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Backstage With Paul: It All Started With Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt at Cahn Auditorium on May 12, 1976 in Evanston, Illinois.

As promised, here is the first installment of our new Backstage With Paul series. For those of you paying attention, the Artist Relations team has been a little busy… Grammys, NAMM, local shows. Well, the smoke has cleared and we’ve got things under control… kind of. Anyway, to refresh your memory, Paul is our legendary rock photographer Paul Natkin. He’s been working as our official Shure photographer for well over 20 years and he’s been shooting since about 1975. The photos are captivating, but the stories are sometimes unbelievable! I asked Paul to share his stories with the rest of the world. Sure, I’ve heard most of them before, but they’re not mine to tell. There’s even a few that I have never heard him tell, such as this one. This is the story of how Paul got started in rock photography and here’s how he tells it…

“I started in the business as a sports photographer, working for the Chicago Bulls and shooting other events around the city (Football, Baseball, Tennis).

I was always a music fan, and went to every concert I could afford. These were the golden years of concerts in Chicago, usually a five act bill at the Aragon on a Friday night–three local acts and two touring acts. I remember going to see The Who with Led Zeppelin and three other acts for $5.00!!

So, I am shooting sports and going to concerts, not making any money at sports and spending all I had hearing music.

Bonnie Raitt at Cahn Auditorium on May 11, 1976 in Evanston, Illinois.One afternoon, I was shooting a tennis tournament at Northwestern University in Evanston. I got done at about 6PM, and walked to my car, put my stuff in the trunk and started the engine for the drive home. As I started the engine, the radio came on and I heard an ad for a concert taking place about a block from where I was sitting. A young up-and-coming blues guitarist named Bonnie Raitt was playing at Cahn Auditorium on the Northwestern campus. Seemed like a sign to me!

So, I shut off the car and headed to the venue. On the way, I made up a big lie about why I needed a photo pass. It involved Rolling Stone Magazine and a tight deadline. I got to the back door and walked in, ready to spout out my lie. Before I could say a word, the guard, noting my camera bag, said, ‘You can go anywhere you want except on stage. Go right in.’

These shots have appeared in magazines around the world many times, and I have photographed Bonnie many times since. We have become friends, but she always tells me I make her feel old when I tell her that she is the first person I photographed!

Shooting music is pretty much like shooting sports–they are all performers, just on a different size stage. The main difference is that at concerts, the lights are changing all the time, and I have to be on my toes.

I don’t think it was ever that easy again, but that is how I started shooting concerts.”

- Paul

About Paul Natkin

Paul Natkin learned photography in the trenches, working  with his father, the team photographer of the Chicago Bulls. He shot sports in the Chicago area for five years before he discovered music photography in 1976.

Since then, he has photographed most of the major music stars of the last half of the 20th century, shooting album covers for artists such as Ozzy Osbourne and Johnny Winter and magazine covers for Newsweek (Bruce Springsteen), Ebony (Tina Turner), People (Prince), and music magazines around the world. See his work online at natkin.net.

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