Industry Profile: Max Loubiere
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Max Loubiere, Tour Director.
For over three decades, Max Loubiere has worked in production-related touring jobs with such artists as Billy Joel (being his tour director since 1989), Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, Boston and others.
Jackson Browne’s road epic "The Load-Out,” from his 1977 album “Running on Empty,” paid tribute to his roadies; but today’s tour crews remain largely unheralded road warriors with practically no industry recognition; and with very few retirement benefits.
Major music tours tend to be long; the hours irregular; and everyone involved is under tremendous pressure to see that all shows run as smoothly as possible.
In this setting, New Orleans-based Loubiere oversees all aspects of a tour; including dealing with any needs of the artist and backing members; and managing road crew personnel.
Prior to a tour, he works with the act’s management and booking agent in order to map out the routing and venue locations and the schedule; while planning out the accommodations, security, and transportation—and even developing plans for inevitable problems that may arise.
He also co-ordinates appearances, radio visits, interviews, and any promotions by the artist for each tour stop.
Anything that goes wrong out on the road, and needs fixing, soft-spoken Loubiere will quickly figure it out.
How long have you worked in the music business?
I have been in the music business since I got out of high school; pretty much since I started college in 1972.
Billy Joel is off the road for awhile?
He’s off the road right now. I don’t know when or if we are going to do another concert (tour) but I suspect that we will. We recently did four evenings of Questions & Answer (Lectures) in Florida--four college gigs not advertised to the public. What he tries to do is to get the people in the audience to use his vast knowledge of the music business by asking him questions. Not only about his lyrics or his music, but to ask him about the business in general. To ask him about the record business--if there’s a record business anymore--and to ask him about artist management.
Billy’s management troubles in his career are legendary.
I’m sure if somebody said, “Okay Billy, what happened with you and your managers? You don’t seem to be the right one to pick managers.” That he would answer it (the question). Billy has recovered from all of that. He’s done an incredible job with his career.
When did you start working with Billy?
In 1989. I’m 58, and Billy is 64. We’ve certainly done this long enough.
Touring takes its toll on artists but also on those people behind the curtain.
I wish what this business would do for people, and I think what we failed to do being some of the first people on the road in the business, is to have people understand that there’s no way to grow old in it (the tour business). There’s no 401Ks. Most people don’t have medical. The benefits are pretty lame. At one point we tried to set up a pool together to get insurance (for road crews). I think that needs to be done for people touring today.
There’s no old age pension for most people in the music business.
And there’s nothing for touring. For touring, you are an independent. I have been an independent employee or an independent contractor for all of these years. Unless you socked it away a bit or did some wise moves…I know that you also do get to a point of hearing, “Who wants these old people on the road?”
So it’s important to save or invest for retirement.
That’s tough. I hope that the younger people realize that.
Obviously, close friendships form with the people that you work with.
Yeah. I still work with today with Bobby Thrasher, the production manager for Billy that I met on Bruce Springsteen’s tours in the 1980s.
Prior to being with Billy, you had worked with Bruce Springsteen as a production road manager. How did you make the switch? In what capacity did you start with Billy?
I started with Billy as tour manager; working for a guy who I eventually took his place; and then I became tour director; my title until present. But I had to make to make a choice while on that (Springsteen) Human Touch/Lucky Town tour. Billy was gearing up. I had gone out with Billy in ’89 and ’90 on Storm Front, and he was gearing up to do another thing; another tour or something like that. I had to make a choice.
You chose to go with Billy. Why?
Because at that time Billy had severed all relationships with his management. He had fired his manager and all of those people in 1989. My position with him was that I would be working directly with him, his agent Dennis Arfa, his accountants, and his lawyer. That afforded me an opportunity to do more than I could have done with Bruce. George Travis had that (tour director) position. That position I got with Billy was me and the artist, and his inner circle of lawyer, accountant and no manager. That was pretty cool.
[In 1989, prior to his album “Storm Front” being released, Billy Joel took direct control of his business affairs--he fired his manager, former brother-in-law Frank Weber. He subsequently sued Weber for $90 million, claiming fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. In 1990, Joel was awarded $2 million in a partial judgment against Weber; and a $30 million countersuit filed by Weber was dismissed by the court.]
A learning curve in transforming to this new job?
I think the learning curve started when George put me into the road manager (position) for the Born In The U.S.A. Tour, and then I did a road management gig with Ringo (Starr) & His All-Star Band, the first tour that he did (in 1989). Then we did the Tunnel of Love Tour. I was the road manager on that for the band. I learned a lot from George. I learned about logistics, about venues, the production side of (touring), and sizing up the artist.
Did you become tight with Bruce Springsteen?
I never got close to Bruce--that close to Bruce--as close as I am to Billy.
With Billy, everyone around him immediately becomes family.
Exactly. And I still am. He’s family. And we all became family on that tour. I have pretty much stayed with Billy since ’89, and I have not toured (extensively) with anybody else. I did a few little odd things; like with Mariah Carey going to Japan. But most of my time has been with Billy.
You just missed the Soviet Union tour with Billy.
Yeah. I was almost on that one. I was actually hired for that one, and bumped off at the very last minute for another person, which is fine. I wish I had been on that tour because I know that it was an exciting time to go there. I’m sorry about it. But it worked out for the best.
[In 1987, Billy Joel became one of the first American rock acts to play in the Soviet Union since the Berlin Wall went up. There were performances in Moscow, Leningrad and Tbilisi.]
Billy has had innumerable career triumphs; including his unprecedented 12 sold-out concert run at Madison Square Garden in 2006.
Oh yeah. Twelve sell-outs.
[Billy Joel’s stint of 12 sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden in 2006 broke a previous record set by Bruce Springsteen who had played 10 sold-out shows there. In 2006, Joel released “12 Gardens Live,” a double album featuring 32 recordings from the shows.]
Is it easier or harder when a show stays in one location?
It makes it easier, actually. We like to stay in one place. The tickets become harder to deal with. After awhile, your guest list increases. But sitting in Madison Square Garden for 12 shows was wonderful.
Billy also sold out 10 concerts at the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut in 2008. A casino gig.
That was a cool one. Mohegan was a fun gig; but the way that we got there was even more fun because Billy had a house in Sag Harbor (New York), and we would take his boat across to Connecticut to get to the gig. Sometimes, we’d take the boat back or take the helicopter back; whatever we felt like doing. That was a good gig. We came back every night. We stayed inside Sag Harbor the whole time.
Billy’s pair of performances at Shea Stadium in 2008, before its demolition, were very emotional; especially the final show.
It was very emotional. Getting all of those artists together at one time was a challenge. But it all went by pretty quick. Even to get Paul McCartney to come at the very last minute I might add. He was on a British Airways flight. Everybody pulled together and used resources to see how we could get him to land quicker--air marshals; air traffic control; all trying to get the airplane to land on time. We organized a quick run-through customs and immigration; and we had a police escort to meet him and whisk him away to the stadium.
All the time, Billy was on stage. He wasn’t really sure if Paul was going to make it or not because when he went on Paul was still in the air. We organized that pretty well and, with the help of a lot of different people, we got him there.
[On July 16th and 18th, 2008, Billy Joel played the final music concerts at Shea Stadium in Queens before its demolition. Guests included Tony Bennett, Don Henley, John Mayer, John Mellancamp, Steven Tyler, Roger Daltrey, Garth Brooks, and Paul McCartney who ended the show with a reference to his own performance there with the Beatles in 1965. The concerts were featured in the 2010 documentary film “Last Play at Shea.” The CD and DVD of the show, “Live at Shea Stadium” were released in 2011.]
Had you met Paul McCartney previously?
I had met him before casually but to be standing next to him; and him bringing his guitar; and one of the guys on the crew using a butter knife to change a string on it because he had to get up there, and play; and hearing that Billy wants to play this and Paul doesn’t want to play this; going back and forth to the stage to tell Billy what Paul wanted to play--it was all a challenge.
But it was awesome.
The moment Paul walked out on the stage, you just got goose bumps. He was incredible. Billy was just blown away. That’s probably one of the high times of his life because he so admired the Beatles. We all did. And to have Paul on the stage was amazing. Somebody brought this little star badge that Ringo had worn on his jacket when he played there (with the Beatles). Billy wore it the whole time. If you look at the concert footage; and if you see the star, that’s what they wore at Shea Stadium.
[In accordance with New York City law, Shea Stadium was dismantled, rather than imploded. The company with the rights to sell memorabilia was given two weeks after the final game to remove seats, signage and other potentially saleable/collectable items before demolition was to begin. After salvaging operations concluded, demolition of the ballpark began on Oct. 14, 2008. On Jan. 31, 2009, New Yorkers came to Shea for one final farewell. The last remaining section of seats was demolished, and the remaining section of ramps was torn down Feb. 18, 2009.]
From 1994 to 2010, Billy Joel and Elton John toured the popular Face To Face series. Offstage, Billy and Elton are so different.
On walking into Elton’s dressing room, he’s got carpet laid out; these Persian-looking rugs; a million sunglasses; a million pairs of shoes; candles burning all over; and flowers everywhere. We are like a locker room. Billy used to only wear black Armani suits. Elton, as you know, is not into the black look; the bankers look if you will.
That was a fun run?
We enjoyed working with them. They were very interesting. It was two different organizations that we melded together, and we did some incredible shows.
It was originally Billy’s idea to team up with Elton. Was the pairing logistically difficult to put in place?
The initial time of putting it together was challenging--thinking of the name of the tour, and who was going to do what. Elton had Keith Bradley who was my counterpart (as tour director for Elton John). We just put together a team of joint personnel that worked for both of them; and then they had their core people, and we had our core people.
Billy and Elton doing each other’s songs was great. Elton singing “New York State Of Mind” was cool.
Yeah, that was really cool. It worked. The chemistry worked. As different as these two were offstage; onstage, it worked beyond belief.
Because of their love of music?
Yeah, the love of music. I think it was driven by their love of music, and the mutual respect for each other as piano players and composer/artists.
A major music tour is akin to moving a city every few days.
Yes, it’s like moving a small city.
How far in advance of a major national tour do you start preparations?
Let’s just use Billy as an example. Once we decide we are going to do something we start booking the cities or looking at the cities or the routing with management. “Okay, we are going to go here. Let’s start doing the advance on ticket holds. What’s the ticket price going to be? The advertisements? The logistics of getting there? How many days off do we need between shows? How many shows a week can Billy do? Let’s route the tour so we can be based in a certain city. Let’s not use a dart board to route the thing.” In the later years, we started basing ourselves (regionally) out of cities.
Does your business degree come in handy in overseeing tour logistics?
Sure (laughing). But today’s tours are pretty much settled before you get there. It’s not like it used to be. It’s not as fun as it used to be. I miss the days of going in, and seeing Jack Boyle (retired co-founder of Cellar Door Productions in Washington, D.C.). You still see (promoter veterans) Wilson Howard, and Don Law and all of the (regional) people that used to be there.
How do you book hotels?
We go to places that we know, and we have had good times with. I know a lot of different hotels in different cities that we go back to for repeat business. If I’m doing a tour, I know where Billy wants to stay; and I know where the band wants to stay. I will pick the hotel. That’s one thing that Billy depends on me for--to put him where he wants to be.
With the spate of recent stage collapses, has stage construction become a greater concern?
I don’t know what happened with those stages that collapsed--what the problem was. It’s unfortunate these stages collapsed, and I’m not sure if it’s weather related or construction quality. In our situation, we trust it to be very safe before we go up there. We trust Bobby. I have to place our trust in the hands of or production manager. But I will tell you one thing, that if there’s any inclement weather, we’re not going on; and we are not doing the show.
Security is often a major concern as well.
Yes, it is a big concern. If you surround yourself with people who are competent enough, then you don’t have to worry about it. Everything gets done. It’s funny that with the four colleges that I just did with Billy, I didn’t really bring security with me, and the colleges did a great job. But every time we landed somewhere, there were always this group of professional autograph hounds. They knew that we were landing there.
We would fly in privately into, say, Gainesville, Florida. Now how the hell do these guys know that we are on a plane landing right there? And then, they chase you down. They follow you in a car. Stop at a red light, and they are banging on the windows for an autograph. Billy doesn’t mind signing autographs for fans, but these professionals make it awful for the fans.
A new phenomenon?
I don’t think that’s new. But I think that it's gotten worse with the internet, and with eBay and all of that (memorabilia) business. Professionals come up to Billy, and try to get him to sign a guitar fret. He doesn’t even play guitar.
People can track celebrities via Twitter and texting each other.
By flight status too. I told Billy that I didn’t think anyone was broadcasting that we are coming but there’s a way to figure it out. You are coming into Gainesville? They know you fly privately. How many people are flying privately into this airport?
What sets your radar off that there might be a potential problem with a crowd of onlookers?
Usually, if we are getting ready to leave a venue, I will walk around outside, and I can see people kind of hiding in the cracks. For the last gig that we did in St. Pete’s (St. Petersburg, Florida), I had a police escort take us out of there because there were a lot of people out there. In St. Pete’s of all places. It was a college gig that we were doing; and (the event) wasn’t even advertised off college but there must have been 25 or 30 people trying to get these stacks of albums signed.
It becomes a dangerous situation because people will literally chase you; and if you stop at a red light, they will jump out, and start banging on the car windows.
You went to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge where you were involved in the production of concerts throughout the ‘70s.
I was taking business administration. In order to pay my way through school, I accepted a job at the LSU Assembly Center (renamed The Pete Maravich Assembly Center in memory of Tiger basketball legend Pete Maravich after his death in 1988) which was the arena where the concerts were coming. I became a stage hand there. I did all the grunt work. I ran spotlights during the shows. I saw a lot of terrific acts come through like Led Zeppelin; Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue; probably Billy Joel; and Springsteen probably came through at the time. This would be from ’72 to ’77.
A great era musically.
I remember listening to Cat Stevens doing a sound check. I loved his music. Joni Mitchell played there as did Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Commodores. I can’t remember all the people that came through. Anybody big that was doing arena shows in the early ‘70s--we usually worked the shows if they came through Baton Rouge.
Pace Concerts’ Louis Messina promoting the shows?
It was Louis, and Don Fox (Beaver Productions) who had Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Z.Z. Top, and others.
Baton Rouge was then a major live music market.
Baton Rouge was a pretty good concert town at that time. It was a key market. When you go back to those guys, Louis Messina and others; the day when we had (regional) promoters, it was different.
Before consolidation, each regional promoter had their own fiefdom.
Correct. I liked it then. And (Don) Fox is still one of the only independents around that I know of. He did Katy Perry’s tour, and he did Dylan too. Dylan came through Fox.
How did you make the jump to working nationally?
When I graduated from college I was really liking the (live music) business. I didn’t know how to get on the road. A friend of mine Lyle Centola, who worked with me at the Assembly Centre, went out first as a rigger with Genesis and all of these people. He went all over the place as a rigger. I went to work for a local band Louisiana’s LeRoux. I knew the road manager Danny Kertacy. He was my roommate after I graduated college. I ended up doing the lighting for them. We were opening up for Kansas which was pretty cool.
I didn’t do a lot with Louisiana’s LeRoux. I bounced around. I worked for a spotlight company that rented spotlights out. Then I moved to New Orleans and went to work at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans for quite awhile, on and off. I worked a lot of Broadway shows which was pretty cool.
With a business degree, why didn’t you go into artist management?
Well, I tried to be a promoter. I did try that side of the music business before I ended up on the road with acts. The promoter part was kind of fun. I did a couple a couple of shows. Small shows like with Fats Domino. Barely breaking even. I did a country show, Mel Tillis and Tom T. Hall together. I took a little bath on that one. I didn’t know the control that Fox, and Louis and Pace Concerts had. I remember trying to book Linda Ronstadt and her manager (Peter Asher) said, “She can’t do that, man. She’s got all of these other guys that are doing that.”
So my promoter days were short-lived. That’s when I came to New Orleans, and I decided to work at the Saenger Theater for awhile. I got into the Broadway shows, and I really thought about going on the road with a Broadway show. But as far as getting into management, it never occurred to me. I was the grunt working at the LSU Assembly Center. I was young. It was a new business, and touring was relatively new. It just never occurred to me to pursue management.
Bands would then only do three or four week runs.
And that was it. You are right. (In 1979) Lyle Centola called me to go out on the road with him as a rigger on the New Barbarians (tour) with Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards. We did 30 days or something. It seemed like we did a show every night. It was a whirlwind tour that was pretty quick.
It’s funny but a lot of the people that I met on that tour, I’ve continued working with. We all ended up working different tours together, but that was the first one. Richard Fernandez was the tour manager. Mickey Heyes, who was working for Ronnie Wood, has been my tour assistant for the past 15 years or so. Rigging was hanging all of the cables from the ceiling.
[The New Barbarians was formed and led by guitarist Ronnie Wood, primarily to promote his album “Gimme Some Neck.” The line-up included Keith Richards, bassist Stanley Clarke, saxophonist Bobby Keys, and drummer Joseph Zigaboo Modeliste of The Meters, and former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan. The band debuted as the Rolling Stones' support act at two charity concerts at the Oshawa Civic Auditorium in Oshawa, Ontario on April 22, 1979, fulfilling one of the conditions of Richards' 1978 Canadian sentence for possession of heroin.]
How did you come to work with Bruce Springsteen in the early ‘80s?
That came with “The River” tour (in 1980 and 1981). That came about because I was rigging with Lyle (Centola) as well; and he brought me onto Bruce’s tour as well.
A pivotal time in Bruce Springsteen’s career.
It was awesome. George (Springsteen tour director George Travis) was awesome to work with and taught us all a lot about the business. As well, Bruce was awesome to work for too. That was during the time that he was becoming a superstar.
You were a production manager…
Nah nah, I was a rigger. I started out with Bruce doing rigging; being ground rigger mainly, and then doing carpentry. I put the marley (Harlequin Reversible double-sided portable flooring called a “marley floor”) on the stage and stuff like that. We did a little bit of everything. In those days, everybody helped each other. I was not on the band side yet. That didn’t come until later on. That came on Born In The U.S.A. I moved to being a road manager. For Born In The U.S.A, Chris Chappel was the road manager; George was the tour manager; and I was the production road manager. I think that they made up a title for me to deal with all of the logistics on the crew side, and helping with the band as well.
That was when Bruce’s popularity soared.
That Born In The U.S.A. tour was huge, and it was a lot of fun. We went everywhere with it. My present day wife came out with us. She was doing merchandising until she got tired of the road. She’s not a road warrior. But that tour was just a lot of fun. It was a lot of work and when you are young you could do overnighters and stuff that I couldn’t even think about right now. An overnighter? Are you kidding me? An overnighter is when we have a day off in between a show.
When you are young, the road is appealing.
The money was good, and you know what? It was fun. I was out doing something that was fun. It was a different sort of thing, and we made decent money. Riggers got paid a lot more money at that point than anybody else in the crew.
Because you had to climb in the ceiling.
Were you in good physical shape?
I was in good shape but I was not physically strong enough to become a (longtime) rigger. It wasn’t the heights that bothered me. I remember in 1978, we rigged the Rolling Stones in the Superdome here, and that’s 300 feet. It wasn’t the heights; it was the weight. It was pulling that weight up. I wasn’t strong enough. I probably weighed 130 pounds at that time. Five foot seven with shoes on and 130 is not going to be pulling up these two ton chain motors. All of these tours had a lot of speakers hanging. That was the beginning of getting (speakers) off the stage.
I worked on and off with Bruce probably until 1992.
Did that include touring overseas?
Yeah. We went everywhere.
Touring overseas can be challenging.
You just go there with the attitude of this is what you’ve got. One time in Italy, we looked at the ticket, and there was no ticket price on the ticket. So we asked the promoter why there was no ticket price on the ticket. He said, “Well frankly we see no need.” Okay, whatever.
I did shows overseas when I did Amnesty International in 1988 with Bruce, Peter Gabriel and Tracy Chapman. We played a show on every continent except Antarctica I think. We had two fat DC-9s; one for the personnel, and one for the equipment. Bobby Thrasher was doing a lot of the logistics for the equipment which had to be a nightmare. Chris Chappel, myself and others were dealing with logistics of moving the artists around.
One of the strangest places that we went was Abidjan, Africa. That was a challenge. Delhi, India was too.
Let’s talk wine. You own a wine company Neat Wines, and you have an interest in the Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn.
I got into the wine business in 2005. I was looking for something to grow old doing. Mark Snyder was a guitar tech that was on the road with us with Ringo and Billy. We became really good friends. He was starting a wine (distribution) business in New York called Angels’ Share Wines. He said, “You should think about doing this. What are you going to do when Billy quits touring?”
“I don’t know. I hope he never does that.”
So Mark told me how easy it was to sell wine. “Boutique wines, they will sell themselves.” Well, I believed him, and I started Neat Wines in 2005 which I worked myself.
I started learning about California wines. I went out to Napa and met some of the down-to-earth farmers and winemakers there. When I went out there, I expected to see a lot of rich people; the beautiful people. What I found there were the salt-of-the-earth, and really wonderful people.
I started doing that in 2005. In the interim I got hit by Katrina. I lost my house in Lakeview. My house had eight feet of water in the inside; and I was five feet off the ground. So I evacuated to Florida for four months and lived in Destin in the Panhandle. My kids and my wife wanted to come back (to Louisiana). We came back and lived in a friend’s house for awhile.
In 2006, I bought the house I presently live in at a higher price than pre-storm because it’s on higher ground. I began to rebuild the wine business. It’s a very successful business today. Mark and I are partners today. I have a little of Red Hook Winery which takes the grapes from Long Island, the North Fork of Long Island (home of 38 wineries, and plenty of churches and farms). We use two Napa winemakers, Bob Foley, and Abe Schoener, to make the wines. We make some good wine.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”