Photographer Nick Busco Offers

A Backstage Pass To The Early Days Of Rock

By Kathy Leonardo

With each new decade, the technology train has been rolling full steam ahead, affecting photographers and artists alike. Nick Busco has been actively involved in the photography world for the past three decades, using both still and video cameras. He has witnessed the dramatic way the technical side of this medium has changed throughout the years. He is currently filming a behind-the-scenes documentary about his career and life working for a touring lighting company in the music business. While on the road, Busco had the chance to photograph rare and personal moments of rock royalty. With his Pentax SP500, he captured still images in the early days of these iconic music legends.

BR b21NW300 copyIt all started when Busco was in college (1974) and a classmate and entrepreneur asked him if he was interested in taking photos and shooting video of local concerts. His friend owned all of the video gear and called local clubs/artists to get the okay to come in and film. Much to their surprise, most said yes. Starting with small clubs, Busco soon advanced to taking photos and videotaping shows in larger venues that featured bigger names such as Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Cliff, The Kinks, Harold Melvin and the Blues Notes, John Prine, The Staple Singers, Toots and the Maytals, Queen, Chicago, Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, and more. “The video equipment we used back in the day was cutting edge at the time,” says Busco. “We used the three Sony Port-a-Pak cameras on funky tripods, a Sony 2100 VTR half-inch black-and-white reel to reel video-recording deck, and for a switcher, we used the Sony SEG-1.”

Busco continued using a Pentax SP 500 until digital cameras came on the market. Many photographers fought the switch to digital, reluctantly giving in to the new technology. Busco was also a bit apprehensive, but soon jumped in with both feet. In 2000, he purchased the Nikon CoolPix 990. He explains, “It was a challenge to learn about the digital side at first. When I started doing more digital shooting, I did enjoy the immediate gratification.” He continued to be a Pentax fan and is currently working with a Pentax K-7. Busco acknowledges that the Digital Age has changed how photographers earn a living. “With the advent of the DSLR, making a living as a photographer has been greatly compromised,” reveals Busco. “The price someone paid five to 10 years ago, say for weddings, special events, modeling, internet photography, was quite a bit higher than today.” Many suspect that with a new iPhone coming out every few months, the traditional camera will soon be obsolete. “To me, the art of photography has changed in a way that has given many more people in the field the opportunity to shoot and be creative,” insists Busco. “With the programs that are available today to fix your shot, the field has become flooded with people who are not aware of the basics of photography, which was all learned with film. You had to be careful when you shot with film. It cost money to develop, print, etc.”

Busco is currently working on a documentary based on his touring days. It will feature the music business on the road from a backstage perspective. He started contacting many of his old friends from his touring days and received positive feedback about the documentary. Back in 1977, Busco was on tour with Patrick Woodroffe, who was the lighting designer for a Rod Stewart tour. “I have not talked with Patrick since 1978, and I sent him an email with some great photos I took while he and I were on the road with Rod . . . I do have to say . . . within 30 minutes, I got a return email,” laughed Busco. “Well, just to let you know, Patrick was the lighting designer for the last Olympics in London. And this is part of what the documentary is about — what these wonderfully talented, creative people are up to now.”

The documentary will begin in 1969, featuring the iconic Woodstock phenomenon, and run through 1985 when the arrival of the CD changed the music business forever. He explains, “This is a story that I feel needs to be told so that future generations will know that we created a business that is now huge and very profitable. It also reveals how it all started . . . with no internet, digital sound, or lighting boards — just us making it up as we went along and creating a standard that is still followed in the touring business. This is a part of history in the music and entertainment business!”

Busco's work has been featured in group shows at the Venice Art Crawl, Trunk Gallery, Santa Monica Art Studios, the Venice Art Block, and most recently haleARTS S P A C E in Santa Monica. His work is currently on view at Mouche Gallery in Beverly Hills.

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Photography Credit: Nick Busco.

To learn more about Nick Busco, visit his website. 

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