Stevie singing lead in the Allies
In Part I (Sex) of this series, I wrote about my experience touring the country with the Seattle power rock band Bighorn, opening for bands like Boston, Van Halen, Journey and the J. Geils Band.
The three biggest characteristics of touring, in my experience, are that it’s boring the majority of the time, you’re spending your time (if you’re in an all-male rock band) with a group of guys like you who are stuck psychologically at age 14, and – most importantly – there’s usually free access to a variety of mind-altering substances. There are also some compelling business reasons why indulging in drugs and alcohol is encouraged in the touring business. I’ll get into those reasons later in this post. It’s a fun – but sometimes hazardous – thing to mix music, drugs and alcohol. When you’re a touring musician, it’s key to know what you are getting yourself into when you decide to indulge.
When I was on tour with the rock bands Bighorn and The Allies in the late 1970s and early 80s, I only drank when I was on tour. I smoked some weed when I wrote songs, and sometimes on stage, and did some occasional cocaine (more on that later, too), but alcohol was my primary drug of choice while touring.
I never paid for either drugs or alcohol. Either the club paid for your alcohol or fans bought you drinks. Fans always wanted to get close to the band, and drugs and alcohol were the transaction fee. Fans offered you drugs before, during and after the show. It was a young man’s dream, pretty much. The dream didn’t come without side effects, however.
With Journey there were no drugs. They were all pretty clean. We knew the Van Halen guys drank because they always had booze in their dressing rooms, but that was no secret then or now, and they’ve had to deal with the consequences later in life. Alcohol and drugs were around everywhere, all the time. As a touring musician, you had to develop an efficient way to partake because you had to do a show and get through it, and then get up and travel somewhere and do it all over again.
Drinking was preferred because pot dried out your voice. I never drank after the show, only during. The main reason to hang around the club (for me) after a show was to get sober. Since it was pretty boring, that was when most of the sex happened – while I was waiting to get sober. It sounds glamorous, and it was, for a time, but a lot of it was just the lifestyle that fueled the performance – and oiled the money machine.
When I was in Hawaii with Bighorn opening for Boston, we had to spend extra time there playing smaller venues to make our trip worthwhile financially. Bighorn was the opening act for Boston for only one night, and then we had our own opening act at the nightclub our manager booked us into down by the airport. We also ended up being stuck in Honolulu a few extra days due to an airlines strike, making the total length of our stay about a week. A week is a long time in one place when you’re on tour, and we only played about an hour every night. We could only go to the beach so many days, and we quickly got bored.
One of the afternoons before our show, we were sitting around drinking, in our manager’s room at the hotel along the beach, and someone made a wisecrack. Michael Ibsen threw a glass across the room and it hit the wall and shattered. We all cracked up. Then, someone else picked up a glass and threw it back at Michael and it hit the wall behind his head and shattered. The fight was on. We all went back to our hotel rooms and gathered up all the glasses we could find and came back and started a glass throwing war behind two sets of couches, ducking and throwing. Eventually we ran out of glasses. Our manager, Scott Soules, was in the room with us, laughing and yelling at us to stop at the same time. Eventually, we realized there was all this glass everywhere and we gingerly tried to clean it up. We enlisted the road crew to help, since we knew it would take a while. Finally we got most of it cleaned up and left it for our manager to explain to the hotel staff.
Looking back on this, it sounds so crazy and dangerous – a miracle no one got seriously hurt. It goes to show you the lengths a bunch of bored guys will go to keep themselves amused. I guess nowadays internet porn and social media serve that purpose, but I bet bands are still getting themselves in trouble mixing alcohol with boredom.
State Line Idaho
As I mentioned, there are some important business reasons bands drink and do drugs on stage.
I had been tapped by Columbia Records and Bighorn management to join the band, so when I came in as their drummer, the rest of the guys had already had experience performing together on the road. At my first few gigs in Idaho, I was drinking cranberry juice. Just cranberry juice – no booze. It was my first time touring with a big band, and I had researched what kind of juice would keep my energy up. I noticed, however, that the other guys in the band were drinking beers and cocktails. It seemed like they were having a lot more fun, too.
On the second or third night a girl bought me a drink while I was up there on the stage, and it felt magical. I was 26 at the time. I had hardly had any alcohol prior to that night. Everyone was drinking: the audience was drinking, the band was drinking. By the third set I was exhausted and wasn’t keeping time. Seeing that I was the drummer, that was a problem. So the rest of the band, already seasoned pros at drinking and playing, had to exhort me to slow down and pace myself. Gradually, I learned through trial and error as the tour progressed to only drink enough to feel good, but not so much that I couldn’t play competently by the third set.
Here’s the thing: the whole object of these performances was to sell booze in these nightclubs. Our purpose was to entertain. We were the focal point of a giant party, and getting people to drink was the goal of the venue. That’s what we were being hired to do – and that’s still true today. So having a good time on stage, visibly consuming alcohol – it was all part of what we were paid for. We were putting on a big theatrical rock show, but we were also still playing danceable covers. If we sold more alcohol at a gig, we could charge the club more for hiring us back the next time. We had to keep drinking with the audience as an example. The challenge was to pace both ourselves and the audience. If we drank too much, the dance numbers got sloppy. If the audience drank too much, things would get out of control with fights and people passing out. So we had to gauge not only our own drinking and performance ability, but also the alcohol capacity of the crowd – taking it right up to the limit, but not beyond.
There would be nights I didn’t drink and the club owner would come to the manager and ask if I wasn’t feeling well. I was fine. I just hadn’t had a drink yet. So the next set, I would have a rum and coke and away we’d go. People counted on my lubricated persona to get the audience drinking more and dancing more, having more fun.
One of my on-stage alcohol-fueled Allies characters was “Dr. Stevie”. I dressed in a white lab coat, glasses, stethoscope and clipboard. As I sang the song “Let’s Play Doctor,” I pulled a girl out of the audience. Toward the end of the song, I’d ask her what was wrong with her. I’d listen to her heart and Larry would play the kick really loud, like her heart was beating in the microphone. Then I’d sing the rest of the song to her.
Every night there would be girls edging their way closer to the stage, clearly angling to be chosen for “Let’s Play Doctor.” One night, I pulled one of these pretty girls up on stage and did the routine. She was having a good time as I sang the lyrics to her and dropped my stethoscope down the front of her shirt to “listen”. The audience cheered as she gave me a big kiss at the end of the song before hopping off the stage. After the show ended, I walked back stage and BOOM, this big guy walks up to me and clocks me in the jaw. Apparently he hadn’t liked watching his girlfriend on stage with me. There was a little dustup after that involving his car, some crowbars and our roadies, as they avenged me in the parking lot.
The audience always loved that song. Of course, it never would have worked if everyone wasn’t a bit high – me, the band, the girl, and the audience. It was one of those crazy booze-fueled routines that is highly entertaining, but sometimes risky.
Read more of this story Here.
Some info above Steve: In addition to producing local Seattle bands, Stevie is part of the duo Solveig & Stevie who just released their debut EP Zombie Lover. You can listen to and download Zombie Lover on SolveigandStevie.com.