Donielle Flynn

Frank Pettis has been going to shows and taking pictures for decades.  He tells amazing stories with his pictures and memories.  Frank was there when Alice Cooper had chickens on stage and a pillow fight broke out.  Frank Pettis was at The Red Carpet lounge when The Romantics first formed. Frank Pettis started his photo career when his dad took him to see Elvis.  Frank has tons of pictures and a massive vinyl collection. You can find Frank Pettis at the WCXS Classic Rock Swap on March 19th at Oakland Mall he also has a group on Facebook, Detroit Rock City, that is one of my favorites.  Here’s my Q&A with Frank. – Doni

  • Tell us about your Detroit roots.

    I grew up near the Eastern Market around E. Larned and Alexandrine. St. Albertus Catholic School was the first school I went to, which was located at 4231 St. Aubin in Detroit. My grandmother raised me..

    I was a big fan of Rock ’N Roll music growing up and I listened to the pop stations of the day like CKLW, Honey AM56, WXYZ, Keener 13, WRIF and the start of underground music when WABX hit the air waves. Being a poor boy from Detroit, I didn’t have a lot of money.  I couldn’t afford to buy albums, so I went to the Rexall Drug store on Jefferson by Belle Isle and bought jukebox 45’s for 3 for $1.00, some with the picture sleeves.  I still have that collection.  It was the start of my vinyl collection, which now numbers over 10,000.

    Frank’s vast vinyl collection.

  • What was the first show where you took pictures?

    My first concert I shot was when I was a teenager and I got my Dad to take me to see the new Rock ’N Roll sensation, Elvis Presley, on March 31, 1957. With over 11,00 screaming fans, I carried my Kodak Brownie Hawkeye with plenty of flashbulbs. Elvis was dressed in a gold metallic jacket and black pants. Because of the deafening screaming of all those young girls, you could not hear his music. Elvis did two shows that day and played for 40 minutes.  Tickets sold up to $5.00.  He closed the show with, “Hound Dog.”

    Frank pettis’ first show: Elvis

  • What is one of your all-time favorite concerts in Detroit and why?

    My favorite show was the Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour which was on March 20, 1970, at the Eastown Theatre.  The band was put together by the master of time and space, Leon Russell, with the English chap, Joe Cocker, on stage performing like a man on speed and playing an imaginary guitar.  His soulful voice was unbelievable, with some 30 musicians, singers and even a dog on stage at one time. Being the Eastown Staff Photographer I got to hang with the guys backstage, and I was invited back to the Gold Key hotel to party with some of the girls from the group including Kathi McDonald.  She released an album later on Capitol Records, which I was working for at the time.
    Frank and Joe Cocker

    Frank and Joe Cocker.

  • What’s one of the strangest concerts you ever photographed?

    My strangest concert would have to be the first time I saw Alice Cooper at the Eastown on March 31, 1970.  I saw chickens on top of amplifiers, I saw Alice eating a magazine, singing through a screen door, getting electrocuted and two band members having a pillow fight with feathers flying over.  In that moment, I snapped the shutter on my camera to get a classic shot of Alice surrounded by the feathers.  That photo was used in the April 1970 edition of Creem Magazine. As a side story, I was friends with Dennis Dunaway, the bass player of the group.  We would get together and go to thrift stores looking for vintage clothes for the group.  On several occasions, I spent the night at the band house and rehearsal barn on Brown Road in Pontiac ( it has since been torn down and Great Lakes Crossing was constructed across the street).  Yes, I slept with the Boa Constrictor and monkey that lived at the house.   Nine of my photos were licensed for the movie, “Super Duper Alice Cooper” released in 2014.

    Alice Cooper during a show at the Eastown Theatre in Detroit in March 1970. Frank Pettis says this was his first published photo in Creem magazine.

  • What are your favorite concert venues for photos?

    My favorite place to shoot photos would have to be the Eastown Theatre.  I had complete access to the place and it was there I started my friendship with Rod Stewart and The Faces. I was onstage, backstage, all the different after-parties at different hotels.  In 1970 I saw the guys 12 times. The band loved having me around because I would give them photos from previous shows, and as luck would have it, I was rewarded with one of my photos of the group used on the poster that was included on The Faces 3rd album, “A Nod is as Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse.” Released in 1971. I also sang on stage with Rod and Ronnie Lane in 1970 at the Birmingham Palladium.

    For all of you that want to follow me on Facebook, come join my group, Detroit Rock City.. the cover photo is the MC5. Breaking News: I will be the Featured Photographer from the year 1970 in the new 300-page hardcover book coming out of the UK this summer, the title is Stooges: The Truth Is In The Sound We Made.

    Pettis with The Faces’ Rod Stewart and Ron Wood in 1970.

  • Frank Pettis Gallery

    Larger images can be viewed on the Frank Pettis Gallery page.

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