The Day the King of Music Photographers Screamed at Me

The Beatles © Jim Marshall Photography LLC

Ringo Starr © Jim Marshall Photography LLC

SKF NOTE: I posted my What Makes a Music Photographer Good? on, and member bbunk replied, “Whoa – Jim Marshall!!! You got to work with the king of music photographers!” To which I replied, “Someday I’ll write about, The Day the King of Music Photographers Screamed at Me.” Here goes.

In 1981 I had a very hard time finding a photographer who had for sale pictures of Ringo Starr playing drums. Action shots. Modern Drummer had secured a feature interview with Ringo Starr — which was a major coup for the magazine. (Once again, I think Jim Keltner was responsible for making that happen.)

It was up to MD‘s managing editor – me! – to make sure we had photos. I was able to have a photographer on location when freelance writer Robyn Flans interviewed Ringo. We used one of those photos for the cover, and a couple inside with Ringo’s interview. But I also very much wanted to have action shots of Ringo. Preferably great action shots no one had ever seen before.

Enter legendary photographer Jim Marshall. I vaguely remember, when I decided to call Jim Marshall, feeling as if I was approaching the Great and Powerful Oz. I felt that way many times on initial calls to photographers, musicians, and industry people when their work and reputations preceded them. I am pretty sure I had also heard that Jim Marshall had a volatile personality. Great photographer. Just don’t get on his bad side.

starr_ringoAt the time, Modern Drummer paid something like $50.00 for one-time use of a photo, paid on publication. Would I be insulting Jim Marshall with that offer?

Jim Marshall did have photos of Ringo from The Beatles‘ final concert in 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, CA. They were not Marshall’s best work. But they were unique and they were action shots of Ringo. We used them with MD‘s Ringo interview.

Jim might have insisted on a somewhat greater amount per photo than MD‘s standard offer. He also insisted on getting paid right away, not on publication. He said he would express mail his photos, and as soon as I had them in hand, MD should send Jim a check for the full amount. The total amount that keeps coming to mind is $150. That amount may not be exactly right, but it’s close.

I approached MD founder/publisher Ron Spagnardi with Jim Marshall’s terms. He said okay. So I phoned Jim Marshall and said, “It’s a deal.” He sent his photos as promised. I let Ron know and reminded him of our promise to cut-and-send Jim Marshall a check immediately.


Jim Marshall

A day or so later, Jim Marshall called me. “Did you get my photos?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “They’re great. Thank you.”

“I haven’t received the check. Did you send the check?”

“I think so,” I said. Truth is, I assumed the check would be sent.

“Well, I don’t have it,” Jim said. “How did you send it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me find out and I’ll call you right back.”

Long story short, the check had not been sent. I think Ron passed along the invoice to MD‘s check writer, who dismissed it.

I was not happy. I had given Jim Marshall my word, Ron had given me his word. And Jim Marshall was the only one who was true to his word. MD‘s check writer assured me the check would be written and sent out that day. And it was.

But I had to call back Jim Marshall and tell him what happened. He screamed and yelled at me about our broken deal, our broken promise. He was right. All I could do was listen and say, “I’m sorry.” It remains among my very few awful memories at Modern Drummer.

Chalk up another lesson. From that point on, whenever anyone promised me they would do something, I practiced President Reagan’s approach to the Soviet Union: Trust, but verify.


Photo Credits: Jim MarshallRingo MD Cover, Ringo at Candlestick Park

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