Echoes and Reverberations: The Photography of Vern Evans

Iggy Pop at the Agora Ballroom in the late '70s. (Vern Evans)

Check It Out: We've posted a slideshow of Vern Evans' photography.

The late '70s will forever be remembered as a remarkable paradigm shift for rock music in Dallas.

Mark Lee, the owner of tiny bar just off Maple Avenue called The Hot Klub, began the risky proposition of booking punk rock and New Wave bands from the UK at his club; among them: The Stranglers, Siouxie and the Banshees, Gang of Four, and 999.

Noisy new American artists like X, Flipper, Iggy Pop, Lords of the New Church--as well as Austin’s The Dicks, Big Boys, and Rank and File--all eventually made their way to the Hot Klub. Then-brand new local bands like The Nervebreakers, Superman’s Girlfriend, NCM, Quad Pi, Vomit Pigs, and Stick Men With Rayguns were often the opening acts for many of these shows.

Halfway across town, a rock and roll bar on Northwest Highway called The Bijou (aka Cardi’s) began hosting a weekly “Rock and Roll Alternative” night which brought in groups like The Pretenders, Talking Heads, The Cramps, and U2 (who opened for a wet t-shirt contest at the club)--each for a 98 cent cover charge. These shows were sponsored by DJ George Gimarc’s Sunday night radio program on 98 The Zoo (KZEW-FM), which was the primary classic rock radio station in Dallas at the time.

The drinking age was 18 then, so it was entirely plausible that my best friend and I could wrangle fake IDs and sneak into many of these shows. His parents would often drive us to shows and wait for us out in the parking lot.

“Rusty” Evans was a few months older than I, so he got a driver’s license a few months before I did. We were students at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson at the time. Both of us shared an interest in photography, and part of the thrill of attending these shows was sneaking our 35mm cameras in and documenting the proceedings.

Rusty had a natural gift for photography. Me, well…not so much. Developing film was expensive, and I chose to spend the majority of what little money I had on weed, vinyl records and stereo gear. Thankfully, he was smart enough to keep his eye on the viewfinder. After I got kicked out of Pearce and then transferred to Richardson High for my senior year, Rusty Evans and I fell out of touch and we each went our separate ways.

So let’s fast-forward three decades.

Last Thanksgiving, I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, deep in discussion with Robert Wilonsky, who happened to be in town for the weekend on business. A guy in a black cowboy hat walked up to us and asked me if I recognized or remembered him. I didn’t.

It had been 30 years since I'd spoken with Rusty Evans. He humbly explained that he was going by his given name of “Vern” now; and that he had spent the last 25 years carving out a decent career for himself as a portrait photographer in LA. Then Evans whipped out his iPhone and showed us a glimpse of his impressive portfolio.

Familiar portraits of Steven Spielberg, Russell Simmons, Magic Johnson, Harrison Ford, Russell Crowe, and Jack Black barely scratched the surface of his resume. Brilliant photographs from all over the world revealed gorgeous imagery and an encouraging depth of humanity. Needless to say, Evans’ work has come a long way from shooting Black Sabbath at Memorial Auditorium; Sex Pistols or Patti Smith at Longhorn Ballroom; Aerosmith and Van Halen at Texxas Jam in ‘78; or Devo, The Ramones, The Clash or Blondie at their first appearances in Dallas back in 1979.

Evans recently returned from a month-long trip to Tibet, where he accompanied System of a Down’s SerjTankian and dance music icon Moby to meet the Dalai Lama. His extraordinary photographs from that particular excursion are spiritual, revelatory and aesthetically beautiful.

In addition, Evans has taken remarkable photographic expeditions to Cuba, India, and Mexico. A sampling of Evans’ current subject matter reveals interesting glimpses of bullfighters, masked professional wresters, Elvis impersonators and monster trucks in the Mojave Desert. All of his work is quietly ironic and beautiful.

Two weeks ago, I ventured back out to Los Angeles to visit with Vernon Evans for a few days and dig through his photographic archives. He was kind enough to allow me to post a retrospective of his work on my History of Dallas Music MySpace page. On the drive back to Texas, I couldn’t help but think about how far this guy had come.

Back in high school, Rusty and I were outcasts in our peer group. We didn’t really have many friends at the time, other than each other. For years I wondered what had become of him. What a shock to find out that his career had already eclipsed and exceeded any expectations that either one of us could have ever had as teenagers. --Jeffrey Liles

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Jeff Liles