Tour Tales | K.C. Jackson on Andre Harrell and Heavy D show memories, being fired onstage by Rick James, and more…
“In the case of Andre Harrell, I had the privilege of working for Heavy D & The Boys on his first tour,” Jackson said. “He was instructional in grooming Hev…”
Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Lance K.C. Jackson has been on tour since helping The Commodores out on their “Platinum Tour” from in 1978. Over the next 40-plus years, he’s taken treks with superstars like Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige, Rick James, Luther Vandross, and others who have forever left their mark on popular music.
“In the case of Andre Harrell, I had the privilege of working for Heavy D & The Boys on his first tour. Andre would come to some of the major shows,” Jackson remembers. “He was instructional in grooming Hev. Andre had a bit of a challenge because Heavy D had a big heart and brought a lot of people he grew up with on the road with him to try to bring them up and share in his success.”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the Roadies of Color United co-founder discusses the current state of diversity in the touring industry, feuding with Rick James, and getting marital advice from Marvin Gaye.
As a guitar tech for Rick James on the “Garden of Love Tour” and the “Bustin Out Tour” in the 1980s, you had to make sure everything with the instruments were right before a show. Did you ever have any issues with that?
Something did happen that ended up costing me my job. It was actually my first firing and unfortunately; it happened in front of 20,000 people onstage during a show. He actually did it over the microphone. It was probably one of the most humiliating experiences I’ve ever had in my entire career. It stemmed back to an individual I worked with on the tour who didn’t like me. Everything onstage goes through a sound system that’s separate from what the audience listens to. Unbeknownst to me, the monitor engineer didn’t like me and when it was time to give Rick his guitar or bass during soundcheck, all of a sudden there would be issues. The sound would be intermittent. It would stop and start. Every time I would go over to check something, I wouldn’t touch everything, and everything would be OK.
One day, I looked over to where this gentleman was operating the board and noticed that he was deliberately turning the channel to the bass off and on. I confronted him and he basically told me he was trying to get me fired. I said, “What if I tell Rick you’re doing this?” He said, “Go tell Rick. The worst thing that’ll happen to me is they’ll fire me and I’ll go on another tour. If I get you fired, how long will it take for you to get another tour?” So, I told him, “Well, how about if I rough you up” for lack of better words. Well, during the show, one of Rick’s wireless units stopped working and we had a backup cord system where you can plug a cord in, press a switch, and it’ll switch from the wireless system to the cord system. I did that, everything was fine, and Rick started to walk away.
That cord was about a 25-foot cable and as he’s walking away, the bass player Oscar Austin stepped on the cable. Rick was moving sort of fast. I saw what was going on, I ran over to Oscar, had the cord in one hand and I was tapping Oscar’s ankle with the other end. But, the cable ran out and it sort of yanked Rick because he was moving so fast. When he turned around, all he saw was me with the cable in my hand. He blew up. He said, “K.C. get your motherf**king ass off my motherf**king stage now” over the microphone. I left the stage perplexed about what I would do now. The road manager for Cameo, who was the opening act on that tour, came over and said, “I saw exactly what happened. How would you like to be on the stage tomorrow? Larry Blackmon is authorizing me to hire you to work for Cameo.” I got hired after that firing and got to continue on that tour with Cameo.
It had to be weird to see Rick James every day after he fired you.
[It] got intense and to the point where I wasn’t allowed in the venue when Rick would go onstage. He was a little upset that it went down like that. It was at least five years since he and I came to terms, spoke, and sort of made up.
You also worked on Marvin Gaye’s final tour, “The Midnight Love Tour.” What was that like?
I actually turned that tour down when it was offered to me because I was trying to get out of the business in 1983. The person I turned it down to called me and said, “You didn’t even ask who it was. It’s Marvin Gaye. He’s making a comeback and he specifically asked for you.” I had to sit down and take a breather. They told me when I got the job that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he died almost a year to the date that I got that gig. He also was the person who talked to me and my wife into getting married. We got married on December 30, 1983.
How’d he do that?
He met my fiancee at a hotel we were staying at. I had a problem at a room, so I went to check on a room that we were going to check into. Meanwhile, he passed through the lobby while my wife was there waiting for me. He stopped, spoke with her for a few minutes. A little later that evening, he called me to his room, and we had a big in-depth conversation about my relationship. He was under the impression I was married already. I had lived with my fiancee for seven years, but weren’t married at the time. He made me promise him that I would marry her, and I kept my promise.
What was the strangest rider you’ve ever seen?
When I worked for R. Kelly, he would have a bed put into his dressing room. He was very specific about the type of sheets and linen that would go on the bed. Every show that we did, they would put a king-sized bed in a dressing room.
Would it always fit?
They would make it fit. Also, when I worked for Luther Vandross, he wanted all the air conditioner vents in the area where he’d be to be covered up. There couldn’t be any air conditioning. It could be 100 degrees outside and when you went in his dressing room, it was going to feel like a sauna. That was one of his conditions to sing. Another thing he would do that was specific to his rider was all the toilet seats that he was going to use had to be replaced with new toilet seats.
In the 1990s, you worked on Mary J. Blige’s “The Mary Show Tour.” That’s prime Mary. What involvement did she have in the stage show?
She had quite a bit of involvement in the stage show. The tour was appropriately named “The Mary Show” because it was about her. It was a talent-driven show. There weren’t a lot of bells and whistles. It was mostly about her and her ability to sing. I gave her heads up about time to hit the stage, made her aware of the time onstage if it looked like we were going to go over, and she was somewhat approachable.
You also worked with Chris Brown from 2015-2017 as head prop master. What was your day-to-day like on the road with him?
The set we carried had dressing and changing rooms that were integrated into the set, so my routine with my assistant was building those quick changes into the set. We had a rolling stage that would be built at one end of the arena while lights are prepped at the other end. Once the full thing was built, it would roll across the floor underneath the lighting rig.
What did you notice about his rehearsals?
He was pretty meticulous with the choreography. He had a lot of input into that. I sort of appreciated that to a certain degree.
You also worked on his first headlining tour in 2006. What difference did you notice?
One of the things that surprised me was that he remembered me. He actually stopped one day, spoke with me, and welcomed me back to the camp. He had matured. One of the things I noticed was he was approachable, but the management in place made it where you didn’t just go over and talk to Chris. If you needed to communicate with Chris, you had to talk to someone who would talk to Chris, and then he would get back to you. He might acknowledge you and speak with you in passing, but it wasn’t appropriate to go and have a conversation and chop it up with Chris.
With your long history in the music industry, have you ever crossed paths with Little Richard or Andre Harrell, both of whom passed this weekend?
For Little Richard, he lived in the Hyatt on Sunset Blvd in West L.A. through the 70s and 80s. Times that we would stay at that hotel, it was very common to run into him at the bar or in passing at the hotel. In the case of Andre Harrell, I had the privilege of working for Heavy D & The Boys on his first tour. Andre would come to some of the major shows. He was instructional in grooming Hev. Andre had a bit of a challenge because Heavy D had a big heart, and brought a lot of people he grew up with on the road with him to try to bring them up and share in his success. It was a bit of a challenge because one of those guys wasn’t disciplined like that. For me, it was awkward because I was in my mid-30s and the next oldest person wasn’t even 20 years old then. So, I was experiencing a generational gap there. There were these wild guys that were on the tour. Every day there was always something different. There were days we had police at the hotel. Hev would work with these guys.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the touring industry over the last 40+ years?
There’s more diversity. For a long time, there was this mentality that black people couldn’t do rock and roll or country. For the longest time, being able to work on the other side was a challenge. So, being able to work with New Kids On The Block, Jack Wagner, Justin Bieber, and those types of acts, is a statement that there have been some major changes in the industry in regards to diversity. We’re not there yet completely. But, it’s a major step because it’s night and day between when you work in that environment as opposed to R&B.