The Story Behind The Shot: Danny Clinch on 6 of his greatest pictures

Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field, Chicago, 2013
Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field, Chicago, 2013 (Image credit: Danny Clinch)

Name a renowned rock artist of the ‘90s and early 21st century, and chances are, Danny Clinch snapped a great photo of them at some point. The New York City-based photographer’s work is currently on display in the US (in Asbury Park, New Jersey, until May 1st), in an exhibition dubbed Transparent. Danny picked out six standout shots he took over the years, and recalled memories of each.

Radiohead - New York, New York 1997

Radiohead - New York, 1997

Radiohead - New York, 1997 (Image credit: Danny Clinch)

It was around Christmas, and Radiohead were in New York City with their friends and family, and I was hanging out with their publicist and some of the guys in the band. There was a magazine called Ray Gun, and the publicist got a phone call - to do a shoot for Ray Gun. I recall Thom asking us, “Is it an interesting magazine? Is it worth doing?” And I loved that magazine. I said, “It’s one of the coolest magazines going on right now.”

I recall Thom saying, “We’ll do it, but Danny has to take the photos.” We spent an afternoon hanging out in my loft, and we decided to take a walk around the city. We ended up walking down Sixth Avenue and there was this little park and bench. I set them up in that spot, and I think I suggested Thom to stand up on the bench. He did, and he goes, “What about this?” He leapt up in the air, and I grabbed that photo.

Tom Waits - Santa Rosa, California 2004

Tom Waits - Santa Rosa, California 2004

Tom Waits - Santa Rosa, California 2004 (Image credit: Danny Clinch)

I had been dying to photograph Tom Waits. I was waiting for my opportunity, and there was a magazine called Harp, and he got offered a cover story. We were going to do it in San Francisco, and at the last minute, I got a call saying would I mind coming up to Santa Rosa, because Tom promised his son and nephew that he would take them to the county fair. I got on the phone with him, and was like, “What about the carousel?” And he said, “That would be great!”

We showed up and met Tom in the parking lot, and he brought props - a magnifying glass, a fake Elvis hairdo, and an orange water pistol. He stuck the water pistol in his belt, and when we were getting out tickets, the lady says, “Sorry, you can’t come in with that.” We go around the corner, he sticks it in his jacket, and go into the park. When we got to the carousel, he sat on this crazy sea monster, and as he comes around, he reached in and pulled out this water pistol, and started firing it.

Bruce Springsteen - Bruce’s Farmhouse, New Jersey 2005

Bruce Springsteen - Bruce’s Farmhouse, New Jersey 2005

Bruce Springsteen - Bruce’s Farmhouse, New Jersey 2005 (Image credit: Danny Clinch)

I had done the photos for The Rising, and that had been my first album packaging for Bruce Springsteen. I was really super-psyched to work with him, and we had developed a good relationship. I had done some of the tour and the tour book, and the next album came up, and I didn’t get the call for the album cover. Then I got a call from management, saying, “Bruce wants you to come to the farm, and film a little bit of Bruce playing some songs off Devils & Dust, so we can make a little film” - they were doing that DualDisc thing.

I went over there with two 16mm cameras and got a chance to film Bruce playing some of these songs. In the middle of that, I also brought my camera along. At a certain point, there was a little downtime, and I asked if I could do a couple of portraits, and he said, “Yeah. Let’s do it.” It was one of those moments that I remember looking through that camera, and thinking, “How the heck did I end up in Bruce Springsteen’s farmhouse?” It was one of those seminal moments in my career, when I looked through the lens, and thought, “Holy shit…this is really happening!”

Neil Young - Nashville, Tennessee 2005

Neil Young - Nashville, Tennessee 2005

Neil Young - Nashville, Tennessee 2005 (Image credit: Danny Clinch)

I went to the filming of Heart of Gold - I was down their photographing while they were filming. And then I got a call from the label saying, “Since you’re down there, can you do some publicity photos?” I had all these great plans - we were going to go to the Ryman Auditorium [where Heart of Gold was filmed], and they said, “He can’t really leave the hotel. We’ll have to do it at the hotel.”

I knew Neil Young was into classic cars, so I went in the newspaper, and found a guy selling a 1948 Cadillac. I asked him if I gave him a hundred bucks, would he would come over to the hotel and park out front, so I could take some photos. He brings the car over, and Neil loves it - it’s incredible. So we hopped in the car and drove to the Ryman, and on the trip over there, I shot this photo in the rearview mirror.

Shannon Hoon - New Orleans, Louisiana 1995

Shannon Hoon - New Orleans, Louisiana 1995

Shannon Hoon - New Orleans, Louisiana 1995 (Image credit: Danny Clinch)

Blind Melon were recording Soup down in New Orleans, and I went down to hang out and photograph them - those guys are all my friends. I wanted to get an individual picture of each guy, and was hanging out with each member somewhere. They were recording at Kingsway, which was this studio owned by Daniel Lanois. It was an incredible space - so vibey and spiritual.

Shannon and I went to the porch, and he climbed up onto this railing and was like, “Get a shot of me here!” If you look closely, that whole railing was super rusty. And he knew it and didn’t care. As we know now - what we didn’t know then - it was a pretty good metaphor for what this guy was all about.

Pearl Jam - Chicago, Illinois 2013

Pearl Jam - Chicago, Illinois 2013

Pearl Jam - Chicago, Illinois 2013 (Image credit: Danny Clinch)

The Wrigley shows meant a lot to Pearl Jam - specifically Eddie, because he grew up in Chicago and used to see Cubs games there, and still does. One of my favourite places to be when I’m photographing is if the band trusts me enough to let me on the stage, I like to creep around behind the amplifiers and pop out every once in a while. I feel like that moment allows the viewer of the photograph to feel what it’s like to be on the stage and be a part of what’s going on there.

It also shows the relationship between the band and the audience, and the venue itself. I know the band’s music well, and I can tell when Ed looks over at Jeff, something’s going to happen. I saw him give Jeff “the look,” and I saw him crouch down and get ready to jump. I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time, and the way the crowd was lit - and being at Wrigley - made it super-epic.

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Greg Prato

Contributing writer at Classic Rock magazine since 2004. He has written for other outlets over the years, and has interviewed some of his favourite rock artists: Black Sabbath, Rush, Kiss, The Police, Devo, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Soundgarden, Meat Puppets, Blind Melon, Primus, King’s X… heck, even William Shatner! He is also the author of quite a few books, including Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, A Devil on One Shoulder And An Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon And Blind Melon, and MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, among others.