So it's no surprise that he would be the man to head up a project compiling tour anecdotes, advice and cautionary tales, assembling them all into his book The Road Most Traveled, nor is it any surprise to see that the people he gathered together for their stories would be so impressive and varied. Billing themselves as the Camaraderie Collective, the contributions come from big names and small, from all aspects of touring.
What I wasn't prepared for was the nature of this book. Rather than simply being the assemblage of crazy, funny or depressing tales of moments in the life of musical acts, The Road Most Traveled reads more like an inspirational bit of philosophy and a handbook aimed at young musicians preparing to embark upon their own lives on the road.
While there some humorous anecdotes, like Flogging Molly's Dennis Casey's passing mentions of being left at a truck stop in a foreign country with no phone, no money and no knowledge of the local language (something that seems to happen more often than one would think, as I heard a similar story from Fishbone's Norwood Fisher), or having to use a shirt as toilet paper, or The Lonely Kings vocalist Jake Desrochers outlining the five worst experiences he suffered on the road (including offering up the sage advice, "Don’t ask an Eastern European anarchist where McDonald’s is. They get really bummed on your band."), these are few and far between, hidden among piles of wisdom from touring veterans forged through many years and many more miles.
More prominent is the advice for would-be road warriors. Bouncing Souls frontman Greg Anntonito espouses the importance of "lots of sleep and lots of water," while Al Barr of the Dropkick Murphys stresses that simply being nice is the key to getting out of the worst situtations. Hot Water Music's Joe Ginsberg explains why he goes for a run before every show, Social Distortion's Brent Harding lays down a heavy philosophy of keeping trust within the band on the road before summing up with the importance of naps ("Someone has to drive between 3:00 and 7:00 a.m."). Samiam's Sergie Loobkoff discusses the importance of "lowered expectations," and Frank Turner points out that "You make your own luck on the road," so it's important to keep track of the way you conduct yourself and what impressions you leave behind.
It's not just musicians that have been tapped to contribute, either. Hotel managers, tour managers, a bus driver and a booking agent all provide their road survival tips, ideas forged from experience in a different vein, and it's all sound and relevant.
It's a book that wasn't what I expected it to be at all; I was looking for stories of youthful excesses, tour van mishaps, and shady characters encountered at shows in various sketchy backwaters. Instead I found a book that's equal parts philosophical musings and a guide to etiquette for new bands. But rather than being bummed out by the lack of trashed dressing room stories or tales that ended with large amounts of vomit, I actually found myself taking the advice in; even if I'm not a road warrior like these guys, there is much to be said about their advice as it relates to daily life, especially being aware of the way you present yourself to others, unaware if you'll meet them again.
And while those stories of couches tossed out hotel widows or house shows leading to demolition, those are the tales of the bands of yesteryear. In today's music scene, bands that act like that don't get asked back, and they don't end up logging years on the road. Most of the folks in this book seem like really cool people, and it's readily evident that they conduct themselves as professionals and compassionate people at all times.
I've met many bands on tour over the years, and I can tell you which ones were the nicest guys, as well as which ones didn't impress me at all. And for the most part, it was how they conducted themselves rather than for their music. I've seen some horrible bands that were humble and cool, and followed them as they got better, as well as bands that were great on stage but absolute jerks offstage. I don't buy their records out of principle. These are the bands that could benefit from this book.
The book may not appeal to the casual reader looking for funny rock and roll stories, but it's an essential for performers. Before any band sets out on tour, The Road Most Traveled should be required reading. Tour managers and booking agents should keep a stock of them to hand out to their bands, and it should be an essential item in the glovebox of every tour van. It's the sort of guide to life that will make anyone on the road (and even many who aren't) step back, take stock and ask themselves "am I being the best road me I can?" as well as "did I drink enough water today?"