Dellaccio, Jini (1917-2014)

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 3/09/2009
  • Essay 8953

Jini (pronounced "Jeanie") Dellaccio's remarkable life -- plus her sweet demeanor, stylish ways, energetic manner, and multi-faceted artistic career -- embodied certain delightful ironies: She was a Midwestern country girl who made her initial splash as a California-based fashion photographer, and the former jazz musician and longtime fan of classical music will likely be remembered most by history for her stunning (mainly black-and-white) 1960s images of many of the Pacific Northwest's toughest "Louie Louie" era rock 'n' roll bands.

Following in the Northwest footsteps of previous women photographers of general renown and critical acclaim like Ella E. McBride (1862-1965) and Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), Dellaccio proved to be a creative and adventurous pioneer. Who else braved those early rock 'n' roll dances, expensive camera-in-hand, in efforts to capture all that wild onstage action? The result was that her fresh, and occasionally experimental, work is widely regarded as the seminal and classic imagery of its era.  

Sweethearts of Swing 

Born on January 31, 1917, at her grandfather's farm in Indiana, Jini Duckworth was a shy girl who was raised along with three siblings by her parents, father Paul (an auto mechanic) and mother Merle (a beauty shop operator). The Duckworth home was a happy and artistic one: Merle was a painter, and brother Paul Jr. became one as well. In addition, Merle took up the violin and a family band began when Paul learned drums, a sister played piano, and Jini reluctantly got saddled with a saxophone -- the only instrument available to her through her school. 

Upon graduating from high school in 1935, she had, however, become accomplished enough on the sax to take a spot in an all-female band, the Sweethearts of Swing -- the first jazz ensemble of several in which Jini later toured up and down the East Coast and as far west as Colorado. But it was, as one journalist put it, "While playing in Hollywood, Florida her band found itself short one saxophonist. Word went out to the local naval base that a sax player was needed for an all-girl band. Some of the fellows on the base talked a shy boy named Willie into signing on. Another sailor, Carl Dellaccio, decided he better go along with Willie. Carl and Jini instantly hit it off" (Yost).

At the end of World War II (in 1945), Carl was discharged and the young couple headed up to the University of Chicago where he would study via the GI Bill. Married in 1946, Jini continued performing music but Carl -- who would soon be teaching high school-level Italian and Spanish -- had concerns about her late nights out, and before long Jini set aside her sax and begin attending the Chicago Arts Institute to study painting. In time she became an assistant art instructor, and on the side Jini hand-painted scarves which were sold through area retail shops. But curiosity about photography led her to acquire her first camera: a $75 Leica model. 

Heading Out West

In 1953 Carl accepted a new teaching position -- one that led the Dellaccios to move westward to Long Beach, California. It was there that Jini launched into a new realm of artistry: pottery. But happenstance led her to randomly cross paths at a department store with a fashion model who happened to need some shots for her portfolio. After successfully conducting that first photo session, other models suddenly began approaching Jini and thus began a career as a freelance fashion photographer. 

But then, in 1958, yet another new job offer for Carl -- this time as Director of Foreign Languages with the Tacoma Public School district -- brought the couple to Gig Harbor, a waterfront community just west of Tacoma. Settling into their new surroundings on Reid Road, Jini was just beginning to launch a commercial-photography business when, in 1962 some of her work -- fashion shots and images taken while touring the South Pacific islands back in the '50s -- were exhibited at the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM).

Wailers, Wailers, Everywhere

Meanwhile, across town, Tacoma's top rock 'n' roll band -- the Wailers -- were preparing their next album for release. Incidentally: the group's previous two albums -- The Fabulous Wailers At The Castle (whose cover featured an illustration of the fabled Spanish Castle ballroom on the front, and what appeared to be Kodak Brownie-quality snapshots of the band on the reverse) and Wailers & Co. (which had no band photos on the jacket whatsoever) had set the graphics bar pretty low. 

But now the band was aiming higher and in that quest, they approached a Tacoma-based graphic designer, John Vlahovich, who in turn steered them to a local advertising/public relations-man named Barrie R. Jackson. As it happened Jackson had recently spotted Dellaccio's work at TAM -- and having been impressed by the quality, he recommended to his new clients that they inquire to see if she might conduct a photo session with them.

For their debut sessions Dellaccio opted to not have the boys pose in her studio --  instead she sought a more lively setting and the band was photographed strolling through Tacoma's Wright's Park (501 S I Street) and the historic Point Defiance Park (5400 N Pearl Street). The result was an artfully done LP jacket: Vlahovich's elegant design paired with Dellaccio's photos made for a classy package and the Wailers, Wailers, Everywhere album sold very well -- as did their next LP, 1965's Out Of Our Tree, which featured a photo of the quintet perched haphazardly in a large evergreen tree.

Amore at the Armory

Dellaccio's first interactions with a rock band had been so positive that she decided to explore their world of raucous weekend teen-dances a bit more and thus -- at the age of about 45 (which was twice that of the musicians she was now working with) -- she attended her first-ever Wailers show. It was at the Tacoma Armory (715 S 11th Street) and -- as she later told The Seattle Times: "When that band started playing and I felt that music in my chest, it was the most exciting thing I have ever experienced and I just loved it" (MacDonald). 

The band's bassist (and main man behind their own label, Etiquette Records) John "Buck" Ormsby (b. 1941) recalled that Dellaccio was initially "asked to do some publicity shots. The next thing I know, she's taking pictures of everyone: the Wailers, Sonics, Viceroys, Dynamics, everyone. And it wasn't that she just started shooting publicity shots, she was going to gigs, hanging out; it was like she just fell in love with the music" (Phalen).

The Dellaccio Esthetic

Along the way Dellaccio forged a visual esthetic that came to be associated with the Northwest's '60s scene. Her signature look in many images featured Beatle-booted bands glowering in groves of trees or near bodies of water -- either next to the reflecting pond on her Gig Harbor property or on the bluff overlooking Puget Sound's Tacoma Narrows. More importantly though, Dellaccio was an artist who "took action-oriented, creative, shots that were years ahead of their time, expressing the kinetic energy of rock with skill and daring." She rarely "took a standard, static photo of a posing group. She always had them jumping, climbing, clowning, sprawling ... [and she] almost always avoided the studio, preferring to shoot her subjects outside or onstage" (MacDonald).

Certainly one of Dellaccio's most daring moves was that of shooting bands live-in-performance -- a risky technique that decades later some of her professional descendants would experience in the mosh-pit glory days of the 1990s Grunge Era. And in the quest to capture such images she paid the price of being rudely shoved by a policeman while attempting to shoot the Rolling Stones at the Seattle Coliseum in 1965.

As her interest in the world of rock 'n' roll increased, Dellaccio began attending more and more shows and she managed to document such stars as England's Rolling Stones, the Who, Herman's Hermits, Ian Whitcomb, and the Liverpool Five; New York's Shangri-Las and Lovin' Spoonful; and California's Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Johnny Rivers, and Neil Young (ex-Buffalo Springfield). 

It Was All Just Rock 'n' Roll

Dellaccio's spirited nature, creative energy -- and obvious fondness for the young musicians seeking her help -- was obvious to anyone who interacted with her. And a remarkable roster of fine Northwest bands were lucky enough to gain her services including: Tacoma's Sonics, Little Bill Engelhart, and Galaxies; Portland's Paul Revere and the Raiders, Redcoats, Don and the Goodtimes, and Mr. Lucky and the Gamblers; Olympia's Bootmen, Bremerton's Raymarks, Enumclaw's Artesians, Everett's Mercy Boys, Walla Walla's Hawk and the Randelas, Moses Lake's Bards, Bellingham's The Unusuals (with Kathi MacDonald), and Seattle's Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, Daily Flash, Emergency Exit, City Zu, Bodine, and Surprise Package.

But Dellaccio's most recognizable images would include the one from a January 1965, studio session with the legendary garage-punk band, the Sonics, which graced the cover of their 1965 Etiquette album, Here Are The Sonics. Even more so, is her timeless photograph that -- after being harshly manipulated by Tacoma graphic design ace, Zane Baker -- became the iconic cover-art for that band's 1966 LP, Sonics Boom. Later that year the band switched over to Seattle's Jerden Records and their third LP -- with the mildly confusing title of Introducing the Sonics -- boasted a June 1966 Dellaccio photo of the boys lurking around her backyard pool.

In subsequent years, Dellaccio's images appeared in countless international publications, on many LPs, single sleeves, CDs, and books. Perhaps the best selection of them was presented in It Was All Just Rock 'n' Roll -- the 2002 memoir penned by KJR's kingpin radio DJ (and the Northwest's 1960's teen-dance mogul), Pat O'Day.

Retirement & Retrospectives

In the 1980s the Dellaccios moved to the retirement village of Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula where a number of Carl's old military buddies had resettled -- and Jini enjoyed working out of a large new photography studio located next to their home. Meanwhile a revival of interest in the vintage sounds of the old Northwest rock bands occurred -- and with it came a new appreciation for Jini's contributions to helping define that era.

In August 1987 Ormsby helped organize a "Visual Retrospective" exhibit of her work which was mounted at Seattle's Jackson Street Gallery (163 S Jackson Street) -- and then, in December 1993, the Tacoma Public Library (1102 Tacoma Avenue S) hosted an expanded version of the exhibit (with about 90 images on display in their Handforth Gallery), which was billed as Northwest Rockin' Sixties

In the meantime, the Dellaccios had (back in 1991) moved to Gold Canyon, Arizona. But then, only months later, sadly, Carl suffered a serious stroke and for the following 13 years Jini lovingly nursed him until he passed on September 7, 2003. A half-decade later, in June 2008, the whimsically named Belle & Wissell, Co. gallery (6014 12th Avenue S in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood) hosted the Accidents Will Happen: Stories from Rock Photography exhibit which placed Dellaccio's work in context with some of her many talented local band-photographer descendents -- David Belisle, Curt Doughty, Morgan Keuler, Lance Mercer, and Charles Peterson -- while a publicist for the show described her as "a reclusive, unheralded genius" (Reid).

From Wild Rockers to Wildlife

Dellaccio may have seemed "reclusive" to some in here in her old stomping grounds of the Pacific Northwest -- she was, in fact, dwelling in a distant desert locale -- but her genius has actually been anything but "unheralded." Indeed, many rock fans and collectors would probably testify that, in particular, her dramatically stark Sonics and Wailers imagery comprise some of the most visually striking rock photography of their times.

But time -- like technology -- does move on, and by 2005 Dellaccio had made the switch to digital equipment and she retired her well-used classic gear: by July 2008 some of her old gear was being auctioned on eBay ( Living alone now, she began taking pictures of all the interesting critters who happened by her home's bay window: bobcats, cardinals, coyotes, deer, flickers, javelina, quail, roadrunners, and sparrows. The result of those studies was the marketing of her "Outside My Window" set of photo cards which each featured images of Arizona wildlife.

Dellaccio would have been pleased to know that she is widely considered to be the direct forebear to a couple of generations of subsequent rock-photographers -- including the famed portrait artist, Annie Liebowitz. Today her legacy is represented by the "Jini Dellaccio Collection" -- a trust founded to archive her life's work and establish a scholarship fund in the name of Jini and Carl Dellaccio.

And although rock photography was merely one realm of her life's work, it remains safe to say -- as Tom Phalen once did in The Seattle Times -- that: "Jini Dellaccio took photographs, but rock 'n' roll took Jini Dellaccio."

Sources: Peter Blecha conversations with Jini Dellaccio (1983-1996), Barrie Jackson (1983), and Buck Ormsby (1983-2009); Patrick MacDonald, "A Record For Rock: Jini Dellaccio's photographs captured the fledgling Northwest Sound," The Seattle Times, August 2, 1987 A&E Section,  pp.1,5; Pat O'Day, It Was All Just Rock 'n' Roll: A Journey to the Center of the Radio & Concert Universe (Seattle: R-'n'-R Press, 2002); Barbara Yost, "The Art of Living: Following Passion for Music and Photography Leads Woman to Rock and Roll and Romance," Arizona Republic, July 6, 2005 Arizona Living section, p. E-1; Tom Phalen, "Photographer Captured Essence of Local '60s Rock," The Seattle Times, December 10, 1993 (; website accessed on January 29, 2009 (, copy in possession of author; Larry Reid, "Georgetown Second Saturday Art Attack on June 14!," press release, May 28, 2008; The Jini Dellaccio Collection website accessed  March 11, 2009 (; and author's archives.
Note: This essay was updated on July 4, 2014.

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