Behind every band that’s ever played a show, there’s been crew of roadies that made it all possible.
They drove all night to get to the venue, unloaded the gear and lugged it up rickety stairwells and fire escapes to set it up on-stage, check it all works and make sure their band looks and sounds their best. Then after the show, they break it down and do it all over again for the next one.
Roadies are the workdogs of the music industry – they are hardworking, devoted and fiercely loyal, often to the bitter end. They’re a rare breed and rarely do they get thrown a bone.
That’s why experienced music journalist and author Stuart Coupe has written his new book ‘Roadies: The Secret History Of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll’, to pay respect to the men and women who spend their working lives, often to their own physical and mental detriment, in the service of bands and musicians.
“I have been slightly fixated by roadies for most of my working life,” Stuart says.
“I found during the course of writing this book a piece that I wrote back in 1983 for the Sun Herald newspaper in Sydney about roadies after a friend of mine, a woman who was working with The Johnnys, had been killed in a car accident. It was a lengthy column about the workload, the lifestyle and the nature of road crews.”
Cold Chisel have a repuatation for respecting their road crew; a well-treated roadie is a loyal roadie.
Stuart says he got the idea to write a book specifically about Australian roadies when he was finishing off his 2015 book about Michael Gudinski. He was getting help from a veteran roadie named Adrian Anderson who told him about the reality of a roadie’s life.
“He mentioned this organisation called the Australian Road Crew Association (ACRA) and I thought that was nice: good roadies getting together,” he says.
“Then he told me the stuff that stopped me: anecdotally, Australian roadies have over four times the national suicide rate and it’s a really staggering figure and it’s not mirrored around the world. It’s something that is much more prevalent in Australia and I started thinking ‘why does this happen?’.
“I used to manage the Hoodoo Gurus and Paul Kelly, and I started thinking about the roadies I worked with, the sort of things that we’d ask them to do that of course we as managers or musicians would never contemplate.”
With that, Stuart recites the go-to phrase for when something needs to be done: ‘the crew will do that, don’t worry about it’.
From hauling lighting looms and sound cables through knee-deep mud, to making sure the lead singer doesn’t kill himself before show time and any number of tasks ranging from the mundane to the ridiculous to outright life-threatening, that is just what roadies do.
“It also dawned on me that the better a roadie and a road crew are at their job, the more invisible they are,” Stuart says.
“The only time you see a roadie is if the kick drum falls over or if smoke starts billowing from the back of an amplifier, or someone invades the stage or things like that; if everything is going smoothly and everyone does their job, you don’t see them.
“So people don’t know how skilled, how talented, what great characters these people are; they spend their entire lives making musicians look good, and often they’re musicians who don’t necessarily deserve to be looking as good as they do,” he chuckles.
“Yet here they are killing themselves, they’re ending up in desperate situations after they finish their time working with bands and I thought I should try and tell their story.”
To all the roadies, young and old, we salute you. To those who have lost their lives, may you Roadie In Peace.