Episode 26. Roadies Vs Managers
Ask anyone involved in the music business if they have a good manager story and they always will and such is the nature of management it will always be one of complaint. Without further ado then, here’s one from me.
It was the autumn of 1988. I was sitting at home watching films when my phone rang and the familiar voice of my good friend and fellow guitar tech, Tony Bateman, asked me if I’d be willing to do Lita Ford’s upcoming tour. Tony would be handling the bass and keyboards, another guy we often worked with named Noel Wyatt would be doing drums and I would be taking care of Lita’s guitars, of which there would be seventeen. I had been a fan of Lita’s from the Runaway days and her latest album– Lita – had been one of my favourites through the summer of ’88 so I told Tony I’d love to do it but need to check if it clashes with any of the other bands I work with. “What are the tour dates?” I asked. “October 30th to December 19th with a week of pre-production and rehearsals before that.” Replied Tony and added that the shows would only be forty-five minutes as it was as support to Bon Jovi on their European tour and that we would be flying in Bon Jovi’s private plane with Lita and her band from gig-to-gig. Well this all sounded rather good so before the end of the call, I had already decided I was going to do it. “One thing though...” I said, “…if the shows are only forty-five minutes, why does she need seventeen guitars?” “Because she’s a rock star” said Tony and hung up.
Lita’s guitars and effects for the Bon Jovi European tour.
The over the next few days Tony, Noel and I met up, discussed preparations, booked rehearsal rooms, arranged shipping for the equipment and liaised with Lita’s UK management office about wages and allowances. We received the equipment list from her office which after reading I was quite pleased to see she had decided to bring only fourteen guitars and we received the tour dates as well which we noted also included an award show. I hated award shows because it meant us roadies needed to pack a shirt, tie and dinner jacket in our suitcases for the occasion otherwise we were kept out of sight by the security and not allowed to mingle with the superstars that attended. That aside, it still looked very appealing and things went very well for about ten days until one morning when Tony received a phone call from her manager’s office.
“Hi this is Lynne form Lita’s management…”
“Yes, hi…ummm…I’m very sorry to tell you this but we won’t be requiring your services after all.”
“What? Why? Is the tour off?”
“Yes…no…umm…Lita’s manager has decided that it would be better if she brought her own crew from America.”
“Yes…sorry about that but thanks for everything you did.”
“Wait a minute, we’ve cancelled other tours for this and at least need payment for the work so far.”
“Well I’ll speak to Lita’s manager about that and call you back – bye.”
The line went dead.
We happened to be meeting Tony that day and after he had told us the news, we went to the pub for a rather solemn lunchtime drinking session wondering what sort of Christmas we were going to have without any income. By the end of the week, Tony had found himself another gig, Noel was looking at other options and I happened to be at Ritz rehearsal studios when a band called The Pasadenas asked around if they knew of any crew available for some shows in December so I signed up for that. Needless to say, Lynne never called back and we were never paid for anything. Our calls to the office were never returned and we eventually gave up trying after talking to several other people who had had similar experiences with the same company: Sharon Osbourne Management.
The original tour dates. I have no idea why I wrote ‘Tony’s incredibly large drunken orgy’ next to the Gothenburg date.
Managers have to make tough decisions that affect other people’s lives and the priority basis of those decisions should always be ‘Is it beneficial to my artist?’ No doubt, in our case, Sharon thought it would be more beneficial to bring roadies from the US but the way our dismissal was handled was wrong: we were given no reason and no compensation. A simple explanation, apology and a small fee for our services and the incident would be forgotten but as it stands, I still often turn the TV off whenever she makes an appearance – sad, but such was my hurt at the time. With the benefit of time though, I have accepted that she probably had a hundred other things on her desk that morning and that the names of the three roadies who were going to do the tour were not that important to her because it is a well-known fact in the music business that most managers and roadies only tolerate each other because they have to.
This long-standing tradition of mutual disrespect came about because the jobs are completely opposite. A manager handles the business end of the band. It is the manager’s job to negotiate with labels and agents, balance budgets, organise and promote the artist and constantly look for ways to get them in the newspapers and on the radio and TV. Schedules have to be made, visas applied for, artwork approved, ‘Thank you’ gifts have to be sent to appropriate people at the right time, merchandise has to be designed, manufactured and shipped and all this is to be done from their desk in rainy London while the band are touring the world with their crew: managers are jealous of roadies. What the manager doesn’t see though is what a roadie actually does and what his life style is - a never-ending diary of planes, buses and venues. Even on a small tour of 1,000-seater venues, the average crew will be loading the equipment in at 9am, setting up all day, sound checking at 5pm, dinner (in the venue) at 6pm, show at 7:30pm, pack-down and load out by 11:30pm after which they will have a few hours’ drive to the next show. Managers also don’t see - and honestly don’t care about - the problems roadies have when they arrive at the venue, discovering that the stage is too small for all the equipment, the local crew that promoter is supposed to supply has not arrived, no breakfast catering, etc. As glamorous as it sounds being on tour with a band, its hard physical work and the roadie’s credo is ‘The show comes first’. Managers can afford to not go to the office when they have a bad cold; I’ve done a show when I’ve had glandular fever.
So, the roadie thinks the manger is a just a guy sitting in an office who starts at 10am, has a long lunch and goes home at 5pm; the manager thinks roadies are supping beer in exotic locations around the world and chasing all the good-looking women. To be fair, sometimes these things do happen but it’s rare and on that other rare occasion when a manager does actually come to a gig, he and the roadies usually, quite rightly, avoid each other as the roadies are working and the manager seems to be only interested in flaunting his own success by telling everyone backstage who he is. Managers often have an ego; roadies rarely do. In fairness, both jobs are needed in the rock world today and neither is more important than the other. A good manager will supply his artist with everything he needs to sell his music and a good roadie will make sure the musician is 100% comfortable when he walks out on stage in front of 10,000 fans. Inevitably, things do sometimes go wrong at gigs but the roadie will be there to take care of it just as the manager will be there to take care of the musician’s paperwork when needed. In essence we are a team and both managers and roadies agree on one thing: their jobs would be a lot easier if they didn’t have to deal with some ‘particular’ musicians every day.
As well as doing a tour with The Pasadenas who were really nice to work with, I also did some shows with Natalie Cole. She fits into the ‘particular’ category of musician mentioned above.
These days not being a roadie I have a great deal more respect for managers. I have the privilege of knowing some of the best in this ever-changing business and to be fair, today’s managers are not the fear-inducing, shifty, wheeler-dealers of yesteryear most notably Peter Grant and Don Arden* but there again the roadies have changed as we. They are not simply qualified for the job along the lines of ‘I’m not very clever but I can drive and lift heavy weights’ – they are in fact technicians and the best are paid well and taken care of as an essential part of the band. Put a lighting guy in a room with a manager though and there will be an awkward silence before one of them breaks the ice and I suspect it will be along the lines of ‘So did you hear what happened to the singer last week?’ followed by a story at said musician’s expense. They get along better now but their jobs are still a world apart.
*I was once in The Ship, a pub on Wardour Street when I noticed Don Arden was looking at me. I have no idea why he was but I felt very uncomfortable.