The third photo in our series on music’s most iconic photographs epitomizes the rock star legend lifestyle. Hardly surprising when you discover that it features, Led Zeppelin, a group Danny Goldberg, vice president of the group’s Swan Song label said weren’t famous by accident, but “liked being the biggest band in the world”. So, who was the lensman who caught this iconic moment on film?
Well, we can thank ace American snapper, Neal Preston. During the 1970s, Preston went on tour with numerous rockers including the Who, Queen, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen. So, when Led Zeppelin, whom famously shunned press interviews and photo sessions as a result of harsh reviews of their early records, decided they needed publicity photos for live gigs he got the call. One of a select cadre of photographers, Preston access was initially quite limited and policed by Zeppelin’s man-mountain of a manager, Peter Grant. However, thanks to a great eye and charming manner, Preston eventually gained the bands friendship and in 1975 was hired as the sole inside photographer for the massive US tour.
This incredible shot of guitarist Jimmy Page pouring a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey down his throat, while the other members of band eat and smoke before a concert, was taken back stage by Indianapolis, Indiana. Preston continued to document Zeppelin right until the end of the decade, when the band’s personal problems and binge lifestyle finally took its toll.
During those years, Preston’s access to Zeppelin on tour was unique. He flew with them on their private jets and stayed in the same hotels they were trashing. The catch: He had to know when and when not to shoot. “It was unsaid,” Preston writes, “that if you were to take a picture that was compromising in any way, shape, or form, that that picture would be tucked in your desk forever. It was unsaid, but you knew it. It’s part of what you get when you buy the ticket to work for Led Zeppelin.
In 2013, those five amazing years of images were released in an amazing iBook, Led Zeppelin: Sound and Fury. It includes tons of unseen photos as well as many well-known ones with familiar ones. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the band or of great music photography, it’s well worth the money.
Adam Monaghan is a British art historian and photojournalist. His photos and words have been published in many places including Time Out and The Guardian. You can find examples of his work at his blog, Photos from my world.