Richard Halem from Creative Management Associates calls and asks me for help. He has a group flying into JFK tomorrow and he wants me to escort them and their equipment through customs. And then make sure they are tended to here in New York before they fly on to Saint Louis for the first stop of their US tour. The band is called Nektar and they are riding a hit album in Germany with the album, Remember the Future, moving up the Billboard charts. They are signed to Bellaphon Records in Germany and are licensed to Passport Records (a division of Sire Records) in the States. A simple task for me; I have done this before.
Nektar is a progressive rock band from England but based in Germany back in the day. They would become one of the more well-known bands of the genre, and have been playing, with various lineups, from 1969 until the present.
Early afternoon the next day I run up to CMA and meet Richard Halem for some float money, then I taxi over to JFK to meet the group and road crew in the International Arrival terminal. We gather their luggage and I give band member Derek “Mo” Moore cab fare and load them into a taxi heading to the Holiday Inn on West 57th street in Manhattan. Then I gather up the road crew and we taxi over to the cargo area to get the band's equipment. The road crew are a crusty-looking lot with exceptionally long and unruly hair, beards, and hippie-type patches all over their jeans. They seem okay; there are five of them. Three are British; Paul Higgins handling the stage, Pete Lango and Rab Murdock always scrambling up ladders hanging and focusing lights. The other two are Vinny Schmidt the sound man, always looking sharp with his long blond hair, striking blue eyes, and leather bell bottom pants. Then there is Tommy Jung, who looks like a scruffy, intellectual professor [you mean like Larry Schenbeck in his younger days? – Ed.] or grad student. Those two are German.
Things are moving along and the paperwork is in order. An air-ride tractor-trailer rig (or “saddle schlepper” as the Germans called it) has come from St. Louis to pick up the equipment and will be used for the whole tour. Two drivers were hired to split the driving (there will be some long overnight hauls).
The crew starts unloading the gear from the plane and it smells like curry. WTF? I walk into the belly of the jet and it is like a Pakistani restaurant. The equipment is being loaded off and it smells too. I ask roadie Tommy Jung why they went with Pakistan Airlines, for freight. He said that airline, as opposed to Pan Am or Lufthansa, usually had the best price. “And the smell,” I ask? and Tommy says we’re not worried and it will air out. “I hope so!” I answered but I am not so sure. As it worked out, he was right. You never knew what you’d encounter as a rock and roll road manager, but guitars and amps reeking of curry was a first.
We are about an hour into the load out when a Port Authority police car came to a screeching halt next to the semi, lights strobing. Two P.A. cops have their hands on their guns as they jump out of the squad car. What the hell? I think, and I step up to them. Seeing me a clean-cut although long haired dude, they accepted me as the spokesman. It was either Vinnie Schmidt or Pete Lango who handed me the paperwork. The P.A. cops checked it out and then went into the cargo hold of the plane and checked the equipment.
After ten minutes or so they said we could continue unloading. Everyone is relaxed now, and I asked them what caused their reaction. The older cop said, “we were watching the unloading on the closed circuit [security] TV and you guys looked like drug smugglers coming off the plane...it was too obvious-looking, we had to check it out.” “Really?” “Yeah most of the hash smuggled into the US comes from Pakistan.” “But these guys flew out of Frankfurt!” “We know that now,” the policeman answered.
With that over with and the plane cargo bay finally empty the crew starts loading the truck. It was a lot of equipment. The lighting and special effects filled up the truck's trailer. Nektar put on a big show which in those days was rare, with the exception of maybe Pink Floyd. One could see the band knew what they were doing: their loading procedure was systematic, with attention paid to weight, load, and space. They finished late in the afternoon, closed the trailer door and the truck drove out for an overnight drive to St. Louis.
We flagged down two taxis and the band and I made our way into Manhattan. I got the boys checked in and I call Derek (“Mo”) to have everyone to come down to the hotel’s restaurant coffee shop. We move some tables together and, in a few minutes, everyone is there. We have the tables close together with Mo sitting next to me. We order dinner and beers. It is on me, I tell them (I have float money for expenses). Even though I had briefly met everyone earlier, Mo goes around the table introducing everyone, telling me their names and jobs.
There are four band members. Derek “Mo” Moore (bass) and Roye Albrighton (lead guitar and lead singer) are both over six feet tall which is very tall for British men. Allan “Taff” Freeman (keys) is Scottish but hasn't been there for a long time. Ron Howden (drums) has a sly smile but was nice enough. Mick Brockett is the lighting technician and is considered a band member. He is an artist for sure. Because of his load in and set up requirements he must travel with the road crew. His light show is unique and an important and definitely a big part of Nektar’s show. The band is English but has been living in Germany (in the Darmstadt area) for over two years.
They have all ([band and crew) paid their dues and worked hard to get to this point. There is a feeling among them, a commitment to the mission. No question that this is where they want to be. It is a good family feeling and one you cannot fake.
Mo starts to fill me in on their situation. There are becoming a really big group in Europe. Record sales over there are significant and in Germany their album has gone gold. Their album sales here in the states are also good. There is a strong buzz about them, and they are moving up the Billboard charts. It is their time, their shot and they were not going to fu*k it up.
With Mo sitting next to me I asked him why as an Englishman he lives in Germany. In short, he answers, “In the UK there are tons of rock bands and not enough gigs to sustain Nektar. In Germany, there isn’t as much competition and being British also gives us a cachet.” Of course, it went unsaid that they had to be really good to take advantage of that.
Ron Powell is their American manager. He is a successful midwestern promoter (Panther Productions, based in St. Louis). Richard Halem of CMA is the booking agent. The road manager for the upcoming tour is Mary Ann. She is Ron’s right hand and takes care of everything, so Ron wants her to be the tour manager for the US gigs. Kind of makes sense; sure, she has no experience, but she is smart and efficient, she can learn. Besides Ron is the promoter of record for many of the concert dates. “So, what’s the big deal,” he says with the bravado and misconception of someone who has never toured with a band.
Next day late morning I meet the boys in the hotel lobby and get them checked out. I hail three taxis and we load up and head for the airport. Once there I get them to the gate and board them onto the plane. I am done, it seems, nice guys, too bad I could not do the tour with them. I wish ’em well and I grab a taxi home.
That evening Mo calls me and has some questions about load-in problems they are encountering. If it is not clear to you yet, Mo is the group’s leader and deals with their business (money, gigs record companies, and promotion). Musically they are more democratic.
Early next afternoon Mo calls again about equipment problems and tells me of the frustration of explaining to Mary Ann their touring needs. She is in her normal mode of gatekeeper for Ron. She does not know the difference between a legitimate request and an unnecessary one. The boys are getting frustrated.
They are set up in the old Ambassador Theatre in downtown St. Louis near the Golden Arch. There is a lot to do. All the equipment runs on European voltage and transformers must be used to convert everything to US voltage. That can create a buzzing sound in the gear, so that must be worked out. There are many adjustments and fixes that must happen. When that is done, then rehearsal starts to further ferret out any other bugs or needed fixes. This is actually a good way to ramp up for the coming tour.
Mo calls again the next afternoon and we go over some of his questions and then I say, “look, I like you guys, a lot, but if you are having these kinds of problems you should hire me to solve them. You know I’d only been hired to get you into the country and on to St. Louis.” He pauses for a second and says, ”you’re right, let me see what I can do,” and hangs up.
Mo and the guys know this, but they do not have a say so about it. Ron has made the choice. Mo and the crew already know that if I was their road manager the tour would go more smoothly. They have seen me work and they know that I am their best chance for navigating tour issues and for representing the band.
About five hours later Richard Halem calls and says, “can you go to St. Louis tomorrow?” “Sure, what happened to Mary Ann; I thought she was the road manager?” “She slept with Roye.” WTF? “The whole band insisted to Ron that she was unfit to be road manager and that you had to be hired.” Intimacy with a band member is unprofessional and makes it very awkward for everyone else. Never mind that it was a brief moment of boozy passion. It was a fight, but Ron ultimately had to cave in.
Some things are meant to be. Early next morning I hopped on a flight to Saint Louis.