John Swider’s been selling tires for forty-five years—and shooting music shows for thirteen.

To look at John Swider behind the counter at the Goodyear store on W. Stadium, you’d never guess that he’s photographed Keith Richards and Gene Simmons.

A stocky man with a bushy mustache, he answers questions and writes up orders with the gruff assurance of someone who’s spent forty-five years in the tire business. Yet in 2022 alone, he also shot ninety-seven shows by acts ranging from the Eagles to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“I am always exhausted,” the sixty-one-year-old says cheerfully while sitting in the waiting room after the store closes. On nights when he’s not shooting shows, “I’ll be sleeping by eight o’clock.” He doesn’t mind. “You gotta make sacrifices to follow your passion.”

A longtime hobby photographer, Swider turned pro thirteen years ago. He started out in Detroit-area clubs, but these days he shoots only in big venues like the Joe Louis Arena and Comerica Park.

A typical gig begins half an hour before the doors open. He gets his credentials at the box office, then is guided with the photographers to a pit in front of the stage.

“It’s not as loud as you think it is,” he says. “The speakers are on the left and right side of us and over our heads. [But] we always have customized ear plugs—which at my age doesn’t matter. I can’t hear anyhow.

“You’re there to do a job, but sometimes you get lost in the moment,” Swider smiles. “These are the artists that growing up I couldn’t afford to go see, and now I’m right in front of them in a secured area where nobody else can get to, interacting with the artists … Sometimes, before or after the show, we will say a couple words with each other.”

Like with Keith Richards, whom Swider describes as “a very low-key guy, but he just oozes the coolness factor … He should have been dead years ago. But he’s a Rolling Stone, man!”

Because the contracts usually allow them to shoot only the first three songs of each set, most photographers split after the last act plays their first three. Swider stays only if he likes the band or he’s reviewing as well as photographing the show. If not, “I’m usually sitting home by 10 o’clock.”

He loves his side job, but six days a week, Goodyear opens at 7 a.m.

Swider started working at a Detroit Firestone store in 1978, when he was seventeen and still in high school. “Cars and girls,” he grins. “That’s what it was all about. You need money to do that.”

It was a car that caught the eye of the love of his life. “I had a pool party, and one of the friends that I went to school with, she knew him,” Bev Swider recalls. “And he comes driving by in a ’79 Formula Firebird, and it was bright red!”

Swider had stopped to talk with a friend “and she walked out of the backyard in a yellow bikini,” he recalls. “We’ve been together ever since. I still have the car and the girl!”

The Swiders married in 1987 and now live in Canton. One daughter, Amanda, lives outside Chicago, while Kalie lives in Westland and has a son, Logan.

Swider left Firestone twenty-two years ago. He has a degree in mechanical design and “I was gonna change careers,” he recalls.

But “the lease on my vehicle was up. My wife said, ‘If you want a new vehicle, you better find a job right now.’ So I made one phone call, and the next day I was working here.”

He doesn’t regret his decision. “I’m like the bartender of cars,” he says. “People go to the bars and talk about their problems and their cars and their wives and their women. I’m just the guy at the counter at the tire store.”

He and Bev got into photography together. “I bought her a camera when we were dating,” Swider recalls. “It was a Canon AE-1 Program, super-fancy camera at the time.”

“It started off just taking beautiful shots of the lake,” Bev remembers. Now they choose vacation spots based on the landscapes they want to shoot: an Alaskan cruise, a mountaintop cabin in Tennessee, and “this past year it was all about lighthouses along Lake Michigan.”

Swider began shooting concerts when Bev’s cousin asked him to take promotional photos of his Ozzy Osborne cover band. “I went online and figured out what I had to do, and I went to a club in Detroit, shot his band, gave him the pictures, and all of a sudden all his friends who had other bands [called me up]. So I started doing pictures all through Detroit.”

It was tons of fun but didn’t get him bigger gigs until another cousin from his side of the family clued him in. A tour photographer for John Mellencamp, “he called me out of the blue one day and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing this weekend? I want you come to Indy. I’ll show you what you need to know.’”

In Indianapolis, “I shot Ted Nugent the first night,” Swider recalls, “and the third night I shot Sheila E. So I had a very diverse first three nights.” And his cousin “showed me the ropes: what to do, how to talk to people, how to talk to PR people, and introduced me to some people.”

That included people at the magazine his cousin shot for, OnStage. Once he connected with them, “I started getting into shows,” Swider says. “And the more I got into it, the bigger my name became.”

Things started really rocking when he hooked up with Splice magazine five or six years ago. He’s become close friends with Mark Matson, the magazine’s managing partner, who’s also a photographer and reviewer.

They’ve never met—Matson is based in Tampa—but “we communicate on a daily basis,” Swider says. “We’re like a married couple that have a long-distance relationship.”

“What makes John’s work so stand out is the clarity, the crispness of the picture,” says Matson. “It’s the depth of the colors, the tones, just everything about it just screams  ‘I’m there! I’m in the moment!’”

“There’s quite a few people that are in the gig” of photographing concerts, Matson says. “Every city’s got ’em.” But he considers Swider “top twenty out of all the people in this country. No question.”

And, he adds, Swider is “actually a good person. He’ll go out of his way to help a person out. I’ve seen him nurturing other photographers, and when people need a hand, he’s there.”

Swider enjoys the view from the top. “I can go and shoot some of the biggest names now,” he says. “They’re no different than you and I. They just have better jobs!”

With very different benefits: take Gene Simmons, the long-tongued KISS bassist who claims to have slept with more than 4,800 groupies and who Swider says is “one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in the music world.”

He recalls being backstage with his photographer cousin, “talking to Gene Simmons like I’m talking to you right now. Just hanging out, talking. And this young girl ran through. She somehow got through security, which never happens, and ran up. Security came in and grabbed her and started pulling her away.

“And Gene Simmons said, ‘Hey, wait, wait, wait. She got this far. Let’s see what she wanted.’ And he said, ‘Darling, what can I do for you?’ And she says, ‘I just wanna meet you. I want an autograph.’

“So he says, ‘What do you have for me to sign?’ And she had nothing to sign. And she goes, ‘My underwear!’ And she pulled her pants down and Gene Simmons signed her just very lightly. And she said, ‘Thank you,’ and walked away. And then our conversation continued like nothing happened!”

During the pandemic, Swider says, “the music industry shut down. Totally. I did, too.”

“The last show I did before the pandemic was [country singer] Ashley McBryde, which I got Covid from,” he says. “It was probably the most miserable thing I’ve ever had in my life.

“I never missed a day of work because nobody would check me, because I didn’t have all the symptoms.” When he and Bev finally got blood tests, “we had all the antibodies in us. We had a bad case.”

Swider says it was six weeks before he was fully functional. And the artists and fans “lost that whole year for music and the first five or six months of 2021.”

He doesn’t tell most of his friends or customers how he spends every third night. He says his daughters “at first thought their dad was super cool going to see these shows. [But now] to them it’s like, ‘Yeah, Dad’s gonna shoot a show.’”

His wife “doesn’t like when I travel,” he admits. “But she’s come to understand that’s who I am, what my drive is, and that’s what I do. And she knows that I love music and that music is part of my life.”

Once he turns sixty-two, Swider is looking to retire from Goodyear and get a part-time job as a salesman at a mom-and-pop shop. He’s looking forward to having “no responsibility. So I can come in the morning, do what I do, end the day, go home and not worry about turning the lights off or paying the bills!”

Plus, he’ll have more time for photography. “In the next year I’ll start shooting bands that I maybe haven’t shot before or some really high-profile stuff.”

Matson laughs when he hears that. “It can’t be any more high profile than, say, the Rolling Stones!”

“Bruce Springsteen comes to mind,” Swider says. “Robert Plant, even someone like Michael Bublé. He’s a whole different genre, and I’d kind of like to expand my boundaries.”

And not just in terms of musicians. “What I want is to camp on Kodiak Island and shoot grizzly bears in the water!”