If you've ever wanted to know what the Sunset Strip rock scene looked like in the very early '80s, a good place to start would be with Don Adkins' photos. The Cerritos-born photographer was there at the very beginning of the Hollywood hard rock explosion, and took some of the first – and in the case of Mötley Crüe, very first – shots of some of the Strip's most legendary bands.
Adkins got his start photographing local L.A. artists like Dyan Diamond and the Orchids, both female acts that were managed by impresario Kim Fowley. One day, the Orchids' drummer, Laurie Bell, asked Adkins if she had ever seen her boyfriend's band perform. "I said, 'No, who's your boyfriend?' She told me he had a band called London," Adkins recalls. "And that's how I met Nikki Sixx."
The two struck up a friendship, and Adkins began shooting the bassist with London. When Sixx left that band to start Mötley Crüe, Adkins came along for the ride, witnessing some of the Crue's earliest rehearsals and taking the first-ever shots of the soon-to-be-legendary band.
Even as he earned a degree in engineering, eventually leading to a successful career in the aerospace industry, Adkins continued to take photos, leading to early encounters with a host of on-the-rise L.A. rockers like Quiet Riot, Ratt, W.A.S.P., Poison, Great White and Faster Pussycat.
Adkins paired up with Metal Edge for an exclusive photo gallery of some of the most striking images from his early days documenting the Hollywood scene. And if you want to check out more of Adkins' work both past and present, head to his Instagram and Facebook pages or his official website.
I first met Nikki at the Starwood, and he started inviting me to all of London's shows. Our relationship grew from there. Pretty soon he said, "Hey, we need some studio shots. Can you help us?" So I would go to their studio, erect temporary backdrops and do shoots. This photo was taken at their rehearsal space in Los Alamitos, a suburb of L.A., in the final version of London with Nikki. The lead singer for this iteration was Michael White [on left], who later fronted a Zep tribute group named The White. The other members were drummer Dane Rage [third from left] and Lizzie Grey [guitar, on right], who saw London all the way through to the end.
Circus Circus, 1980
This Blackie Lawless-fronted band featured Randy Piper [left] on guitar. This was in the period after Blackie had done Sister, which had also included Nikki, and before his short-lived tenure in London and his eventual formation of W.A.S.P. Circus Circus' music was hard rock and metal with a tinge of pop accessibility, with a whole circus-themed stage.
Blackie invited me to their studio in Los Alamitos to check them out while Randy's wife, Bell Piper, shot video. I shot one roll of film. I thought these guys were darn good. I still have the high-quality demo tape, which seemed like it was ready for mastering into an album.
All the bands at this time were basically throwing things against the wall and seeing what stuck. And Blackie really put a lot of time and energy into it. The band created the whole circus set and Blackie had big plans for them. I don't know why he didn't take it further, but then he got the London opportunity and decided to go with that.
Mötley Crüe, 1981
I first saw Mötley Crüe at a rehearsal studio playing with a singer named O'Dean. It was only a handful of us watching, and they did a few songs – It might have been "Stick to Your Guns" and "Toast of the Town." A couple weeks after that, Nikki got in touch with me and said things hadn't worked out with O'Dean and they had a new lead singer – Vince Neil, from local covers band Rockandi. He started describing him: "Hey, we've got this singer with a different sound. His voice, it's almost like he's from outer space! It's so unusual." Then I heard that version of the band in their rehearsal studio and I was like, "Oh crap. This is really, really, really good..."
Nikki was close friends with David Forrest, the general manager of the Starwood, and was already lining up his new band's first live date. He said to me, "Hey, we need some pics, can you do a studio session with us?"
What's funny is that I didn't even have any studio lighting, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity. So I went out and bought five 500-watt Smith-Victor studio hot lights, and I set up in my parents' home in Cerritos, which had a living room with a two-story tall white wall that I thought would work for a classic studio shoot. And that's where I shot the first-ever roll of film of the brand-new Mötley Crüe. This photo is from that very first session. Individual head shots from the shoot were also used on the back of the "Stick to Your Guns"/"Toast of the Town" record, the band's first single.
London was trying to adjust to personnel changes after losing Nikki. One of the short-lived lineups was with Blackie on lead vocals. This version lasted only long enough for a studio shoot and one live show at the Starwood before it disintegrated. The whole thing was probably about a month.I remember Blackie wanting to go into a deeper and harder direction, while London wanted to be more pop and rock accessible.
Following the Mötley Crüe studio shoot, the girls of Tantrum liked the images they saw and I got tapped for the first studio shoot of this hard-rocking female quartet. The blue tarp behind them was actually something I used for my second Motley Crue shoot, when they wanted to add a little more color to the images.
Tantrum's connection to Mötley was with drummer Laurie Bell, who had been in the Orchids, and singer Wendy Correa, the then-girlfriends of Nikki and Mick Mars, respectively. Filling out the Tantrum lineup was Tahni Handal on guitar and Merri Peril on bass. Tantrum made quite a heavy splash on the local scene and it's surprising that it wasn't long-lived. They were really good.
After Randy Rhoads left Quiet Riot to join Ozzy Osbourne, the band basically broke up and Kevin [DuBrow, front man], started a new group, DuBrow. This was taken at a DuBrow show at the Whisky [a Go Go] in October, 1981. Randy was playing with Ozzy at this point, but he must have been in town and come out for the gig. Rudy Sarzo was playing bass and Frankie Banali was on drums, so it was like a DuBrow/Quiet Riot mini-reunion.
I remember after the show we were all hanging out backstage and Frankie needed a ride home. I was getting ready to leave anyway, so I drove him home that night. Not long after that gig, DuBrow took the name Quiet Riot again and went on to huge success with Metal Health.
After Circus Circus and London, Blackie found a solid concept and direction with his new group, W.A.S.P. This is an image from the band's first-ever shoot. I had become friends with Blackie and also bassist Rik Fox, and they called me saying they needed images for the new band. This is before they got Chris Holmes on guitar. The lineup was Blackie, Rik, Randy Piper, who had been in Circus Circus with Blackie, and Tony Richards. As I had done with Motley Crue the year before, we did the shoot in my parents' living room, against the same white wall. Only I put up the blue tarp from the Tantrum shoot behind them. Within a year, W.A.S.P.'s outrageous stage shows would make them pretty famous.
Poison had just come out to L.A. from Pennsylvania, and [manager] Vicky Hamilton was helping them out. I had gotten to know Vicky when she worked with Motley Crue in the early days. So she called me up and said, “Hey, Don, I’ve got these guys. I think they're good. We need a photo shoot.” They all came down to my place in Redondo Beach, which was just a 900-square-foot house, but I had a living room big enough to put up a portable backdrop. I would clear all the furniture, roll down the backdrop, put up lights and shoot.
We did the session in one night and the guys were really fun and very polite. This was when they still had their original guitarist, Matt Smith, [third from left] who was soon replaced by C.C. DeVille. I remember when I first saw them they were doing their makeup and I thought, “These guys are beautiful. They're prettier than most women!”
Faster Pussycat, 1985
Faster Pussycat was another one of Vicky Hamilton’s bands. This shoot was in October of ’85, and I remember it being really rushed. I think this was done in the reception area of the rehearsal studio they were using. It was, “Hey, we’ve got a little bit of time here. Let's do this.” I brought in a couple of portable lights and we just kind of set up right there in the lobby, boom, boom, boom. I remember there was also a coffee table with a bunch of beers and pint glasses on it, and we did a couple shots around that, too. But the whole thing was really quick – no more than an hour.
Pretty soon after that I started hearing a buzz about Faster Pussycat. They were going places. But I had been working in the aerospace industry for a couple of years by that point, and around that time I started to have a bit of a meteoric rise in that world and was focusing more on my career and less on rock. I never saw Faster Pussycat again after that.