Back when I was working as what was known as a “Lighting Roadie” – which means I was one of the guys who rigged the lights and then worked on a follow spot during rock tours and Festivals, I toured with a number of very different bands.
Basically in those days we roadies were mainly self-employed and were hired to work on a particular tour or Festival, in other words we did not work for the bands directly, but for the lighting company (in the case of lighting roadies) who employed us for that tour or event. So I found myself working with a pretty wide range of bands, some good, some great and many bloody awful to work with.
At those opposite ends of the spectrum there are two bands who stand out, Black Sabbath at the bloody awful end, and Traffic at the truly great end.
I worked on the European section of their 1974 World Tour, which was the start of that huge tour. So I was involved in the rehearsals for the tour, which took place on the stage of a cinema in London (can’t remember where). This was all rather odd, as we rehearsed during the day there, and the owners of the cinema also rented the auditorium out to all manner of other people, so you had the ridiculous situation of a bunch of Heavy Metal Rockers on the stage, rehearsing their music with the stage curtains closed, and in the auditorium, a bunch of 6 year old kids having a “kiddie’s Disco” or something similar at the same time.
Somehow we all managed to keep things together during this rehearsal period, though given the sort of idiot that Ozzie Osbourne is (or at least, was) it was hard work getting anything coherent done. He was constantly stoned or drunk, clambering up into the flies above the stage, doing Tarzan impersonations on ropes and generally being an idiot.
To be honest, I have absolutely no memories of the rest of that band, they seemed to be more or less non-entities, came to the rehearsals, did their work well enough and went home. I am sure they were reasonable musicians, but simply lacked any real stage presence I am afraid. And Ozzie, no matter how loathsome he was, really stole the show as it were. He was irrepressible.
He was also incompetent as a performer being unable to remember for more than a few minutes what he was supposed to be doing, forgetting the words of the songs, needing his own roadie to adjust the synthesiser someone had given him, and also to stick tapes onto the keys with numbers on them so he knew which key to press and in which order…
During the tour he even managed to get the one thing wrong that changed from gig to gig, i.e the name of the city we were in that night, when he had to start the show off by shouting “Hello Paris” or ” Hello Barcelona” or whatever it was.. He even got that wrong, naming the wrong city on a number of occasions.
Musically I have no memories of that tour either, even though I spent almost three months with them. Every night it was exactly the same, the same music, the same solos, the same dance moves, nothing ever changed – boring!!!!!!!!!!!!
It isn’t that I don’t like Heavy Metal type bands, Led Zepplin, Deep Purple and similar are great to work with, but Sabbath were dull musically speaking.
At the other end of the spectrum was Traffic, a seriously interesting band.
This was much the same deal as the Sabbath one, rehearsals and then out onto the road all over Europe. But that was as far as the comparison went. Here I was lucky enough to be working with a collection of seriously good musicians and performers, who knew exactly what they were doing, and did it superbly well.
As with Sabbath, I spent about 3 months in total with Traffic, and enjoyed pretty well every moment of it (riots in Italy notwithstanding). Musically they were amazing, they knew how to perform and use the stage, knew how to relate to their audience, and were simply pleasing people to be with and to work with.
Apart from the sad business with Rebop Kwaku Baah on the French Spanish border (http://ozthoughts.com/life-on-the-rock-and-roll-road-part-1/) and Chris Wood’s use of Coke which effected him more and more as the tour went on, it was a totally good experience, both musically and personally. I have a happy memory of wandering around the insane Park Guell in Barcelona with Stevie Winwood, as it turned out he loved the work of Gaudi as much as I did.
On the music front it was also a joy to work on, no two gigs were the same, sometime a tune would last 4 minutes, on other evenings that same tune would go on for 45 minutes, it was simply a matter of how well the band and the audience reacted to each other. So obviously it meant that us sound and lighting roadies never knew what was going to happen, which of course made it truly enjoyable.
In fairness comparing Traffic to Sabbath is rather comparing apples and pears, one (Traffic) was a band made up of men who were truly musicians and highly creative ones at that, the other (Sabbath) was made up of guys who were competent but not very imaginative musicians.
I know that when the Sabbath tour ended, and I returned home to my boat moored in the middle of Portsmouth harbour I was deeply relieved, and when the same event occurred at the end of the Traffic tour I was sad, and missed the music and companionship of a bunch of highly creative, and generally friendly guys.