33 Vintage Backstage Photos Of History’s Most Famous Musicians

Published April 5, 2018
Updated December 4, 2019

From The Beatles taking a drag to the Rat Pack cracking up, these photos give you the full VIP look at your favorite musicians backstage.

Rat Pack Backstage
Jan Murray (L) sits alongside Rat Pack members Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra as the group unwinds backstage at Carnegie Hall. 1961.Bettmann/Getty Images

Beatles Smoking Backstage
The Beatles backstage at The Regal in Cambridge. 1963.Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Bob Dylan And Tom Petty
Bob Dylan and Tom Petty pose at Farm Aid. Champaign, Ill. 1985.Deborah Feingold/Getty Images

Madonna Backstage
Madonna looks in a mirror as she applies lipstick. New York, N.Y. 1979. Michael McDonnell/Archive Photos/Getty Images

David Bowie And Paul Simonon
British rock singer and actor David Bowie (R) has a drink backstage with Paul Simonon, the bassist from British punk rock band The Clash. New York, N.Y. Circa 1982. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Flavor Flav Tupac
Flavor Flav, standing with rapper Tupac Shakur, greets fans backstage during the 1989 American Music Awards. Los Angeles, Calif.Clarence Gatson/Gado/Getty Images

Beatles Backstage Photo
Beatle members George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney stare at a plastic spider perched on drummer Ringo Starr's nose, after their Sunday Night at the London Palladium show. 1963.Peter Hall/Keystone/Getty Images

Billie Holiday Dog Backstage
Billie Holiday backstage with her dog. William Gottlieb/Redferns/Getty Images

Bob Dylan Backstage
Bob Dylan drinks a cup of tea backstage at his famous Free Trade Hall Concert. 1965.Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images

James Brown Backstage
James Brown poses backstage. 1973.David Reed/Redferns/Getty Images

David Bowie Outfit
David Bowie is dressed in an extravagant costume by his wife Angie Bowie (right) and an assistant. 1973.Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images

Notorious Big
Rappers Saafir, Craig Mack, The D.O.C., and Notorious B.I.G. pose for photos backstage after their performances at the Riviera Theater. Chicago, Ill. 1994.Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Gladys Knight Backstage
Gladys Knight & The Pips backstage with friends in Harlem. 1973.David Reed/Redferns/Getty Images

Abba Backstage
Abba's Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson read a copy of National Geographic magazine backstage. Copenhagen, Denmark. 1975.Jorgen Angel/Redferns

Sex Pistols Backstage
Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten (wearing a leather jacket in front) greets fans backstage after the band's last concert. San Fransisco, Calif. 1978.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dr Dre Snoop Dogg
Rappers Dr. Dre, Kurupt, and Snoop Dogg backstage at the Source Awards. New York, N.Y. 1995.Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Stevie Wonder Tony Bennet
Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder backstage during the MLK Gala at The Atlanta Civic Center. Georgia. 1982.Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Elton John Backstage
Elton John relaxes backstage at Doug Weston's Troubadour. Los Angeles, Calif. 1970.Ed Caraeff/Getty Images

Elvis Presley And Sammy Davis Jr.
Elvis Presley and singer Sammy Davis, Jr. backstage in Las Vegas, Nev. 1970.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Gene Simmons Backstage
Bass guitarist and co-lead singer of KISS Gene Simmons goofs around backstage at Cobo Hall. Detroit, Mich. 1976.Waring Abbott/Getty Images

Guns N Roses Backstage
Left to Right: Izzy Stradlin, Axl Rose, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler and Slash of Guns n' Roses pose for a portrait backstage. California. 1986.Marc S Canter/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Diana Ross Backstage
American pop singer Diana Ross backstage at a concert on the Rolling Stones' Tour of the Americas. 1975.Christopher Simon Sykes/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jacksons Backstage
American singer Michael Jackson and the Jackson brothers backstage. 1973.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Joan Jett Backstage
Joan Jett of The Runaways backstage at the Whiskey A Go Go. Los Angeles, Calif. Circa 1977-1978.Brad Elterman/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic

Keith Richards Cigarette
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards smokes a cigarette backstage. 1974.Graham Wiltshire/Redferns/Getty Images

Led Zeppelin Backstage
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page (fore, right) and singer Robert Plant (center, rear) backstage at Madison Square Garden. New York, N.Y. 1977.Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

Metallica Backstage
Cliff Burton, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and James Hetfield of Metallica. 1985. Mike Cameron/Redferns/Getty Images

Michael Jackson Backstage
Michael Jackson backstage in Bremen during the HIStory World Tour. 1997.Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Nirvana Backstage
Nirvana, backstage in Germany. Left to right: drummer Dave Grohl, singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. 1991.Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty Images

Ozzy Osbourne Backstage
Ozzy Osbourne pours a bottle of water on his head while backstage at the Live Aid charity concert at John F. Kennedy Stadium. Pennsylvania. 1985.David McGough/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Patti Smith Backstage
Patti Smith poses with Iggy Pop and James Williamson of The Stooges. Los Angeles, Calif. 1974. Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Tina Turner Backstage
Singer Tina Turner backstage in Rio de Janeiro. 1988.Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Prince Backstage
Prince poses backstage in Amsterdam. 1981.Virginia Turbett/Redferns/Getty Images

In 1975, as the story goes, Led Zeppelin boarded a plane after playing a show in Detroit. Among the musos and crew was a reporter from the London Daily Express, whose presence was less than welcomed by the band and its management.

An argument began to rage. Guitarist Jimmy Page called the reporter a communist, someone threw a glass, and the situation quickly escalated. As tempers flared, a scuffle broke out 25,000 feet in the air.

Sensing that the scene needed to be diffused, Led Zeppelin tour manager Richard Cole pulled out a gun and aimed it at the reporter. He was quickly backed up by two of the band's security guards.

The scene fell quiet for a moment before drummer John Bonham, likely still feeling the effects of a recent alcohol binge, yelled from the front of the plane "will you all shut up? I'm trying to get some sleep!"

Tales of excess and debauchery are almost synonymous with musicians like the members of Led Zeppelin, but it's a world seldom seen by the public. It's an alternative universe concealed behind backstage doors guarded by bouncers and rumors.

Photographs of performers in the midst of pre-show preparations or reveling in a post-gig high offer unique insights into the often murky lives of the musicians we think we know.

Whether it's an austere-looking Bob Dylan sipping on a cup of tea, Sammy Davis Jr. laughing uproariously at something Frank Sinatra said, or Gene Simmons goofing off in a wheelchair before a gig, these images offer a glimpse into the people behind the personas.

The thirty-three photos above range from the swinging 50s and counterculture revolution of the 60s to the musical zenith that was the 70s and the experimental boldness of the 80s. Each offers a powerful moment in musical history, immortalized by the click of a shutter.

Next, learn how David Bowie shattered and perpetuated rock star stereotypes. Then, meet Cynthia Plaster Caster, the groupie who made molds out of rock music's most famous penises. Finally, read up on punk provocateur GG Allin.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out the stories to illuminate the past, present, and future.