“It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll, but it’s even further if you plan on being a roadie.”
No one knows this better than Ted Gardner, a 40-year veteran of the music industry who has managed bands such as Tool, Jane’s Addiction and The Verve, and worked as tour/ production manager for Frank Zappa, UFO and Echo & the Bunnymen, among many more.
Currently managing The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Ted brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to this year’s Turn Up Music Conference on the Sunshine Coast, which he will impart during an in-depth conversation with Toombul Music founder Barry Bull.
For many young people aspiring to have a career in live technical production, it may prove to be a harsh but helpful reality check. “I give people the advice my father gave me,” Ted says, “’get a real job’, and I never did.”
“It’s very flippant to turn around and say to someone young ‘don’t’, and it is [also] the best advice you can give somebody because the music industry is thankless, you get nothing for it. You work your butt off, you slave, you love and it’s just like having a whore as a girlfriend: she’s sleeping with everybody but tells you that she loves you and you believe it.”
This is coming from a guy who received the equivalent of a classical education in the music industry first-hand from none other than Frank Zappa, so he knows what he’s talking about. “After Men At Work the first gig I got was as road manager for Frank Zappa [and] he was absolutely phenomenal,” Ted says.
“I learnt more about the music industry and its nuances and thieves and liars from Frank Zappa than anyone had the honesty or decency to educate me in.”
“What would happen is the soundcheck would go for two hours and his tour manager would piss off and leave Frank in the dressing room by himself, and I’d go and sit with him and talk, pick his brain.”
“So for the two hours between when the doors opened to when the band went on stage, I would be sitting there every day talking to Frank, and I was being schooled.”
In his long and storied career, Ted has experienced great success, but he’s also witnessed the downfall of many-a committed technician who didn’t realise until it was too late they’d been ensnared by a cruel and fickle mistress. “There’s a song called ‘Rock And Roll I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life’ [Kevin Johnson, 1973] and it is so true to what we do.”
“When I look at the amount of roadies that I knew, respected and admired in my beginnings and then saw what happened to them, there is no one around to pick up the pieces for when roadies go crazy; no one is there picking up the pieces when you’ve got an alcoholic mate.”
“At least the majority of musicians had an opportunity to make a dollar. Whether they snorted it, shoved it up their arms or drank it is not my concern; you had the opportunity because you were a songwriter. If you spent it none too wisely, that’s the business and that’s humankind.”
“Roadies don’t have that opportunity. Roadies work 15 hours a day, drive the truck, unload the gear, have a passion for their band and even to this day I still see young roadies that I work with here… and the passion is still there. They have a love for what they do and a love for their band, the same that I had for every band that I ever worked for.”
Among the high-profile bands and artists that adorn Ted’s extensive and enviable CV, he is also credited with helping to establish the iconic Lollapalooza festival series with Jane’s Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell in 1991.
One of the first travelling outdoor festivals entirely devoted to showcasing alternative music, Ted says he and Perry called it a day on the event in 1997. “We got to a point where our heads were stuck up our arse so far we couldn’t smell the coffee or see the light of day any more,” Ted explains.
“Then eventually after seven years it was like ‘fuck it’. I rang up Perry and said ‘this is getting stupid; we’re starting to believe our own press… it’s a farce’. It was getting to that point… so we canned it, much to the chagrin of [talent agency] William Morris.”
Despite his accomplishments over a career spanning four decades and some of the world’s best-known and well-loved bands, Ted still can’t escape the haunting words of his father that every creative has had to endure at some point or another when explaining their career choice.
“My father used to say to me: ‘when are you going to get a real job?’. Then one year I came home from Lollapalooza with a cheque for $1.5 million American dollars and he looked at me and went, ‘yeah, but it’s not a real job, is it?’.”