World-class photographer Neal Preston has often found himself on the front lines of the rock & roll revolution during an illustrious career that has spanned four decades. In this photo essay he recounts, in his own words, the stories behind many of the iconic images he has captured of rock's greatest musicians, starting with the photograph below.
- Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious
The Sex Pistols broke up approximately two hours after that photo was shot. I love that picture, 'cause of all the goobers hanging off of him. If you look really closely, you'll see two or three big gobs of snot. When you show that picture to a certain age group, they swoon -- there's no other word to use. Their temperature goes up and they're gonna faint.
- Billy Joel
Moscow, 1987: I was Billy's tour photographer for the two-week tour of Russia in 1987. The tour was a killer, but Russia was amazing. I had never worked with Billy before, and I saw immediately that he was on a crusade to rock the country, and the people adored him. They were amazing fans, and they knew every f***ing word of every f***ing song. On our last day in Moscow, we all went down to Red Square so the film crew could shoot some "b-roll" [secondary footage], and of course it started pouring. It was the only dreary, "Russian"-type weather of the whole tour.
- Stevie Nicks
Venice, Calif., 1982: That was earlier in the day [of the rooftop session]. The challenge when shooting for PEOPLE was to let the reader learn something about the subject that he or she didn't know -- that was more or less the magazine's "mission statement." I noticed the glasses laying on a counter in the kitchen, so of course I had to ask her to make a fashion statement -- and to me, this picture goes to the core of her personality. This picture is Stevie Nicks more than any other picture I've ever seen of her.
- Stevie Nicks
Venice, Calif., 1982: This was shot for PEOPLE magazine on the roof of Stevie's condo in Venice Beach. This was the first real one-on-one shoot that we did together. If I widened [this photo] to full frame, you'd see an assistant's hand with a light meter. The wind was blowing so hard up there, we almost lost her -- literally -- and only didn't because another assistant was given the task of holding onto her boots. The day was absolutely intoxicating, and the next afternoon a bouquet of flowers arrived at my house with a note thanking me for a "magical shoot." She's a friend for life and one of the most creative people I've ever met.
- Robert Plant
San Francisco, 1973: I was onstage with Led Zeppelin at Kezar Stadium, and there were some white doves in cages that were to be released at the end of 'Stairway.' When the signal was given to release them, out they went ... but one circled for a moment and flew right into Robert's hands. Robert was the Prince of Peace, the Golden God, and this photo would look ridiculous with anybody else holding the bird. Any other male, that is.
- Frank Zappa and Bird Reynolds
Los Angeles, 1979: "Those nutty, crazy Zappas," people would say with a snicker -- that's the way people looked upon them at the time. I was shooting Frank for PEOPLE and he had been reading the Financial Times that morning. And who would think of Frank Zappa reading the Financial Times? After that I shot him playing pingpong (the shoot was for PEOPLE magazine, after all), and the bird was flying around the table -- and flew right onto his head. I saw that, and said to Frank, "Let's pose the bird on your head for a tighter shot." The look on the bird's face is classic (I seem to remember the bird was named "Bird Reynolds") as if it's saying, "Who the f*** is this guy underneath me?" Hey, he could've been looking at Marc Bolan's nipple.
- Marc Bolan(T.Rex)
Los Angeles, ca. 1973: In my book, Marc Bolan should be considered a musical genius alongside people like Jimi Hendrix. Lived fast and died young, unfortunately. When Cameron Crowe and I walked into his room to do the interview and photos, he was sober. Then Bolan started drinking: Out came the vino, and out came the nipple. I don't think I've ever seen someone get so plowed on wine in about an hour. I love the matter-of-fact look on his face, as if he knew it was the world's most attractive nipple.
- Captain Beefheart
Palmdale, Calif., 1983: That's Palmdale, Calif., in the background -- I'm sure if you went to that same vantage point today you'd see about 10,000 condos and 50 Starbucks. I was going through a rough period around the time of this shoot, hence the world-class hangover I had that day. I knew that Beefheart (real name: Don van Vliet ) rarely did photo shoots, but I didn't grasp the significance of that at the time. Sometimes you do your best to sabotage something, but the autopilot kicks in and saves your ass.
- Michael Jackson
Encino, Calif., early 1970s: I was looking over some old proofs last summer, and I saw some photos at the end of a roll I didn't immediately recall shooting. It was obvious to me that I had finished a previous shot and was just quickly wasting the final four or five frames on the roll so I could load a fresh one. When I looked at them recently, they became really telling. Michael just looks like the loneliest kid in the world.
- Bob Dylan and The Band
San Francisco, 1976: I flew up to San Francisco at the last moment to shoot the 'Last Waltz' concert featuring the Band. Beautiful, elegant set design. Everyone onstage looked fairly bleary-eyed to me ... except for Bob. It might have been my own set of bleary eyes I was peering through. I heard a funny story years later about an unnamed artist in the concert whose footage had to have a little frame-by-frame "work" done in order to blur out something that apparently fell out of a nostril during a tight shot.
- David Bowie
Los Angeles, 1976: The great thing about that [David Bowie] tour, was that it had some of the most phenomenal concert lighting I've ever seen, even to this day. It was all white light, clean and pure, and if there were some higher metaphorical meaning to the lighting design, I couldn't have cared less. This show was fun to shoot. Really fun. "Gimme my bag of film and let 'er rip" kind of fun. The photo also perfectly illustrates the way I like my performance photos to look: very clean, as few distractions in the background as possible, with plenty of drama.
Tokyo, 1990: This photo goes a little deeper than Madonna the rock star. I like photos with a little drama in them. To me, it tells a little about how much work she put into her career. This photo is all showbiz. I call this photo "A Private Moment in Front of 80,000 Japanese Fans."
- John Lee Hooker
Mill Valley, Calif., ca. 1984: Look at the face -- it just tells so many stories. I do remember that the day before I was supposed to go up there, I got a call from Bruce Springsteen's art director, who wanted me to shoot his album cover on the same day, but I had already committed to the John Lee Hooker thing. During the two or three hours that I was at his home, I can remember always thinking, "What an amazing face." You always know when you're in the presence of a living legend.
- Freddie MErcury(Queen)
U.S. Tour, 1980: That's just one of those moments that isn't that "private" but the public never gets to see. When I was working with Queen, I hung a lot more with Brian [May] and Roger [Taylor] and, quite frankly, the roadies. I truly loved working with those guys. I didn't spend as much time around Fred since he had his own posse, as it were (for obvious reasons). Fred primped and preened and didn't have half the ego that he could have had, and he loved being Freddie Mercury. When we toured South America in 1982, he could've been elected president of Brazil and Argentina. I miss him, what can I say?
- Marvin Gaye
Los Angeles, 1982: It was the last major photo shoot that [Marvin Gaye] did before he died. You can see that his clothes were slightly too big for him. He seemed very humbled, almost apologetic about his appearance, but he stressed that he needed to look handsome for all the ladies. He also didn't want me to start shooting until he could find something he was looking for -- he was convinced there was a roach -- or even possibly a whole joint! -- somewhere in the apartment, especially in the couch. He never did find it, but we must have spent 45 minutes looking for a joint that I'm not sure was ever really there.
- Bruce Springsteen
Los Angeles, 1994: That's Bruce in his home studio in L.A. I think he was just finishing up 'Tom Joad.' I've always loved photographs of musicians in their recording studios. I happened to be at his house one day going over some photos with Patti [Scialfa, Springsteen's wife], so I asked him, "Sometime, whenever you feel like it, I'd love to shoot you working in the studio." And he looked at me, grabbed his bag of tapes, and as he went out the kitchen door he said, "Come here, come on, let's do it. Come on, right now." Just like that. And we walked over to his guest house, where he had all the studio stuff set up. Lucky I had a camera with me.
London, 1985: That's at the height of the 'Born in the USA' tour. During the intermission of the concert, I clamped a remote-controlled Nikon onto a railing at stage right, pre-focused it, dropped the long shutter release cable underneath the stage and waited for Bruce to hit his mark during 'Hungry Heart.' This shot says "Bruce for the masses" to me. I mean, this was July 4, 1985, right before he went back to America to play stadiums. We were in London, on the biggest American holiday, he's tearing into 'Born in the USA,' and it was kind of ... chilling, you know?
- Jimmy Page
Indianapolis, 1975: Usually you know when you've captured an iconic image; I had no idea on this one. I was sitting at the same table as Jimmy [Page]. He went through this period where he always had a bottle of Jack Daniel's with him, and I happened to look up just as he had lifted the bottle up. I shot one frame ... and I forgot about it. It turned out to be a perfect alignment of the stars. What can I say -- God smiled upon me. He said, "Here it is. I'm giving it to you, right now! Shoot it!
- Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra aka The Rat Pack
Oakland, Calif., 1988: That's the last time they were ever onstage together -- when they did their reunion tour in '88. It's probably the last time that Frank goosed Dean as well. Dean seemed pretty dazed, and Frank fired him the next day. My picture editor at PEOPLE, M.C. Marden, used to say, "Sometimes a picture of somebody's back is more interesting than a picture of their front." It's one of those happy accidents that you can never prepare for, but if you keep your eye on the ball and your finger on the trigger, you can hit it out of the park.
- Bob Marley
Los Angeles, 1979: I recently discovered that frame while pulling some old material together for my exhibition at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City last year. I've never been a Bob Marley fan ... I've never been a reggae fan at all, but this picture jumped out at me, and Bob Marley fans seem to love it.
I'm gonna be honest: I don't even know what I was doing at the damn show.