Sunday, May 24, 2009

THROWN INTO THE FIRE - by Brett Drumtech

Hello out there all my fellow drum-techs, drummers and drum fans. I am telling this particular story that I know some/or most of you must have experienced at one time or another – an experience that was either moderately problematic, or one that was a total "car-crash" on top of a "train-wreck". This is one story that started out a nerve wracking clusterf***, but…combining my theory of ''grace under pressure'', with some seasoned experience, the help of fellow crew members, and some very good in-house guys (it is always a good idea to be cool with these guys and an example of why follows).
TO BE THROWN INTO THE FIRE is a term I use meaning that you get a totally new gig without any warning, or very little time to prepare (this also happened to me before the 2005 Asia tour drumteching for the legendary drummer Chris Slade).
Well this story is about the very first time I teched for Jason Bonham during the FOREINGER tour in McAllen, TX in 2005. This was not my first time ever being involved with the group /or working with the other guys on the tour. I used to just show up and hang out with the guys many times before; helping Tyler, the stage manager/drumtech/key tech at the time for FOREINGER (who has since went on to the Steve Miller band), and brother Dodger [Don Dodge] who was the FOH [front of house] man. Dodger and I had just worked the Asia tour earlier that year. So anyhow this is how the gig went down.......
The weekend prior, the guys [foreigner] were playing Niagara Falls and I just happened to be in town visiting my folks, so I went and spent the day assisting Tyler and Dodger as usual when I was around for a gig. But later that day, Tyler informed me that he needed me to fly to Texas that Friday to do Jason's drums while he had to take care of some personal business elsewhere. Also, an additional thing about doing the drums for this gig was that you also had to be in charge of Jeff Jacobs keyboards!! Well at the time I really hadn’t much experience in that area (but had a basic idea of what to do), and had a brief block of instructions from Tyler (and of course took some pics and scribbled some notes as I helped Tyler set and tear down the kit).
So with all that in hand, let’s jump to that following Friday; I got on the plane, arrived safe and sound, had little bit of sleep (even with the nerves grinding away), and maybe a bit of a hang-over from trying to calm myself down with some suds earlier that night (which I do not recommend over-doing as it just adds to the grief). So with my head as clear as I could get it, I headed out to the venue early in the morning; this is when the flood gates of disaster begin to methodically open.
After walking into the venue, which was reasonably large, I met the in-house guys, and then went right to the task at hand. I needed to get the kit set-up and the keyboards all set, the best that I could from my notes, all before sound check which was coming in about 4 hours or so. Of course this being a fly tour, I knew I was going to be dealing with a rental kit, which means that it could be the best or the worst gear to deal with sent from “whatever town your ins” local rental company. Well I already knew that Jason was and is very particular about everything involving the kit he is playing; he demands all new heads (top and bottom), and all the other good stuff like that (which in my opinion is how it should always be anyway). So there in the corner was the gear... flight cases of tons of different drum and keyboard stuff, and I mean it was the right stuff, but almost enough to make two whole kits. Then for some reason the over-abundance of gear sent my mind into a flurry of panic, which then led to confusion – then, to add even further to my fears, there was not enough new heads to cover the drums Jason needed setup. So now I have to chase down the venues stage manager to have more heads sent, and of course this being a Saturday in a small town with only one music store, getting all new heads in the sizes I needed was beginning to sound like it wasn't going to happen. So I just manned-up and began setting up Jason's kit the way I thought I knew it had to go, but even with my notes and photos, I was drawing a mental blank. The clock was ticking mercilessly. So I did what I could and got the kit to where I thought it needed to be; Dodger miked the drums all up, as I was tuning the new heads – I only had enough new heads for the tops, but wanted to tune them close enough so that Jason only had to come out and do a few tweaks. I was sweating bullets with the clock getting very close to band sound-check time - I would deal with those bottom heads when they got there, which I knew would put a whole new spin on the sound of the tops - and to make it worse the remaining new heads were not even there yet. So on to the keyboards I went and bam, even bigger mental melt down. But, at least this was a little better gear to work with as they travel with the same keyboards and are used all the time. Well I had just learned the system; the system of plugging in the right chords to the right this, and the right that, on top of the 4 pedals that had to go to this or that input, only days before by briefly watching Tyler TAKE THEM APART once (I should have taken better notes).
Here is where it’s great to stay very cool with the in-house guys – one of the venues in-house guys knows keyboards real well, and is also super cool (that helps a lot) comes over and saves the day. I met John [never got the last name], explained my situation (he was blown away that I had so much to do with minimal hands-on). And using my little notes, he and I had them up and running within an hour. Now back over to Jason's kit I went!

It was now down to the wire and still no bottom heads, which meant I would deal with that after sound check (hopefully). So there I was up on the drum stool and feeling semi confident of the configuration, as we began sound-check with brother Dodger up front (he had walked by the kit earlier and said ''looks good so far'' - [well that didn't last long]). As I remember, I was just about on the first floor tom, with all the other cans sounding good, when I caught Jason Bonham and the rest of the band coming up the ramp... and here is when things just went back to shit all over again .
Jason didn't get more than ten feet from the kit and just starting going ''no, no, no! What is bloody going on, where is Tyler? What are you doing here mate?'' Come to find out that no one had informed Jason that I was filling in for Tyler. I think he was not that happy with all this sudden change in continuity all at once. And of course at this point I was really starting to panic for reasons that you all can imagine. Jason knew who I was, as we have met before, plus he also knew that I was Chris Slade's tech, so thankfully he seemed to try and take it easy on me (compared to how I have heard he can go on). Jason simply said with disgust ''just tear the whole thing apart and start from scratch”, and most of you know out there what a bad situation that is to be in during full-band sound check. Needless to say Mick Jones was not too awful happy with the delay either.
So with a bit of a tremble I just dove in and pulled everything apart. I also told Jason about not having the bottom heads, which led into a full-blown discussion between us on the importance of new tuned bottom heads. So the rush was on and actually things got a bit calmer as soon as, at the last minute, the bottom heads finally showed up. Well, got a little bit calmer anyway, every one else in the band was not happy at all with this major delay. But with straight thinking and fast work there I stood working side-by-side with Jason; me frantically putting on bottom heads, tuning them, and all the while assisting Mr. Bonham while he set the kit exactly the way it should have been. My biggest problem with the initial setup was that I had the snare stand in front of the double bass bar, which led to all of it being a bit out of whack. I was pretty much spot on with the toms, etc. But what makes this mess all not feel quite so bad, is that Jason was eventually so super cool about the whole mishap, and I thank him for that, and we chit chatted about this and that while I hurried to get the kit squared away. And also many, many thanks to the in house crew that all pitched in to help me out beyond their call of duty (I made sure and spent all my per diem money buying them beers at the pub after the gig).
So finally, after what seemed a life time, actually 30 minutes or so, things were right, and all miked up AGAIN. Also a special thanks to the understanding of brother Dodger [FOH] for helping keep it all together; the sound check went well even though a bit behind schedule, but all well and done anyway.
After sound check was over, I calmed myself down and began to focus on taking care of Jason’s needs during the show itself. I got his cooler ready with his Gatorade, had plenty of new sticks close at hand, tightened up the kit one final time, and was ready and waiting for him to sit on the stool and kick some ass on the drums like he does so well. I made sure that I was right behind him and didn't take my eyes off him for one micro-second, just in case anything should flop, pop, crash or flat out fall apart. I think I only had to run over to back line 2 or 3 times when Jason would yell out for adjustments to his monitors, like more bass from Pilson [Jeff Pilson], or a touch more snare…etc.
But, to end my personal little story of being thrown into the fire with a surprisingly happy ending; the show went great, Jason played fabulous like always, his kit sounded great, and to my surprise after the encore, Jason jumped off his stool, got maybe 8-10 feet around the side to go out and take a bow, he suddenly looked back at me, turned around and came back to shake my hand and yelled in my ear ''GREAT JOB MATE''!!! That made my night and to this day, and is truly one of the highlights of my career. I have the whole gang to thank for that.
So what have we learned here boys and girls? All I can say is that to be prepared for these kinds of situations; use grace under pressure, ALWAYS be a professional, don’t let your emotions get in the way, and carry a spare pair of underwear, because you’ll never know when YOU are being “Thrown into the

1 comment:

  1. Ba Ba Ba Bullshit. Remember,, i know the truth.