With no concerts to photograph, Dee Lippingwell keeps busy with the job of sifting through thousands of images for a third book she’s planning to publish.
At age 75, the Surreyite remains healthy and inspired enough to be out shooting concerts – that is, if COVID hadn’t cancelled them all.
Meantime, she’s pulling together photos for a 200-page “coffee table” book chronicling the glory days of Merritt Mountain Music Festival, the popular country-music event in B.C.’s Interior.
“For 17 years we were the main photographers, my husband (Paul) and I, along with some others that we hired. Because it was so large, we couldn’t do it on our own,” Lippingwell said. “The last year was 2009, and I promised everybody that I’d get this country-music book out. We’re aiming for next Christmas.”
Lippingwell remembers photographing Keith Urban there in 2002, “before anyone knew who he was.” Other photos feature Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and more. “Nazareth played the beer gardens and people like Jim Byrnes, too,” she added. “Just hundreds of artists played that event.”
Lippingwell’s 1987 book, “The Best Seat in the House,” was followed in 2012 by the self-published “First Three Songs… No Flash,” a title that referenced the instructions typically given to concert photographers before a show begins.
Today, she says her “photo world” is probably busier now than in previous years, with work on some revisions to “First Three Songs…No Flash!” for a second printing, and some shoots for CD covers and promo photos.
Lippingwell has catalogued images of the 3,500 concerts she’s photographed since her very first, a Pink Floyd gig in Vancouver in 1973.
“I shot the Rollings Stones seven times, right, and all the times I shot Loverboy and Trooper and all the local bands, it’s thousands of concerts,” Lippingwell noted. “I have a storage locker and it’s full of filing cabinets, negatives and prints, all that. It’s all pretty much organized for when I die – it’ll all be donated somewhere,” she added with a laugh. “Maybe somebody will start a museum.”
Aerosmith, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton, KISS, Van Halen – she’s photographed them all over the past five decades, for publications around the world.
“When I started, it was really difficult for me to get in because everybody thought I was a groupie,” she once told this newspaper, back in 2012. “I kept saying, ‘No, I’m a mom and I want to do this for my career.’”
Early on, Sir Bob Geldof was an admirer of her work, but didn’t have a chance to hire her at Vancouver’s Georgia Straight before the then-editor/writer bolted back to England to pursue a career on concert stages. “When he came back with the Boomtown Rats to play the Commodore,” she recalled, “he saw me in the crowd and (mouthed), ‘Ah, you got the job!’”
On the job, she’s been bruised and even suffered broken ribs. Overzealous fans of the Stones in Buffalo nearly prevented her from getting a decent shot of Mick Jagger in 1981. “I turned around to face this belt buckle of a biker. He was a real angel because he lifted me on his shoulders to get that shot. Those were the fastest shots I ever got — I wanted down from there as soon as possible.”
Bryan Adams is one of the most difficult stars to shoot on stage, she related in an earlier interview. “He doesn’t like having his picture taken, I guess. We always have to be at the side of the stage, not the front…. We get that one song and that’s it. It’s tough with him.”
On Facebook, Lippingwell has made a weekly habit of posting concert photos from years gone by. She also has a website (deelippingwell.com) that showcases some “merch” and images, including some from the festival in Merritt. There, she focused on the stage and the stars, while her husband was given other duties.
“Paul wasn’t a photographer, but in the early days it was just me and him there,” she recalled. “I stuck a camera in his hand, an automatic, and got him to go around the site taking photos of the campers, the people who were the festival and all the stuff that went on there, and some of his photos were better than mine.”
While Lippingwell admits, with a laugh, that her bedtime is a lot earlier than it was years ago, she keeps active and feels good for a septuagenarian.
“I’m 75 years young,” she boasted. “I’m good, I go to the gym, I bowl when the leagues are back on. Sometimes my husband and I go bowling now on our own, so we stay active. But this book, it’s a pretty massive job I’ve been doing, so that’s taking up a lot of my time. Some of it’s film and some of it’s digital, so going through all that is a job. There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week, never is.”