Lance ‘K.C.’ Jackson & Bill Reeves On Why White Tours Don’t Hire Black Tour & Production Managers
By: Andy Gensler
Courtesy Lance K.C. JacksonRoadies United: Bill Reeves and Lance “K.C.” Jackson at the first annual Roadies of Color United International, an organization with over a 1,000 members, in Atlanta this past February.With over 40 years of success in the live production business, one would think tours of every stripe would be lining up to hire the eminently qualified Lance “K.C.” Jackson and Bill Reeves as tour or production managers. Unfortunately, for over four decades in an industry severely lacking in racial diversity and inclusion, no major tour by a white artist ever called. Their organization Roadies of Color United International is actively working to change that.
Pollstar: It’s a pleasure to meet you. Please introduce yourselves.Lance “K.C.” Jackson: June 20th marked my 42nd consecutive year working in the entertainment services and concert touring industry. I entered professionally into the industry in 1978. I came into the business as an audio engineer and over the years, just to keep working, I’ve learned how to wear many hats. Audio, backline, stage management, production management, property master –these are some of the things I’ve learned to do over the years out here. I’ve worked for artists as diverse as Luther Vandross to New Kids On The Block to Justin Bieber. My current position right now is production stage manager for the legendary Earth, Wind & Fire.
Bill Reeves: I’m in the game a bit longer than K.C., by three years. My first tour was around ‘74, it’s lost in the mists of time. I came in as a lighting dude, started as an electrician on a few tours working for a lighting company, and then rather quickly got a job as a lighting director/production manager for an artist by the name of Teddy Pendergrass. Then I went from Teddy to Luther Vandross, who I worked for for about 14 years and have done three or four tours with Prince. I did “Purple Rain” and have worked for Anita Baker, Maxwell, D’Angelo and a couple of rappers. For the last 10 years or so I’ve been a production and tour manager for Anthony Hamilton.
When did you meet?K.C.: I met Bill in 1979. I will never forget it. I hated Bill when I met Bill.
Bill: I have that effect on people.
K.C.: I was with The Gap Band; it was my second tour, so mind you I’m green. It was the first time we did a doubleheader show. We did The World’s Greatest Funk Festival in Houston and flew out to open a Teddy Pendergrass show. We got there late. For whatever reason the band got an endorsement and didn’t tell us, so we had all brand-new pieces of equipment in unlabeled cases.
Bill: Oh, man, you remember that?
K.C.: How can I forget it? I mean, Bill crawled up in my ass and died, man. He was so hard on us. Everybody said, “Who is that bald headed motherfucker?” I was like, “Oh, man.” That’s how I met Bill. 1979, Teddy Pendergrass show. I think we had maybe enough time to play five minutes once we got set up. We looked like The Three Stooges up there trying to set it up. It wasn’t until later years I got to know Bill professionally.
Never Too Much: Both Jackson and Reeves worked on tours by R&B icon Luther Vandross. African American production professionals traditionally found employment on R&B tours because other genres of music most often weren’t as racially inclusive in their hiring. Press photo circa 1970.
You both have a 40-plus year perspective on the business. I’d like to know more about your strategies for having a career in a not racially diverse or inclusive business.
Bill: I’ve never had a strategy in my life. I just relied on luck and sheer unadulterated talent. Let me preface this by saying there are two businesses. There is an R&B world and then there is a pop world or, to make it more clear, there’s a Black world and there’s a white world in the concert business. When I first started out as an electrician, I did Alice Cooper, Blondie and a bunch of white acts but my first real job as a lighting director and production manager was for Teddy Pendergrass, a Black act. From there I’ve worked exclusively in the R&B world. The side of the industry I work in is not diverse at all because it’s all Black artists. I was able to advance because I had a lot of long-term relationships. I worked with Teddy for five or six years until he had his accident and then his management company also managed this new up-and-coming guy, Luther Vandross. He asked me to do Luther and that turned into 14 years. And by that point, I was pretty well established as a production manager in the R&B world.
K.C.: I was into electronics from the time I was a little kid. People stopped buying me things because I had to take it apart to see how it worked. I got my interest in music when I was young. My first concert in first or second grade, my mother and father went to see The Supremes in Atlantic City. I was blown away by the pretty Black ladies on stage. And people were into it. Eighth grade I saw Jimi Hendrix and that was where I got struck.
Wow, where’d you see him?K.C.: At Temple Stadium. I think Kansas was one of the opening acts. So I started out trying to be a percussionist and became a bass player. I was the guy in the band who fixed other people’s shit. Eventually, I stopped playing and bought audio equipment. I graduated high school and moved to California with no career path. I was blessed to have a cousin trying to start a record label. He had this thing about inhouse engineers and got me into an audio engineering class taught by Bill Lazarus at TTG Studios at McCadden and Sunset in Hollywood. I eventually became, as Bill says, a sort of Jack of all trades. The studio had a hat rack that belonged to Bill Lazarus. One day somebody asked him, “What’s up with all the hats?” And he said, “If you’re going to be successful in this business, you will learn to wear many hats. When I have a country-western act, I wear the cowboy hat.” He had a fez, a fedora, all these crazy hats. I learned to wear a lot of hats just to keep working.
Did you work in recording studios? K.C.: No, but all the skills I learned in class applied to live mixing. Bill Lazarus turned me on to a client called Cosmic Flower; on weekends I did their club shows. Later I worked with an L.A. group called Tease who had a hit called “Firestarter.” Lee Garrett was another local act I worked with. I met a tech at SIR who talked me into auditioning for L.T.D., which was Jeffrey Osborne’s group. He was the lead singer of Love, Togetherness and Devotion, and they were rehearsing to open for the Commodores’ “Platinum Tour” in 1978. They called me, I quit my job and went on the road and I haven’t stopped since.
My second year I got called to do a press showcase for The Gap Band. I set up all the backline gear, brought in a monitor system from SIR and a splitter and tied it into the club system. I mixed the monitors for the showcase and two weeks later I got a call to go out and do their promo tour, for which I drove the truck, was a guitar tech, mixed monitors, and did security.
That’s a lot of hats.K.C.: People liked my work doing backline and for a long time that’s pretty much what I was relegated to. I didn’t get back to mixing for a few years. In that course of time from The Gap Band and going back to L.T.D. twice, I did a stint with Rick James in ‘81, ‘82 Cameo, Marvin Gaye’s last tour in 1983. Sheila E., 1984. For Sheila I was a guitar tech and then the first show of “Purple Rain” our production manager quit. Because I knew Sheila from the Marvin tour, she asked if I could be the production manager until she found somebody. I ended up doing guitars for the entire “Purple Rain Tour” for Sheila as well as production manager. That’s why Tom Marzullo and I worked together on that tour. Bill was the production coordinator for Prince. And it just rolled into one thing after another.
How do you find gigs? K.C.: You learn to motivate yourself, look for opportunities and sometimes create your own. It’s not a proven method. I would look at Pollstar for the new acts coming out or if a previous one I worked for was putting something out I would get on the phone. Strong networking kept me working and also following technological innovations in the industry, things like keyboard programming. Bill and I are like fixtures that have been around long enough to where if we fit the description and if something’s available, we get a call and we’ve been blessed to keep working. It gets harder as you get older, especially when you’re in R&B market. It’s bad when you could be in a market where between the two of us, we can name every black production manager on two hands and still have fingers and a thumb left.
Bill: K.C., like myself, has worked almost exclusively in the R&B world. There’s absolutely two ecosystems. One is the white pop rock world, and the other one is the Black R&B hip-hop world.
I see a lot of white people, especially at labels and agencies, working with Black artists. Is there more diversity in live these days? K.C.: It’s a little more diverse. There’s so many whites who are involved in management and with the agents that it’s very easy for a white production manager to come and work in R&B.
Bill: But it doesn’t flow the other way. The issue here is that the top-rated, triple-A black superstars frequently have white management and tour management. But I can’t think off the top of my head of any top triple-A-rated white act that has Black management or Black tour or production management. That’s one of the issues we’re involved with nowadays is that that seems to be a one-way street. We both had sustained and fairly fruitful careers in the R&B world and I’m not mad about that. But I’m a 40-plus year guy and tour manager for 34 of those 42 years and I’ve never gotten a call from a white act for even a conversation.
Not one?Bill: Not even, “Send me your resume. We’re looking at a bunch of guys and would you mind being considered?” I have a pretty good reputation obviously because I’ve managed to survive this many years, and I’ve worked for acts with major productions – like the Luther tours. Some of those were like Broadway shows. I’ve been a production manager with video and lasers and moving pieces and having the sets designed and constructed and big budgets and multi trucks and crews with hundreds of people. It’s not like I don’t have the skills you would need on a big white pop tour. Fortunately, I do get calls from black acts, so I keep working.
K.C.: The percentages are low. The few calls that I’ve gotten – I don’t know if you remember “General Hospital” and Jack Wagner, Frisco Jones, I toured with him as a keyboard tech – keeping up with innovation and technology has its own reward. When I worked for New Kids on the Block it was as a keyboard technician.
Roadies in Arms: Joe Schafner (former production manager for Aretha Franklin), Willie Kidd (PM for New Orleans Heritage Jazz Fest), Stuart Gray (R.O.C.U. Events) and Dennis Anderson (former LD for the O’Jays)
But that’s not as lucrative as tour manager.
K.C.: No. The only actual credible position of authority I’ve ever had on a major white tour was through Tommy Marzullo, he kept me working off and for a long time. When he was a production manager for Justin Bieber he gave me a call. I eventually got promoted to the head of the props department. That was probably the best paying tour in my entire career. And the first time I’d had a position on a white tour where I was in charge of something. I was the department head. There were only six black guys on a tour with 80 people on the crew.
Did that lead to other tours? K.C.: No, that’s the point. One and done. Tommy left that organization. So when Chris Grattan came in, he brought in an entire new crew. They kept maybe three people. It’s who you know.
Bill: Everybody hires who they know. That’s why in the R&B world, everybody knows me and K.C., so we get hired. And same thing happens in the white world. A lot of white guys hire who they know, which is understandable. You got to live cheek-by-jowl with somebody for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the next couple of three months. You want to get somebody A) that you know is going to be able to do the job, and B) somebody that you can get along with. We all tend to hire who we know. At Roadies of Color, we’ve been advocating not to necessarily supplant that system but to add to it.
The first thing that happens, be they manager, tour manager, production manager or whoever is doing the hiring, they call the guys they know and worked with before. But if he’s not available they typically ask the person they know if there’s somebody he could recommend. And what we’re trying to say is, when that situation arises, dig a little deeper. Look a little harder for qualified people to fill that position. It’s not like, “Well, no, you can’t hire your favorite monitor engineer that you’ve done 92 tours with.” If that’s your guy, and he’s available, yes, go get him. But if your guy’s not available, rather than take blindly the recommendation of your guy, look a little harder and investigate other areas of talent. Maybe you’ll stumble across a black guy or a woman or somebody else that is equally as talented and qualified and used to being on the road and knows how to get along.
How did Roadies of Color United International Start? K.C.: For me it started when Crewspace came out in 2009. I thought it was the greatest thing to ever happen. It was like the first large-scale industry-related social network platform to come out. It was not Facebook or anything like that. You either had to be recommended or you could apply. There were these promises of jobs, opportunity, networking. I thought it was fantastic. One day I sat down, Bill and I, and we started clicking through the membership. And maybe you would go through like 100 profiles and see one minority. You go through another 150 profiles and see another minority. It was a very small representation. And when I recommended people I was questioned about them. And then with the trade magazines, we’ve had conversations about the Parnelli Awards [founded by FOH and PLSN magazines] and the lack of diversity. There was no coverage of any real R&B shows unless they were like super-mega shows. The nominees for the Parnellis were mostly white people. Occasionally a Benny Collins, or Malcolm Weldon. I could almost name everybody of color that actually ever won a Parnelli.
That’s pretty sad.Bill: Don’t forget Kyle.K.C.: Right, Kyle Hamilton just won year before last. Shaheem Litchmore was just nominated but didn’t win. Bill: And where it started for me was this conversation K.C. and I had about PLSN, which we both get and read religiously. As do we all, because it’s the trade magazine of choice particularly for touring guys. We were saying if you were an alien and you came down to earth and didn’t know anything about nothing and picked up PLSN, you would think that the entertainment industry, in particular the touring business, was populated exclusively by white people. And really, a very small collection of white people because the same names kept popping up all the time in the articles and shows and features and awards. But yet there’s this whole other world, the R&B world, which is pretty extensive. I mean, for roadies of color, we’ve got over 1,000 people in our membership.
So when did Roadies of Color start?K.C.: March of 2009. We had the conversation about Crewspace and the lack of diversity in trade publications and the social networking thing was hot and Bill and I were involved in live streaming, running an internet TV network for almost 10 years, so we decided to start our own social network. Our model was what side of the dollar bill do you look at when you spend it? It was on the Name Platform and you could have your own separate profile pages, people can post, it had common areas, a messaging board – all the bells and whistles. We stayed on the platform until like 2016 and then made a Facebook group page, which is where our social network resides. In addition, we have a website. In the latter part of 2016 we maybe had 300 members. On Facebook our membership went from 350 to over 800. Three weeks ago we just finally got our thousandth member. We celebrated our 10th anniversary in February and had a very successful 10th anniversary and conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
How many people came? Bill: About 120 with the staff and everything.
K.C.: We had roundtables, panel discussions, a great banquet, and introduced our own award series. We introduced what we call the Lennys, named after a well-known R&B carpenter, Lenny Guice who was the original roadie for the Commodores. We had 10 categories we presented awards for. We’ll probably have something virtual or a series of virtual events for 2021.
Have you seen any results?
Bill: Well there aren’t any tours now.
K.C.: We technically are a social network, and are in the process of becoming a 501C(6), a professional association creating a national database of professionals of color. Keep in mind, one of the things we are advocates of is diversity and inclusion. If you go to our Facebook social network group, probably, at this point, we’re about 15% white and you’ll recognize the faces and names, they’re supporters of what we’re trying to do. One of the things we hear quite often is, “We don’t know where to find qualified people of color.” We want to address that and are creating a database of anybody who is a member or associate member of Roadies Of Color United International. The criteria is simple: You need to have a minimum of two years of cumulative road experience and you’ll go through a vetting process to make sure that you’re qualified. We’re going into some partnerships with Event Safety Alliance and the Show Makers Symposium to even the playing field. People who don’t have two-years experience can come in as associate members and can enroll in training. We want to reach out to colleges, historically black colleges in particular, to offer mentorships and create relationships with vendors and manufacturers to get these guys trained because it’s going to be about the next generation.
PM Cardie BAction Panel Shot: David ‘5-1’ Norman, Bill Reeves and Ronnie Stephenson during the tour management seminar Has consolidation in the last two decades, where things are more corporate and professionalized and where so much is at stake, made it less racist, sexist, or homophobic because there’s too much at stake?
Bill: Yes, it’s gotten way more corporate but I would disagree that it’s harder to be racist or homophobic. It’s still easy to be racist or homophobic. This business doesn’t have the controls the rest of corporate America has. We don’t have an HR department on tour. If someone is feeling discriminated against, either because of race or gender, what do they do? Who do they complain to? What mechanism exists to lodge a formal complaint or to even sue somebody? And even if you are so incredibly enraged and determine that you are going to sue the artist or the production company – and this has happened a couple of times – but then they never work again. We’re all afraid of being blackballed.
Do the promoters have any culpability if there’s an issue with a production company? Bill: No, the promoters are legally firewalled from liability. Because in all the contracts it’s made very clear that the artist is not an employee, that the artist is being hired for this one job. So there’s no culpability. And then if you’re working for the artist, if you’re on the crew, even though you’re an employee, there’s still no mechanism.
K.C.: They want it to be corporate or want you to act corporate but there’s no corporate structure to protect your ass when you’re out there. That’s the long and the short of it.
There’s been diversity rider proposals in TV & film productions, could that happen in live?Bill: The one thing we’ve discussed is that when we’re hiring, we have the power of the purse. So that when we need a sound company, we should be able to tell the sound company you want to be considered for this job, you have to send me a diverse crew. If you don’t have a diverse crew, you’re not going to be able to get this money that I got to spend.
K.C.: We’ve been building towards a foundation to come back at the industry with. One of the nice things that’s happened over the last couple of weeks, and having an audience with you, is we’ve spoken to Front of House Magazine, PLSN, representation on Tour Management 101 and we’re actually going to do something with Live Nation next week – so we’re starting to get included in some conversations. People are taking the time to hear us. The management for a very large act wants to sit down and talk with us and their production people about diversity.So this is just the tip of the iceberg.
K.C.: You’ve got to start somewhere and this is our part of the start. A lot of it’s going to come down to economics. Until the Beyoncés, the Janet Jacksons, the Jay-Zs, until they put their foot down or until you can get them involved in supporting a lot of the things we’re saying on the production side, it comes down to economics. We can bitch, moan, scream and holler, but this is one of those businesses that I learned the hard way that the show always goes on.