Renaissance rocker Bryan Adams talks photographing Queen Elizabeth II, where he got his first real six-string, and what he was really doing in the summer of '69
Bryan Adams is a true Renaissance man. “That makes me sound old!” he laughs, speaking to Yahoo Entertainment from his dressing room while touring in Europe in support of his forthcoming 15th studio album, So Happy It Hurts. But the rocker isn’t just a platinum-selling recording artist — he’s also an award-winning photographer who has published six coffee table books, and whose stunning portraits have run in Vogue, Vanity Fair, Bazaar, GQ, and Esquire.
Adams is so established in this second career, in fact, that 20 years ago he was commissioned to photograph the U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth II for her Golden Jubilee — and while he only got five minutes of shoot time with Her Majesty, his most iconic image from that session — a surprisingly candid, relaxed shot — was actually featured on a postage stamp in his native Canada.
Adams chuckles as he recalls learning about the once-in-a-lifetime assignment from his new agent at the time. “They called me and said, ‘Would you like to represent Canada and photograph the Queen?’ Well, actually the original conversation was: ‘Are you free on Wednesday?’ And I said, ‘Yeah... why?’ He goes, ‘Would you like to photograph the Queen?’ I said, ‘Where would that be?’ And he says, ‘Oh, it would be her house.’” Of course, “her house” wasn’t just any typical house. “So, that picture you see is actually one of the foyers of entrance, the foyer to the garden of the back of Buckingham Palace,” Adams reveals.
That specific photo was actually a last-minute addition to Adams’s session with the Queen. “I asked her to sit there because she was about to leave, and all the photographers that work with her get five minutes … And as she was leaving, I said, ‘Ma'am, do you mind just sitting on the chair for a moment?’ And there's some Wellington boots in the corner of the picture. She looked over at them, and then looked back at me — and then that was the picture.”
The Queen just experienced a COVID scare, and last year, so did Adams. In fact, he tested positive twice, which prevented him from paying tribute to his friend Tina Turner at the Class of 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. (Keith Urban stepped in at the last minute to do Adams’s part in the ceremony's planned “It’s Only Love” duet with H.E.R.) “They made me test to see if I had COVID — and I had COVID,” Adams recalls. “To be fair, I certainly don't want to belittle it because I know a lot of people have suffered from [COVID-19], and I've even lost friends from it, but it didn't affect me in the way that it was sort of characterized out there. I've actually had worse flu bugs than COVID.”
Adams experienced other professional setbacks and disappointments during the coronavirus pandemic, including the cancelation of a high-profile show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. “I think at one point I actually considered that maybe we wouldn't ever play again, and that this was sort of it. I mean, there was no way of knowing really,” he confesses. But overall, he maintained an optimistic attitude, and the result is So Happy It Hurts, which — as is clear from its title — is brimming with joy.
“There was no conscious intention of mine to try and make a joyous record; it was just how it came out,” Adams explains. “I started working with a really good engineer and things started to come together on one song, and then the next song, and then the next song. … And so, I was just inspired to carry on. And that's why I've recorded so much in the last 18 months. The good thing about the whole pandemic was I was able to take all the papers out of my pocket and all the ideas on them, and put them on a board and start figuring out what songs worked.” The title track, which anchors the album, is in fact “about freedom and getting back out on the open road. This one thing we couldn't do, we couldn't go out — you know, the pandemic just made us realize that we've lost our freedom. So, I guess it's really about freedom.”
Along with So Happy It Hurts, touring, his bustling photography career, and finally releasing his original Pretty Woman Broadway soundtrack, Adams has also recently re-recorded many of his old masters, which will he will release this month. “It’s really exciting, actually,” he says with smile. Among Adams’s remakes are his smash hits “Everything I Do (I Do It For You),” “Heaven,” “Run to You,” “Please Forgive Me,” “Straight From the Heart,” and of course one of his most joyous classics, “Summer of ‘69.” Which begs the question: What was the singer-songwriter, who was a few months shy of his 10th birthday in the summer of 1969, really doing back then?
“The song is not about 1969,” Adams answers with a laugh. “It's a metaphor. It could be any summer. It's a song about nostalgia. I mean, to be really honest about it, I was just joking around when I put that in there, because I liked the alliteration of ‘summer’ and ‘sixty-nine.’” Adams also didn’t get his first real six-string at a five-and-dime — but it was around that time, in the late ‘60s, when he did in fact procure his first guitar.
“I still have it. I had a few first guitars! My very first guitar was a guitar my father bought me, which was a flamenco Spanish guitar. I wanted to be a drummer, and he said, ‘No, you can be a guitar player,’ and he gave me this Spanish guitar for Christmas. That just shows you where he thought my professional music career was gonna go,” Adams reveals. “And I don't know if you've ever played a Spanish guitar, but it's quite difficult; the neck is very thick, and the strings are nylon and quite hard. So, for an 8-year-old, it was quite tricky. But I learned a few chords and got started, and that led to wanting to have better guitars. I still have my old electric guitar from, I think, 1970.”
And now, more than a half-century later, Adams, at 62 years young, is more artistically inspired than ever — with no signs of slowing down. “I'm just happy being creative, and the ideas come,” he says. “So, as long as they keep coming, I'm gonna keep making them.”
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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jimmie Rhee