Dark Riders

The good, the bad and the ugly rock-star performance contracts

Nothing screams "superstar" like a performance contract fat with pages and pages of demanding hospitality riders. For the uninitiated, riders are the little clauses appended to a show contract detailing exactly what Joe or Jane Rock Star will or won't eat or drink backstage.

The most famous rider of all time has to be Van Halen's "no brown M&Ms" example, a story so strange it could only be true. Most assume that Messrs. Roth, Anthony and Van Halen demanded the brown candies be removed just because they could, but according to Roth's autobiography, there was an ingenious method to their heavy-metal M&M madness.

Roth wrote that Van Halen was one of the first bands to take a huge production to tertiary markets -- cities like Beaumont, Corpus Christi and Waco. "We'd pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max," wrote Roth. "And there were many, many technical errors -- whether it was the girders couldn't support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren't big enough to move the gear through."

Because of the size of the show, Halen's performance contract was the size, as Roth put it, of the "Chinese Yellow Pages," and the band wanted to make sure that the venue production staff read it all. "So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say 'Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes…' This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: 'There will be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.' So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl…well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract…Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening."

There's a treasure trove of riders at the leaked-document site www.thesmokinggun.com (www.thesmokinggun.com/backstagetour/index.html). Here we find the whims, dietary necessities and psychological insecurities of just about every name artist Houston has produced over the past 30 or so years, from Kenny Rogers to Destiny's Child. Let's look at them chronologically:

Kenny Rogers: The Gambler's enormous contract from a Christmas tour has a Dickensian tone. The big man gets plenty while the tots go hungry. Rogers calls for (among many other things) red meat -- teriyaki steak and pepper steak are faves -- and he and his five-member band like the booze. Lots of it. No less than a total of two and a half cases of assorted Bud, Heineken, St. Pauli Girl, Bass and Corona are called for, as well as a pint of Drambuie -- for the ladies, one suspects. If you're a member of Kenny's cast and crew, though, you'll get next to nothing and like it. The cast has to squabble over a case of mixed Coke and Diet Coke, while the poor little children's choir must subsist on nothing more than an Oliver Twist-like diet of five gallons of Kool-Aid. ("Please, Kenny, may I have some more? More?? More??" Rogers knocks the ladle of Kool-Aid from the trembling child's hand…) Looks like Kenny needs a visit from the ghost of career, er Christmas, past.

ZZ Top: Who knew the lil' ol' band from Texas had teensy-weensy self-esteem to match? Clause XIII-B of their contract is oddly touching in its almost pleading legalese: "Promoter acknowledges that it is promoting a worldwide 'superstar' artist and that each and every element of such promotion shall be first-class in nature and commensurate with the stature of a 'superstar.' " Top's dietary requirements show a regional bent -- lots of jalapeños, Tabasco, picante sauce and Dr Pepper -- but oddly, the beer specified is not a Texas brew but Bud.

Lucinda Williams: Americana's grande dame shows an international interest. She likes her wine from Chile (La Playa Merlot or Cabernet), her beer from Mexico (Corona, Tecate, Dos Equis) and Jamaica (Red Stripe), her water from France (Evian) or Canada (Naya), and her food from either Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, India or the Middle East. As befits such a cosmopolitan, she's also quite the diplomat. "Any extra 'nice touches' will be greatly appreciated," she notes in the agreement's introduction. Tough to heckle something like that.

Clint Black: You'd think that the late Roy Rogers's young pal Black would call for some macho chuckwagon grub, and you would be absolutely wrong. Evidently he's been spending a lot of time in low-fat California with wife Lisa Hartman Black. How else to explain the mandatory band entrée of a "skinless, boneless chicken breast prepared roasted or grilled on open fire with no butter, creams or oils"? And no trail cook worth his white beard and the name "Cookie" would serve up the "French roast or gourmet non-flavored coffee" Black and his lite buckaroos demand, either. As for what would happen if Black was a-settin' around the campfire and piped up for a mug of Celestial Seasonings herb tea, three words: Git a rope.

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