The 10 Hardest Jobs In Rock
From Beefheart's band to Japanese bulldozers, we look at the jobs people do so no-one else has to...
Think you’re having a bad day at work? Printer jammed, is it? Boss just asked you to put the kettle on? Get a grip! Just thank your lucky stars you not clocking on for one of these – the hardest jobs in rock ...
1. Job: Member of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, 1968/69
Spec: Create, rehearse and record Trout Mask Replica.
Based at the ‘Trout House’ in Woodland Hills, California, where the landmark album took... er... shape, the band rehearsed for 12 hours straight, all day every day, usually under the short-tempered “supervision” of madcap genius Beefheart, whose instructions would be along the lines of “play it in red”. Then they all dossed down in the rehearsal room and repeated the process the following day.
The entire band went unpaid and survived on welfare and drummer John ‘Drumbo’ French, 67, once claimed to have eaten only a cupful of soya beans every day for a month. Bad vibes abounded, and Beefheart’s announcement that the house had been built on a Native American burial site ramped up the freak-out factor. His confession that he’d communed with the dead spirits below didn’t help morale.
Difficulty factor: 9/10
2. Job: Replacing John Squire in the Stone Roses, 1996
Spec: Step into the shoes of new generation Guitar God.
“I got a load of grief – from everywhere,” says Aziz Ibrahim, who rose to the challenge. “I think the only people who didn’t give me grief were the Asian community.”The election of mild-mannered Ibrahim was shrouded in secrecy and the band went to great lengths to keep his membership of the group under wraps. “I had to sign in to hotels under an alias, to keep the press off the scent,” he remembers. “My alias was L. Lucan, which to be honest was a bit suspect.” He drew the line at one suggestion the band made prior to their appearance at the Reading Festival in 1996 – “they wanted me to come on dressed in a Spiderman suit.”
Things could have been so different – Aziz, who went on to play with Ian Brown, Paul Weller and more recently Steven Wilson, said Kelly Johnson of Girlschool was considered as Squire’s replacement and Slash offered his services but was turned down because “Mani said he wouldn’t stand on stage next to someone wearing leather trousers.”
Difficulty factor: 8/10
3. Musical Director for “lost” musical poet Rodriguez, 2012
Spec: Keep up as he makes it up
In 2012 the music world got its pants in a real wad about a singer-songwriter called Sixto Rodriguez, who made two albums in the early 70s and then disappeared for 40 years. Some dudes made a documentary about the fact that he was still alive and the inevitable live dates followed.
So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was a tad ring-rusty.
The erstwhile Stew Jackson, former leader of one-time CR faves Phantom Limb and currently involved in an intriguing collaboration between Rival Sons and Massive Attack, was appointed music director ahead of the ageing performer’s first ever UK gigs.
Stew remembers: “We had one rehearsal, for four hours, two days before the first show at the Roundhouse in London. He didn’t want to work from a set-list. When we played the gig he’d just start playing something we hadn’t rehearsed. We’d play Crucify Your Mind and then – because he didn’t want a set-list – I’d ask him what he wanted to play next and he’d say ‘how about Crucify Your Mind?
“Probably the worst was in Liverpool, where he suddenly decided a few minutes before we were due to go on that he wanted to play a Beatles tune. All My Loving. They seem simple, Beatles songs, but there are lots of twists and turns. And when he started it up it was in a completely different key to what we’d rehearsed. Lovely bloke, though.”
Difficulty factor: 7/10
4. Concert promoter, Van Halen’s ‘Hide Your Sheep’ US Tour, 1982
Spec: Read and provide every single item on the band’s now notorious 53-page rider
Most bands show remarkable restraint when it comes to riders. A few dozen beers perhaps, a bottle or two of whisky or wine, maybe a cold meat platter and some Pringles. Hell, even Elvis only used to ask for soft drinks and water. But then ‘restraint’ is not the word that first springs to the lips when recounting Van Halen in their early 1980's pomp.
For their epic 1982 trek across North and South America, frontman Dave Lee Roth drew up the most notorious rider in rock'n'roll history. For buried within its reams of requests – covering everything from nuts and K-Y Jelly to detailed lighting rig requirements – lay one demand which quickly found its way into mainstream folklore: “M&Ms (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES”).
It was quickly held up as an outrageous example of pampered rockstar excess run riot. But there was method in Diamond Dave’s madness. His reasoning being that if a promoter hadn’t read and heeded that warning, he might skimp on really important ones – like the safety of lighting rigs or electrical equipment.
As Roth later explained: “In the middle of this huge contract rider – it was like a Chinese phonebook – I had them place a clause, in the middle of nowhere. If I saw brown M&Ms on a catering table, then I knew the promoter did not read the full rider.”
Difficulty factor: 7/10
5. Job: Performance Enhancement Coach to Metallica, 2001
Spec: Stop the world’s biggest metal band from imploding.
Following the departure of bassist Jason Newstead after 14 years, the band found themselves at a career crossroads and reached out to (that’s American for “rang up”) therapist Phil Towle to help them, y’know, sort shit out. And agreed to put the whole process on film, in the now legendary Some Kind of Monster.
The writing was kind of on the wall for bespectacled Towle at around the half-hour mark of the documentary, when, as the band realise they can’t practice next week because they have therapy, James Hetfield suggests: “Can we sack Phil?”
But instead of throwing the Towle in, they persevere – leaving the hapless therapist stuck in the middle of their shouting matches and ego battles. He appears to see a long-term future for himself with the band, but as they regroup and regain their creative power he becomes more and more marginalised. Towards the end of the movie, an annoyed Hetfield says: “I’m afraid he’s under the impression he’s in the band ... I’m feeling uncomfortable” and a climactic scene in which they tell Towle they’re releasing him from his $40,000-a-month gig is squirm-inducing.
Difficulty factor: 7/10
6. Pete Townshend’s guitar tech, early 70s
Spec: A lot of tidying up
By the end of the 60s, Townshend’s axe-smashing routine had almost become a standard set-piece in The Who’s barnstorming live performances. Scores of Rickenbackers and Strats had met their makers by the time affable Geordie Alan Rogan joined The Who crew as the guitarist’s tech, and the only difference about the 80s was that more Gibson De Luxes bit the dust.
Seeing Les Pauls smashed to smithereens night after night would be enough to reduce a lesser man, or a guitar aficionado, to tears. But Alan, who has also worked for “Ronnie and Keef”, Joe Walsh and George Harrison is made of stronger stuff and if one of Townshend’s more current choices – an Eric Clapton signature Strat – loses its head during a gig, Alan, who is still the axe hero’s right-hand man three decades on, certainly doesn’t. “I just glue it back on,” he shrugs.
Difficulty factor: 6/10
7. Film a documentary on notorious punk nihilist GG Allin, 1993
Spec: Stay alive until the end of filming - unlike the movie's subject
Did you think things got pretty messed up in The Hangover? Or The Hangover Part II? Part III?
That was nothing, my friends, compared to the contents of super-producer Todd Phillips' debut movie, an infamous documentary entitled Hated - GG Allin and the Murder Junkies.
Allin was a notorious figure on the US hardcore punk scene in the 80s and early 90s. His shows were toxic meltdowns featuring... ahem... defecation, coprophagia (we're gonna let you look that one up), self-mutilation, violent assaults on audience members and — not surprisingly — arrests. A heroin addict and an alcoholic, Allin would routinely perform naked and writhe around on broken glass and faeces before hurling himself into the crowd.
To avoid being beaten up during the shoot, crew members on the film (which boasted serial killer John Wayne Gacy as an 'unofficial executive producer') were issued with giant orange stickers to identify them as friendly. According to Phillips, Allin "was really schizophrenic with me... sometimes he was open to doing stuff and other times he'd act like he didn't know me. I think GG either had schizophrenia or bipolar or some actual undiagnosed condition... I don't know what it was. I think the alcohol exacerbated it but it was self-medicating to some extent, but in a weird way. I think it backfired a lot of times."
Although he often vowed that he would end his life by committing suicide on stage, Allin actually died from an accidental overdose during the making of the documentary. Phillips was actually there when he died, but thought he had just passed out. At his funeral, friends had a stomach-churning "party" with his body. It's what he would have wanted.
Difficulty factor: 9/10
8. Thin Lizzy tour manager, 1970s
Spec: “Keep them away from the bad boys”
Adrian Hopkins started working with Lizzy, doing promotion and merchandising, around 1974. But the job – as Adrian now remembers – involved a lot more besides. “It was mainly keeping them out of trouble, getting rid of dealers backstage, keeping them away from the bad boys.”
Women were as much a distraction for Phil Lynott as drink and drugs (“anything with a pulse”) and Brian Robertson became part of the on-stage set-up. “Robbo would drink a bottle of Jack Daniels before the show, so we’d have to carry him on and prop him up against the stack of amps. But once the gig started he was fine.”
Despite going beyond the call of duty on many occasions – “ to pick up hungover band members and drive them cross-country to make gigs” – like a true rock and roll trooper Adrian remembers them as the best years of his life.
Difficulty factor: 7/10
9. In-house soundman at Superloft, Tokyo, 1985
Spec: Survive performance by noise lunatics Hanatarash
This extreme outfit, who made the Plasmatics look like Enya, gave new meaning to the phrase “bringing the house down”. Typical on-stage stunts by frontman Eye included strapping a circular saw to his back and almost cutting his own leg off, cutting a dead cat in half with a machete and attempting to demolish a venue by driving a bulldozer through the rear wall and onto the stage.
Prior to a show at the Superloft in Tokyo in 1985, fans were required to sign a waiver absolving the venue of responsibility in the event of personal injury. The performance – which caused over £6,000 worth of damage – was stopped as Eye lit a gasoline-fuelled Molotov cocktail.
Unsurprisingly, the band split up after running out of halls prepared to host their explosive shows.
Difficulty factor: 10/10
10. Producing the Happy Mondays’ album Yes Please, 1991
Spec: Keep Sean Ryder and the band to recording schedule in Barbados
In a bid to steer Ryder and Co away from heroin, management flew the Mondays to Barbados to record their follow-up album to the hit Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, after discovering and developing a taste for crack cocaine, the band turned the jaunt turned into a total shambles, leaving producers, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads twiddling their thumbs – instead of knobs – in the studio (at Eddy Grant’s house).
Having rapidly run out of cash pursuing their new hobby, the lads took to selling furniture from Grant’s gaff to raise cash and used sun loungers to create a crack den rather than crack on with recording. Bez broke his arm after smashing up a hire car and Shaun was so out of it he didn’t write a single lyric – a failure later immortalised in a hilarious showdown scene with Factory Records in the film 24 Hour Party People, in which they listen open-mouthed to the vocal-free master.
Difficulty factor: 9/10