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Ken Settle behind the Lens

Ken Settle is a Detroit-area music photographer who began his career while barely in his teens, photographing rock legend Bob Seger in his early years, in the clubs and skating rinks around the Motor City. Through the years, Ken’s photos have been published worldwide in magazines such as Guitar Player, Premier Guitar; Rolling Stone, the original Creem Magazine, People, Playboy, Guitar World, Japan’s Player, France’s Guitarist, and England’s Kerrang!

Ken Settle

  • When did you start taking concert photos? Do you remember the first show you shot?

    The VERY first time I tried to take photos at a concert was when I was a little kid!  My dad and mom took my sisters and me to see Creedence Clearwater Revival at Cobo Arena on July 11, 1971. My parents had gotten my sisters and me little Kodak point and shoot cameras for Christmas maybe two years earlier, so I was quite enamored with photography.  My father had a decent camera.  He showed me how to load the film and he let me take some photos of CCR onstage!  I remember walking down the aisle on the main floor of Cobo to get a bit closer to the stage, and I took a handful of fairly blurry, not-so-good photos! But the energy and excitement of live music at Cobo Arena was electric and it was such a thrill to try to capture that–even in my little kid’s way of doing so.  The bill at that show was amazing.  Not only did I get to see Creedence Clearwater, but I got to see the great Bo Diddley, as well as Tower Of Power, open the show too!  Here’s my first concert photo:

    WCSX Spotlight-Creedence Clearwater Revival at Cobo on July 11, 1971--my first live concert photo

    EDIT: Actually, my very very first rock’n’roll photo came a couple of months earlier in May of 1971. The Bob Seger System were playing a baseball game in Southfield against the staff of the then brand new WRIF-FM. Somehow, my sisters and I talked my dad into taking us to see the ball game. I felt very bad that my mom couldn’t come too. She had to be home and make Mother’s Day dinner for my grandma. I took my mom’s Mother’s Day card with me in hopes of getting Bob Seger to sign it! My dad let me use his decent camera to try to get photos. I spotted Seger walking back out onto the field–a pack of Marlboro’s in one hand and a ball glove in the other. I went up to him and shyly asked, “Bob…would you sign my mom’s Mother’s Day card”? “Sure”….he said with a friendly chuckle. “Let’s get this guy to sign it too,” he offered, pointing to Seger System drummer, Pep Perrine. Pep signed the card and handed it back to me. I turned to Bob and said, “Let me get a photo!” and I snapped one shot…which thankfully was in focus and properly exposed!

    Bob Seger - 1971 Bob Seger and crew played a ballgame against the WRIF crew.

    Bob Seger – 1971 Bob Seger and crew played a ballgame against the WRIF crew.

  • Where did you grow up?

    I was born in Trenton, Michigan, and the family lived in Taylor for awhile, then Nankin Twp., which became Westland.  I have lived my entire life in the Detroit area.  What an incredible place to be exposed to music!!  Music and the radio were a huge part of my life from the age of six.  My sister let me borrow her little transistor radio and I was hooked.  Not only did the Detroit area offer powerhouse Top 40 and rock stations, but when I was a kid, it was also quite a market for country music as well.
    KISS Live LCA

    Kiss live at Little Caesars Arena on 3-13-2019. Photo credit: Ken Settle

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

    There are so many magical moments. Some of my best memories of photographing live music are the times when I photographed Bob Seger around the Detroit area before his platinum success finally came to him in 1976.  Photographing Bob playing at clubs like Uncle Sam’s in Redford in 1973, and The Rock’n’Roll Farm in Wayne in 1974 hold an incredibly special place in my archives as well as in my heart.  Chronicling Bob in the early days of The Silver Bullet Band, and even before that, gave me such a great look at the development of an iconic artist.   I remember photographing one of the earliest Silver Bullet Band shows.  It was at Cobo Arena in early October of 1973.  Bob and the band were playing the annual ALSAC charity concert at Cobo and opening the show for Brownsville Station.  Silver Bullet drummer, Charlie Martin, had to play on Brownsville Station drummer Henry Weck’s double bass drum kit–complete with the Brownsville Station logo emblazoned across the bass drum heads,  in an effort to save time in striking the stage between bands!

    Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band 1974 Ken Settle

    Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band – 1974 Photo credit: Ken Settle

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

    Well…the king of strange concert experiences would have to be just about ANY Alice Cooper show!  “Expect the unexpected” would have to be the operative motto!  Alice’s management has always let me photograph Alice’s shows in their entirety from beginning to end, with no three-song limit, which has been the norm for many years now.  For Alice’s Halloween show at Joe Louis Arena in 1987, Alice had countless helium-filled balloons bouncing overhead in the stage area and he was piercing them with his sword, sending a ton of confetti falling all over the stage, the photo pit, as well as the first several rows of the audience.  What no one knew though, was that a few of those balloons contained gallons of fake blood!  So there I was photographing Alice one minute, and the next minute, me, and my cameras, as well as the first few rows in the audience, are covered in gallons of the sticky faux blood. I mean, I got NAILED! Covered from head to toe in the stuff!  Since I had no other clothes to change into, I got a lot of strange looks driving home after the show.

    Alice Cooper Halloween 1987

    Alice Cooper–Halloween 1987–Joe Louis Arena

  • What are your favorite concert venues to shoot in?

    It has been such a joy to have photographed in some of our iconic Detroit venues that are no longer around like Cobo Arena, Joe Louis Arena, and the old Michigan Palace (what was once the Michigan  Theatre in Detroit).  These venues carried so many great memories for me and you could literally feel the old ghosts of the legendary concerts that had gone on in those hallowed venues!  Pine Knob, Meadowbrook, and Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre all have such a great vibe.  It is hard to beat a rock’n’roll show on one of our typical Detroit area hot and humid nights at one of those legendary outdoor venues.  But you know, Little Caesars Arena is also a joy to photograph at.  The people who interface with the photographers at all of the 313 Presents shows are the best of the best and so incredible to work with.  Kim Klein, Carly Somers, Bryant Fillmore, and really the entire staff there keep things running so smooth. They really are the best in the business!

    Ted Nugent Whiplash Bash Cobo Arena 1987

    Ted Nugent–Whiplash Bash–Cobo Arena–12-31-1987.

    Detroit Rock Photographer Spotlight: Ken Settle Gallery

    For more pictures from our Detroit Rock Photographer series, check this out:

    Detroit Rockers by Detroit Photographers