2023 – My First Concert Picture: 50 Years Ago Tonight!

                              (ignore April 30, 2017 publish date – this was published on July 29, 2023)


I had just finished my junior year at Ramapo College (chemistry), when two life-changing things occurred. I got a call from Bergen Community College offering me a faculty position (non-teaching) to run the 6 physical science laboratories (various chemistries, physics, earth science, etc.) for the night classes! A college faculty position before I got a degree? Wow!

You know when you walked into your weekly lab class and that week’s experiment is all set up for you and your classmates, including enough chemicals for everyone in EXACT concentrations, so you can perform the test perfectly?

Well, I was the guy who took stock annually of all chemicals and supplies, ordered what was needed, prepared all the solutions for all weekly classes, and set up everything so that there were no screw-ups during the lab tests and guided the night instructors – who were all adjunct professors that were unfamiliar with the school, the labs, and sometimes – even the experiments (!).

But it was a situation I preferred over doing the same thing for the regular day instructors, who still saw me as their student (which I was for my first 2 years of college) and not as a colleague – despite the fact that I got the school’s award in chemistry for having the highest GPA when I graduated there.

I was to start that job on August 1, 1973.


But before that happened…………….

I was quite the avid concertgoer back then. Two big music events were announced earlier that summer:

– There would be a big, Woodstock-like concert at Watkins Glen, NY, featuring the Grateful Dead, The Band, and the Allman Brothers on July 28.

– Led Zeppelin announced a 3-night stand at Madison Square Garden on July 27, 28, and 29.


Lots of the people I knew back then IMMEDIATELY grabbed Watkins Glen tickets. I’m not a Deadhead by ANY means, the Band was OK and I DID like the Allmans a lot, but I had been to Woodstock and wasn’t interested in going through that hassle again – especially when I didn’t care about 2 of the 3 bands.

I absolutely LOVED Led Zeppelin, so my decision was an easy one.


For some of the biggest shows at places like Madison Square Garden, we (friends and I) normally had to camp out for half the night, waiting for the box office to suddenly open up unannounced at some ungodly hour (3:17am sounds about right). But even THAT didn’t guarantee the best seats because a lot of the other people standing in line ahead of us were scalpers, who grabbed most of the good seats.

But in 1973, Led Zeppelin’s management came up with a brilliant idea: ALL tickets would be sold by mail order ONLY and ALL at the same price ($7.50 – maximum of 6 tickets)! After all ticket requests were in by a certain date, orders were filled completely at random – it was NOT first-come, first-served. You had an equal chance to get front row orchestra or last row nosebleed seats upstairs and scalpers had no advantage whatsoever.


I still have the check I sent in for my 6 tickets (plus $0.50 handling charge):


For the first night, my seats were on the floor in the middle of the orchestra. I thought I went the second night, but I can’t find a ticket stub for 7/28 (and I’m pretty meticulous about that stuff – also I went on 7/29 with another couple, so with the ticket limit being 6, 2 for Friday and 4 for Sunday makes sense), but for the third and final night………………..4th row orchestra, dead center!!


OMIGOD! I had NEVER been that close before……………and probably never will again! (little did I know…………).


And here is the ticket stub that literally changed my life:



My thought back then was that I HAVE to memorialize this show somehow, but my only camera was a crappy Polaroid. I would have to apply a tube of slimy gunk to each picture as soon as I took it and hang it somewhere to dry. Not gonna happen at the Garden.

Someone I knew had a semi-crappy 35mm camera. I had ZERO experience with that kind of camera and he wouldn’t be there that night to assist me, so he gave me a shirtload of instructions and loaded the camera with color SLIDE film, which – I found out later – is MUCH more difficult to use than negative color film, because there’s a LOT less latitude with slide film if you screw up. It’s positive film: what you shoot is your finished image. Negative film can be easily manipulated after the fact in the darkroom.

I was not supremely confident at showtime.

To make matters worse – as I mentioned on my site – there was a sort of……..um, purple haze in the air (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)……and I’d be completely on my own – sink or swim.

So I did what I could and took pictures when I thought I should.


Would you like to see me in action that night?

A minor detail I didn’t mention earlier was that the band would be filming these 3 nights of concerts for later use in a movie called “The Song Remains The Same”, which came out 3 years later.

When I first went to see it, I actually saw myself in it taking pictures! The opening scene of the concert part of the film shows the band from behind the stage. That means that the audience’s faces in the front rows were visible. And in the 4th row, with a black t-shirt and a camera for a face was ME, taking my first concert pictures! LED ZEPPELIN ACTUALLY DOCUMENTED ME TAKING MY FIRST CONCERT PICTURES!

Don’t believe it? Check out the circled guy:


Here’s the video of that first song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyOiNM5ZeR8

Besides at the beginning, I also pop up at the 1:16 mark for a few seconds.

Interesting comment with this video:

“Omg this exists. The internets do redeem us sometimes. Beware, do not listen to this having inhaled high quality sticky of the icky. Share this music and sage advice to those in need of a refresh. Thanks for the upload!”


SIDE NOTE: Even if I never attended this show, this version of the song would be (and is) my favorite live Zep tune. It’s in my iTunes library and is played often (and will be blasted tonight). But to think that this version was filmed, is in the Zep movie (and I’m in it) and is also the first song I ever photographed, is HUGE on so many levels. I think the hippies would say this was rather cosmic.

And who else kicked off a career this way?


And – despite all the instruction on an unfamiliar camera loaded with difficult film – here’s what I came up with:

You can even see the time on the Garden clock up behind them (8:12pm – Zep never had an opening act), but the most important SECONDARY item captured in this image is the MOVIE CAMERA! In the half-century since that historic night, I’ve never seen another photo that shows the band AND the movie camera!

Apparently, I captured something no one else did in my first concert shots ever! And, hey – I captured confetti two minutes later:


What a way to start a career! (though I didn’t know that at the time).

That’s because I started my new college faculty job just 3 days later (August 1). I held that job for almost six and-a-half years, while I kept buying up-close seats and shooting what I thought were publishable images.

I quit my faculty job at the end of 1979 and my avocation became my vocation (and I never looked back).

Who wouldn’t trade inhaling chemicals forever for a couple of decades of rocking out every night?

Best decision I ever made! (and my lungs agree)


And 40 years later, a magazine sent a photographer over to ask about (and photograph me with) that first-show picture:


Here are a few others I took that night:

That last one was my first encounter with smoke and uneven lighting. Sorry, JPJ (but Plant came out decently).


I didn’t exactly jump into shooting shows after that. I just now went through my ticket archive and the next show I found that I know I shot wasn’t until the following May.

But since that were NO thoughts about doing this for a living, I just did it when an ideal situation presented itself, like Elton John (and surprise special guest John Lennon) at the Garden in late 1974, Bruce Springsteen at the Bottom Line and the Stones at the Garden in ’75 and Paul McCartney at the Garden in ’76.

By ’77, I was the house photographer at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ. In ’78, I was published for the first time overseas (Japan) and things just took off from there.


I quit the lab job at the end of 1979.  As of 1-1-80, I was on my own.


Still am……………….




  1. Bobby Messano July 29, 2023

    How frigging cool Bob…I have always been in awe of your photos…taken with YOUR eyes…You even made me look cool…TY
    Much love

  2. Carol Ross July 29, 2023

    Great story great memories !

  3. Annemarie July 29, 2023

    Great memories! Did Frank and Elaine go with you that night? It looks like them but they were into the Dead…

  4. Bob Leafe July 29, 2023

    Not that night they weren’t! Which would you prefer: going through the hassle of another Woodstock that’s 235 miles from home or 4th row, seats 3 and 4 from the center aisle for Led Zeppelin just across the Hudson River at Madison Square Garden?

  5. Annemarie July 29, 2023

    I would definitely prefer MSG and Led Zeppelin!

  6. E July 30, 2023

    Thanks for the memories, Bob. Great show, great seats, great friends. I love all your photos. You never cease to amaze me.

  7. Great job! We need to get you back in the photo pit real soon!

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