“It’s a hundred per cent true”
Veteran rock photographer’s book takes you on the road and on the inside with Zep, Queen and more.
Exhilarated And Exhausted is the title of the new book by American rock photographer Neal Preston which chronicles the highlights of his 48-year career in music. During that time
Preston has photographed just about everybody in popular music, including David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen.
“I’ve a vast collection of books on music, and the ones I didn’t own I ordered from Amazon – a whole carton full of them arrived,” Preston tells Classic Rock. “They all seemed to suffer from the same disease: for example, a nice photo of Bruce Springsteen eating a cheeseburger, and, whaddya know, he turns out to be a great guy. My book is diametrically opposite to all of that.
“Its content is based around my job,” he continues. “Most people think I have a dream vocation, but it’s not as glamorous as it seems. I reveal the monumental amounts of stress, the jet-lag I’ve accrued that will never go away, a bit of the ego management that’s necessary, and some of how to become a f ly on the wall; the more invisible you make yourself, the easier it is to become part of the fabric of a tour. It’s how to navigate through that stuff, combined with some pretty amazing rock’n’roll stories.”
Preston was on stage with Queen at Live Aid, and during the 1970s worked with Led Zeppelin as their tour photographer. His book is broken down into sections, in one of which, The Inner Sanctum, he details the backstage area.
“For the rock fans, that place is the holy grail,” he says with a chuckle. “They will offer cash, merchandise, drugs and sex to get there. The book has a healthy amount of self-deprecation. Of course I’ve said yes to a few of those things, and everything I wrote is one hundred per cent true, nothing has been embellished.”
Having let several cats out of the bag, does Preston live in fear of a phone call from some irate rock star friends who might feel that their trust has been betrayed?
“No,” he says, “because the stories emanate from me. It’s not a tell-all. It mentions three people who take cocaine, all of whom have gone on record for doing so. One was Gregg Allman and another was Sly Stone, who was freebasing in my car at one p.m. as we rolled down the Santa Monica Freeway. And the third person was me!
“There’s a story about a party in Orlando that got out of hand,” he continues. “Robin Zander from Cheap Trick was a little drunk. The police were called, and my picture shows a female cop turned up to investigate. The badge reveals her name – Officer Deborah Beaver. Long story short, Zander was led away in handcuffs.”
Of the many hundreds of assignments Preston has taken on over the years, he is in no doubt about who was the most difficult to work with.
“There’s more drama on one Rolling Stones tour than you’d get in a dozen films by Martin Scorsese,” he notes drily. “And while we’re talking about the most challenging, let’s not forget taking photos of a hoarse Randy Newman. Randy can say more [of significance] in a few sentences than some manage in a lifetime, but he turned up for a two-hour session with a sign saying: ‘Good to meet you
– I can’t talk, doctor’s orders’.”
Asked to choose his favourite of the many of his photographs that illustrate the book, Preston plumps for the Led Zeppelin one on the left.
“I love the one with the dry ice, taken during the piano intro to No Quarter,” he says. “Jimmy [Page] was taking a drag on a cigarette, looking right at me. After I shot the frame, he walked towards me, and my gut told me: ‘This isn’t going to end well.’ In fact what Jimmy said was:
‘Is that the tour doctor in the front row
[of the audience]?’ I told him that it was indeed Dr Larry [Dr Laurence Badgley], surrounded by six hot blondes. Jimmy simply replied: ‘Fuck me, he pulls more birds than anyone in this fucking band.’”
And what would Preston like people to take away from his book?
“I want the reader to feel as closely as possible what it’s like to be on the road with Led Zeppelin, Queen or Springsteen. I hope they will feel that sense of exhilaration and exhaustion. It’s why I chose the title.” DL