These 1970s Backstage Photos Of Musicians Will Make You Wish You Were There

If rock and roll was born in the 1950s, then the 1970s were its angsty teenage years. Disco, folk, and punk each resembled extremely different children, and the 1970s loved them all equally. Then funk, metal, and psychedelia emerged as major influencers of the music industry, and it was game on for music pandemonium. But what about the faces behind all those genres? Seeing musicians on stage is one thing, but it’s quite another when you see them sit back, have a drink, share a laugh, and even goof off like the rest of us. Here are a few backstage moments we wish we could have experienced first-hand.

The Father Of Funk At The Top Of His Game

James Brown wears a brown suade suit and leans back in his armchair backstage, smiling to the camera.
David Reed/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
David Reed/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

By the 1970s, James Brown was already heralded as the father of funk, a relatively new music genre. The R&B musician married the style with African sounds to create hits like “Get Up….” He also wasn’t afraid to be a part of the social movements of the 60s. Songs like “Say It Loud– I’m Black And I’m Proud.”

Brown has been ranked #1 in the top R&B artists and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriter Hall of Fame. This backstage photo would have been at the height of his career, in the mid-1970s, before his sales dropped in the 1980s.

One Of The Original Performers On Saturday Night Live

Abba pose for a photo in their dressing room backstage at Saturday Night Live.
Fin Costello/Redferns
Fin Costello/Redferns

The Swedish group Abba was one of the first groups from a non-English speaking country to achieve wild acclaim in English-speaking countries. Though they’d only formed in 1972, the group topped the charts from 1974 to 1982, right around the time they posed for this photograph.

In 1974, the group won the Eurovision song contest with “Waterloo”, and a year later they were one of the first performers on Saturday Night Live. Backstage at SNL‘s fifth-ever episode, they posed for a group picture, seen above. They still had no idea what the next decade, and Mamma Mia, had in store for them.

A Wonder He Is

Stevie Wonder puts on a cassette for friends backstage
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Stevie Wonder always looks like he’s playing music. While it appears at first glance that he’s playing piano for friends backstage, he actually is just fiddling with a cassette player. Nevertheless, he looks cool doing it.

The musician went blind shortly after birth and was a child prodigy. He was signed by Motown at eleven years old, and by 13 he was the youngest to ever top the Billboards. His hits continued through the 1970s. After a car accident in 1973, he returned just as talented as ever, even after being in a coma for four days.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow, This Conversation Happened

Sammy Davis smokes a cigarette while chatting with Liza Minelli in his dressing room, the walls of which are adorn with photos of Sammy throughout his career.
Tim Boxer/Getty Images
Tim Boxer/Getty Images

Liza Minelli and Sammy Davis Jr. are photographed chatting, probably about being brought up by wildly famous entertainers. Liza Minelli is the daughter of Wizard Of Oz star Judy Garland– who couldn’t recognize that face?– and Sammy Davis Jr. joined his father and uncle to create the Will Mastin Trio as a child.

Born in 1925, Sammy Davis Jr. faced racism not only as an artist but in the wars he fought in. Nevertheless, he rocked the industry as a triple threat. Sammy’s adversity must have been inspiring to the young Cabaret star, who was just 28 at the time.

The British Stars Chat Backstage

Rod Stewart hold up a bottle of wine while talking to Daivd Bowie, who looks rather ominous with his sunglasses and straightface
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

British musicians Rod Stewart and David Bowie are photographed here chatting backstage at Madison Square Garden in 1975. By this time, Rod had established himself as a solo artist. His style combined folk, rock, and blues, and was popular enough to make his one of the best music-selling artists of all time.

David Bowie had just wrapped up his tour as Ziggy Stardust, a character he performed as through the early 1970s. He was quoted discussing how Ziggy freed him from feeling like a robot. Though his commercial success would hit in the 1980s, Rod seems to be holding his bottle of wine to toast Bowie, who’s clearly not having it.

Kiss Me I’m A Rockstar

The members of Kiss sit cozy together in the dressing room while look into a magazine.
Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Kiss committed to personas more than most other bands. Formed in 1973, just a year before this portrait was taken, the musicians took on characters that appear to have walked out of a rocker comic book. From the left, we have the Space Ace (Ace Frehley), the Starchild (Paul Stanley), The Catman (Peter Criss), and The Demon (Gene Simmons).

This photograph was backstage on their very first tour. The band is jokingly looking into a magazine titled “Rock Scene” with what looks to be David Bowie on the cover. The band is either jovially looking at the featured artists, or perhaps at themselves being featured in a story about the new, hot rockers.

The 1970s Just Wouldn’t Have Been The Same Without Him

Ozzy Osbourne makes a duck face while kicking up one of his legs and gripping onto his band mate.
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Ozzy Osbourne has always been hilarious. Just look at him, throwing his leg up in the air with pursed lips. Even the dude in the background is cracking up. At the time, he was the lead singer of Black Sabbath, who released their first album in 1970 and became pioneers of heavy metal.

The album sold millions in the US, setting a fantastic foundation for the band to thrive through the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, Ozzy Osbourne would get booted out of the group in 1979 due to his drug and alcohol use. They’d be reunited again one day; Ozzy is just too irresistible.

This Group Gained A New Stone

Ronnie Wood wraps stands behind Keith Richards and wraps an arm around him, while Keith holds a cigarette in his mouth and looks down.
Christopher Simon Sykes/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Christopher Simon Sykes/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Keith Richards being embraced by Ronnie Wood really conveys the sense of humor that a lot of rock bands seemed to possess in the 1970s. While rock and roll was the seed from which harsher genres like metal and punk grew, rock seemed to cling to a lightheartedness that made its deeper moments more viable.

Ronnie Wood had just joined the Rolling Stones after musician Mick Taylor left the band. It’s clear that Ronnie Wood was already cozying up to the band members. The band would go on to reach their commercial peak in the late 1970s.

They Ran Away From One Another

Four members of the runaways fall into one another while smiling backstage.
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

The Runaways are seen here messing around backstage at CBGB’s in 1976. The women had just been signed by Mercury Records and were on their way to stardom. However, their bright light burned out fast. In 1977, the group parted over disagreements about money and management. Fun as the picture seems, perhaps it was more symbolic of the ladies clashing.

The females all went on their own ventures in the world of rock and roll, but arguably Joan Jett made the biggest impact. After being rejected by 23 labels, she became one of the first female artists to found her own label, named Blackheart Records.

They Came, They Saw, They Conquered

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Fin Costello/Redferns
Fin Costello/Redferns

Aerosmith formed in 1970 and exploded over the course of the decade. After landing a dozen Billboard Top 100 singles, they were in high demand and toured extensively. Songs like “Dream On,” “Walk This Way,” and “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” are hits that still rattle the streets today, all of which became smashes in the 1970s.

The term “throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care” is more or less conveyed in this photo of the band, who probably know they’re rocking it.

The Poet Of The Rock Scene

Patti Smith sits in the Whiskey A Go Go while two musicians lean down to kiss each of her cheeks.
Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Patti Smith is photographed being smothered by Iggy Pop and James Williamson at the Whisky A Go Go. These lads weren’t the only ones who couldn’t get enough of her. Patti was a poet who used her talent for storytelling to deepen the sincerity of the punk and rock scene.

At the time this photo was taken, 1974, she would have just formed the Patti Smith Group, which recorded their first single, “Hey Joe/ Piss Factory” the same year. Smith’s music impacted many artists from the 1990s to today, who would likely love to kiss her on the cheek for it.

They Went Too Hard

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

For those who hated peppy disco and upbeat soul and funk, there was a harsher sound in the 1970s called punk. The Sex Pistols brought the punk movement of New York to the UK in the mid-1970s. London teens formed the band in 1972, and by 1978 they were as volatile as their music suggested.

This photograph taken in San Francisco shows lead singer Johnny Rotten facing away from surrounding fans. This backstage shot was taken at the band’s last concert. After a year of destroying rooms, self-mutilation, fights and even gang violence, the punk rockers broke up, probably for everyone’s best interest.

Their Big Album Put Them On Top Through The 1970s

Jimmy Page walks ahead of Robert Plant through a backstage cooridor at Madison Square Garden.
Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images
Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

Vocalist Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin were every twenty-somethings’ crush in the 1970s. While their sound had heavy metal elements that helped solidify the genre, they counterbalanced the edge with psychedelia and folk. Their massively successful music fusion made them one of the most innovative artists of all time.

In the 70s, they not only caught the ears of the public but were also a sight to be seen, as the band members began to dress more flamboyantly. In 1971 their album Led Zeppelin IV became one of the biggest selling albums ever. These two guys walking backstage at Madison Square Garden were a couple of the biggest musicians at the time.

Queen Rocks The Stadiums

Freddie Mercury sits on his bandmate's lap while cheersing the camera with his martini glass.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Queen’s album A Night At The Opera in 1975 made the group internationally recognizable but the song on that album that really did it is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which stayed at number one in the UK for over two months!

By the time this picture was snapped in 1977, the group was pumping out sport athems “We Are The Champions” and “We Will Rock You.” In this moment they are receiving ice hockey shirts at the Montreal Forum. Before the Freddie Mercury mustache of the 1980s, he was that barefaced boy in the front cheersing the camera, probably to his own success.

They’re Number One!

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Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Fleetwood Mac might be giggly in this photograph, but three years prior, in 1974, they’d found themselves without a guitarist or a vocalist after years of musicians coming and going. Fortunately, the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks managed to keep them afloat.

Then in 1977 they hit number one on the Billboard chart and stayed there for a whopping 31 weeks! That’s almost an entire pregnancy! It’s no wonder they’re all smiles backstage at the Los Angeles Rock Awards. Oh yeah, and the same year they won a Grammy for Album of the Year.

Underrated For Their Time

The Ramones sit on a couch calmly waiting to perform.
Barbara Alper/Getty Images
Barbara Alper/Getty Images

Fun fact, all of the Ramones actually adapted pseudonyms; none of them are biologically related despite having chosen to go by the last name Ramone. The dark hair and similar style can be deceiving, though.

Backstage at the Paradise Theater in 1978, the Ramones sit back and relax. You may have noticed that they look rather even-keeled and relaxed for rockstars. That may have something to do with the fact that their commercial success didn’t really hit in the 1970s, which is really unfortunate considering they are now ranked in the top 100 rock bands.

The Singer That Got Away

Band members unwind in a graffiti-riddled room with sweat locks and tired expressions.
Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Australian band AC/DC released their first album in 1975, and a year later they were performing at the Marquee Club in London. The sweaty lads are photographed right after their performance, taking a breather from another exhausting show.

The hard, bluesy, heavy sounds brought them up to stardom in the 70s, but it wasn’t without difficulties. The next year the band replaced their bassist, Mark Evans. At the end of the decade, they lost their lead singer, Bon Scott (standing in the back right) to alcohol poisoning and almost split up. Thankfully, they buckled through long enough to be ranked one of the best rock artists of all time.

Three’s Company, Pop Star Edition

Cher, Elton John, and Diana Ross seem distracted by something to their left while posing for a group photo.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This portrait was taken backstage at the first Rock Music Awards. Though genres like disco were becoming more popular in the 1970s, rock music hit the music scene so hard that its ripples are still felt today. Elton John and Diana Ross were two hosts at the event, and Cher hopped into the photo because, well, she’s Cher.

All three artists established themselves as huge players in the music game back in the 1960s, and by the time this photo was taken in 1975, they still hadn’t seen the peak of their fame. It must be fun to be on top of the world with your friends.

Blondie Celebrated Success With A Snake

Debbie Harris smiles while looking into the eyes of a slithering snake.
Roberta Bayley/Redferns
Roberta Bayley/Redferns

Long before Britney Spears made it sensual to sing while wearing a snake, Debbie Harry of Blondie cautiously draped a snake over her shoulders while backstage at the Philadelphia Spectrum. The show marked a transition as the band went from being underground to mainstream.

Blondie first caught the public eye in the UK and Australia, but by the late 1970s, the US was finally ready to embrace the punk group. Their third album Parallel Lines was an international hit in 1978 and put them on track for mainstream success. Fortunately, the snake never harmed Debbie, and she went on to have a long career with the band.

Jim Morrison and The Doors Were Worn Down

the-doors-backstage-1970
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This photo of The Doors backstage was snapped in 1970. It would be the last year of young Jim Morrison’s life, as he would pass away the following year, on July 3, 1971. Looking through images of the band behind the scenes, they often appear exhausted.

Whether it’s from a tiring tour schedule, too much partying, or both, Morrison’s alcoholism was wearing him down, and he couldn’t stay out of trouble with the law. On September 20, 1970, after a wild show in Miami, Morrison was sentenced to six months in prison for indecent exposure and profanity.