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
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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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” and “Walk This Way” 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 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
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
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
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 Maple Leaf Gardens. 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!
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
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
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
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
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
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.
The Supremes Weren’t Always Dancing
Here is an image of the Motown group, The Supremes, with the lineup consisting of Jean Terrell, Cindy Birdsong, and Mary Wilson. They are sitting backstage as Wilson tempts a small dog with a bite of food in the early 1970s.
Starting out as The Primettes in 1959, the vocal group grew to become one of Motown’s most successful acts and are to this day the most successful vocal group of all time. After some more lineup changes in the 1970s, the group disbanded in 1977.
Behind The Scenes Of The Million Dollar Babies Tour
This image was taken during a press conference with Mark Volamn from the group Flo & Eddie opening a joke container of canned snakes. Volman and his bandmate Howard Kaylan opened up for Alice Cooper during his Million Dollar Babies Tour.
Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan were original founders of the rock and roll group The Turtles but joined the Mothers of Invention after the Turtles had broken up and were known as Phlorescent Leech & Eddie. They would later befriend Alice Cooper and join him on tour.
Jerry Lee Lewis Was Taking It Easy
Pictured here is Jerry Lee Lewis enjoying a cigar and a drink backstage at the Palladium in London in April 1972. Also known as “The Killer,” Lewis earned a name for himself as “rock and roll’s first great wild man.”
Known for helping popularize rock and roll and rockabilly music, he became internationally famous after the release of his 1957 hit “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” However, controversy about him marrying his 13-year-old cousin took a hit on his career. His later transition into country music helped give him a boost.
Bo Diddley’s Gotta Eat!
Here is an image captured of Bo Diddley frying chicken while giving an interview during the concert movie Let The Good Times Roll at Madison Square Garden in May 1972.
Bo Diddley is recognized as being one of the first musicians to make the transition from the blues to rock and roll having been cited by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, among others, as a great influence. During his career, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Grammy, among several other accolades.
T. Rex Helping With Makeup
Here, singer and guitarist Mark Bolan of T. Rex helps out his fellow bandmate Mickey Finn with his makeup backstage before a television performance in 1973. T. Rex was formed in England in 1967, releasing four psychedelic folk albums under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex.
In 1969, the band began to shy away from their original electric sound and began shifting more toward acoustic music. Shortening their name to T. Rex in 1970, the band’s sound evolved once again as they became pioneers of the glam rock scene, experiencing equal popularity as the Beatles between 1970 and 1973.
Warming Up With the Jackson 5
The Jackson 5 can be seen here warming up backstage at the Inglewood Forum on August 26, 1973. Composed of members of the Jackson family, the Jackson 5 was a pop group established in 1964, and were one of the first African American groups to achieve a crossover following alongside other Motown acts.
Over the course of the group’s career, they managed to sell more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands of all time. They were also the first group to release four consecutive Hot 100 hits.
The Kinks Enjoying A Cold One
At Newcastle City Hall in October 1973, Ray Davies and Mick Avory of the Kinks can be seen enjoying a beer backstage. Forming in 1964 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, the Kinks grew to become one of the most popular and influential rock and roll group of the 1960s.
The Kinks have had five Top 10 singles on the US Billboard chart with nine of their albums reaching the Top 40. In 1990, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2018, the Davies brothers announced they were working on reuniting the group.
Long John Baldry Getting A Quick Trim
Backstage at the Reading Festival on August 24, 1974, Long John Baldry is enjoying a quick beard trim before going on stage. Baldry came into popularity in the 1960s as one of the first British vocalists to perform the blues, eventually sharing the stage with the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
Even Rod Stewart and Elton John played in groups led by Baldry before they achieved their own fame. His career peaked in 1967 when his album Let The Heartaches Begin reached the No.1 spot in the UK and Australia.
Thin Lizzy Rehearsing With Some Beers
At the dressing room at the Roadhouse in London, rock and roll group Thin Lizzy is enjoying some suds while preparing for their show on November 3, 1974. Founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1969, Thin Lizzy was led by vocalist Phil Lynott, who wrote most of the material and fronted the band for their twelve studio albums.
Lynott is recognized as the first black Irishman to achieve commercial success in rock and roll music with the Rolling Stone noting that they were “far apart from the braying mid-70s metal pack.”
Pink Floyd Were At Their Prime
Pink Floyd formed their band in the mid-‘60s and after a few bandmate adjustments, they were solid as ever. The Lond crew became an international success with the album Dark Side Of The Moon.
Pioneers of concept albums, the band produced songs throughout the 1970s that were meant to be listened to as pieces of one grand whole. In 1979 Pink Floyd transcended the music industry again with The Wall, an album that spawned a film.
Nona Hendryx Prepping For A Performance
Here, Nona Hendryx of Labelle is making sure her outfit is in order before taking the stage in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 1975. Hendryx is known for her solo album as well as being a member of the trio Labelle, best known for their hit track “Lady Marmalade.”
With many genres in her arsenal, she was able to play music ranging from soul to hard rock, and even new wave, making her extremely versatile. She’s also a distant cousin of guitarist Jimi Hendrix, with her last name originally containing an “i.”
The Clash Broke Through With The Changing Decade
The Clash formed in London in 1976, and barely made it into the punk rock scene of the 1970s. Their third album, London Calling, debuted in the UK in December of 1979. It hit the United States at the very start of the 1980s and was declared the best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone.
The Clash’s punk attitude toward politics combined with their experimental sound made them a perfect fit for the late 1970s. CBS Records asked the band to tone down their raunchy sound and produce something cleaner, which merely forced the band to combine more genres that paved the way for their 1980s success.
Lynard Skynard Faced A Lot Of Turbulence
Lynard Skynard popularized Southern rock with beloved songs like “Sweet Home Alabama” that is still often played today. Though the band originally formed in 1964, their first album wasn’t released for another nine years, in 1973.
The band steadily grew in popularity through the 1970s, but by 1975 tensions between bandmates were high. Drummer Burns had a mental breakdown while on tour, and bandmates Kooper and King left the band. Then, in October 1977, a plane crash took the lives of three band members while the remaining were seriously injured. A different lineup of band is still rocking today.
New York Dolls Built Quite The Following
The New York Dolls were a hard rock band that formed in 1971. By the mid-’70s their cult records had developed a following. Their androgynous wardrobe– high heels, top hats, satin, scarfs, patterns, etc.– made them a standout amongst the rest of the decade’s rockers.
After the fatal overdose of their drummer Billy Murcia in 1972, the band auditioned such drummers as Richard Hell of the Ramones and Peter Criss of Kiss. They went with their friend Jerry Nolan, but the band ultimately fizzled out through the latter half of the decade.
King Crimson Progressed Through The ‘70s
King Crimson was a band that formed at the end of the 1960s and influenced the formation of progressive rock. The band formed out of the psychedelic pop trio Giles, Giles, and Fripp. In 1969 the band released the album that sent them soaring through the 1970s, which combined jazz, classical, and experimental music.
Though the band doesn’t consider themselves progressive rock, they have nevertheless impacted various rock genre groups in arenas from psychedelic rock to alternative metal.
The Allman Brothers Band Lost A Brother
The Allman Brothers Band was formed by brothers Duane and Gregg Allman. Contrary to the name, the rest of the five members were not related, but may as well have been for all they went through together in the band’s earliest years.
In 1971, just two years after the band formed, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident at the young age of 24. The band pressed on for another five years, but ultimately parted ways in 1976. They’ve reformed and dissolved in the years since.
Jackson Browne Brought Calm To The 1970s
Jackson Browne was signed in 1971 and over the next several years his melodic, piano-driven songs would bring a cooling sensation to the otherwise upbeat, intense sounds of the 1970s. He had written songs for others throughout the 1960s and came into the spotlight as an individual artist through the 1970s.
His first songs hit the US charts and his 1973 song “Take It Easy” still remains a top hit. The family man was accompanied by his wife and young son in his 1975 tour and began a life of activism in 1978.
The Spinners Took Nearly Two Decades To Peak
The Spinners formed back in 1954 but didn’t reach commercial success until 1972. Fortunately, their R&B sound just doesn’t go out of style. After being signed to Atlantic Records the group landed two top ten singles and five top 100s.
Fans couldn’t get enough of the band’s love-inspired songs such as “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” and “Together We Make Such Sweet Music.” Their album Mighty Love featured three top twenty hits.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer — Better Known As ELP
Emerson, Lake & Palmer, also known as ELP, were one of the most successful progressive rock bands of the 1970s. They had nine RIAA-certified Gold record albums in the US and 48 million records sold. Their mix of rock, classical, and jazz created a sound that could appeal to various audiences.
The band hit it big in 1970 and stayed prominent, putting out albums every year for the first half of the 1970s. After three final albums were released, two in 1977 and one in 1978, the band separated at the end of the decade.
The Commodores Kept It Funky
The Commodores kept funk thriving through the end of the 1970s with songs like “Brick House” and “Nightshift.” Their debut album featured songs on the Billboard Hot 100 list in 1975. The six-man soul band appeared in the movie Thank God It’s Friday in 1978.
Their hard funk sound in the mid-1970s gave way to softer songs moving towards the end of the decade. By the 1980s they were more focused on a commercial pop sound, and band members like Lionel Richie left to pursue individual success.