Roadies never have it easy. You have to be likeable, detail-oriented, but most of all, fearless, writes Tana Douglas in her irresistible memoir, Loud (to be published September 20 by ABC Books). Who else could be trusted to keep Bon Scott and Angus Young from tripping over each other onstage? Make sure Lita Ford doesn’t accidentally piss on Stonehenge? Calm a fussy Elton John one minute then give Princess Diana a tutorial in stage lighting the next? It also helps if you can roll a good joint.
Douglas’s journey began in Melbourne, Australia. She learned to escape an abusive childhood with the help of Janis Joplin’s Pearl. A caravan of hippies followed by a chance meeting at the Whisky A Go Go led Douglas on the unlikely path of becoming a roadie for some of the greatest bands in rock history — starting with AC/DC. Loud is the ultimate backstage pass. It’s a wildly entertaining ride through wrangling rockstars, legendary tours, and — above all else — making sure the show goes on. Even when someone throws a live fish at Iggy Pop.
The bands that rattled her the most? The all-female bands. In this exclusive excerpt from Loud, Douglas brings us back to 1981. The Police are about to start their epic Ghost in the Machine Tour, and a little band called the Go-Gos are the opening act. And as Douglas quickly learns, these L.A. punks are nothing like The Runaways.
In September 1981, I was about to go on tour with The Police, and my introduction to the band members was at a rather flash party for their record launch in a trendy London hotel. That was when Sting’s last thread of pretence about being a schoolteacher happily married to his first wife collapsed and toppled with him into the atrium pool, along with nearly every guest at the party – once someone decided they were going to jump in, everyone was either jumping or being pushed in. This tour would rocket The Police to stardom. Even at this early stage, though, the band members’ egos were rearing their ugly heads, never again to be kept in check.
A support band on this tour was the new all-girl group The Go-Go’s, also managed by Miles Copeland. I was looking forward to working with them, as I’d done some shows with The Runaways back in 1976, and I thought The Go-Go’s might be similar girls.
The Runaways had come to England for a short promotional tour of only nine shows. I’d been hanging out in The Marquee when the club manager, Barrie, came up to me. ‘Tana, we’ve got a bit of a problem. I’ve got The Runaways here as we want to book them for the club. Well, they’ve had a misunderstanding, and one of them has gone MIA.’
I was a little confused. ‘Okay, what does that have to do with me?’
‘As you’re a girl it might be better if you go talk to her – she doesn’t trust guys. Please!’
That was all well and good, but I didn’t really know what any of them looked like, or which one had taken the band name to heart and run away. But I didn’t have to go far. I found her next door in The Ship pub, trying to use the payphone at the back of the room while having a panic attack, surrounded by fans. With a little coaxing, I managed to get her reunited with her band. For that I was asked to stay with them for the remainder of their tour dates in the UK to make sure they were okay and there were no more MIAs. We travelled around England in a transit van, keeping ourselves entertained with detours to see the sights. When there’s no money on a tour, you find fun things you can do for free.
On one drive down the A303, we pulled over to the roadside as Lita needed to pee. We all got out, and I noticed some rectangular rocks in a field. ‘Quick, get back in the van. Let’s go have a look!’
‘I’m peeing,’ said Lita.
‘Hurry up, then, I think it’s Stonehenge.’
We all jumped back in the van and followed a side road from right where we’d stopped, and lo and behold there it was! Soon we were running around joking about who we should put a witch’s curse on – the first choice was their manager.
The gigs were small, mostly at university venues like the one in Leeds. That didn’t stop the girls from giving it their all on stage. The tension they were feeling offstage spilt into their performances and made for aggressive, tight shows, probably some of the best that line-up played live. In the downtime, my job was to lighten the mood a little and keep them distracted. They were burnt out, and you could tell they were hanging on for some sort of paydirt to hit. I’m not sure it ever did.
That tour took Joan Jett, the rhythm guitarist for the band, out of her summer camp baseball tomboy look to embrace the get-up of the British punks. Almost overnight she donned her tight jeans, leather jacket and Converses. We could have been twins.
I had no idea at the time of Joan’s standing as one of the first 100 LA Punks, and I think I would have appreciated her company all the more if I’d known that. It was too early in my career for me to feel comfortable working with an all-girl band. I saw the flak they got in the press at times, not being taken seriously by bands and crews alike just because they were girls. I wasn’t ready for that. But I did end up enjoying the company of Joan and also Lita Ford, the lead guitarist for the group.
The Go-Go’s were another story. They had a completely different attitude from The Runaways and were going through what I refer to as their Brat Phase. Both Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin were members of that first 100 LA punks club, but the only sign of this was the way they trashed hotel rooms and were generally obnoxious. And I would suffer the fallout from these antics.
It’s usual for roadies to check in to a hotel much later than the band. By the time we the crew would arrive, there would already be drama from the girls and an irate hotel staff refusing to register any more women with the entourage. That meant I had to sneak in to many of these hotels. I spent a significant amount of time swearing in a foreign language that I wasn’t with the girls nor like them. Still, I’d end up sleeping on the bus.
One time I was in the middle of convincing a German hotel receptionist that I had nothing to do with ‘those girls’ when a belligerent Belinda crashed through the lobby, knocking over indoor plants and side tables in her path. She came to a screeching halt right next to me, looked me in the eye, smiled, knocked over a tall glass vase and yelled, ‘Fuck ’em!’ Then she left. As the vase smashed into tiny pieces, the receptionist looked at me sternly and pointed to the door. Yep! Another night on the bus for me.
When not trashing hotels, The Go-Go’s had a party trick. It involved picking a male fan from the audience, taking him to their dressing room and collectively debasing him as much as humanly possible. This they would find amusing. I guess it wasn’t any different from what a lot of male bands got up to, but it made me uncomfortable. For me as the only girl in an all-male crew, it was a whole different set of rules than for an all-girl band with a hit song. So I kept my distance.