Paul Natkin got his start as a photographer in a most illicit way: The Chicago native snuck into a 1980 Bonnie Raitt concert — camera and equipment in hand — under the bogus pretense of having a press pass waiting for him inside. It worked, and he fell in love with music photography, eventually making a career out of shooting more than 300 performers per year.
His first book, “Natkin: The Moment of Truth” (Trope Publishing Co.,) out July 12, highlights more than 150 of Natkin’s best photographs — of the Beastie Boys, David Bowie, Van Halen and more.
The moment he knew he had made it, though, wasn’t when he got the book deal; it was on June 7, 1984, Prince’s birthday. Natkin, who had never met the singer, was summoned last minute by Prince’s entourage to take pictures of his 26th birthday party — if he could quickly get himself there from Chicago.
When Natkin approached the door at Minneapolis’ First Avenue nightclub, where Prince was hosting his bash, he offered his name to the bouncer, who carefully examined every line of the 20-page guest list before looking back up at the photographer.
There, on the very last page were the words “Photography: Paul Natkin.”
“To this day, I still have no idea why he picked me to be the only photographer at his party,” Natkin, 70, told The Post.
Here, he offers The Post the behind-the-scenes stories of some of his most iconic photographs.
In 1986, when the Beastie Boys released their first album, “Licensed to Ill,” Budweiser agreed to sponsor the band’s headlining tour — but the beer company had never actually seen the Boys perform live. When the executives finally attended a concert, they decided to pull the sponsorship because “They didn’t want their brand associated with this type of crudeness,” Natkin said.
This shoot, at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, made a joke of the threesome auditioning new beer companies to replace Budweiser.
“They didn’t drink any of the beers; they just sprayed them,” Natkin said. “I asked them not to spray me because the camera equipment was really expensive, but of course they did.
“It’s hard to be mad at them, though,” he added with a laugh. “I spent $500 to get my equipment cleaned after that, but it was worth it.”
Most bands allow photographers to stay and shoot for only the first three songs of a concert. But for Bowie’s 1983 performance at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre, Natkin finessed his way into staying for the whole show, which is how he managed to score this shot: Bowie performing a mid-concert “Hamlet”-inspired soliloquy with a plastic skull.
“No one really knew what he was doing, but they loved it.” Natkin said.
“At one point, he looked down at me and figured there’s no way I could have gotten here without permission, so he just automatically assumed I must be there for a reason. So Bowie looked right at me and posed with the skull.”
“Halfway through Prince’s birthday party [in 1984], he got on stage and performed all songs from the movie [“Purple Rain”], wearing all “Purple Rain” clothes. He even played with the band he assembled for the movie in front of all of his friends. And me,” Natkin said. “He posed for me all night long.”
Over the course of Prince’s career, Natkin photographed the artist 25 times without ever actually meeting him. “He was definitely mysterious,” Natkin said of the musician, who passed away in 2016 from a fentanyl overdose. “He wasn’t social and didn’t like talking to people.”
Once, Prince’s guitar tech — the person who worked closest with him onstage — told Natkin that the only words Prince ever even spoke to him were at the end of the tour, when he said a simple “Thank you” and walked away.
Tina Turner & Mick Jagger
For the 1985 Live Aid event at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium, “I shot 75 bands over the course of 12 hours,” Natkin said. “Mick was the last act on the schedule and by that time, all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel because I was so tired that I could hardly lift my camera.”
But he stayed and continued shooting because “it was Mick Jagger. I had to.”
It was more than worth it when, in the middle of Jagger’s performance, Turner walked on stage and the duo — who, according to Natkin, had great chemistry — sang their duet ”State Of Shock.”
“They were old friends. They weren’t just thrown together for Live Aid. They liked each other and they loved singing together,” the photographer said. “It was so obvious that they were both into it.”
The resulting photo also became the cover of Natkin’s book.
“This was Van Halen’s first tour with Sammy Hagar after they fired [David] Lee Roth. They had to prove they were still a great band, so they were extra on fire that night,” Natkin said of the 1986 show at the Rockford MetroCentre outside of Chicago.
“They were a really good rock and roll band, plain and simple,” he recalled. “They always looked like they were having fun and that transcends to the crowd.”
Though Natkin described Eddie, who died in 2020 after a wild life and career, as “one of the nice guys” and quiet off stage, the guitar legend “put on a show” when he was performing. “He climbed on an amplifier and had two choices of getting down [carefully or by leaping]: one is really cool and the other is pretty lame,” the photographer said.
Eddie chose the former and jumped.
For Natkin, “The key was to get the stage in the shot so people can see how far off the ground he was. I’ve got eight photos from that concert of Eddie jumping from one thing to another.”
He also told The Post how Eddie started playing guitar for one reason: to get girls. “He told me, ‘I was a lousy athlete, so the best way to meet women was to pick up a guitar.’”