The First Three Songs – 50 years of Rock and Roll Photography by Steve Schneider

If you’re lucky, your passion and career path reveal itself early in life. For Steve Schneider, elective photography classes in high school led to working for the school newspaper and taking photos for the yearbook and eventually morphed into a lifelong career taking pictures.

Although that path took him around the country photographing a variety of subject matter, it was Steve’s passion for rock and roll photography that inspired the creation of his first book, which was completed over the last two years. The book, and many of the photographs contained in the book are currently on exhibit at the Jeffrey Moose Gallery on Bainbridge Island.

Growing up in La Mirada in Southern California in the 1960s, Steve frequented small music venues, such as The Golden Bear in Huntington Beach. Later, he sought out larger venues like the Roxy and the Troubadour in Los Angeles where he saw acts like James Taylor and Jimmy Buffet. As security was fairly lax in those days, he had no trouble smuggling his camera in to take pictures of the performers and performances.

During his college years in Southern California, Steve became friends with Micky Hart of the Grateful Dead. That friendship gave him unusual access, and he took some of the most iconic photos of the Dead’s storied career, including one of Jerry Garcia that would eventually be included in Time Magazine’s feature honoring Garcia’s life after his death.

Although Steve didn’t study photography in college, he did continue to take pictures as often as possible. When he decided it was time to leave the Los Angeles area, he took up a friend’s offer, as he told me, “To quote Guy Clark ‘I got to get off this LA Freeway without getting killed or caught.’ I grew up in Southern California, and just had to leave.  I had a good friend who had a good place for me to stay and a job in Granite Falls.  So, I moved to Washington.”

It was this move that would connect Steve with United Press International (UPI) in 1979, where he began stringing (in journalistic jargon, stringers are sometimes referred to as freelance correspondents or contributors) taking concert photos and honing his skills as a photographer. He also developed professional relationships with SIPA News Group (USA), USA Today and Gannet. His relationship with SIPA would lead to the full page shot of Jerry Garcia that appeared in Time Magazine.

From there he was able to slowly build his photography business, mostly shooting conventions and annual gatherings of professional associations. “I made my living shooting conventions both here in Seattle and all over the country. Shooting live music has always been my passion.  I just knew that I could not make a living at it.  I had to make my photography business pay so I could shoot concerts. I did.  It was a fun ride,” Steve said. In addition, he has photographed sports figures and politicians, and his work has appeared in Newsweek and Modern Drummer.

“I have had a great career.  I got to travel for over 25 years working for associations. This was a great way to see the country and get paid for it.  I got to photograph many memorable concerts including the Closing of Winterland Arena in San Francisco in 1978.  Breakfast was served at dawn after over 12 hours of music.  I also saw the final Seattle shows by some famous artists. These include Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jerry Garcia, and Steve Goodman.”

Steve had always had a book in mind for his treasure trove of photographs, and with the pandemic putting a pause on his career, he decided to dive into the project from his home in Shoreline, Washington, and spent the last two years making it a reality.

The book, “The First Three Songs: Rock and Roll at 125th of a Second,” is a 220-page coffee table publication documenting more than 50 years of Rock and Roll photography. Images of iconic superstars are featured including the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Santana, Eric Clapton, U2, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Emmy Lou Harris, Bruce Cockburn, Dave Matthews, Dave Alvin, Arlo Guthrie, and Puget Sound greats such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. And, although not in the book, Steve has done gratis shoots for Bainbridge Island’s very own Ranger and the Re-Arrangers.

Jeffrey Moose Gallery on Winslow Way is proud to celebrate the publication of Steve’s book with an exhibit of his photographs from the book through February 26, 2022. On Friday, February 4th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Steve will be at the gallery for a reception and book signing (books are available for purchase at the gallery throughout the exhibit).

In addition, Jeffrey wrote the forward in the book, as he explained, “Steve and I have a 10-year history now (Steve exhibited at Jeffrey’s previous gallery in Seattle). He is part of my stable…Brothers in Arms…”

The process of sorting through 50 years of slides, negatives, and digital images was a wonderful walk down memory lane for Steve, and he was happy to share some of the stories involving those photos:

“I met Bill Walton, of basketball fame, at a Grateful Dead show many years ago.  One year he came to Seattle with the Boston Celtics to play against the Sonics.  UPI hired me to shoot the game.  After the game we decided to get something to eat.  He got a call by Larry Bird saying that they were at a restaurant and they didn’t like the menu.  I said that I knew a place that had great pasta.  We drove down to the restaurant, and I picked up Larry Bird and Danny Ange and all four of us piled into my van with my snow tires still in the van.  They had to put their long legs on my tires.  It was a very fun night.  Just listening to their stories and talking about the Grateful Dead.  We ate dinner and I drove them back to the hotel.”

The fun didn’t stop there, as Steve recalled, “Back in 2014, I got a photo pass from Merle Haggard.  I also had general admission tickets so we got in line early.  It was a warm day so I took off my shoes to stay cool a couple hours before the show started.  Merle’s manager told me to come inside and go onstage and get my pass. While standing on the side of the stage, Rodney Crowell, who was opening with Emmylou Harris, came up to me and asked ‘Why are you barefooting?’ I told him the story and while I was waiting for my pass, we talked about the music industry.  While we were talking, Emmylou Harris was in the background singing.  Such a treat…”

Jeffrey Moose Gallery is located at 181 Winslow Way East, Suite F, Bainbridge Island, WA

The book is also available for purchase on Steve’s website,, and Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

*This article was originally published on my Island Wanderings artist feature for Arts & Humanities Bainbridge Currents Online magazine.

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