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Tour Tales | Victor Reed Sr. talks tours with Bobby Brown, Nicki Minaj, JAY-Z and more

In this installment of “Tour Tales,’ the longtime touring professional explains how he saved a JAY-Z set on the “Hard Knock Life Tour,” watching the birth of hip hop onstage.

JAY-Z Brian Ach/Getty Images for Something in the Water

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.’

Victor Reed Sr. has been on the road since the 1970s, and has seen the cultural explosion of Black music in real time. From Rick James and Bobby Brown to J. Cole and A$AP Rocky, Reed’s impact travels through generations.

“Back in the era of TLC and BBD (Bel Biv Devoe), that was a very influential time. All the kids were coming with pants on backward,” Reed Sr. told REVOLT. “I’m looking in the audience and I see 15,000 BBD/TLC looking kids having a ball. It just happened one summer.”

In this installment of “Tour Tales,’ the longtime touring professional explains how he saved a JAY-Z set on the “Hard Knock Life Tour,” watching the birth of hip hop onstage, and more.

You were production manager for Bobby Brown’s classic “Don’t Be Cruel Tour.” What did that entail?

When we were here in the states, it was no problem. There was a Budweiser Super Fest he started when the Don’t Be Cruel album came out. There were several artists that were on there that had chart-topping singles. So, they were headlining. He was the opening act. Back then, we toured two-three months. Before the tour was over with, Don’t Be Cruel blew up and he had to headline because no one wanted to follow him. The most challenging part of the “Don’t Be Cruel Tour” is when we took to the South Pacific rim and toured over there. Bringing the U.S. stage design over there would be cost-prohibitive. I had to design a set in each market and have it put together in Japan. They built a spec and I’d come in with tape, paint, and all kinds of stuff, and make it look like a brand new production.

Bobby did an interview where he said fans over there were tanning their skin to show support?

Yeah, they were. It was pandemonium. You have to think about it. He had “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Every Little Step,” “My Prerogative.” He could do no wrong. He was an entertainer’s entertainer. So, yes, Japanese people couldn’t get enough of Bobby Brown. So, they were doing anything Bobby was doing including making themselves look like Bobby.

You were there from the beginning of hip hop. What were live shows like back then?

We started the first date of the “Fired It Up Tour” (in 1979) and we did soundcheck. Rick was fine and everything was good. There was an opening act, which was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. I never heard of them. Their bus came back and I asked him, “Where’s your gear?” He said, “It’s under the bus.” Stagehands came with two crates of records and a couple of cables. I said, “So, where’s your gear?” He said, “This is it. I just need a table.” They put the turntables on the table, and just needed five microphones and five stands. They got the power-up and he started scratching, and they lit the stage up. That was the first time we all saw hip hop. Grandmaster Flash rocked the whole tour.

What was the thinking behind J. Cole wearing the orange jumpsuit during the “4 Your Eyez Only Tour”?

His management asked me to do a show for Cole for “What Dreams May Come Tour” in 2013 when he was doing little theater shows. They called me for the “4 Your Eyez Only Tour” and I asked, “Are y’all doing a theater tour?” They were like, “Nah, we’re doing arena tours.” Come to find out, this kid was doing sold-out arena tours. The whole jail cell part was already in place. When we went to Australia, we didn’t use the same stage design, so I had to do what I do. I had to duplicate that jail cell and whole look while being cost-effective. My company is Global Event Production Network, so I have a network of people I’ve dealt with in the last 40 years around the world. So, if I’m down in Australia and New Zealand, I know people down there I can work with and do this.

I got the drawings from the person who originally designed the set. Then, I got in contact with my people in New Zealand and Australia, and told them, ‘This is what I need to get made and I need it to be cost-effective. I’m not using steel and aluminum, so we’re going to make it out of wood. The end result was the exact jail cell that was used everywhere else. J. Cole was happy.

What was it like putting together A$AP Rocky’s “Injured Generation Tour” in 2019?

I joined before I knew what the production or anything was. Once I talked with him and met with him, I said, “Y’all got it together?” He was like, “No, we don’t have anything.” I was like, “Wait a minute.” So, I had to put the whole tour together in six weeks. The concept had the cars flying and outside of paper. No one had done anything. That was one of the most challenging tours I had to do. Usually, I’d have two or three months to do something like that. For this, I had six weeks. It was a new level of production he hadn’t dealt with before, so there were some things he had to come to grips with. My thing is, no one is getting hurt on my watch. I don’t care what you want. If it’s not safe, it’s not going to happen. Yes, you’re still the boss, but I’m not going to let it happen.

What was the most interesting rider you’ve seen?

The most demanding riders I had to deal with was Nicki’s. Her rider wasn’t like blue M&Ms and stuff like that. But, it was very heavy on dressing room requirements. Everything had to be white. Do you know how hard it is to find and maintain white curtains and all the white accessories? It wasn’t impossible, but it was challenging in certain places. You go to places like South Africa or South Pacific areas.

What’s the most memorable fan reaction you’ve seen?

Back in the era of TLC and BBD (Bel Biv Devoe), that was a very influential time. All the kids were coming with pants on backward. I’m looking in the audience and I see 15,000 BBD/TLC looking kids having a ball. It just happened one summer.

You put together Stevie Wonder’s performance at the second inauguration for President Obama?

I didn’t have to put that together, I just had to make sure what we needed in order for Stevie and the band to perform [was] in place. There’s a big machine that put the show together and we were components of that big machine. So, if there was something that we weren’t happy with, I made sure it got covered. In terms of how the show flowed, that was all with the inaugural committee. They consulted us, but we didn’t put it together. We supported it. That was a highlight of my career.

Let’s go back to the ‘90s. How did you put together the “Hard Knock Life Tour” in 1998?

It all goes back to Ron Byrd. We were rehearsing by Georgia State University, so we were about an hour out of Atlanta. I came and started putting the set together. I had a studio in Atlanta, so I brought my Pro Tools rig to rehearsal so we could get Instant Replay loaded. Maceo Price was there. We were in the building and JAY-Z was supposed to be there. 11 o’clock he didn’t show, 12 o’clock he didn’t show. At 1 o’clock, he comes in and is all focused. We started working all the way until six or seven in the morning. I said, “Oh, he got good work ethic.” I don’t want to be part of anything that doesn’t help us as a people because us being Black means we have to be better than the other guys.

We were heading to Cleveland and it was a snowstorm. Three of our six trucks didn’t make it, so I called local lighting and sound companies in Cleveland to help with those things. JAY came and I said, “Our set is not here.” He was like, “What are we going to do?” I told him, “They don’t know what your set looks like. I’m going to set up the risers, show you what we got, you go up there and rock it, and then we get out of there.” He didn’t make a fuss. He was professional. I was like, “This kid is going to go a long way.”

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