On the Rock 'n' Roll Road: Tour Managers of Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Alice Cooper Share War Stories
Stranded groupies, collapsing stages, a shark in a hotel bathtub and $200,000 in a carry-on bag -- legendary road managers trade outrageous tales of their biggest headliners.
Behind every music tour -- from Beyonce's Vegas-styled extravaganzas to Phish's weed-and-'shroom-fueled odysseys -- is an unsung individual who's equal parts field marshal, political fixer, armchair psychoanalyst and bag man. The tour manager on a major artist's outing is often responsible for shepherding more than 100 musicians, gaffers, carpenters, lighting technicians and accountants on voyages that span the globe and entire seasons. At the same time, they have to anticipate hundreds of demands from not-always-appreciative employers while keeping the entourage happy, safe and out of trouble.
Going through customs with Keith Richards, losing Barbra Streisand's flowers, watching Alice Cooper kill a shark in his bathtub: Legendary tour managers Patrick Stansfield, David Libert, Marty Hom, Gus Brandt and Stuart Ross swap war stories about ego soothing, corralling groupies and how exactly $100,000 in cash gets delivered.
Ross has tour-managed Tom Waits for more than 20 years and was part of the team that launched Lollapalooza. He's also headed Goldenvoice/AEG's festival division and worked with acts like Metallica, George Michael and Weezer. He currently oversees touring and festivals at Red Light Management and heads his own Music Tour Consulting agency.
Stansfield broke into the music industry as a stage manager for Bill Graham's FM Productions, where he helped the famed concert promoter launch and popularize the first rock arena tours. Before retiring in 2002, Stansfield tour-managed The Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond.
After starting out with '60s pop group The Happenings, which had four top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, Libert became a booker at the Willard Alexander Agency. He served as Alice Cooper's tour manager during the rocker's '70s breakthrough, and later founded Available Entertainment.
Brandt began as a punk-rock promoter in his native Pensacola, Fla., before breaking into road managing with Down by Law and Pennywise. He began working with Foo Fighters in 1996, and has tour-managed them ever since. Along the way, he's worked with Eminem, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails and many others, and booked Pensacola's DeLuna Fest.
A 40-year industry veteran, Hom is the longtime tour manager of Barbra Streisand and Fleetwood Mac, and also has worked with Shakira, Bette Midler, Lionel Richie, The Eagles, Alicia Keys, Shania Twain and Janet Jackson. Hom was deposed by AEG as an expert witness in the Michael Jackson wrongful death lawsuit.
Everyone has a preconceived notion of what a tour manager does. How would you describe your role?
Gus Brandt: What we do is such a rarefied, weird, not noble thing. Just having that sixth sense of knowing when Barbra [Streisand] is going to go off on you or when [Foo Fighters'] Dave [Grohl] is going to be upset about the way the cheese smells -- not that he ever has, but just as an example.
Marty Hom: It's about budgeting. It's about hiring and cutting the deals. It's about logistics.
David Libert: We know how to get things done ...You're really not allowed to make mistakes because everybody depends on you. It's like when [Alice Cooper manager] Shep Gordon [looked] me in the eye and said, "Is everything covered?" That's like asking a thousand questions, and if I said "yes," that represented a thousand answers.
Several of you started out in the late '60s and early '70s. How have things changed?
Stuart Ross: In the '60s, bands would have one or two people working for them, doing everything. I worked for The Doors doing equipment when I was 16 and they had one person on the road with them, Vince Treaner, and he picked up people regionally and we worked for free. He did sound, lights, checked the band into the hotel, picked up the check from the promoter.
Libert: And there were no cellphones. And no email. (Laughter.)
Ross: I don't remember how we sent the rooming list to the hotels.
Libert: You had to convince that hotel that if they didn't have envelopes with keys and a room list, there would be mayhem and chaos in that lobby when those 50 people walked in ...
Patrick Stansfield: At 2:15 a.m.
Libert: Somehow, 99 times out of a hundred, we were able to convince these hotels.
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?
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 to 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.
Speaking of staging, there have been several collapses in recent years. Ultimately, it's your decision where to call off a show.
Brandt: Which is a tough call.
Hom: We were doing a sold-out stadium with Shakira in Spain. And during load-in, a corner of the stage buckled. I called the promoters and the guys who built the stage into the tour production office. They said, "Oh, it's safe." I looked at them and said, "OK, you're going to stand with me, your kids and your family underneath that stage when we play tonight. Because what you're asking me to do is put my family underneath that stage." They didn't say a word. It was dead silence. And I said, "Here's my answer." We canceled.
So your show is done for the night. How is the money handled?
Ross: Until about 10 years ago, maybe less, tours were all cash. There were a lot of dollars going across the desk every night. So tour managers or tour accountants had to call the promoter in advance and say, "I need $50,000." And it was not unusual for any of us to pick up that amount or $100,000 and distribute it.
How is $100,000 in cash delivered to you?
Ross: Somebody comes in with a big briefcase or a gym bag and lays down a stack of $100 bills and we count them.
Libert: You didn't let the band go on until you had the money -- period. And if you didn't have the money, you'd hold up the f---ing show.
Ross: I went to see Al Green at the House of Blues and noticed after his last song, he walked over to the drum riser, picked up a thin, fashionable, alligator briefcase and walked offstage. (Laughter.) And I knew that he had gotten paid in cash prior to the show. Putting his pay on the drum riser: safest place.
Stansfield: I walked through U.S. customs with Keith Richards, coming back in from Australia into Honolulu. And I had my own briefcase and an extra suitcase that was filled with, I don't know, a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Ross: I remember when they started putting on the customs forms: "Are you carrying more than $10,000 dollars in cash?" And it's like, I'm going to have to divide this up between a bunch of people on the plane.
Brandt: Exactly. Do the envelopes before take off. I can't tell you how many times I've said, "Hold this for me, please."
Ross: The last South American tour I did, I weighed the ticket drop. ... I would put a person at each ticket entry location and put the tickets in bags, and they'd bring the bags backstage. And I have a scale that turns weight into a count. And we would count all the tickets.
Hom: That's awesome.