KG: Is being a tour manager a guys only gig? Have you ever met a woman in the position?
MW: It’s definitely not a guys-only gig. There aren’t many female road managers in the metal genre that I can think of right now except for Maryjo Spillane, a very experienced tour manager that has done Slayer, A Perfect Circle, Heaven & Hell and many others. My friend Julia Sentker in Germany is another one that has worked with Exodus and Death Angel. There are a lot more female tour managers in other genres of music, I’m sure. There are definitely a lot of very good female managers.
KG: Would you say this is a business that you have to get in young? Or is it something that can be achieved later in life?
MW: Well, it’s definitely a job that gets harder as you get older. I’ve been doing it for 30 years and I’m now 53 years old. It does wear you out sometimes, traveling constantly. But if you take care of yourself, it’s not so bad. I believe that anyone who is highly motivated, smart, and organized can do this job. But I would definitely have to say that a younger person would have a better shot getting started than someone my age. I think that’s true in any industry, unfortunately. Unfair but true.
KG: Did you choose this genre of music (thrash metal) or did you just sort of fall into it after the 80’s and your experiences on the road with Keel?
MW: I love heavy metal. I grew up listening to it. Black Sabbath was God to me growing up in the 70’s. I met Ron Keel and his band Steeler because I loved their music and kept going to their concerts. I loved all of those bands back in the 80’s: Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Ratt, all of that hair metal stuff. Then I discovered Testament, a gig that later helped me to land the Slayer gig. And I’ve been doing metal bands ever since. I’m also a lighting designer, and I’m definitely a metal lighting designer, without a doubt. I have fun doing it. When a new Slayer, Anthrax or Testament record comes out, I can’t wait to hear it. I’m sure I’ll be sitting in my rocking chair in 20 years still listening to metal. But I love other kinds of music, too, such as jazz. And I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks when I write. I can do any kind of music, but my heart has always been in metal.
KG: Have you ever worked as a tour manager for any other genre of music or do you stick to rock?
MW: With the exception of 4 Non Blondes and Blue October, I’ve always done metal or hard rock. And while both of those were extremely talented and successful bands, my heart wasn’t in it as a lighting designer, but I had no problem being their production manager and road manager, respectively.
KG: Were you a specific fan of Thrash before heading out to LA?
MW: I left for Los Angeles in 1979, so I really wouldn’t say that thrash metal existed just yet. It started to happen a few years later. When I first heard Slayer’s Reign In Blood record, I was hooked. It was the heaviest, most brutal thing I’d ever heard. I HAD to work for that band. I still never get sick of that classic record. And then when I heard Testament’s The New Order, I felt the same way. I’m on the road with Testament right now. They’re my longest-running client of 25 years, and I never get sick of doing the lighting to those songs. The same goes with Anthrax—classic songs that stand the test of time.
KG: Sounds like a pretty hard gig. Does the tour manager ever get to have any fun on tour?
MW: Well, I used to have a lot of fun but most of it was negative fun—drinking, drugs, chasing women, the whole nine yards. But I’m getting too old for those shenanigans. I’ll always be a sucker for a pretty face, but I try to be a sober person now. It’s up and down here lately. As I sit here in St Paul, my mother is losing her battle with pancreatic cancer, and I’m trying not to use alcohol to dull the pain because it doesn’t dull the pain, it just makes it worse. My younger brother, Tommy, drank himself to death while I was on the road with Megadeth 3 years ago, and my old friend and long-time client, Jeff Hanneman, the legendary guitarist from Slayer, also died the same way 6 months ago. Both of their deaths have had a profound affect on me, and I don’t want to go out the same way. These days, I’ll just read in my spare time. I’m reading Mike Tyson’s memoir, Undisputed Truth, right now and it’s riveting. And I try to work on my upcoming memoir, Hunger For Hell, when I can, but it’s hard to write out here on the road. I usually wait until I get home.
KG: This book is incredibly detailed. What has the general response in the industry been towards it?
MW: It’s getting great reviews and I appreciate them, but reader reviews and emails from my readers mean the most to me. I get emails from all over the world from people who now feel like they really have a shot of getting into this business, and that makes me happy. It’s why I wrote the book. And I’ve gotten emails from aspiring musicians who have a learned a lot from the book. It’s all about the road now, and these new bands need to know how things work out here.
KG: Do you have a favorite tour that you’ve worked on? A least favorite?
MW: That’s a double-edged sword of an answer. My favorite tour in recent memory was American Carnage 2010 because I designed the biggest lighting rig of my career and I feel I did my best work. But I was working with Megadeth on that tour and Dave Mustaine can be difficult to deal with. But that wasn’t the first time that I’ve worked for Dave, so I knew what I was getting into. Dave is a perfectionist and I appreciate that. I’m the same way with my work. But Dave thinks he’s perfect when he’s far from it, and he expects his crew to be perfect like him, and none of us are perfect. We all have personal problems sometimes. My brother was withering away from a terminal illness on that our, and I definitely drank too much to deal with that pain. But I still did my job very well. But was I an easy person to deal with every day? No, I wasn’t. You live and learn every day. I have no problem with Dave. He’s the best heavy metal guitar player in the world, and he’s written some of the most iconic songs in the genre. I hope the best for him and his lovely family. For the most part, Dave’s a good man with a great heart.
Doing Polish Woodstock with Anthrax this past summer was also a great experience because we played in front of 500,000 people. That was unforgettable. But I was also working with Anthrax at the Golden Gods awards on May 2 of this year. I had gone to lunch with Chuck Billy and his wife, Tiffany, to eat some sushi. When I came back my publicist and old friend, Maria Ferrero, had to tell me that Jeff Hanneman had just died. She wanted to tell me before I heard it on the fucking internet or something. It was the worst news that I could’ve gotten that day except that maybe my mother had died. Phil Anselmo sang with Anthrax on that show, and I don’t even remember doing the lighting for the songs. It was a horrible day. Jeff was an old friend and a great man to me. I loved him very much. I’ve still not come to grips with his death. It’s hard for me to listen to Slayer songs now.
KG: Are you worried that by “outing” some of your secrets (i.e baggage fee tricks) that these things may not work anymore?
MW: Not really, because the smart road managers will always think of new tricks. Frankly, I’m waiting for the next road manager out there to write the next book. We all have different ways of doing things, and that’s fine. As long as we get the job done every day, it really doesn’t matter how we do it.
KG: Interesting that you noted the day of Dimebag’s death as the day that changed backstage access criteria. Was that honestly the tipping point in your opinion?
MW: I have always had the attitude that backstage passes were security devices and not just souvenirs to give away to girls for sex or guys for free drugs. The morning that Dimebag was killed, I was in Belgrade, Serbia with Machine Head. We had just seen Dime and Vinnie a few weeks before when
Machine Head played at Trees in Dallas. I loved that band, but I really didn’t know them that well. But I had to wake up the Machine Head boys in their bunks on our tour bus and tell them that Dime was dead. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because I knew how much Robb and the boys loved Dime. I will never forget that day. It had a strong impact on me. It’s still hard to believe that he’s gone because of a deranged person with a gun. I don’t want to lose any friends or clients. I’m always looking very closely at every fan that comes around a band that I’m working with. You have to these days.
KG: Had you ever encountered anything violent in conjunction with backstage passes before the Dimebag incident?
MW: Oh, there have been many incidents through the years with drunks who get backstage and start shit, but nothing to the point where someone got killed. Most of my clients are pretty good at taking care of themselves. You don’t see too many people with balls big enough to get up in Chuck Billy’s face.
KG: Have you ever worked with Pantera?
MW: No, but my roommate is Sonny Satterfield, Pantera’s long-time lighting designer. We’re the 2 divorced heavy metal lighting designers. So I’ve heard more Pantera stories than you could imagine. I’ve done a bit of work with Hellyeah, so I know Vinnie and he’s a nice guy. I know Rex Brown and he’s always a good guy. Phil Anselmo is a friend and a man that I admire a lot. He offered me a gig with his solo project this year, but I had to turn it down because my plate was full with Anthrax and Testament. But I really hope to work with Phil one day. He’s a great person and singer; one of the best out there, a heavy metal icon.
KG: You mentioned that you rarely go to a rock concert on your days off, has working as a tour manager taken all the fun out of being a fan for you?
MW: Not at all, but it is like going to work for me now. My right ear is a bit shot from 30 years of loud music, so I prefer to not batter it anymore than I have to. Frankly, I’d rather watch a great movie. But I will always be a music fan.
KG: Have you always been a very organized person or have these skills developed over your time spent in the job?
MW: I think I’ve always been that way. I was a straight-A electronics technology student before I met Ron Keel and dropped out of college. Doing well at something like that requires organization and commitment. Sometimes I regret that decision, but I don’t have too many real regrets. I’ve seen the world many times. I get lazy with things in my personal life sometimes, but I always try to stay organized when it comes to my job. You have to.
KG: With the amount of detail and obvious time spent writing and putting this book together, combined with the innumerable things you handle on any given day with any given tour, when do you ever get time for yourself?
MW: It’s hard and nearly impossible, which is why it’s hard to get me on the phone sometimes when I come off the road. I withdraw and hate answering the phone or emails. I just start working on my next writing project and immerse myself in that. I pretty much become a recluse when I’m off the road. On days off on the road, a road manager still has work to do, so it’s pretty much a non-show day but there’s still work to get done.
KG: How do you spend your down time when you are not on tour?
MW: Watching movies, cooking and writing; that’s about it. I used to spend a large amount of time in the bar, but I’m trying to stay out of those places these days. Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. There’s more to life than feeling like shit every day. If the new ones coming up learn anything, learn that. Have fun but don’t turn fun into madness. There are so many better things to do every day.
More about One For The Road and Mark Workman:
One for the Road: How to Be a Music Tour Manager includes an insightful foreword written by Testament lead guitarist, Alex Skolnick.
Mark Workman has been a successful tour manager and lighting designer in the music business since 1983. His list of past and present clients includes Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Machine Head, Danzig, Mudvayne, Dio, Queens of the Stone Age, Devildriver, Soulfly, Sepultura and many others.
As a lighting designer, Mark Workman has designed high-impact lighting performances for many music tours, including the infamous Clash of the Titans (Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament, Alice In Chains, & Suicidal Tendencies) in 1990/1991 and American Carnage 2010 (Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax & Testament), as well as for many music videos and live DVDs such as Machine Head’s Elegies DVD filmed at Brixton Academy in London, Megadeth’s Rust In Peace Live DVD shot at the Hollywood Palladium, and Testament’s Dark Roots of Thrash Live DVD shot at the Paramount Theater in Huntington, NY.
Mark Workman is also a former boxing writer whose feature articles have appeared on BoxingScene and Fox Sports.
Mark Workman’s upcoming memoir, Hunger For Hell, will be released in 2014.
Be sure to read the book review of One For The Road – How To Be A Music Tour Manager.
You can connect with Mark Workman online here: