An average of two hours sleep a night, 47 years of jet lag, and more stories of outrageous backstage antics than you can count – when it comes to rock-star credentials, photographer Neal Preston is up there with the world’s most renowned hellraisers.

In a career that’s spanned nearly five decades, there’s not much the legendary snapper hasn’t seen: sleazy motels and groupies, alcohol and drug-fuelled chaos, and everything else that comes hand in hand with proper rock’n’roll. He befriended Stevie Nicks on a Venice rooftop; took the red-eye flight to London from NYC to photograph Wham!; then returned to the Big Apple that same night to shoot Bruce Springsteen for the front cover of TIME.

Pushing boundaries was all in a day’s work for Preston, and the results are clear in his spectacular shots. His body of work to date is considered one of music’s most extensive and significant photography collections, captured by a man who was very much in the moment, but never took his eyes off the job at hand.

“Rock tours were fertile breeding grounds from which many a party would sprout,” he says. “Call it blowing-off steam, having a little fun, or taking a little break: it’s all the same. I had my share, and more. But there was still work to do.” In the gallery above, he recounts the stories behind some of his most iconic images. 

Neal Preston: Exhilarated and Exhausted is out now (£45; Reel Art Press). A complete retrospective of an career spanning almost 50 years, it features more than 300 photographs of rock royalty.