Welcome once again to Behind the Pen. Today my guest is Stuart Coupe, author of the newly released book, Roadies.
What made you decide to write a book about roadies? Is this a project you’ve been nurturing for some time?
I first heard about the Australian Road Crew Association (ARCA) two years ago as I was finishing my book on Michael Gudinski. It was explained to me that there was a reason beyond roadies reconnecting and that was that it was an attempt to curb the extremely alarming suicide rate and other mental heath issues amongst Australian road crew. That led me to what to find out more about these people and their lifestyles. Two years later here I am.
Out of all of the stories you must have heard while writing this book, do you have an overall favourite roadie story that tops the lot?
Probably Kerry Cunningham’s hysterical yarn about how he and another roadie used to ‘steal’ Bon Scott’s motorbike in the early days of AC/DC as they realised quickly that Bon, booze and bikes were a bad combination. All they did was hide it behind some PA gear in a garage for a few weeks whilst he went on tour. On the fifth time this happened Bon said “you’re not going to believe it but the bike’s been stolen again – but I’m not worried because you guys know everyone and I’m sure you’ll get it back again for me.” He had no idea they were the ones pinching it.
Anything truly outrageous that didn’t make it into the book?
Not so much outrageous but a few names were changed to protect the guilty. And there are a couple of stories that I was asked not to put in the book – great, great stories but when I asked why the roadies said “we trust you and you now know these things – but it’s important that there are some stories that only roadies know.” So I felt honoured to be let into these yarns – and of course respected the request from the roadies.
How did you go about compiling the stories and piecing it all together? Was it a case of talking with roadies you already know and going from there or did you have to do a shout for more stories?
I didn’t know many roadies so I reached out to some of the road crew legends and some industry figures known to be pro road crew. I let them guide me and in the end I interviewed about 50 out of a possible couple of thousand. Once I had the trust and stamp of being OK from the older legends everyone else was prepared to talk with me – and candidly as they would amongst themselves.
To me, being a roadie seems like a lot of hard work, despite the perks of hanging out with musicians. Did there seem to be a common theme at all in the reasons why a person becomes a roadie?
They are unique individuals who are almost drawn to this world. It’s a bit like a contemporary version of running away to join the circus. They don’t fit into a 9 – 5 world. They’re lateral thinking problem solvers who need to be highly skilled, incredibly adaptive, able to work under extreme pressure – and not all that fond of or requiring sleep!
I can’t help but wonder, are roadies truly appreciated by the artists they are supporting? Is there a standard lifespan to the job in terms of how long a roadie tends to travel around before moving on and out of being a roadie?
Some bands and artists treat their crews extremely well – others not so well. There are Australian crew who started as teenagers who are still working at 70 years of age. And at a very high level. For most I think 10 – 20 years is tops. Physically the body can’t take it, many want to finally settle down, and the work wears them down. But there are a lot of lifers in the road crew world.
If you could be a roadie for one show, for any artist of your choosing, who would you pick?
That’s a hard and good question – lazy me would pick someone who has little equipment and a very basic set up! Fan me would pick Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – or Elvis Presley if I could go back in time.
What was the highlight for you with writing this book?
There were many – meeting Tana Douglas, the world’s first female roadie who mixed sound for AC/DC when she was 16/17 was one. Hanging out and becoming friends with the godfather of Australian roadies, Howard Freeman, was another. And ultimately the highlight is seeing the impact that this book is already having on these massively underappreciated people has made all the work totally worthwhile.
This is your backstage pass to the hidden side of the music industry – the tantrums, the fights, the tensions, the indulgence, the sex, the alcohol, the drugs. The roadies see it all, and now they are sharing their secrets.
Roadies are the unsung heroes of the Australian music industry. They unload the PAs and equipment, they set it all up, they make sure everything is running smoothly before, during and after the gigs. Then they pack everything up in the middle of the night, put it in the back of the truck and hit the road to another town – to do it all over again.
They know everything about the pre- and post-show excesses. They bear witness to overdoses, the groupies, the obsessive fans. They are part of – and often organise – all the craziness that goes on behind the scenes of the concerts and pub gigs you go to. From The Rolling Stones to AC/DC, Bob Marley to Courtney Love, Sherbet to The Ted Mulry Gang, INXS to Blondie – the roadies have seen it all. And now they’re stepping onto the stage and talking.
The Roadies’ Creed: If it’s wet, drink it. If it’s dry, smoke it. If it moves, **** it. If it doesn’t move, throw it in the back of the truck.
Stuart Coupe is an author, music commentator, independent artist publicist and radio broadcaster who has been involved with music all his life. Amongst the books he has written, edited or collaborated on are The New Music (1980), The New Rock ‘n’ Roll (1983), The Promoters (2003), Gudinski (2015) and Tex (2017).