50 Years of Music in Chicago, Photographed – Chicago Magazine
Paul Natkin has been photographing world-renowned musicians around the world since the 1970s, flying to such a concert or such a festival. But he always kept Chicago as his home base.
“Everyone told me you couldn’t make a living shooting bands, shooting musicians — and not if you didn’t live in New York or LA,” Natkin says. “I proved everyone wrong, because it turned out that Chicago was better off living.”
When he was shooting a concert in Madison Square Garden, for example, there could be more than 75 photographers in front of the stage. “I would shoot the same group in Chicago, as in Rosemont, and I would be the only one there.” He could walk in, grab a chair for his camera bag, and film as he pleased (it didn’t hurt that he befriended the security guys).
On July 12, Natkin finally released a book of his photographs, The moment of truth. Below are some of his favorite images taken in the Chicago area, along with some behind-the-scenes info from him.
David Bowie (Rosemont Horizon, 1983)
“There’s a weird thing going on in my business where musicians don’t want to be photographed more than they have to. They make these rules that you can only film the first three songs and you have to leave. Usually I’m friends with the publicists and they say, ‘Well, you know what, after three songs when everyone leaves, follow them. Drift into the audience, wait about five minutes, then come back and film the rest of the show. So it wasn’t during the first three songs. And Bowie looks me straight in the eye, and to this day, I’ll never know if he knew why I was there, but he posed for me.
Count Basie (Albany Park, 1979)
“I was one of the staff photographers for this show called Soundstage, which was at Channel 11 in Albany Park. I would go to rehearsals in the afternoon and walk around the stage while they were doing soundchecks. And I just saw this piano and I was standing on stage, no one could ever get to this place during the show.
Eddie Van Halen (Rosemont Horizon, 1986)
“Henri Cartier-Bresson was the father of photojournalism, the greatest photojournalist who ever existed. He wrote a book called The decisive moment which states that there is only one decisive moment in any event. And you combine that with one of my rules in this business: when someone climbs on something, no matter what it is, there are only two ways to get off. And one way is going to look really stupid. And in a way, it’s going to be really beautiful. So when someone climbs on a drum lift, you know they’re going to jump. And you have to set the scene, because you have to show how high in the air they are. I have maybe 10 different pictures of Eddie Van Halen jumping through the air over the years because I know he does it often. It’s not like a big secret.
Joan Jett (Thirsty Whale, 1986)
“In 1985, one of my photos of Bruce Springsteen was on the cover of Newsweek. It was probably the greatest moment of my life. The Sun-Times wrote an article about me having my photo on the cover of Newsweek because my next door neighbor was their music critic. The next day I got a call from this guy who represents (writer and director) Paul Schrader, who was shooting a movie in Chicago, actually in the suburbs, called Day light, starring Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett as brother and sister who formed a rock ‘n’ roll band. There’s a hall called Thirsty Whale, which was a famous hall, and they used it for a concert stage. So I said, ‘Well, you know, if you’re going to do all these musical scenes, can I come and shoot?’ So I did a few days and met Michael J. Fox, who is probably the nicest human being I’ve ever met in my life. He started asking me all these questions: ‘Did I look good in this scene? Did I hold this guitar well? I realized I was the only guy on set who knew what he was supposed to look like.
John Lee Hooker (Arlington Park Racetrack, 1998)
“There is a large wooded area in the infield (at Arlington Park racetrack). I wanted to take a chair and put it in the middle of the woods and take John Lee over there, sit him on the chair and take pictures. I arrived and his manager said, ‘You know, he’s really old and if he walks with you in the woods, he’s going to be too tired to put on a show. You could walk in and shoot in the locker room,” which was a trailer with very poor woodwork. John Lee was probably 90 at the time. And I still to this day have no idea if he even knew I was there. Or if he was even awake. But I saw his socks and had to make them the focal point of the shot. So I lay face down under the counter and put the camera on the floor and shot him from below and he never said a word. He died about a week later.
John Mellencamp (Chicago, 1980)
“That was before anyone knew who he was. He was still Johnny Cougar then. He was staying at the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Someone called me at the last minute and said : ‘Can you come down and take a picture?’ for a local paper. I go up to his room and he’s lying in bed watching TV. He’s getting dressed and we’re going out and he doesn’t want to be there. We went to Michigan Avenue in front of the Tribune Tower and he just dove into the trash can and the trash can fell out. I took two pictures. He stood up, he said, ‘Okay, you’ve got what you need.’ And he turned around and walked away and went back to his room to watch television.
John Prine and Steve Goodman (Park West, 1978)
“My mom used to listen to classical music, but every week she would listen to the show on WFMT called The Midnight Special, which is a folk music program. It was 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, and she was letting me stay up. That’s how I learned music because they played blues, they played jazz, they played folk. John Prine has always been one of my idols. To this day, I think he’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time. And Steve Goodman was also, you know, he’s Chicago icons. John was playing at Park West and I went to shoot, not knowing that Steve Goodman was going to show up. Just by coincidence, he jumped on stage with him and I put them both in the same photo.
Mavis Staples (Chicago, 2004)
“My friend Bruce Iglauer, who owns Alligator Records, which is the biggest blues label in America – he’s based in Chicago – signed with Mavis to do a record. They wanted me to shoot the cover. One morning, I opened the door and there’s Mavis and her sister Yvonne standing on my front porch with Bruce and his art director and they came over and the idea for the album cover was that they wanted her to sing gospel songs . So she sat in my living room and sang for me for three hours. It was at the end, it’s kind of a dead time – I really wanted to do a portrait of her because, you know, it’s Mavis. She’s the only person in my life that I’ve ever asked someone to take my picture with her.
Motorhead (Chicago, 1983)
“I couldn’t find any place to take them other than McDonald’s. It’s my favorite photo from that day, but I have photos of them with Hamburglar and with Ronald McDonald. They had one of the little playrooms out front with all the statues. Then I dropped them off at the hotel. They thought it was completely normal for someone to take them to McDonald’s and do a photo shoot.
Ozzy Osbourne (Rosemont Horizon, 1982)
“I was hired by a magazine to photograph Ozzy’s keyboard player. The stage was a giant castle and there were these two turrets on either side, and the keyboard player was in one of the turrets where you couldn’t see him. So I called the publicist and I said, ‘How can I shoot him? You can’t even see it from the audience. He said come and check the sound and go up the circular staircase and go up there and take pictures. It’s really great, because it was Super Bowl Sunday and I never missed watching a Super Bowl. I’m done, I’m putting my things away, and the publicist sees me and says, ‘Well, where are you going? You should stay because we’re going to watch the backstage of the Super Bowl. And then the group will continue afterwards. So I go backstage, and get food from the catering and sit with all the guys on the team, watch the Super Bowl, and then shoot the show.
Peter, Paul and Mary (Chicago, 1978)
“The biggest problem was filming any band that had more than one main character: how do you get them all together? Usually if it’s three people like Crosby, Stills and Nash, they set up three microphones as far apart as possible on stage so you end up with this huge expanse of black space with three little guys in the middle.. I go to the Auditorium Theater thinking it’s going to be like this here. And I got there and they had this custom microphone stand made. So they could all sing together.
Santana and Michelle Branch (Pilsen, 2002)
“They shot the video for The game of love in Pilsen and the record company hired me to spend the whole day with them. I never want to hear this song again. They had to play the song on the speakers every time they shot a scene. And they shot for about 14 hours.
ZZ Top (Rockford, 1979)
“I was hired by a new magazine to photograph ZZ Top for the cover. It was a magazine called RIP. I went there with a whole studio setup and did a photoshoot with the band. I just stayed for the show and before the show we’re all in catering and all of a sudden Dusty Hill says, “Hey, get your camera”, and he grabs some scissors and goes to pretend to cut the Billy’s beard. Then we all went to a Mexican restaurant and they all carried their own bottle of hot sauce in their pockets because that restaurant sauce just isn’t good enough.
Beastie Boys (Aragon, 1987)
“They were supposed to play Aragon and on that tour they were sponsored by Budweiser. Then the Budweiser guys saw them play and didn’t realize how hot they were, so they fired the Beastie Boys. It’s like two days before the concert at Aragon and a publicist calls me and says, “I have a great photo idea: we’re going to audition for a new beer to replace Budweiser as the tour sponsor. I sent a courier from production to the local liquor store and said, “Buy me a six-pack of different beers you can for 50 bucks.” They had to find three guys to haul all the beer. We just piled everything on the table and then the band came out. I said, ‘Here’s the deal. You can open the beers, you can spray each other, you can do whatever you want. Don’t m don’t spray because this equipment is very expensive. Immediately, all three started to spray them all over me. It cost me about $500 to have my gear cleaned. But it was worth it.”