Blog Post : The View From Behind The Drums
Please allow me to introduce myself, to coin a phrase. My name is Lorne Wheaton and I’m the drum tech on the Alice Cooper Theater of Death tour ’09. I was the only Canadian on the tour at first, though we’ve now been joined by another one, assisting Alice on this tour – we Canadians get all the most important jobs!. In the 38 (!) years I have been doing this, I’ve worked alongside some of the best drummers in the music industry, and also Jimmy DeGrasso (just kidding!). Some of them are Journey’s Steve Smith, Alex Van Halen, Keith Carlock (Sting, Steely Dan), plus my main client and fellow Canadian, Neil Peart from Rush. And then this past April, DeGrasso contacted me regarding teching for him on the upcoming Alice Cooper tour. Since Rush are on hiatus for the next year or so, I thought, why not. Jimmy and I had met a few years before at his drum store in San Jose. So, the procedure of getting my US work visa started. Eventually we all (crew and band) met up at Mates rehearsal studios in La La Land (LA) to rehearse for an upcoming show in Spain the following week. Me being the new guy, I kinda stayed in the background while I learned my cues with the Roland sampler that plays some of the intros as well as sound effects to the show songs. As well as drum tech, I operate that. That’s when I had the supreme honor of meeting Alice. I had seen him in concerts as a teenager in Toronto. He walked over to me and said hello, friendly individual that he is. As for the other band and crew guys, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. If you’re a longtime fan, you probably know more about them than I did when I walked into Mates that first day.
Luckily, everyone at rehearsal was happy to be going back on tour and to see each other, and Paul Bassett (Eric Singer’s drum tech) was there to show me some things unique to Alice’s show, so that was a big help. If you know Paul from previous tours, I’m not him. He has way longer hair!!!
Is is truly like a “ship of fools,” with some of the wackiest guys I’ve ever worked with. It’s never a dull moment around here. Pat, who does props, TALKS to the props. Cesare, the production manager, always has a pained look on his face, like he is resigned to his fate – he’s the captain of our “ship” and somehow he navigates us through some tricky waters every day. My fellow stage techs Brian and Chris are always kidding (I think…I hope). They take great care of Damon, Chuck and Keri’s gear and also appear in the show at different times wearing costumes. Now THAT never happens on a Rush tour! The sound and lighting guys -- Randy, Paul and Chopper – are also interesting personalities, to say the least. All these guys have been with Alice for many years, and there’s a great camaraderie among them. I am sure I’ll learn even more about them once we’ve been on tour awhile, living together on a tour bus, as Europe was all flying everywhere.
Flying is different, as we work at the venue all day from 9 or 10 AM til midnight or 1 AM, and then, in North America and sometimes in Europe, we get on the bus and sleep til the next city, and do it all over again. On a flying tour, we work the same hours, and then go to a hotel for a short night of sleep and then a morning flight, so it’s usually more tiring than a bus tour.
Also, on a bus tour, you’ve got your bunk to take a nap if you get a break in the afternoon, once the set-up is done. On a flying tour, there’s no bus there…and the hotel is usually too far to go back and forth to.
Anyway, once we went on tour, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. We play this festival in Spain, for my first show with Alice, and it’s a case of the crew gets there at 9 AM to do the load in. Well, after the usual “hurry up and wait” scenario, we finally get to set up the band instruments. We weren’t billed to go until midnight. So I think you get the drift, we basically were there 15 hours before the show was to start. Loooong time!! Come showtime, I thought it was going to be OK. Then the show started, and I immediately went brain dead on all the sampler cues that were part of the show set. I had done my homework while I was on those trans Atlantic flights, but for some reason, I just went blank. Dummy!!! And on top of that, Jimmy breaks a snare drum head in the second song. I also wear In-Ear monitors like the musicians themselves and the transmitter that I use was cutting out all night. If I can’t hear Coop or Jimmy, it’s pretty much a horrible flail. That first show ‘sucked’ for me. What a way to start. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Luckily the show was great, the crowd as great, and everyone was in a great mood afterwards.
And then I had three weeks off to keep thinking about trying to get it right next time, until the shows, in Russia three weeks later. Three long weeks to think about all the things that went wrong. Luckily things got better in Russia and Europe, and I’m still her to tell my tales.
I’m still “the new guy,” but I think I earned my stripes.
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