While rock stars have typically seized the spotlight since the dawn of time, director Michael Cuesta opted to put their helping hands front and center in his recently released film Roadie. Or more specifically, a 45-year-old roadie named Jimmy (Ron Eldard), who, after a 20-year stint with Blue Öyster Cult, finds himself canned and forced to head home to his mother's place in Forest Hills, Queens. From there, we witness his readjustment to real life as he ponders exactly what his next move will be.
You can hear top artists sharing their stories with news outlets any day of the week, but it's far more rare that you get a glimpse into the lives of those more literally running the show. We decided to follow Cuesta's example and talk to some of the behind-the-scenes crew that make your favorite tours tick. From hot sex to even hotter messes, check out the wild tales these eight seasoned rolling stones had to share in our Roadie Diaries.
As told to Lauren Otis (@LaurNado)
"The Power of the Pass"
Jef Hickey, roadie for Queens of the Stone Age, Megadeth, Motörhead, Type O, and Crash Diet, and author of the upcoming autobiography I Thought You Were Dead
"If you were to poll a hundred roadies on why they chose to spend life living out of a suitcase, another life in the back of a truck, and yet another being the unsung hero of that big rock show that entertains billions—never truly getting the accolades they so richly deserve—you’ll get a hundred different answers. The list of reasons is as long as the winding road they live on. I got on the road for one reason and one reason only: pussy.
"Sure, the love of music is what initially attracted me to the bright stage lights, but the moment I discovered the magical, almost hypnotic power that a laminated backstage pass swinging from a lanyard had on wide-eyed, high-heeled, short-skirted women, the love of the spectacle suddenly dissipated.
I held the key that allowed groupies to hang with the band, and to the both of us, sex was a win-win situation... I made myself and my laminate noticeable to anything with a set of t*ts.
"When I was firmly planted on the road, I made it my mission to see, do, taste, visit, experience, and, above all, fuck everything I had only heard about in lyrics and read about in books.
"I started my long journey on the road one month after losing my virginity, so touristy shit was cool, but what I really wanted to do was what any young lad let loose night after night in a room full of girls would: fuck as many of them as I could get away with. Any way, anyhow.
"I was hungry for poontang, domestic and foreign, and best of all? These babes didn’t know shit about me except that I wasn’t from their hometown, so who would know? I held the key that allowed them to hang with the band, and to the both of us, it was a win-win situation.
"I became a relentless hunter of all things groupie. I made myself and my laminate noticeable to anything with a set of tits. From the very first show away from my hometown (where I was 'Ugly Hickey,' the local crew guy, rendering me unfuckable even in the eyes of Boston’s sluttiest), I became a literal porn star thanks to my obvious connection to the band. I was soon worth a sloppy fuck in the back of a truck, behind a dumpster, or if I was truly lucky, a stained mattress in a cheap motel. As I got better and the bands got bigger, I was waking my guests with a hot stream of piss across their naked body. Thanks for the wild and crazy night: I hope you enjoyed the show.
"To pick one single night as the craziest is like trying to pick your favorite child. Each night was special in a unique way. Thanks to that little piece of cloth, I’ve had nauseously beautiful women on dark corners of the stage, in back alleys, fat friends' cars, bathrooms—hundreds and hundreds of filthy shitters—and once, yes, even a port-a-potty that had been baking in the hot sun and abused by hundreds of chili dog-eating punk fans. I was a roadie, goddammit, and I quickly became a master of getting my rocks off anywhere, anytime.
"And so it went, city after city, the power of the backstage pass enticing ordinary women to do extraordinary things, all for a chance to meet the band: anal sex with a stripper and her broken leg, drunken violent fucks with angry hardcore chicks, romps with married women, two girls blowing me while the crowd watched, and two girls who wouldn’t serve me waffles performing acts of debauchery so wicked I’m certain they were illegal in most states. On the road, every day was a holiday—and every night was a porn flick."
"Hell on Wheels"
A lighting designer for several of the biggest metal and hip hop acts of the '90s
"To start, there are some great drivers out there who really take pride in what they do. And then there are just guys who, dare I say, are hacks, and don’t seem to care about the bus or the crew that rides on said bus.
The driver started going through the DTs while he was in the middle of driving, and there were apparently spiders and snakes coming off of the steering wheel at him.
"We had this guy on a tour a long time ago who was just scary. Myself and a stage manager were sitting in the front lounge of this bus, going to a show in the middle of a corn field. It was about 4 in the morning. All of a sudden, the front curtain flies open and there's the driver, sweating and looking like he's just seen a dead relative. Well, we soon came to find out that he had started going through the DTs (Delirium Tremens, "the shakes") while he was in the middle of driving, and there were apparently spiders and snakes coming off of the steering wheel at him. He couldn’t drive and swing at them at the same time, and he thought one of us might need to come up and A) help him drive, or B) help him kill the creatures on the steering wheel. As you can imagine, we chose option A.
"I could write at least a day's worth of stuff about what a piece of work this guy was. I know that driving a bunch of pirates around the country is no easy task, and that for the most part we were a bunch of slobs. But that said, I would pay a little more attention to the front of my bus. Why? Unlike him, I might have noticed that there was a dildo suction-cupped to it."
A former manager and concert promotion staffer
"In the late '60s, some friends of mine promoted the first NYC appearances of various famous (or soon-to-be famous) British bands and West Coast groups. No credit cards in those days: everyone paid cash at the box office. The friends had a partner, who fronted the performance fees and collected ticket sales at the box office. He sat in a cramped box with iron bars and dim lights and kept a gun at hand in case of emergency. My job: look over the crowd on line for suspicious characters. They all seemed suspicious to me. No incidents at the performance.
"Next day, friends and 'partner' were to divide the profits—cash proceeds—and were to meet in a Lower East Side bar to do so. He got there first. They got there late. When they arrived, there was a police car and several men in blue. A man had been sitting quietly at the bar, holding a brown bag. The partner? Shot dead. Bag gone. End of concerts. Apparently, the partner had a partner."
Vincent Casamatta, tour manager and engineer
"I've been on the road and in the studio for a lot of years now. I’ve tour-managed bands through endless missed flights, sleepless nights, 4 a.m. lobby calls, 20-hour days, moody artists, petty promoters, strung-out crews, and plenty of drunken mayhem I’m not always quick to recall. I’ve got a few stories, but one that still to this day seems like it was ripped out of a missing scene from Spin̈al Tap was a few years ago when I was hired to tour manage and engineer for OK Go.
"A few years back, OK Go’s manager gave me a call. He had a big problem: The entire crew was so fed up with their tour manager that they were ALL going to quit the very next day and fly home on their own dime, if necessary. This particular crew was the nicest, most talented bunch of people you could ask for. And OK Go are perhaps the sharpest, most gentlemanly group of upstanding guys you could find. This was basically the worst tour manager in the world.
I think the final straw was when he told a promoter in Michigan he’d be back in a minute; he just needed to grab his gun out of the van to 'set things right.'
"He spent his nights polishing his collection of sharp knives, and his days in complete, unprepared disarray. I think the final straw was when he told a promoter in Michigan he’d be back in a minute; he just needed to grab his gun out of the van to 'set things right.' I’m guessing when they asked him how he solved work conflicts on the job interview, he didn’t say 'with my piece.' But there he was—way out of his element.
"To make matters worse, their manager wanted to know if I could try to grab whatever money I could from him—because it had been brought to their attention that the current tour manager hadn’t sent back a dime of what they were paid for any shows, or any cash from any merchandise sales, for the entire tour!
"So this guy had to go, and I agreed to take over. All I had to do was meet them before they got to the next show and send this guy on his way. I was waiting for him, flanked by the biggest 'security guards' I could find. All I needed to do was get whatever cash I could, hand him his boarding pass and send him to the airport in the cab I had idling out front.
"I called him into the office, sat him down, and made it clear: 'Give me the cash and I’ll get you on your way.' Just like that, he slammed his briefcase on the desk in front of me, clicked open the latches, and flipped the lid to reveal a pile of miscellaneous uncounted bills totaling around $15,000. And on top of the pile? Two of the biggest switchblades I've ever seen.
"As he walked out the door, he turned back and said, 'If you ever know anyone looking for a good tour manager, give me a ring ‘cause my schedule just opened up,' and handed me his card. I still have the card if anybody’s looking."
"Party 'til You Die"
A former backline technician
"It was 1981 and Van Halen was on their brutal 'Party 'til You Die' tour. We'd just wrapped the Pittsburgh show, where everything went relatively smoothly (for a VH show), and the next stop was a pretty important gig in Maryland.
"We began to load in at Capitol Center at 8 a.m., with the gig being that evening. Set up went without any unusual issues, and a sound check was scheduled for 2 p.m. With the stage set and backline ready to roll, the band filters in, minus Dave [Lee Roth]. After determining that nobody has heard from him for some time, calls are frantically made to try and locate him.
When the hotel manager finally let the P.A. in the room, they were greeted by this scene: David Lee Roth and several women strewn around the room, some nude, some dressed in what appeared to be pieces of midshipmen's uniforms.
"The band had rooms at the Hilton downtown, and many attempts to call his room proved to be useless. Finally, a production assistant was sent to go check on him, some 30 minutes away at the hotel. When the hotel manager finally let the P.A. in the room, they were greeted by this scene: Dave and several women strewn around the room, some nude, some dressed in what appeared to be pieces of midshipmen's uniforms. The manager also mentioned that there had been several early morning complaints of loud voices and other assorted noises coming from the place.
"It was later learned that Dave had been out partying with locals after arriving in town. Nobody ever really figured out how he pulled this off after a 250-mile trip from Pittsburgh the night before, but that's just Dave for ya. After finally being ushered down to the venue, he finished sound check with his pissed off (and disgusted) band and crew.
"And yes—the 'no brown M&Ms' thing on the tour rider was true!"
"Crash and Burn"
A tour professional who has worked with some of the biggest names in metal
"A few years ago, our tour stopped in upstate New York, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and there had been these two girls who were trying hard all night. One was mildly attractive, the other...not even close (very sluttily dressed and trying to grab the attention of anybody on the tour). They managed to catch the eye of two young guys in the opening band and invited them out for a night on the town. The rest of their band wanted no part of it, but the girls promised that the two could crash at their place and head to the Amtrak station a block away from their apartment, which would take them right into Hartford, Conn. for the next show.
"The next day, the boys missed sound check and barely showed up in time for doors. They came into the production office and told us how, when they woke up that morning, they asked the girls to point them in the direction of the train station. The girls apparently said, 'There's no train station in this town. Get out of our place,' and kicked them out. They wound up telling us this long-winded story about taking a cab for this four-hour drive and it costing them somewhere around $500, just looking relieved they made it. We all started to laugh and asked why they didn't just rent a car. The look of shock and horror on their faces was priceless. Costly lesson learned."
A manager and tour professional
"One night on my first tour, I found my 125-lb. self pounding shots with two vocalists and a guitar player whose music I had grown up listening to. All of a sudden, the front lounge of the bus turned into a wrestling ring with people laying the smack down from countertops and pile driving onto couches. Needless to say, these three 200-plus-lb., 6-foot dudes threw me like a toy and I woke up feeling hit by a semi. Completely worth it...what I remember of it."
A former assistant roadie
"I earned my stripes as a 'road dog' in the fall of 2001. Two days after the 9/11 attack, RCA Records shut down its entire Black Music division, which left me without a job. My boss was gracious enough to extend an invitation to me to join him on a mini tour he was putting together for another very prominent label. The concept was to take the label’s junior acts on the road and have them return as stars.
"Since the majority of our acts were start-ups, we had a plethora of managers, assistants, and executives vying to be part of the event, and since the artists didn’tknow each other and were all seeking fame on their own terms, there were plenty of personality clashes and lots of head-butting. The level of trust was non-existent and getting them to cooperate with each other was like pulling teeth. However, it was my job to bring everyone together as one oiled machine. Not an easy task for a novice road manager.
An argument ensued between me and one of the group members. We were just about to come to blows when the lead singer stepped in.
"Our first show was in Philadelphia and pretty uneventful. However, my boss used the crowd's reaction to determine the lineup. By the time we hit Virginia, he changed it up and put a different one of our male groups as the opening act, a decision the group and their manager were not at all happy about. Their manager at the time was at his wits' ends with the executives at our company and instructed the guys not to trust anyone. When word reached the guys about the new lineup, they placed a call to their manager and wouldn't set foot on stage until he called them back.
"I recall being in the middle of this dark parking lot, at this small club, screaming at the top of my lungs, begging them to come on stage. They refused and an argument ensued between me and one of the members. We were just about to come to blows when the lead singer stepped in. (There was another time when said lead, who suffered from severe depression, disappeared for two days in North Carolina. No one could find him; he just vanished. He later showed up and apologized profusely, but his whereabouts to this day remain a mystery.)
"Regardless of the many complaints and fires I had to put out, I made a commitment to do the best job I could. I had to be the first person up each morning; when the bus driver grew tired, in an effort to prevent him from crashing, I was the one who stayed up to keep him company. Although it felt at times like I was babysitting a group of adults, I never complained. This eventually paid off: by the time we were halfway through the tour, I had everyone's full confidence."
As told to Lauren Otis (@LaurNado)