Behind the Shot: Axl & Mick

Behind the Shot: Axl & Mick

Paul NatkinChicago’s foremost music photographer, shines a light on the stories behind some of his most famous shots for Trope’s Behind The Shot series.

I was the tour photographer for the Rolling Stones in 1989 on the Steel Wheels Tour, and when we were in LA Guns and Roses opened all four shows for the Stones. The Stones have always been really into getting whoever the hot new band is to open for them because it attracts a whole different audience. At the end of the tour, they hosted one of the first pay-per-view shows that was broadcast on cable television. They invited Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, and Axl and Izzy from Guns and Roses to come and sit in with them.

Paul Natkin's image of Axl & Mick

This shot was just a moment before soundcheck. I'm guessing Mick was telling Axl where he wanted them to stand when they were performing. I got amazing pictures of them singing right at each other from the show. This one was just a casual moment.

I got the job as Rolling Stones’ tour photographer because my neighbor at the time was the music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times. He called me one day and said, “Hey, listen, I'm going to New York to interview Keith Richards.” The Sun-Times didn’t want to send a photographer, which I thought was a really dumb idea, but it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

My friend said to me, “If you fly yourself to New York and meet me there, you can sleep on the floor of my hotel room and then come with me to do a photoshoot with Keith.” That shoot ended up giving me the shot that's in Moment of Truth of Keith giving me the finger.

After I got home I made prints for the Sun-Times and made an extra set. I put the extra set in an envelope and wrote a note to Keith's manager saying that I heard Keith is going out on tour again, and that if they needed a tour photographer they should give me a call. I had no idea what a tour photographer did and had never been on the road before. I just dropped the envelope in the mail and forgot about it.

Later on, I got a call the day before the tour started from Keith’s manager saying “Hey, what are you doing tomorrow?” It was the day before Thanksgiving. I told her I was probably going to my mother's house, but she said, “No. Get up in the morning, fly to Atlanta, come to the Ritz-Carlton and call my room when you get there.”

I did Keith’s solo tour for three weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas and went home. When I got back there copy of the latest issue of Rolling Stone waiting in my mailbox with a little article saying that the Stones were getting ready to start on a new album and they were gonna do a tour in 1989, the following year.

I wrote the same note to the manager saying, “Hey, if you need a tour photographer, give me a call.” I never expected anything to come of it. The following year the tour started and there was no call. So I thought, “I tried. I had a really good time with Keith and I guess that was the pinnacle of my life.”

Then, a month into the tour, I got a call from the manager saying the same thing as the year before: “Hey, what are you doing tomorrow?”

About three weeks into that tour, I got a call to my room from the manager asking me to come and see her. When I got to her room, all of the managers were there and I thought that I must have done something really bad. It was like going to the principal's office.

They said, “We have a problem. Everybody in the band really likes you. We really like your work. We want you to leave behind anything you had going on in Chicago to photograph the rest of the tour for another two and a half months.”

And, you know…how do you say no to the Rolling Stones?

Paul Natkin profile

Paul Natkin’s first book, Natkin: The Moment of Truth, will arrive at bookstores this summer. This 288-page, casebound monograph, priced at $55 USD, contains work covering every music genre, from jazz and country to punk, blues, rock & hip hop.

Natkin: The Moment of Truth slipcases

Also available in five exclusive paperboard slipcases featuring some of our favorite images from the book. These limited-edition slipcases are only available on – grab your favorite before they're gone!