Tales From a Roadie
The summer tour season is always one of the busiest times of the year for bands, but in order for a show to go on without a hitch, there’s a team of roadies working tirelessly to make sure things are as smooth as possible.
Guitar/Drum tech Chris Whitemyer is just one of the pieces to that backstage crew, and for the past 30 years, he’s been on the road for tours for the likes of Whitesnake, Guns N’ Roses, Hole, Nine Inch Nails, Prince, John Fogerty, Fleetwood Mac and more.
So, how does one become a roadie? For Whitemyer, his story is rather unique:
“I kind fell into it by accident. I was working out of Mates Rehearsal Studios in Los Angeles, and my day job was being a roofer. It ended up as a ‘Sopranos’ moment where the two union heads gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and then they got busted. I kind of went, ‘Well, that was my roofing job, unless I wanted to more back up to the Bay Area with my mom…’ I was bummed out, went to Mates and the owner said, ‘Heck with that! Just work here and sleep on the couch!’ That’s how I ended up at Mates Rehearsal Studios literally sleeping on the couch. Then Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo had their band [M.A.R.S], and I started helping them out. A band back then called Black ‘N Blue were there, and I helped them set up. I had always known electronics; I took that as a junior college course. I just thought everyone in this business knew electronics or they wouldn’t have had a job. And then they go, ‘[Do] you know how to solder?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know how to solder.’ So, I ended up doing a lot of electronic work at the same time…Tommy and Rudi then got the Whitesnake gig for the 1987 album, and then Tommy said, ‘Hey, do you want to get a passport and see the world?’ You’ll get a new drum set at the end of the tour!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds really cool.’ And that was it….That was my first tour ever. I went from soldering cables at night in a rehearsal studio and mopping up after the Dickies and REO Speedwagon to going out on tour with Whitesnake.”
Naturally, the life of a roadie is chaotic, to say the least, and a lot of the time, once you come home after a tour, it’s not uncommon to be back on the road in a matter of days, according to Whitemyer:
“So, in between tours, everybody on the tour, we all found different work. I always had a job at the rehearsal studio, and I’d come back and literally not work there for more than a day and a band would come in and go, ‘Oh! You’re off tour?! Could you come do this album?’ I was in the hub; we called it the bullpen like in the ‘Taxi’ TV show. You know…like the guy in the cage would go, ‘Hey! Anyone want to go do Andy Griffith at the Beverly Theater? Or Mr. Big in Switzerland?’ Some of this stuff was just a one-off show, and you’d literally get yelled at in the lobby of the rehearsal studio and me and two other techs would be there. That’s how I got the Nine Inch [Nails] tour by just being there in the lobby of the studio.”
Of course, Whitemyer has many tales from his very interesting career, but one of the most memorable stories came from when he was between tours at his home base of Mates Rehearsal Studio:
“Bobby [Brunner, owner of Mates Rehearsal Studio] came out of his office looking worried…and he said, ‘Chris, do you know anything about plumbing?’ I said, ‘Yeah, a bit.’ I asked if the swamp cooler was broken again, and he goes, ‘No, they need you at the Beverly Theater to put together a rain curtain! Go down and you’ll see [it.] It’s where the rain falls [down] in front of the stage.’ I got in the van and drove down to the Beverly Theater, and it was all the PVC pipe and plumbing and a big tank/trough that goes in front of the stage that the water falls into, and rain literally falls from a tube up above the stage down into a trough below the stage. They [the stage crew] were like, ‘Where did you come from?’ And I went, ‘I’m from the rehearsal studio.’ And they’re like, ‘You’re not a plumber?’”
No, even better; he’s a roadie.
Erica Banas is a rock/classic rock blogger. The first man she ever loved was Jack Daniel. (True story.)