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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Stories From The Road: Tour Manager Tales

Listen to a tour manager image
If you ever wondered if some of the wild road stories you've heard about blowing up hotel rooms and televisions in the pool are true, you'll be pleasantly surprised to hear that most of them are (and those are just the ones that are popular). Recently Billboard got a number of top veteran tour managers in a room to finally get the stories straight. The gang included Stuart Ross (Metallica, George Michael, Weezer), Patrick Stansfield (The Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond), Dave Libert (Alice Coooper), Gus Brandt (Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Eminem, Nine Inch Nails), and Marty Hom (Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Shania Twain). Here's part of the interview, which can be found in its entirety at BillboardBiz.com.

"How did you handle the logistics, without email or cellphones?
Libert: Every road manager had that enormous book that could tell you the mileage from any city to any city in the entire country.
Stansfield: A Rand McNally Gazetteer.
Ross: If you were going from Anchorage [Alaska] to Xenia, Ohio, you looked up Anchorage and then you went down all of the names until you got to Xenia and it would give you the mileage. And that's how we routed tours. We had no other way to do it.
Stansfield: Remember that in this equation, the band's management had a somewhat different agenda in terms of routing...Management wants you to play where they've decided you're going to play. If you were to say, "I can't guarantee you we can make that gig," [promoter-turned-movie producer] Jerry Weintraub would say, "Pat, I'm a rich man. I pay guys like you to figure this out." Tap, tap, tap on the cigar. "Don't tell me nothing except 'yes.' Now, get the f--- out of my face."
How do you cope when that happens?
Stansfield: You go out, throw the dice and make sure it happens.
Libert: One thing a road manager could do to influence the routing of a tour is, if there were two days off, you would try and figure out where the hottest girls were. That was where we wanted to have those two or three days off. Because to be in a town for one night was one thing, to be there for two or three days was completely different...So I would convince Shep Gordon why it was good business, why we should stay there: It was cheaper, the trucks needed whatever. But it was about the chicks.
The "sweet, sweet Connie," from Grand Funk's "We're an American Band," right?Stansfield: There was this body of knowledge, mano a mano, from your lips to my ears: "Man, that Connie in Little Rock...F---ed me silly. Swear to God. At the end, she brightly says, 'Thank you,' and was off. I found out she went to the other bus and f---ed the entourage until the sun came up." (To Hom): You ever meet Connie?
Hom: Theoretically.
Stansfield: If you played Little Rock [Ark.], you couldn't help but meet Connie. She was a schoolteacher. Third grade.
Libert: She had her own room set up at the arena. There used to be a line.
Was that on a Stones tour?
Stansfield: That was Neil Diamond.
Those buccaneering days, why did they have to end?
Hom: There was so much money at stake. It had to end. You couldn't run wild anymore. In the mid-'80s into the '90s, it started becoming a legitimate, huge business for people to make a living -- not just artists but also those that worked for the talent. You could actually support a family, buy a house, put your kids through school. I think it took a turn around that time. People got very serious about what they do. It was still a lot of fun, we still love it, but it's a business.
Ross: Once we started carrying sound and lights and all of a sudden, it's not just two to six people, you're at 25-100. The dynamics shifted when carrying big production became feasible and our jobs went from making sure people stay out of jail to essentially being the CEO of a small corporation that shuts down after six months or a year.

Tour managers are famous for solving crises. Tell us about some.
Hom: When Barbra Streisand was play­ing Staples Center, it was like going to the Academy Awards. Everybody was there: Sidney Poitier, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nich­olson, Dustin Hoffman -- the creme de la creme of Hollywood. What happens is, they all send her flowers at Staples Center. And at the end of the second night, she says, "Marty, I'm going to send my gardener back to pick up all the flowers and have them driven to my house." I tell her, "No problem," and I ask our production manager to lock the dressing room. The gardener shows up at Staples Center the next day, the dressing room door is open, and all the flowers are gone. Panicked, I call Barbra's assistant and ask, "Do you still have the cards that were attached to the flowers?" She did and I called them all and said, "Do you remember those flowers that you did for Dustin Hoffman and Sidney Poitier? Can you duplicate those and send those up to Barbra's house?" I get the 20 arrangements that we were supposed to pick up, and they all get delivered to her house. And then at the end of the day, I give Staples Center the bill and they pay for all the flowers. (Laughter.)
Ross: When you knock on the hotel door and wake up the singer at 1 p.m., then you get the call saying, "I can't believe you woke me up! Now I can't sleep! I've been up all night writing songs. I'm not playing the show!"
Libert: Alice [Cooper] was doing a show in Vancouver and he slipped on one of the props and flipped off the stage like a tiddlywink and ended up in the pit. He cracked his skull open. This was after a couple of numbers. We take him backstage and I know he's in bad shape. And it came down to this: "We'll put a bandage around your head. You go back out there and do two or three songs. Otherwise, we'll have to postpone the show, we won't get paid, and you'll have to come back." So that was the motivating factor. "Go out there and do a couple of songs because as bad as you feel right now, it will feel a lot worse tomorrow." So we put a bandage around his head with a little red ink on it, he did three more songs, pretended to collapse and we took him offstage. And he got paid."
Read the entire interview at BillboardBiz.com. What are your road stories?

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