Kirk West is a well-known personality on the rock music scene after spending over 20 years as the “Tour Mystic” for the Allman Brothers Band. He is the founder of Hittin’ the Note magazine, was the official archivist for the Allman Brothers Band and creator of The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House in Macon, Georgia where his vast collection of Allman Brothers Band memorabilia is now on display and open to the public. He also directed the critically- acclaimed Please Call Home documentary, that covers the early years of the Allman Brothers Band while living at the Big House and he produced all of the ABB archival CD releases and was the associate producer of the Dreams box set that became the impetus for the revival of the ABB in the late 80’s. He just recently worked on a great project for the Allman Brothers Band when he co-produced and was photo editor of ‘Trouble No More,’ the 50th Anniversary Allman Brothers Band Box Set from Universal Records.
What many of the Allman Brothers Band fans do not realize is that he had a very lucrative and exciting career before he ventured into the world of touring with the ABB. It was his career as a professional photographer that led him to work with the ABB. He had befriended them over the years and in 1989, when they had a problem with their tour manager, they asked for his help and by the next leg of the tour asked him to stay on. That essentially ended his career as a working professional photographer and started his life on the road, however, during his tenure with the ABB; Kirk shot 10 Allman Brothers Band LP, CD or DVD covers, as well as over 15 picture sleeves for the group’s records.
Beginning at age 18 with his first concert shoot of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Kirk went on to build an archive of images taken over 50 years, covering a wide range of music icons and cultural phenomena. Throughout his career, Kirk has had the good fortune to be in many amazing places and situations with some remarkable people. Fortunately, he had the relationships, good sense, and personal eye to capture much of it beautifully on film with a sense of both compassion and urgency.
In the fall of 1968, Kirk moved from Iowa to Chicago to follow his passion for music, specifically Chicago Blues. He was soon a regular at the legendary joints found on the North and the South Sides of the city where he befriended and photographed many of the greatest blues artists including Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Bobby Blue Bland, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Etta James and Fenton Robinson and many others.
By 1977 he was a contract photographer for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times, the Chicago Reader and the Illinois Entertainer. Often he would be shooting away in the photo pit at three concerts an evening. It was there he honed his visceral, in-the-moment style, putting his highly personal touch on thousands of images covering an enormous variety of music styles, personalities, and venues. He was able to shoot rock bands who have become the most iconic stars of a generation; the Rolling Stones, the Police, Bruce Springsteen, the Who, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker, Tom Waits, Bob Marley and countless others. He was one of the go-to guys at Photo Reserve, the premier Chicago music photography co-op. He shot dozens of album covers for an assortment of record labels and was used frequently by Bruce Iglauer, owner of the famous Chicago blues label, Alligator Records. In the late 70’s and early 80’s he journeyed to Nashville where he was able to photograph the best of country music’s stars, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Carl Perkins, George Jones and many others.
While lovers of music photography may have seen other images of some of the artists Kirk has captured over the years, until 2012, his photographs had never been seen by anyone other than his close circle of friends and a few photo editors at music publications. It wasn’t until after Kirk retired from touring with the Allman Brothers Band that he decided to resurrect his photographic archive and release it to the public. In March of 2012, Getty Images asked to represent his catalog. In July of that year, CNN featured Kirk’s work on their web site with a month-long showcase of some of his best images. That fall MasterCard asked him to submit photographs documenting the rise of the Chicago Blues scene for an event they sponsored in Chicago. They accepted 14 of his best for the show.
In 2013 Kirk had a month-long exhibit in the Macon, Georgia Arts Alliance Gallery and was featured in a photo spread in Macon Magazine. The Jackson, Mississippi Council for the Arts mounted a 60-day exhibit of 120 of his photographs for their summer arts festival. His work was also exhibited at two of the nation’s premier music festivals, Gathering of the Vibes and Lock’n Fest. In 2014, he was invited back to both of those festivals as well as Mountain Jam and Peach Fest.
In 2014 the Allman Brothers Band ended their touring career with shows in New York City in March and October at the Beacon Theatre. Both months Kirk created a pop-up gallery across the street from the theatre and sold over 300 photographs in 3 weeks.
After the success of all these shows, Kirk decided to create a book that would cover his 40+ years of working for and photographing the Allman Brothers Band. He started a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $60,000 to cover the expense of printing and publishing Les Brers – Kirk West’s Photographic Journey with the Brothers (lesbrers.com). In 60 days he raised over $95,000 and pre-sold so many books that he attracted 5 companies who were interested in being his publisher. He went with Insight Editions who specialize in high-end photographic coffee table books. Les Brers was released in December 2015 and is 305 pages long with over 900 photographs.
After returning from New York in October 2014, Kirk and his wife Kirsten decided to open their own gallery in Macon, Georgia. In January 2015 Gallery West was opened in downtown Macon and has been a great success. It is showcasing Kirk’s music photography exclusively.
During the summer of 2016 Kirk had exhibits and book signings in Dublin, Georgia; Roanoke, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee; Chicago, Des Moines and back to New York City in the fall.
In 2017, Kirk was asked to create a Chicago Blues exhibit for the National Blues Museum in St. Louis which was up in the gallery annex for 6 weeks. It featured 65 of Kirk’s wonderful blues photographs. It was the planning for that exhibit that helped Kirk put together the outline for his next book showcasing his Blues Photography from his time in Chicago. He again used Kickstarter and The Blues in Black & White was published in 2017 just in time for his exhibit in St. Louis.
In 2018 Kirk’s blues exhibit moved from St. Louis to Chicago where the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation showed his work from February to July at their space at 2120 South Michigan Avenue the original home of the seminal blues label, Chess Records.
In 2019 Kirk photographed the entire ABB collection of memorabilia at the Big House Museum and helped publish The Big House Collection which was just released in early 2020.
Kirk was back in New York City in early March 2020 for the 50th Anniversary Allman Brothers Band Tribute concert at Madison Square Garden on March 10. He shot all five days of rehearsals, the sound check and the concert and had a 3-day exhibit, photo sale and book signing at the Live Nation headquarters in Manhattan.
The list of artists that Kirk has photographed is a virtual who’s who of music. From blues to rock to country, Kirk was able to be there at special moments, personal moments whether on stage, backstage, at home or in the studio. Any serious collector will want to peruse his collection here at his newly revised and updated website. Check it out. You will not be disappointed.