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.’
Prince, Alicia Keys, John Legend; and Earth, Wind and Fire are just a handful of the artists who David “5-1” Norman has helped tour the world; and seen their mercurial nature of genius up close.
“When [Prince] would walk in the building, it would be tense because he’s a musician’s musician. When he would talk to people, he would put you on your heels,” Norman told REVOLT. “On the other hand, he’d invite me down to the dressing room and talk to me like a dude. He’d ask me, ‘Who’s your favorite basketball team? What do you feel about religion?’”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Norman discusses Alicia Keys touring with Beyonce and Missy Elliott in 2004, what he observed about Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s relationship in 2009, and Prince’s final tour with a live band in 2014. Read below.
You worked with Alicia Keys in 2004. How did you two link up?
I’m used to being interviewed [for a job] over the phone, but she requested I fly to New York to meet her face to face. Usually, I’m interviewed by the manager or agent, but she did the interview. She asked me a lot of questions. I felt I did pretty well in the interview, but you never know with people. I landed back in Atlanta and her management called to say, “We’re going to bring you on board.” I worked with her for almost two years. Two months later, we had our first show.
You worked with her on the “Verizon Ladies First Tour” in 2004 with Beyonce and Missy Elliott. That’s a powerhouse lineup. What was that like?
I was the tour manager and accountant for Alicia. Tamia went on first, then Missy, and then Alicia went on right before Beyonce. An all-female tour was great. Those ladies were killing it.
Were there any interactions between all of those artists backstage that you remember?
They all didn’t rehearse together because they didn’t appear onstage at the same time. The only stuff I’d see is in the hall before each one would go on stage. Each lady was ready to go on before her set, so it was hard for them to really interact. Plus, everyone is coming on-site at different times. So, I didn’t see a lot of it, but there was mutual respect amongst all the ladies.
In 2004, what were Alicia Keys rehearsals like?
We did rehearsals in New York first and then we did rehearsals in Florida for a day. Her music director at the time was Onree Gill, who has worked with a lot of artists. She followed his direction and vice versa. All the harmonies and stuff, she could go, “Hold up. You’re a little flat. You’re a little pitchy.” Her whole band was crazy good.
Do you remember any special fan reactions for Alicia?
I saw it more so when we were overseas in Europe and especially in Asia. They were crazy about her in Asia. She was and still is hugely popular in the states, but I noticed the crowds were crazier overseas than they were out in the states.
You two seem to have a close, friendly relationship on her 2004 “Diary World Tour.”
Yeah, we were in Dubai for a week before the show, so the promoter made arrangements for us to go dune buggying in the desert. He did this amazing dinner in the desert where they had belly dancers, hookah smoking, and camel rides. The promoter did it up. We stayed at this amazing hotel.
What was her personality like on tour?
I’m an introvert, so she would get me to be more involved and have a bit more fun. I’ve tried to not be friends with the artists I work with because I think that oversteps your boundaries. Also, with her being female, you don’t want to misread or misinterpret different signs or signals. But, she’s one of the smartest artists I’ve worked with and she’s very, very observant. So, if someone wasn’t feeling or doing well, she’d check on them. On tour, you have anywhere from 50-200 people. For an artist to be self-aware and keep tabs on her own people is pretty dope.
What’s the most memorable show you did with Alicia?
I would say the one in Dubai because the fans were crazy. We also did a show in Monaco at a casino. It was a stripped-down show and she killed it. We would do three to four shows a week. Sometimes we’d do five. That’s really hard for an artist, especially if you’re a vocalist, dancing, and playing the piano. That takes a toll on your body.
You also worked with John Legend on the “Evolver Tour” in 2009. How did you two link up?
It was through his management at the time. They called because John was going to make a change due to some things that were going on in his camp that he wanted to change. John; and Earth, Wind, and Fire are the two best acts I’ve ever worked with. They’re very smart, take care of their people, and are amazing musicians. John is the smartest artist I’ve ever worked with, hands down.
What is an example of how good John is to his people?
When I came on board, I had five particular things I wanted to accomplish to get his camp back in working order for touring. John said, “Hey, I can promise you four of those five things. The fifth thing, I can’t promise you, but I’ll work on it.” My first nine months with him were very difficult because we were cleaning house, restructuring, and at the end of that Evolver run, we were in Asia and he called me like, “I want you to set up an end of tour dinner with everyone and put it on the tour credit card.” I set it up and he came down early just to oversee everything. He was like, “I want you to sit right here.” Everyone had a great time. At the end of it, I told him, “Hey John, I want to thank you for being a man of our word.” He said, “5-1, if you don’t have your word, what do you have?” That always stuck with me.
Similar to Alicia, what did you remember about John’s rehearsals?
They were very similar. They’re both great pianists. They’re both are not natural dancers. The way they put together a show, connect with the audience, and the respect they had with one another, I think they were very similar.
Chrissy Teigen said recently that John broke up with her on that tour. What do you remember about their relationship?
Everyone at the time thought, “Oh, a singer dating a model. There’s so totally different.” I traveled with them on the bus or flew with them, and what I noticed is John is very, very quiet and introverted. Chrissy is very loud, crazy, and loves to have fun. They were really good for each other. Chrissy could bring the fun out of John and John would go, “Well, I’ll go along with this.” When Chrissy was upset, John had a way of calming her down. I could tell they were really, really in love with each other.
What are some interesting riders you’ve seen?
I used to be the production manager for Arrested Development. They’re from the south and when we were on tour, I had to advance 32 bails of hay and two lives chickens as part of their set. At the beginning of the show, we would release these chickens onstage. They would just walk around onstage and stuff. At the end of the show, we would have to catch these chickens. They wouldn’t be the same chickens each show because you’re going state to state, city to city. Nine times out of 10, the chickens would end up in the hole cut in the bass drum. They thought that was a chicken coop and would end up being in the drum. So, whatever farmer brought the chickens would reach in, grab them, put them in their cages, and we’d move on to the next city.
You were part of the Hit and Run Tour in 2014, the final Prince tour with a full band. What was that experience like?
We toured Europe with his all-girl band, 3rdeyegirl. He was one of the most maddening and frustrating artists I’ve ever worked with, but he was also one of the few artists I’ve worked with that is very, very dedicated to his show, his music, and how it’s represented. He had a sense of humor, which I really liked. When he would walk in the building, it would be tense because he’s a musician’s musician. When he would talk to people, he would put you on your heels. On the other hand, he’d invite me down to the dressing room and talk to me like a dude. He’d ask me, “Who’s your favorite basketball team? What do you feel about religion?” Other days, he’d be like, “What is going on out there? You need to go fire this person. Are you stupid? Did you not see blah, blah, blah?” He was very much into his craft.
He cared about the spectacle of his show. He wanted the band to look like rockstars because they’re a representation of him. His security always had to have suits. He wanted to be represented to the stature that he was. One of my favorite things he liked to do was scare you. He would sneak up behind you and go, “Boo!” He would drop so much wisdom.
What was the most memorable show from that tour?
We had just finished doing 11 shows in a row and were rolling into Brussels for a day off. Prince was famous for doing shows after his main shows. He’d play in a club as an afterparty sort of thing. We didn’t do any of those in the last European run. But, on our day off, he was like, “I want you to find a place where I can play tonight.” Myself, the promoter, and I think the stage manager drove around Brussels looking at venues. We would take pictures of the venues and text them back to Prince. He would say, “Nah, too dark. Nah, the stage isn’t big enough.” He said, “Hey, can you call the Botanical Gardens?” We called them and they said, “Sure.” They had this little room in the back where they did concerts and we did three shows in one night. We did a 7:30, 9:30, and a 11:15 show. We did three shows in one night after he announced the show via Twitter and it sold out. We had to drive to France the next day.
After the show, we’re wiped out. He goes, “Hey, I want to see if you could do me a favor.” I said, “Sure.” He said, “I want you to take the money from the three shows tonight and divide it among the crew guys and let them know I appreciate all the extra work they did.” I was like, “Wow, that’s something right there.”