Roadie Royalty

Houstonian author and Webmaster Karl Kuenning is a prince among road dogs

Rule No. 4: When confronted with an insurmountable situation, improvise. This dictum is illustrated over and over in the book. "Most successful roadies have to be like MacGyver," Kuenning says. "They can take a few rubber bands, some gaffer's tape and a couple of coins, and they can fix anything." You might even have to fix something that isn't broken, as Kuenning once had to do for an eccentric member of the Australian group the Little River Band. During sound check, one of the band's guitarists barreled over to Kuenning. "How the hell do you expect me to perform with a black monitor?" he demanded. (Monitors are the speakers musicians use to hear themselves play.) Kuenning was extremely puzzled -- "Aren't all monitors black?" he asked. Not mine, the Aussie replied. "If the monitor is black, the devil can jump out of it during the show and get me. I refuse to play tonight if I have to use this cursed monitor." In just a couple of hours, Kuenning and the local stagehands had managed to round up a paint brush and enough white enamel paint and white cloth to appease the Aussie and close Satan's rock and roll wormhole. The show went on.

As his road career wore on, Kuenning fell victim to more and more of the perils: groupies, booze and finally cocaine. Some chapters read a little like Penthouse Forum, while others come across like vintage Hunter S. Thompson. There was the plane flight to Tokyo in which Kuenning and another roadie snorted an entire coke stash off the square surface of a Jack Daniel's mini-bottle. Kuenning was wary of the residue that still lurked in his little brown vial. Suddenly a Pat Travers song popped into his zooming head: "Snorting Whiskey and Drinking Cocaine." Kuenning poured some more Jack into his coke vial, shook it up, and he and his buddy snorted the concoction out of the vial.

Kuenning has neither drugged nor boozed for decades, but he still keeps track of the road life through his Web site, which is now the No. 1 roadie-related site on the Web. There you can find job tips, "Roadie Recommended" books (in a fit of immodesty, Kuenning anoints his book as the best), movies (not surprising, This Is Spinal Tap tops the list), music (Jackson Browne's "Rosie" edges out both the Metallica and Bob Seger versions of "Turn the Page") and various road gear. There are also dozens of lurid and hilarious roadie tales, glossaries of roadie lingo and a bunch of roadie top ten lists. (Here's a more-or-less random sample: three of the Top Ten Things You Will Never Hear on a Tour Bus: "Checkmate!" "Hey, why is there porn in the VCR?" "Ladies, can I see some proof of age?")

But it's more than just a sort of Yahoo! for roadies -- it also breaks news. Often roadies will anonymously send in their eyewitness accounts of famous and infamous shows, and the site's reporting on the Great White fire, the Dimebag Darrell shooting, the incredible crapping Dave Matthews tour bus and a riot-marred Philadelphia Guns N' Roses show is second to none.

Kuenning's latest article takes aim at the idea that the policeman who shot and killed gunman Nathan Gale was the only hero in the house. The official story that went out over the wires has it that Columbus policeman James Niggemeyer took out Gale while Gale was firing into a crowd of retreating fans. Not so, Kuenning says. Aside from Dimebag, all of the people Gale killed had charged him with the intent of disarming him. "Niggemeyer was a hero and I'm not taking anything away from what he did," Kuenning says. "But the members of Damageplan's crew and one fan charged a gunman from the front, while they were all unarmed. And they all paid the price. I think there were five heroes there that night, not just one. Hale could have been shooting fans or the rest of the band if he didn't have to deal with these guys who charged him."

Once again, Kuenning's complaint about how roadies always get the shaft. It's not enough that the musicians get all the sex, money and drugs while they're alive, but roadies also get none of the credit for being heroes when they die.

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