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Rock n’ Roll Photographer Jimmy Steinfeldt Lands In La Quinta

Rock photographer Jimmy Steinfeldt opens his new gallery, complete with a treasure trove of four decades of original iconic musical shots, this Saturday, October 28th

If Coachella Valley has been feeling a little cooler than usual recently, residents have the arrival of iconic rock photographer Jimmy Steinfeldt to thank as much as the delayed Fall weather.

La Quinta’s latest high-profile desert denizen is opening the vault to showcase and sell original shots of a slew of stars photographed in his signature, performance-capturing style these past four decades.

Steinfeldt and his longtime friend Appollonia, the female lead in the film Purple Rain and fan-favorite of Prince’s backing singers, are co-hosting this weekend’s can’t-miss Saturday night event at his new home and gallery on October 28.

Only those lucky enough to have an invite know the still-secret location of the exclusive reception and exhibition. Once there guests can do more than gawk: a first look sale of enviable shots of everyone from Madonna to Willie Nelson will be available for purchase. 

Prince | Photo Jimmy Steinfeldt
Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks | Photo Jimmy Steinfeldt
Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow | Photo Jimmy Steinfeldt
David Bowie
David Bowie | Photo Jimmy Steinfeldt
Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash | Photo Jimmy Steinfeldt
ZZ Top
ZZ Top | Photo Jimmy Steinfeldt

One of music’s most prolific concert and profile photographers, Steinfelts photography has been heavily populating album covers, magazines and pop culture sites since his Spin Magazine debut of bad-to-the-bone George Thoroughgood in 1985.  The Cher of photography, Steinfeldt seems to score hits in every decade, going on to win “Photographer of the Year” at the L.A. Music Awards in 1998, and again in 2007. 

His gallery joins his two 2010s coffee table books— Rock ‘N’ Roll Lens Volumes I and II, 30 Years of Music Photography and Stories—as his latest push for people to enjoy his work together in actual, high quality photo form instead of in less-than-perfect pixilations alone behind a screen. 

Steinfeldt’s no snob, telling me that “while this kickoff for my new studio is invite-only, those reading here who RSVP (details below), I’ll add them to the guest list. The show’s going on through the end of November by appointment only.”

Curious to hear how someone coming of age in Minneapolis at the dawn of the 80s came to photograph every legend in the book, I spoke with Jimmy over a wide-ranging interview edited and condensed for clarity.

You got to document such an extraordinary moment in musical history, Minneapolis in the 80s, famous for Prince and his whole pop R&B revolution and then also an explosion of garage rock, bands like the art rock Suburbs, the indie Replacements, proto grunge Husker Du, Soul Train.  What kind of crossover was there, did they hang out, were they competitive?

It was a pretty supportive scene. Everyone knew something special was going on. I would say the two scenes mostly hung out separately, but the rock scene respected the pop R&B  scene, and we’re even in awe of everything that Prince was doing. They all went to his shows. I remember Paul Westerberg [the lead singer of the Replacments] famously saying  “we were a garage band, next to Prince, we were like children in a sandbox, [compared to his amazing proficiency in everything from ability, performance, composition, production]”. So there was no arrogance or rivalry at all, just respect.
The Replacements later recorded at Paisley Park, the legendary studio Prince founded.

So everyone genuflected before Prince, makes sense. Was he also the best one to shoot?

Absolutely. I’m a performance photographer, I like capturing artists in peak performance, close ups of hands during intricate guitar work, etc. and nobody gave an all-out performance like Prince. Sure you could go back in history to someone like Al Jolson who would give these four hour shows and had to be dragged off the stage, to probably Prince’s only contemporary peer Michael Jackson who I also shot a lot, but I’d still give the edge to Prince. 

He’d be in the midst of pulling off insane moves both on the guitar–or on all the instruments he played, because the man could play them all–and of course dancing, and all of sudden just play to the crowd or me right in front with these brilliant looks to the camera, these side eyes. He’d look right at me on occasion which is both so cool and scary at the same time. “Is he glad he’s being photographed, is he pissed? What do these eerily timed looks mean?” 

Sounds like he could be both in the moment of these incredible performances, and then somehow comment on them at the same time. 

Exactly. And with ever changing commentary, too! I can’t think of anyone else who could jump off from up high of a huge amplifier and land in a perfect split, and also pull off the perfect smirk and eye roll, too. He was a genius.

Let alone survive moves like that night after night, not to mention the whole 80s scene too, cause he must have partied and had a blast off stage, too. What he was like in real life?

Painfully shy. Really nice and polite, a man of quiet power and few words. Very cryptic, too. He reminded me of Andy Warhol in a way. Ever since the first time I met him in person at Rudolph’s Barbeque, at this odd time of day between lunch and dinner when I was sat right next to him and Appollonia. I was just starting out so as he was readying to leave I introduced myself and said “Um, Prince”–I wasn’t sure what to call him, if that was his name off stage or what–”I  got these great shots of you, how do i get them to you?” and he goes “send them to my management” and I say “who are they, where do i find them?” and he exits with “on the back of my album”.

Well, he did tell you how to find them.

Yup! I wasn’t hanging out in his inner circle but he was never someone who was out of control  in all the times I did shoot him on stage or off, in life or at Paisley Park. Just mysteriously in it. Paul also said when he and The Replacements recorded there that he was totally together, said little, he just shyly ruled the whole place. 

But he wasn’t aloof, either, he was comfortable going out, maybe one bodyguard sometimes, but not a crazy entourage.  He would definitely pop up in public and go to the clubs. One night I was out dancing with my girlfriend in a packed Avenue A and then all of a sudden there’s Prince alongside us dancing with this girl then weaving through the crowd. So he wasn’t the kind of guy who walled off behind a velvet rope, the untouchable star. But you have to remember, Prince was one of the hardest working acts in show business. He was penning hits and producing so many artists, from everyone to the Bangles, Cyndi Lauper, etc. Everyone went through Paisley Park and every time I was there shooting he was the consummate professional in control.

So were you surprised at how he died of a drug overdose then?

Sadly, no. Cause really he died of a chronic pain problem, and the addictive way it was treated. Not only was he over the decades giving those all-out, body-wrecking performances but he also was always in drag as Prince off stage!  Never did I see him not walking around in his full high heels boots, be it just walking around, or producing another act in Paisley Park. Prince was always dressed as Prince, and I’m sorry but no man or woman can get away with wearing sky high heels day in and day out and on top of pulling off those perfect splits night after night. 

Wow. 24/7 heels and splits, no wonder he blew out his hip and got addicted to painkillers. He has to be most famous, and maybe even the first, accidental Fentanyl casualty, too, an inadvertent trend that’s now a full scale epidemic.

Yeah it was counterfeit Vicodin, nobody knew. It’s a national tragedy that’s still happening all around us.

The worst. Let’s move to cheerier subjects. Tell us about your Goodbye to all that, leaving-Minneapolis-for-LA moment in the 90s.

You get to a point where you’re a big fish in a small pond, an incredible one Minneapolis, but smaller one than Los Angeles where the business really was. By that time I had shot every act, every visitor of note that had come through Minnepolis–including non-musical ones like Gorbachev and Raisa getting off a plane! So as the scene was waning in the 90s, I went out and opened my first studio there in ‘96. 

Soon after I hook up with a small magazine called Rock Love and they got me in with labels.  I’ll never forget being called into Capitol Records and that iconic round building for the first time. Sinatra, the Beatles, you name it, they had been through there. They said, “bring in all your gear, you’ll shoot this band that’s been around a while now, they’ve had a couple hits, we really like them.” And it turns out to be Radiohead. Taking photos to promote Ok Computer.


Yeah.  So they put me in this office with one huge table taking up the whole office so I was forced to put them up against a wall. 

What was that like, did they get along, did they let you do your thing or get involved with creative suggestions?

Thom was really shy, but yeah they all got along, it all happened so fast, I had very little face time, they were great, just weary and there to get the job done. But then those portrait shots go everywhere, become the cover of their biography, it was unreal. 

You seem to have a knack for being at the right place at the right time, you’re like some midwestern Zelig of photography.

So after that everyone must have came through your new studio in Laurel Canyon, what was one of the most memorable shoots, one that left a lasting impression?

So a lot of my friends are artists and would come over to paint inside or out en plein air. Laurel Canyon has that amazing light, and even some of my subjects did, like George Clinton, who’s besides being the funk master, is also a good painter. And so he starts painting and I’m shooting him painting and we’re having fun and then he spills paint on my floor. At first I was bothered but i decided not to clean it up, I just left them, made the studio look even better, so that shoot sure did. So many musicians were also artists. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan. He’s from Minneapolis, too.

That’s right, Bob Dylan’s a Minnesotan, too. You shot him, too, did you know him?

Not really, but my grandparents and parents knew his, and so I had more like a polite, deferential relationship with them. Whenever I would take pictures of him live, I’d always send one to his mother. She was especially  happy when I sent her one of the first big pictures of her grandson, Jakob.

Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers. Ok, Jimmy you really have shot everyone, A to Z. 

What’s the most expensive shoot you did, the craziest over the top one?

I did a great one with Guns and Roses drummer Matt Sorum, that was really involved, we went all over LA, downtown, the strip, my studio. He had great ideas and pulled out all the stops.

Since you’re the consummate midwesterner with only kind words for everyone, who was the nicest person you worked with?

Stevie Ray Vaughn. Early on in my career before I had any notoriety, he welcomed me back stage, he waved me past his handlers and posed for me, gave me all kinds of shots, plenty of time, hung out, was just really great to everyone. Made all the more memorable because he died soon after in that terrible helicopter accident at only 35.

I didn’t realize he was that young, so awful.  We keep landing on death, Jimmy.  Who were some of your photography heroes, and how were they when you got to meet them?

I’m looking at one now in my office, a picture of me smiling ear to ear with the great Richard Avedon, the greatest I think. And its not always true what they say about its not good meeting your heroes, because he was so gracious and fun.

What made Avedon so great?

The lighting.  He just got it so right. And while his work is very diverse and he’s got so many ones like the famous beekeeper one with bees all over his body, he’s famous for coming up with a simple plain look of finding the right light and simple backdrop to get you the viewer to see directly into the eyes of your subject.

So if you get the lighting right in photography, you get the best entry into the eyes?

Yes and no one did it better than Avedon.

So why Other Desert Cities and the whole Palm Springs Coachella scene?

Well,besides being beautiful and the perfect distance from LA, close enough to get in for work and far enough to get away, there’s an incredible art and music scene happening from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree.  And they just finished that huge stadium project for of all things a hockey team (laughs) to accommodate all the already-huge, incredible acts to come through, Madonna’s coming in the Spring.

What are your favorite galleries?

Hohmann Gallery, Melissa Morgain in Palm Desert, both do public and private showings of great national and international artists. I also love Old Town Artisan Studios in La Quinta and how they support artists and bring art to people, they’ve a great mission. 
And I gotta say, my own new one that’s opening this weekend! (laughs) We’re starting with my concert photography then we’ll move to my other more americana, fine art work. 

Tell me about one of your favorite album covers or portraits that will be included in this weekend’s first gallery exhibit?

Well i was one of the last to photograph Dee Dee Ramone before he died, and after I gave his widow the shots from this great shoot we did of him roaming around LA and all his old haunts there that we used in his last album, she’s given me three that will be in this exhibit. We both want Ramones fans to get a chance to have them.

You’ve been here almost a year, what are your haunts, what are your favorites?

I love Bar Cecil, great place for a cocktail and dinner, and I also love it cause its named after Cecil Beaton, who was the mid 20th century celebrity photographer even before Avedon was.

Cecil Beaton, of course! He’s back in pop culture again in those great scenes in The Crown where he was the Royal Photographer, the only one the Queen Mother would allow to photograph Princess Elizabeth and then later an irritated Princess Margaret who wants to use another edgier photographer, her eventual husband Tony Snowden instead. The scenes where the actor playing Beaton giving his art direction instructions during shoot are so funny. 

That’s him! You have to call a month in advance to get a table, but if you just show up you might get a seat at the bar.

The Rao’s of Palm Springs. What about your favorite place to get a sandwich?

Oh Sherman’s Deli, and right in La Quinta, the Road Runner.

What’s most surprised you about living in the 111 overall?

Here’s my favorite thing: when you go to a stop sign, everyone’s falling over themselves to let you go first, it’s just one of the many ways people are so friendly here.

You landed in the right place then, Jimmy, you must fit right in here. Thanks so much for a great conversation. We’ll see you Saturday night, once I get that secret location.

To RSVP for the event please email:


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