry for most of her life, plugging away at masterful records that only make themselves known every once in a while. She's recognized as being an incredible artist whose music has just a touch of madness that makes it great. In a way, she's like a young, female Tom Waits, twisting pop music to suit her particular form of experimentation.

She's also awesome when she speaks. She often speaks in metaphors only she understands, and bluntly calls out bullshit for what it is.

Prince: The hard part here would probably be getting the Artist to do it. Prince seems to speak where and when he feels like it, rather than when people want him to. That being said, though, if it could be arranged, it might just be amazing to hear what the man has to say about the music industry.

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2 comments
Clay Wisner
Clay Wisner

I saw the Purple Rain Tour in Atlanta. First time I saw security descend upon and beat down someone in the audience who snuck in a camera. Credentials are good for your health.

Mark C. Austin
Mark C. Austin

This is never going to stop, is it? Bruce has got us. And now he's just going to toy with us for years to come.

 
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