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Today’s guest is Neal Preston, one of the greatest rock photographers of all time. Neal was the official tour photographer for Led Zeppelin, Queen, Bruce Springsteen and The Who, and has also extensively shot The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson and many more.
In this interview, weíll talk about his new book Exhilarated and Exhausted, which is a complete retrospective of his more than 40-year career. This is the first time Neal has allowed unrestricted access to his legendary archive ñ considered one of the music industryís most significant and extensive photo collections.
Join us on this journey through Time and listen to Neals stories about sex, drugs and rock n roll.
Book “Exhilarated and Exhausted”
In This Episode, You’ll learn
- about the history of concert photography
- how Neal got started to shoot bands such as The Who, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen
- about insights into the work as a touring photographer
- what you shouldn´t do as a photographer backstage
- Neal best advice for upcoming photographers
- Best Camera For Photography: Nikon F5
- Best Lens For Photography: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8
- Best Record Of All Time: The Who – The Who By Numbers
- Favorite Music Photographer: David Bailey, Gered Mankowitz, Stephen Paley, Ethan Russell
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Special Thanks to The Overalls for providing their awesome music!
Do you want to become a Concert Photographer?
Matthias Hombauer: Thanks for being a guest on my podcast, Neal. How are you doing?
Neal Preston: I‘m doing fine, I’m honored to be a guest. I really mean that I never say anything I don’t mean.
Matthias: Thanks for finding the time, I really appreciate it. Neal, you recently published your book ”Exhilarated and Exhausted” and I’m very excited to chat with you about this project a little bit later, but first, let me know how everything got started. It’d be great to get an overview of your career as a music photographer.
Neal: I wrote a lot about this in the book, we’ll talk about the book in a second. Essentially, my life changed overnight. Literally, overnight on one certain Sunday night, 1964 when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan’s. The days before that, as a 10-year-old kid, my whole life was about football, baseball, stuff kids were into and I sat down to watch Ed Sullivan, we used to watch him every Sunday and I saw The Beatles on and as I said on the book it was as if a nuclear bomb was delivered directly into my cortex. The next day, screw baseball, football, I was about rock’n’roll, Beatles, guitar, Beatles’ boots, Beatles Invasion, you name it. Literally overnight. Around the same time, within 3, 4, 5, 6 months from that, I received my first camera as a gift from my then brother-in-law and I immediately took the camera and seemed to understand how cameras worked. When a teenager first gets behind the wheel of a car, you don’t necessarily know how to drive but some kids understand the relationship between the gas pedal and the break and the steering wheel and the transmission and that’s how I was with cameras, it all just made sense to me. So photography became my biggest hobby, and I had every hobby when I was growing up: coin collecting, stamp collecting, you name it, and then rock’n’roll was my other huge hobby and suddenly those two things morphed into a grand super hobby as I used to take my camera to rock shows when I got a bit older. I started shooting pictures and what happened was that me and a couple of my buddies who were also photography hobbyists, they had taken some pictures one night at a The Doors concert and I went with them and took some pictures at I think a Jeff Beck or Vanilla Fudge concert and we made some prints and showed them to some people we thought were from the local ticket office. We traded some prints for some tickets. It turned out that this office near where we lived was the office of the concert promoters who loved the pictures and started letting me and my buddies into their series of concerts and backstage and you know what it goes like “that”, 48 years whatever and now I’m here sitting talking to you, that’s how quickly it goes, but that’s how I got my start. I showed prints to the right people at the right time, who knew? At the time there was no such thing as “music photography” or “rock photography”, it was just “photography.” None of us knew, whether me or Bob Gruen or even Jim, we didn’t know we were blazing a trail, we were just doing what came naturally.
Matthias: And I assume there were not so many people doing concert photography, right?
Neal: There were not a lot, no.
Matthias: Because compared to today, you’ve got thousands of photographers.
Neal: There were people that were at shoes shooting, but not a lot. Frankly, I never thought… let’s put it this way: I know my stuff looks different from other people’s, certainly my performance stuff and I seemed to have an aptitude for it, there were other people doing concert work and I knew them all, at least when I was growing up in New York and I moved to LA a couple years later, but it was not the throng of a million people seeing every show, it was nothing like that at all. You didn’t have to hide your cameras to bring them backstage, I could’ve brought in a Nikon with a 600mm lens stuffed in my pants and no one would have stopped me, you were welcome, it was the Wild West.
Matthias: I assume there were no restrictions like photo pit, three songs, so maybe you know about it. Is it correct that Bruce Springsteen started the whole thing? The three songs rule?
Neal: I don’t think that’s particularly true. The line was up either up the front or backstage. Are you trying to take pictures from up front or are you trying to weasel your way backstage? I’ve never been one to extol the virtues of the pit, because “pit” is not necessarily the best place to shoot a photograph. I heard some advice one from a very very famous sports photographer at the Olympics and I remember overhearing him talk to someone else and he suddenly said “So, where’s the best place to shoot the track and field?” or whatever, and I remember he said: “Look at all the other photographers lying down on the finish line” and we’ve all seen the Olympics you know, you have the 400m you’ve got 800 photographers, some of them have remote cameras set up… He said: “Look where all those guys are set up and go the opposite direction. Now, you may not get the photo of the guy breaking the tape, crossing the line, but you’ll take a picture that’ll look like no one else’s picture,” and I would use the same analogy for rock’n’roll so yeah, you can do it from the pit but you’ve got to start putting on a different set of glasses at looking in other ways to shoot and I talk about that on the book. A lot that I talk about in the book or everything that I talk about in the book is how to do a job when you’ve got a job like I have because not too many people have got a job like I have and it’s not as glamorous as you think, it’s very, very stressful being jet-lagged never subsides, 48 years of jet-lag which I still have, there are deadlines, there are stresses, there are pot holes in the road, the weird photo requests, I’m there to do a job I’m not there to groove out to the music. I remember one show in my entire life where I sat back for two hours and went “I’m fucking lucky,” but you have to start thinking about other ways to shoot a show, especially when you’re on tour and I told the story about the picture of Bruce Springsteen and how i came up with a different way of shooting and needed Bruce’s cooperation to a certain extent, he gave it to me and we made a great picture, but it’s a difficult job, very stressful, very demanding, the travelling will kill you if the partying doesn’t, but that’s a whole other thing, but you can never forget you were there to do a job.
Matthias: There’s a quote in the book: “Shooting live music is something few photographers do very well, I just discovered one day I was good at it because it felt natural to me. The recipe is as follows: one part photography, one part love of music, one part love of theatre and theatrical lighting, one part hero worship, one part timing and 99% instinct.” So what is it that fascinates you about shooting concerts?
Neal: Like I think I said at some point on that quote that I found out I was good at it, it came naturally. My dad was a Broadway stage manager, so I spent my life when I was a kid around Broadway and theatre. Does it help to know the music? It’s not absolutely necessary, but it does certainly if you’re on the road with someone again and again like I have been with Led Zeppelin, The Who or Fleetwood Mac, obviously knowing the music comes into play, but I just shoot people like they’re my heroes and I think it’s important to know that the lighting directors they get hired to do lighting on these big concerts, big or small. Lighting directors work very hard to set a mood and they work hard to set a mood that compliments the music. To slap a Nikon flash or an on-camera flash, negates everything that the lighting directors are giving you. I come from the school of thought that you have to love what you have instead of having what you love. In order words: you gotta work with what the light directors give you because they’re setting a mood, if you can nail that, which is not as easy as it sounds, it’s easy for me but I’ve seen a lot of live photographs by a lot of photographers and it’s about the emotion. Someone showed me a picture they shot of some guitar player, the guitar was kinda moving and blurry and the guy said to me “I know the guitar is blurry but I’ve seen your photos and I know that’s ok now.” and I said “Don’t ever forget, it’s not the motion, it’s the emotion that counts.” That’s part of capturing the lighting that you’re given. And I strongly believe in that.
Matthias: Talking about lighting directors, have you ever got in contact with them before a show and ask them about a specific lighting on stage or did they change things for you to get a shot?
Neal: Once in a great while, I usually don’t need that because I’m gonna shoot whatever they give me any way, but I would not go so much to the lighting director but maybe the tour manager or someone else on the crew, just to know mainly when is the pyro going off, when are the explosions going off, because I don’t wanna be straddling over a flash pot and have my balls blown off… and that stuff happens. Things like that: when’s the pyro, is there a point where Keith Emmerson and Greg Lake come closer together, etc, those kind of things. The light is gonna be what the light is gonna be. I need to know is there a repoint when some other musicians are coming up and it’s the only song, those notes a make on a setlist.
Matthias: So, let’s talk about your book Exhilarated and exhausted. I’ve got your book and I’ve got to say this is probably one of the best concert photography books I’ve seen so far, congrats on this achievement. It’s full of awesome photos and great stories from the view of a concert photographer. I was born in 1980 and my father was a big fan of all those bands in this book, so for me, it’s really interesting to see the behind the scenes stories too. Let me know, when did you come up with the idea to publish a photo book?
Neal: I realized 3 or 4 years ago that I was the only photographer of notes if you will in the business that hadn’t really put together a body of workbook. I was determined that I wanted this book to stand apart from that big pile of rock books, I’m sure you’ve got a pile of books in the corner there that are all similar, a lot of those books I already have. This was about 3 and a half years ago, I’ve just come back from Hawaii, working on a movie that my best friend, Cameron, directed called “Aloha” and I got all these books together, I had some Jim’s, Jim Marshall a couple of this, a couple of those, I spread them out on the table, or on my bedroom floor, I went on Amazon and I ordered another 8 or 10 that I didn’t have. Two days later, Amazon knocks on the door: “It’s your books, Mr. Preston” and I laid them down and I looked at every one of them for 3 minutes and I realized -this is about a couple dozen books- they all looked like they suffered from the same disease. What I mean by that is, they all seemed dry as a bone. They were all these picture books, they had pretty pictures in them, some of them had mediocre pictures but they all had the elongated captions: “Here’s a photo of Bruce Springsteen, we had a cheeseburger and he was a great guy,” etc, etc. That’s the book that I did not want to do, they didn’t have any personality, that’s the best way to put it. They read and felt and looked and sounded dry as a bone. So I said, “That’s not me, I’m nothing if I don’t have personality.” I’ve always been a frustrated writer, all my friends towards the years… I’ve always gravitated towards writers, so I decided I wanted to do a book that would get my personality on the page, in pictures and in words, so I wrote these little 35, these little vignette stories which the editors then took and morphed in about 20 or so stories, but I wanted to make the book about my job. This is my job, this is not an easy job, it’s not glamorous, blah blah blah, not make it about “Here’s a story about Stevie Nicks, here’s a story about Bruce, here’s a story about Jimmy and Robert, you know, I didn’t want to do a tell-all book. There are stories about those people that emanate from me talking about doing my job, I gave every story a little title, what was in the story as I was writing them. The one about taking people backstage is called “The Inner Sanctum” and if you read it, I wrote about the holy grail for any rock fan is to be able to go backstage, ok? This is the top of the mountain.
Matthias: And the fans do crazy things to go backstage.
Neal: Yes, they do. When I walk through a crowd and I’ve got a pass, see I’m wearing a The Who shirt right now, it’s my favorite band. But when you’re walking through a crowd and you’ve got a laminated pass on your neck it’s like an aphrodisiac to some, then you put a Nikon on and it’s more of an aphrodisiac and I had people offer me cash, merchandise, guitars, stuff, dope, sex, cash, sex, cash, dope, sex, cash, just to take some little girl backstage and I’m not gonna say that I haven’t accepted some of that stuff, but it’s a power that must be used for good, not for evil. It doesn’t matter how cute that girl or what she has in her purse, her pocket or between her legs, if she’s that high -which they normally are, well I shouldn’t say “normally”, but sometimes, guy or girl for that matter- when they invariably vomit on the bass player shoes it’s my responsibility, so I gotta be careful and you never introduce a hot groupie to the girlfriend or wife of a crew. Never ever, it’s like a chess game: the queen is the most important piece. She can check mate you. Besides, as I like to say, you don’t really wanna go backstage, stuff goes on back there that it’s not for you, it’s usually business stuff and people getting ready for a show and there’s nothing to see. It’s radioactive, Chernobyl with the guitar. But that’s part of my job. And then I talk about the protocol for taking someone for going on stage, being on stage. Don’t bring your girlfriend, don’t bring your groupie-friend, don’t bring your wife, your lover, your significant other, your best friend, your kid. They’re not welcome, ok? Don’t touch anything, don’t step on anything, don’t breathe on anything, don’t look at anything, because you’re being tracked by 12 roadies sets of eyeballs, and if you fuck up you’re gonna get shot down like, to use an analogy, a Russian fighter plane straying into American air space, so there’s protocol for being on stage. Always have your laminate clearly visible because it’s impossible to argue with some huge security guy who’s a wrestler from UCLA it’s impossible to argue with him when The Who are playing 11,5 feet away from you. There’s protocol. I tell this one story -I don’t know how much you want me to go into it- I tell this story about the first time I was on the road with Queen in 1977, I’d just met the band, I might have met Brian a week earlier or something, the tour manager Gerry Stickles I’d known for a while and during sound-check, before the band was even up there I went up on the stage, it was around 5pm and I go up and all these roadies, they all had all these weird English nicknames: Jobby, Crystal, and Ratty. There was this guy, Ratty, he was Freddie’s -I still use the word “roadie,” sorry- he was his keyboard tech, I love Ratty, and he was polishing the black piano and I go up there and I’ve got a camera bag and I introduce myself: “Hi Ratty, I’m Neal and I’m gonna be around for a while” and he doesn’t even look at me and he’s polishing this piano and you can see your reflection, you can see the reflection of God, it’s so clean. And I said “I’m gonna be around for a little while” and he doesn’t even look at me and he’s polishing, and it’s obviously a ritual, I can tell, something he would do every night. And this is the cleanest fucking piano that you’ve ever seen and all of a sudden he stops, he kinda looks at me sideways and he says: “Do you know a photographer named Brian McCarty?” and I said “Well, I know him, I don’t know him that well”, he starts polishing again and he says “He breathed on this fucking keyboard and I kicked him and his fucking camera up on his arse off the stage, never to come up here again!” and then looked up and I smiled and it was love at first sight. In other words, they’re wary of people who didn’t conduct themselves with the respect and professionalism that was shown on stage and I’ve already worked for Led Zeppelin and I’ve already worked for The Who, but he didn’t care, he was polishing Freddie’s keyboard and you know what? Those guys on the Queen tour became very close friends of mine, family. It’s a different crew now, I mean Brian’s still a very close friend of mine, Roger is a close friend of mine. Brian’s the only rockstar that ever came to my mum and dad’s house, that’s a whole other story but we became very, very close, me and the crew and the band. Obviously Freddie had his own posse and friends, I mean Freddie was great to me, don’t get me wrong, but me and Brian and Roger and the crew became very close. Roger and Brian still have houses in LA, but those crew guys, we went through hell together, 6 tours including Mexico and South America and I miss them a lot. The crew, those guys, hold the keys to the kingdom. You do not want to squander a month of goodwill by pissing off one crew guy, but they were family and we were at Live Aid, when it was time for Queen to come up, I was the official American photographer at the Wembley Live Aid and I’m running around shooting everything and when it’s time for Queen to come up stage their tour manager pulled me up and said “You’re coming up with us,” just like I’ve been on stage with Queen 150 times. It was the only time that day I felt like I was shooting a rock show and not a TV show because essentially Live Aid was a TV show. And I felt at home. I went back at Brian’s arms, Brian turned to tease me, Fred turned to tease me, the roadies, it was home sweet home. Turns out it was one of the most famous gigs ever, if not the best, top 10 list. It’s funny how year after year after year, tour after tour, you become -people ask me: “Don’t you get in the way?” The irony of it is the more visible you are to those people, the more invisible you become, because when they see you all the time, everyday in the dressing room, I mean I’m allowed to go wherever I want whether it’s Queen or Zeppelin, The Who, whatever, you gotta be careful about going in The Who’s dressing room if you’re not invited though. But the more that you’re seen, day in and day out, on the plane, backstage, on stage, the less you’re noticed. You’re a crew member! You are a crew member. The more visible you are, the more invisible you become, that’s the irony of spending time around these guys.
Matthias: Yeah, I totally get it. I was also touring with some bands for a couple of days or a week and it’s kind of weird because you’re traveling with those strangers but after a week of hanging out with them for 24 hours, it’s like really becoming a family.
Neal: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t consider every band as being family, but Queen, most definitely. The roadies would call me one day when they were in LA “Preston! What are you doing?” Crystal was Roger Taylor’s drum roadie and he’d say “I’m at Roger’s, I’m watching The Feud! He was obsessed with this show, “Family Feud” which was a game show, and I’d go to Roger’s and we’d set a party and let’s be honest, I did my share of partying, but my partying was usually done in between gigs, not during work, because I’m there to do a job. I’m not there to store as much cocaine as Keith Richards’ cocaine dealer, I never really want to keep up with that guy. I’m there to do a job, whether it’s for The Who or Fleetwood Mac or whatever, I’m there to do a job. You cannot act like you’re the fifth member of the band. Once you act like you’re the fifth member of Led Zeppelin or The Who you’re gonna have something slip under your hotel room door at night and it’s not gonna be the rooming list, it’s gonna be your one-way to get home.
Matthias: What was the biggest challenge to getting the book together? Was it the writing process you mentioned before or selecting the photos because I read you have over 1 million photos.
Neal: Who has the time to count?
Matthias: Right. So how did you select it?
Neal: Here’s what we did, my esteemed picture editor, Dave Roland who’s the top picture editor in the world for music photographer, he used to be the picture editor for Q Magazine, he takes care of all the photo needs for Led Zeppelin and Jimmy and other bands, he’s kind of my partner in all these things, he acted as my picture editor. If I turn this thing around you’ll see 18 different hard drives here, I compiled a drive of a couple of hundred must-haves, they had to read the text I wrote and decided that there were certain pictures that needed to match certain stories, like the story about going up in the helicopter during a festival, I needed the aerial shot of the crowd, there’s a story about partying getting out of hand were we found the picture of Robin Zander in the handcuffs. So, I thought that writing the text was gonna be the difficult part and that the photo selection -given that there were a lot of photos- would be the easy part. I have never been so wrong in my entire life. It was the other way around. The words, because I’m a frustrated writer came out like water out of a faucet, the picture selection, after 5 or 6 days I called Dave up, who lives in London, interestingly enough he’ll be here in about an hour, I called him up and said “You do it. You make the initial selection.” I went over to London, we tweaked some selection but the text is an important part of this book because it’s about my job and the rock stories that emanate from that and then going back to my job. I wrote it humorously, it made me laugh out loud, so I think it’s funny as hell. I wrote it conversationally and nothing is embellished, I wanted it to sound like me, because I sound like me, you have your personality, I’ve got mine, I’m kinda outgoing, but none of these stories have been embellished in the slightest. I told the story about getting de-pantsed on the Led Zeppelin plane because John Bonham was very drunk and I had taken 30mg of Valium and I had these three New York cops wrestling me to the ground because John Bonham wanted to see my dick. Or as he said it: “Let’s see your fucking nob.” And you know, what do you say? And it just enraged them “I said let’s see your fucking nob!” Before you know it I had all these cops, off-duty NYC policemen, before you know I’m lying on the ground star fucking naked and I’m woozy because I had taken all these downers because I thought we were gonna sleep for 2 and a half hours and I look up to see a somewhat amused Jimmy Page standing over me like that playing judge and jury, clearly not impressed with what he was looking at, which is a double-entendre. So, there’s some self-deprecation in there but this is exactly what it’s like, so the words turn out easier than the picture selection but you’ve got 336 pages, X amount of pages are title pages and then you have to leave some blank pages for design and then I have 12% text, that’s another 38 pages that you don’t get pictures on, so I could’ve done a book three times the size but doing a book is not easy, you have to make judicious cuts in different places and that’s part of the challenge.
Matthias: Yeah and you really did a great job on this. As I mentioned before there are not only pictures in the book but also personal stories and I think this is for people that want to know more about the personal view of the photographer who works with all those bands.
Neal: And it is about my life, I didn’t want to make a Led Zeppelin book or a Stevie Nicks book, those people are certainly talked about. If you notice, I didn’t really talk about drugs, other than the Sly Stone story where he smoked crack in my car at 1 pm on the Santa Monica Freeway and the Greg Allman’s story and those people went on the record saying that they had massive drug problems and Gregg’s no longer with us and Sly is lucky to be with us.
Matthias: So, you were definitely living the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle of the seventies and eighties.
Neal: I was living the rock’n’roll lifestyle and working in the midst of that, I did my share of partying, I definitely had my share of sex, but you can never forget you’re there to do a job. The job is number one. If I’m lucky enough to get lucky after the show or before the show…
Matthias: Even better.
Neal: Yeah, but it cannot compromise your job, my boss on a Led Zeppelin tour is Peter Grant, OK? My secondary, equal boss is Jimmy Page and I’m there to do the job for them. Peter wouldn’t care if he ran into me the next morning and I was upside down spitting quarters on a groupie with glue all over her as long as I had the pictures they needed from the night before, I’m not saying it never happened, but there was a stripper in San Antonio on a Bad Company tour, but that’s another story.
Matthias: How would you say the music business has changed? Has it changed for the better in respect of rights-grabbing contracts, the restrictions with the three-song rule and so on?
Neal: I’m one of the lucky ones, because I’m established and I’m known for what I do, if I’m hired to do a job, you’re hiring me to let me do my job, not restrict me and not “Oh wait I can’t go here, I can’t go there,” I mean, what is the purpose? It’s a lot different with females than with males. I’m not gonna walk in into the bathroom if I know Shakira is in there. If people, either then or now, want to hire a photographer and you’re not gonna let the photographer work the way they’re used to working then I’m not the person for the job. I think that you’ll find that there are fewer restrictions put on photographers now who are actually working for the bands because these days it’s all content. I use “bands” generically, I could say “artists”, I could say “singer”, but I’ll use the term “bands” generically. They want to own all the photographs that you take which is fine as long as they pay you for that privilege. That way you can release what you want when you want, you’re paying for that privilege, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I, as a rule, would never sign these two-song contracts, it’s a copyright-grab, it’s clearly illegal and would not hold up in court and as I’d like to say, Mick Jagger doesn’t do three songs in a show and neither do I.
Matthias: What was the biggest thing you’ve learned in your career as music photographer?
Neal: Oh, Jesus, a lot of them. As I said, you’re not a member of the band, the crew guys, they hold the keys to the kingdom, when the crew is loading a show out, get out of the fucking way, because it’s not worth getting impaled by a forklift because you’re trying to impress a girl from Memphis that you’ll never see again, and it’s happened to me. Keep your eyes open and your ears open and your mouth shut. These are some of the biggest things because rocks tours have personalities of their own over and above the personalities of the people on the tour, there’s a lot of this, a lot of gossips that goes around. I’m an anti-gossip guy and a lot of information crosses my desk, whether I’m here or on tour, you gotta keep that shit in your pocket. Sharing that will usually come back and bite you in the ass. That and be respectful, do the best job you can, don’t ever do the band’s or the crew’s last bit of dope, don’t ever do that, it’s been years and years since I’ve done this stuff anyway, but I can tell you, you don’t wanna walk into a room and have the lead guitar player of REO Speedwagon find out that you’d cleaned his vial out because it’s not gonna be good.
Matthias: Is there anything that you regret in your life?
Neal: The way that I treated my marriage, possibly. Professionally, I don’t think so, nothing major, let’s say.
Matthias: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Neal: To my 20-year-old self I’d sit him down and I’d say “Stop doing so much blow.” I’d also say “Keep doing what you’re doing because you’re doing a good job.”
Matthias: Do you still have any dreams in your life?
Neal: Dreams or drink? Do I have any dreams? Yeah, there’s stuff that I’d still like to photograph that I’ve never photographed. I’ve always wanted to go on a political campaign and I’ve never done that. Photographically, other than that, there’s probably the odd assignment that I always wanted to do, but I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to do, I’ve been printed in pretty much every magazine I ever imagined I would be published in, we’re gonna be working on a special thing with my book, which I can’t tell you much about but it’s gonna be full of extra amazing things and maybe I’ll do a second book after that, I’m not sure. There are a couple other books that I think we’re talking about helping produce the definitive picture book, art book on The Allman Brothers in conjunction with one of Gregg’s daughters, my friend Layla Allman. Originally, my book was gonna be the main book plus six overflow books, one being Led Zeppelin, one being Michael Jackson, one being The Who, one being Fleetwood Mac, one being Queen, I can’t remember which one the other one was. There’s such a wealth of material here that it’s impossible to get it all into a book, so somehow we’re gonna come up with a plan, the fans are just desperate to see all this stuff and it truly makes me happy, we did this exhibition last night. When people come to me and say “Your picture of Freddie Mercury” or “Your picture of so and so I admired it for years and years and now I get to buy it.” When people get pleasure out of having that stuff on their walls, that’s what makes me happy and I don’t care if they know my name or not, I never care about that, there are photographers that only care about that, I’m not one of them. That really makes me realize that I’ve done my job well.
Matthias: Perfect! So let’s do a short Q&A session here. I will ask you seven short questions and please answer them as quickly as possible: Nikon or Canon?
Matthias: If you could only choose one lens for concert photography, which one would it be?
Neal: If I had to choose one… it depends on what the job is, what the assignment is, so it’s kind of a difficult question to ask. My go-to lens at a show is obviously the 70-200mm and then maybe a 24mm or a short zoom, a short to medium zoom.
Matthias: Favourite record of all time?
Neal: Rough one. The top three, this is kind of in no particular order… A hard day’s night, probably number one The Who By Numbers and Pete Townshend All the best cowboys have Chinese eyes.
Matthias: Is there any music photographer that you admire?
Neal: Yes, I admired the masters when I was growing up: David Bentley, who was the king of the swing in London, photographers of the sixties, but really, Gareth, Steven Bailey who you don’t hear much about, but he’s a genius and Ethan Russell. And I’m proud to say that Gareth and Ethan and Steven are all friends of mine, but Ethan Russel is the guy I always aspired to be. And of course, my mentor in all things business: Kent Reagan, may he rest in peace.
Matthias: The coolest concert you’ve shot so far?
Neal: Two. The Who in Winterland 1976 which is where I shot the cover of the Maximum R&B 30 years back box set and the MC5 at a little club in NYC in 1970. There are others but The Who in Winterland is the one.
Matthias: Water or beer?
Matthias: And… Which band is still in your concert photography bucket-list, if there’s any?
Neal: There’s this one… one of the two people I’ve always wanted to photograph, I finally did get to photograph this year for the photograph and that was my friend Courtney Love who I adore and -don’t laugh- but I always wanted to photograph Christina Aguilera who’s got pipes for days, she can sing the chrome off a 66 t bird, you can quote me on that one. Other than that, you know, I had them all, I had them all, man.
Matthias: Thank you so much Neal for being a guest on this podcast and sharing all your awesome stories, I’m feeling really honored to have you as a guest here. So for anyone else who wants to know more about this legend, Neal Preston, check out his new book Exhilarated and Exhausted which is out now and you’ll find a lot of valuable information for not only concert photographers but to music lovers in general. Thank you so much again and all the best to you Neal.
Neal: Well, I’m glad you like it and thank you for the opportunity. All those guys and girls there with cameras that wanna do what I do, they all ask me for advice, it’s not as easy as it used to be, but I want to say one thing: Find one band you love, that you absolutely love, you stick to them like glue, you become their guy and when they become successful, you’ll become successful. And that’s the easiest way of doing it these days.