A Casual Conversation with Chad Lee

L to R: Dimebag Darrell (Pantera), Chad Lee, Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society) and Kerry King (Slayer).

Chad Lee is one of the biggest names in Rock N Roll photography. For over 20 years he has had the pleasure of working with everyone from Slayer to Black Sabbath and everywhere in between. I was treated to an excellent interview with the man and it felt like chatting with an old friend.

GVM : Hey Chad! How are you today?

Chad: Hey there! So, How hot is it there in Houston today?

GVM: We have descended into the Fourth circle of Hell. I am looking forward to the seventh this weekend.

Chad: Is it in the Hundreds yet?

GVM: No, not yet but with the humidity and the heat index it doesn’t matter. 95 will feel like 102. (laughter)

Chad: It’s the same here in Nashville it was 94 degrees and sticky yesterday and we are looking at 78 degrees and tornadoes this afternoon.

GVM: Ahh, Good times! Good to mix it up! Here in Houston we mix it up. Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Floods, blistering heat waves and then it can drop to 20 degrees in the winter.

Chad: In Dallas you get you know 100 degrees and then you get snow. No hurricanes.

GVM: Yeah, if Galveston takes a direct hit by the time it works its way to Dallas it is just a nasty storm.

Chad: I spent some summers in Texas and you know what?

GVM: What?

Chad: All those years at Ozzfest and Mayhem out sat Cynthia Woods it was always July or August and hotter than shit!

GVM: I know!! I shot the last Mayhem at Cynthia Woods and the ambient temperature was 102 and with the index it was “I am going to die” When Slayer and King Diamond headlined? That was the last Mayhem Fest ever!

Chad: Ya know that was the only Mayhem that I did not shoot?

GVM: I did get some great shots that is what I was there to do!

Chad: Hell yeah!  You know when I am in Houston one of the things that people always ask is “Can you pick your favorite image”? And I am like with 20 years in? It is hard! I have to say that one of my favorites was taken right there at Cynthia Woods. In 2004 I shot the “Triple Threat” Kerry King, Dimebag Darrell and Zakk Wylde the only time they were ever photographed was in the dressing room at Cynthia Woods. It was pretty surreal.

GVM: Does it ever not feel surreal to you?

Chad: No! No! You know when I first started one of the first companies that I worked for Jack the Vice president of EMG Pickups and he always used to tell me “Look, the moment you stop being a fan is the moment it becomes a job and it won’t be fun anymore.” I am still a fan of every moment of every day that I get to go out and do what I do for a living. I have been blessed the last 20 years to be able to work for myself.

GVM: I have had similar discussions with others I have interviewed like Robin Shelby the lady who was actually in the Slimer costume in Ghostbusters and with Sin Quirin of Ministry and they all confirmed for me that same exact thing. That is okay to “Fangirl out”. I was once worried about it and wanted to appear “cool” and “collected” but, when I get these assignments and have the opportunity to talk to and interview some of my childhood idols It is so difficult to control the “fangirl in me” However, all of those fears were put to rest by my conversations with them. (laughter)

Chad: There is nothing wrong with that! I have known Sin for God, I am trying to think the band he used to play in with Matt Zane way back when ( Society 1) but, they were out with “Scum of The Earth” It was Riggs from Rob Zombie’s old band. I have known him for a long time.

GVM: Sin is a very nice guy and the boys in Ministry call me “The Cookie Lady” because, Sin loves chocolate and I am a baker so, it seemed natural to bake a few dozen cookies and bring it to the gig.

Chad:  ahh yeah, Tony and Al. They are a great bunch of guys! Today I saw is actually “Chocolate Chip Cookie” day as a diabetic I don’t get to eat them anymore but, I sure do love cookies.

GVM: What are you working on now?

Chad: I am booked solid this week with interviews and we are celebrating my 20th year in the industry and getting caught up from last week. I was recently diagnosed with MS I haven’t been working as much. We had a bunch of stuff with the festivals coming through like I had Sevendust one night and the next night I shot Halestorm and In this Moment, The Foo Fighters were here the next night then Breaking Benjamin the next night and we wrapped up with F.F.D.P and Shinedown and Bad Wolf I am just trying you know, to get it all edited.

GVM: You had one hell of a week!

Chad: It was good though. I got to see many old friends and get out there with my camera in my hands and have some fun!

GVM: So, Tell me. How did you bridge the gap from a guy picking up the camera in 1998 to where you are now?

Chad: ooof, there were a lot of people that I have to thank for that. John 5 and I used to share Kiss memorabilia and i had shot the KISS reunion tour and I showed them to him and he was like “Dude! You are really good at this!  You should do this for a living!” I asked “How do I do that?” he introduced me to more people. I went out and shot Zakk Wylde somewhere in 2000. I wound up going out with them on Ozzfest and it went from there. Slayer is one of my favorite bands of all time. I will never forget this Ozzfest 04 Kerry King came up and said “Hey, you are on Zakk’s stage every night. How come you aren’t on my stage every day?” I said ‘Uhh, because you didn’t ask. (laughter) I think in august it will be my 176th show with them. It all just kind of steamrolled. You know coming up this summer  we got Bonnaroo, I am doing a few dates with Slayer, trying to get over to Hellfest next month. Miscellaneous stuff here but, nothing concrete. I am actually staying around the house and trying to get a book deal together. 20 years in I think I am overdue. I just was so busy for so many years it was just something I did not think about. I was on the road heavily for ten years and then I went through a divorce and moved. I have been re plotting stuff. I have some things in the works. You know? There is a bunch of stuff going on. Cheap Trick is coming, Def Leppard, Journey is coming.

GVM: I am aware of your recent diagnosis of MS. Would you care to expand on that?

Chad: I was diagnosed in January. I kept it to myself at first because there was the shock and a bit of depression it was a bit of a hard pill to swallow and a good friend of mine out in L.A. Nancy Sayle. She is a very famous publicist from back in the day and she has it and they do a fundraiser for her yearly called “Rock against MS”. Kim the manager of Pantera has it as well so, I had a few people to talk to about it. They both were like “Look, you can keep this to yourself and coddle it and hold it. Or you can do what you did when you were diagnosed with Diabetes 10 years ago and raise some hell and some money and you can do the same and use your platform and your soapbox to stand up and help raise awareness and funds. I found out a few weeks later that there was an MS walk and we managed to raise $1500.00. A couple of my friends and I did the walk and it has become my new mission. I will be doing a lot of stuff for the MS fund over the next few years. When you find out what the disease entails and what it does to you and the expense involved. There is no cure.  In other countries they are doing stem cell treatments that are curing people or slowing the progression versus what they are doing here in the states. It is expensive and diabetes supplies are already expensive and folks out there have 5000.00 a month for their MS care. I am not there by any means but with the diagnosis and all the testing it is pretty hardcore. Like I said that is where talking to them made me step up on that soapbox and here we are. I have a friend who said that they wanted to do something for me and I have a hard time accepting charity but, then again I have been a board member on the “Ride for Dime” for a few years, raise money for all kinds of causes, I work with an animal rescue here in town. Folks are saying “Look you have been giving of yourself your whole life. Let us do it for you.” Somebody else has it and has it worse than I do and I have come out of the funk and uh I am running with it. It is like Darrell (Dimebag) used to say “Roll with it or get rolled over” so I am going to roll with it.

Great advice for all of us. “Roll with it or get rolled over”  You can check Chad out at the following links: Website | Facebook

And if you live in the Nashville area you can reach him at: Facebook – Chad Lee Photography Studio

You can also find out more information on MS at: National Multiple Sclerosis Society