The year was 1981 and I was photographing many of the bands performing in Hollywood at the clubs on the Sunset Strip. My clients at the time were unknown musicians, Motley Crue, Ratt, the Plimsouls and many others.
In late 82, the record companies came calling and signed all my clients to record deals and sent them on world tours. I was left behind. According to the record labels, "they had their own photographers". Looks like I needed a new way to get paid from my photography skills. I needed to turn Lemons into Lemonaide.
Unlike today where you can sell photos easily online, back in 1981 there was no internet. I did discover a book called "The Photgrapher's Market". You can find it on Amazon if you are looking for some places to sell your photos. I'm not sure what the book has now but back in 1981 it would list all the magazines looking to buy photos. It tells who to contact, where to contact, what they are looking for, how much they are paying, how to submit and more.
I bought the book and started going through it. Since my specialty was shooting people and concerts I found quite a few magazines devoted to the music industry and who would pay me for great exclusive photos. Now I just had to get out and get some great shots to submit.
We also didn't have Getty Images in '81. No stock images that publishers could turn to so most magazines and newspapers had their own photographers they would send on assignment. Me, I was a freelancer. I didn't have any big name magazine backing me up so I couldn't get instant access to musicians and concerts. What to do?
I thought about it for awhile and then an idea came to me. I knew a guy who was a photographer for Time Life Magazine. It was the biggest publication at the time. I approached my friend and asked him if I could take his press pass to a printers and have it duplicated. He agreed, so I did. The printer made the badge, I went to the Post Office and had a passport photo taken of myself and taped it to the badge. Back then they used to have these vending machines that would laminate anything for .25 cents. I had the badge laminated and viola, it looked like the real thing. See the photo below (it's a bit worn now after 36 years).
OK, I've got the gear, I've got the badge, now all I need is an event to attend and to see if I can use the badge to get backstage and take pictures of some famous band. Where I lived in Los Angeles, the next biggest event was a concert by the Rolling Stones Tour at the LA Coliseum. This is the infamous concert that saw a yet unknown Prince take the stage as the opening act only to be booed off the stage. People were throwing trash at him.
All major events had a press list. That is what I needed to get on. I figured there are 3 possible persons who can get me on that list. The event center itself, the promoter, or the band's manager. I had never done this before so I didn't know who could get me in. Somehow, without the internet, I was able to locate all three and get a contact number. I called them all up telling them I am a photographer from Time-Life magazine and my editor wants me to get photos of the Rolling Stones.
I'm not sure which one it was, but one of them said they would put me on the list. Dang, I'm on the press list and will get best views in the house, all for free!
The day of the event comes and I arrive at the stadium. There was 90,000 people in the crowd and as you can imagine parking was a nightmare. Fortunately for me, I had made an extra fake press pass. On the backside of the pass it states in bold latters NEWS PHOTOGRAPHER. So I drove my car to the entrance where the press enters and parked my car there (just like I see the news people on TV do) and I put the extra badge on my dashboard with the lettering facing up. Hopefully no one will tow or ticket me.
I wanted to look as professional as possible. So I took my two cameras out of their carrying bag and I put the longest lenses I had on to make them look bigger and not just a tourist. With two cameras around me and two bags around me, it looked like I had 4 cameras. Now I looked like the real deal. I clipped on my fake press pass and walked up to the entrance.
I announced my name, the bouncer at the entrance checked the Press List.. this was the big moment. Did they really put me on the list? Am I going to get in? All these thoughts were running through my head. The bouncer looks up and hands me two passes, one to get in the concert for free, and one that said PHOTO ACCESS. I pulled it off!
Shortly after entering a lady approached me and asked me to get in line with the other photographers. She started going down the line looking at each press pass and asking the person who their editor was. Remember the book I mentioned earlier? The Photographer's Market? It listed the Time Life location in Chicago (which was the address on my fake press pass) along with the editor's name. Good thing I had decided to remember that person's name. When she asked me I told her the editor's name and added I was out of Chicago. She let me go and moved on. I don't know to this day if she knew that editor or if she was looking for a hesitation on my part. I was prepared and when she asked I said it quickly and honestly and she believed it.
She then started going over the rules. We could NOT go back stage or to the dressing rooms (damn I was hoping for that but I guess with a Photo Pass it's not all access as I had been used to at the Hollywood clubs). However, she did say we can walk around to the back of the stage (but still in the stands instead of the concert floor) where I was able to take these photos of the Rolling Stones as they were walking to the stage for their performnace.
The lady also mentioned she would take the photographers in groups to the front of the stage during the show to take pictures. There is this space between the first row and the stage. They call it "The Pit". It is the best seats in the house and here I am standing there at the Rolling Stones concert watching Mick, Keith, Ron, Bill and Charlie perform right in front of me just a few feet away.
I was so close that when Mick Jagger ran by me singing, I yelled out to him "HEY MICK!", and he looked over at me and I snapped the below photo.
After my time in the Pit was up, the lady shuffled us out to special seating next to the stage where the bands families and friends sat to watch. I decided to wander around the Coliseum and take photos of the concert from different angles. Some are posted below.
As I walked around the stadium, people would see my press pass and would offer me $100 if they could buy from me. That's about $400 in today's money. I coud have made dozens even hundreds and sold them all that day but it wasn't about the money. It was about the access. I wanted to keep this free access to concerts going.
After the show I went back to my car. It was still there with no ticket. Wow. I had best seats in the house. Got some backstage photos, mingled with the Stones family and friends, and parked right at the entrance. To top it off, I got paid for all that too. I sold some of those photos to a few music publications.
After that evening I started using that badge to get into other concerts such as the monstrous US Festival in 1983