Why do we do it? We do we become roadies and continue are endless and thankless job of setting up gear, tuning guitars, configuring sound systems; why? Many of us begin this journey to help our friends. I know I did, I was friends with a local outfit and always wanted to be a part of their band, but they didn’t need another guitarist, so what happened? “Well you can be our Roadie.” Yep. And that was pretty much it. I signed on as a Roadie because they needed the help and they held out the vague promise that one day I might become a part of their band.
That is common for a lot of us Road Technician’s; we wait in the wings of a band, doing all the background work, hoping someday that we can be made a part of the actual music process, that we will be called upon to actually join the band that we are loading gear for. Maybe one of those times you are tuning their guitars and you play a quick little riff to check the tuning, it will catch the ears of someone and they will say, “Hey buddy that is really good! You should play on stage with us!” But for most this never happens. It is just this vague promise that gets us sucked in. It is like that proverbial carrot hanging in front of the turtles mouth keeping him slowly moving forward.
But a Roadie is not always relegated to an eternity of Road work, no sometimes they do escape the purgatory of the road and go on to play in the band itself. Kurt Cobain was one, Kurt actually started his music career as a roadie, a lot of people don’t know that, but the grunge master from Seattle was loading gear before he was on stage playing it.
So as unlucky as Kurt often thought was in life he really hit the lottery there, because it is really pretty rare for a roadie to transition out of the life of a techie to that of being a performer, let alone front man of a band. So that was a good break for him.
Another example of a roadie lucking out a bit was in the 1992 Metalica tour. It was from vocalist and rhythm guitar player James Hatfield’s bad luck a road dude received good fortune. What happened was; in the middle of the tour James Hatfield was seriously burned all over his arms in a pyrotechnic accident on stage. One arm was hurt so bad it was immediately placed in a cast and it remained that way for the rest of the tour.
They decided to keep the tour going because James could still sing he just couldn’t play guitar. All they needed to do was find a guitarist that knew all the latest Metallica songs. Were they ever in luck! Because one of their roadie dudes was paying attention! And he knew all the songs! He played so well they immediately recruited him for the job.
I bet he had stars in his eyes; he was suddenly a main component of one of the biggest rock bands in the world. He maybe envisioned them thinking he was so good that maybe James would give up guitar and just be a vocalist, making him their rhythm guitarist full time. But alas, after that tour ended James burned arms healed and he resumed his guitar effort for Metallica and that roadie was never heard from again. He disappeared back into the dark shadows of road crew life; the moment in the spotlight was over.
And that is how it usually rolls, we are gear technicians and back up substitutes at most, but after that we just quickly disappear off the stage as we can. But there is a beauty in the humble humility of the road crew, and rock and roll would not be the same without it. So even if no on else says it, I will do it, I would like to give a shout out to all the music road crews all over the world and from the bottom of my heart say; thank you.