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  Industry Profile




Industry Profile: Don Neuen

— By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)

This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Don Neuen, Vice President, Entertainment Coach Division, Star Coaches, Inc.

Don Neuen knows mileage the way a baseball fan knows batting stats.

For anyone living anywhere in North America, he also knows the highways around their city or town better than they do.

And he knows where to get the cheapest gas.

Neuen is VP of Atlanta-based Star Coaches, which has provided luxury limo buses, party buses and band buses to the entertainment and corporate worlds since 1991.

This year, Star Coaches will oversee 500 tours in North America.

The company offers single and double slide out coaches, as well as specialty coaches including star-styled configurations. Its fleet of 50 luxury coaches includes Prevost H3-45, Prevost XLII, Prevost XL, MCI Renaissance, and MCI J4500 vehicles. In addition, it has several non slide Prevost H3-45 coaches with 15 bunkers.

Among its entertainment clients have been Sir Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Jermaine Dupri, Tim McGraw, North Mississippi AllStars, Semi Precious Weapons, Coheed and Cambria, Janelle MonŠe, Volbeat, Matt & Kim, NeedToBreathe, Gogol Bordello, 3OH!3, Cinderella, Insane Clown Posse, and DJs Laidback Luke, Wolfgang Gartner, Amon Tobin, Ritchie Hawtin, Benny Benassi, and Kid Koala.

Among Star Coachesí corporate clients have been BET, Coca-Cola, and ABC Sports as well as the campaigns of both President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama.

Who is the owner of Star Coaches?

Star Coaches was founded, and is owned by Danny Hamilton. He started the company in 1991 in a gravel parking lot with one bus. I drove for Danny for a while. Then I leased buses from him for a while, and drove at the same time. I ended up going to him and saying, ďWhy donít we get out of the executive coach world?Ē Not get out but expand from it into rock and roll buses? The rest is history, 50 buses ago.

Danny Hamilton, ďThe hardest working man in the luxury coach industry?Ē

He is in my opinion the most hands-on owner that Iíve ever known. Thatís not taking away from some of these great guys, like Trent (Trent Hemphill, president/CEO of Hemphill Brothers Coach), Mike Slarve (Four Seasons Coach Leasing), Patti Taylor (Taylor Tours), Jayboy (Jay Adams, Roadhouse Transportation), and Olan Witt (Coach Quarters Entertainment Transportation). Any of these other guys who own coach companies. I just know what I see.

When did you start working for Danny?

I started driving for him in the mid-90s. I had two boys that I wanted to spend a lot of time with, and I ended up coming off the road in 2000.

What size staff does Star Coaches operate with?

We have very little staff ó four mechanics, probably close to 70 drivers, and four people in the office. What we do is that we just roll up our sleeves, and we break our asses. We should probably double our staff to be honest with you. Thatís how much work that we are doing. And a lot of that is because we just donít turn down anything.

Are you available to clients 24/7?

Yeah. My wife just loves me, and puts up with that shit. Thatís what it is.

How often have you had calls from clients or drivers after midnight with an emergency?

I donít get them as much as Danny does. He gets worn out on his phone because we are running so many coaches. The calls that I have coming in the middle of the night are usually a last minute situation where somebody has broken down and they need me to find a bus for them. Dannyís the one who is dealing 24/7 with, ďI blew a radiator pipe or a hose. Iím in Shitstink, Wyoming, and I donít even see signs of life around me. What do I do?Ē

But thatís something (type of servicing) that we very much pride ourselves in. Itís primarily because when I used to drive, there were (bus) companies that I was not able to get in touch with anybody with until 8 o'clock in the morning. Itís something that we pay for dearly, especially with Danny. Heís the one getting the problem calls in the middle of the night. But we donít ever turn our cell phones off, and we always answer the calls. Itís like being a doctor on call your entire life.

You need a commercial vehicle license to operate in the United States?

First of all, the vehicle is classified as a commercial vehicle. So you do have to fall under a lot of regulations, and guidelines in regards to the Department of Transportation. The minute someone gets in the seat of a vehicle, and is paid to drive it, then it becomes a commercial vehicle. The person driving does need to have a commercial license. And they are issued by the state. For example, I live in Georgia. I have a commercial driversí license that says ďGeorgiaóCommercial Drivers License.Ē

I do know Senators Coaches in Alabama and Haljoe Coaches in Florida, as well as Nashville-based Diamond Coach, and Pioneer Coach. Is the entertainment coach world a big one?

Itís very finite. Thereís about 800 (luxury coaches) in North America. Weíve got 50.

Is there an industry association?

A couple of years ago, the owners started the Entertainer Motorcoach Council. The reason that we started that was to build unity. Iím not a big union guy, okay? Iím far too conservative to like unions. But our objective in putting together this association was first of all to fall under the auspices of the American Bus Association. Secondly, to lend credibility to its members, and place some stringent rules on ourselves as an industry. Thirdly, to have a collective voice with coach manufacturers in order to start twisting some arms to get a reduction of some rather unacceptable service when it comes to availability of parts.

Do you and your competitors share information of clients who donít pay or are destructive with vehicles?

On our website, I have a bad debt page (of) people that seem to think that we are the United States government, and they are welcome to entitlements. It doesnít work that way.

Word does get out in the community about client problems?

Yeah. Hereís the thing. Youíve got a handful of players in this industry. Weíre in Georgia, obviously. There are a couple of companies down in Florida. Thereís about 8 or 10 big companies in Nashville. Youíve got Roadhouse (Transportation) in Texas; Patti Taylor in Phoenix; and Coast to Coast in California. Thatís really it. That is sometimes problematic. If I get hit with a problem and Iím near Phoenix, I know that Patti is going to take care of me. If she goes down in Georgia (with a vehicle), she knows that she can count on me. But if you go down in Wyoming, nobodyís got a company up there.

What clients do you have going out in the next few months?

We have an enormous spectrum of clients. We do very little country because Nashville is inundated with coach companies. Financially, it doesnít make sense for them (Nashville-based artists), and thereís not a need to rob from Peter to give to Paul. We donít even go after it. We do a lot of rock and roll. We do a lot of rap. We do a lot of DJ work. We have a huge DJ clientele. And we do a lot of theatre.

DJs?

This is something that has taken off for us. Iíve been working with a company out of New York for a decade now, AM Only. They have grown quite impressively. Weíve got a wonderful relationship with this company and we do a lot of these high-end DJs, including Laidback Luke, Wolfgang Gartner, Amon Tobin, Ritchie Hawtin, Benny Benassi, and Kid Koala. A lot of these DJs, man Iím telling you, are awesome. Weíre carrying Ritchie next month.

Is there a trend these days toward shorter tours for entertainers?

Yes. Iíll do probably 500 tours this year, which is a lot of tours. Then again, you are right, you donít see the eight-month tours like we did years ago. It is falling in 30, 35, 40-day tour blocks.

Why? With music sales down, touring is where the money often is.

I think that what they (artists, managers and agents) are doing is trying to eliminate any down days in those (touring) days. Instead of spreading out 30 performance dates over 45 days, now they are doing 26 dates over 30 days.

Decades ago, a band might have a week downtime during mid-tour in Houston or somewhere.

Yeah. We donít have it anymore. A lot of the bands coming over here from Europe; they come in, they hit, and they never have a day off. They run for 30 days. I think a lot of it is ďLetís go, and do a 30 day tour. Letís do a month tour.Ē

Thereís more personnel on tours these days so off days will be hard on budgets.

The big tours, thatís for sure. We just finished the J.Lo (Jennifer Lopez) and Enrique Iglesias (North American) tour, which was massive. We had 10 buses on that. I think that Nitetrain (Coach) had one or two buses. And there was some downtime. And there was downtime deadheading (returning) across the country; three or four days here and there; and three days (of downtime) up in Montreal.

With more than a 100 people standing by such downtime expenses for hotels, food and so on mount up.

Yeah. (With touring) youíre trying to maximize revenue versus expenses. Thatís the bottom line. I have said this countless times in both interviews and to my wife when Iím talking about the stability of our industry.

One thing about the rock and roll bus industry is that itís a recession proof business. You have to work harder, but they (artists) have got to tour. They are not able to walk to their mailboxes, and pick up the checks like some of our friends from the Ď70s and the Ď80s. They have got to tour. They have to sell merchandise.

What I am seeing an enormous amount of today is putting 10 pounds of shit (luggage) into five-pound bags in a trailer because they have to get their merchandise in; and they are carrying their own backline and other things.

Meanwhile, scheduling problems, and spiraling ticket costs have made flying to shows often prohibitive.

A lot of the flying stuff is so pathetic now. Thatís another reason why the busing is working. I just got a call from a client needing to go from Phoenix to L.A. Now who in their right mind would think that Phoenix to L.A. would be nothing but a South West air ticket of about $100. They were forced into busing it.

The primary costs in touring with coaches are fuel costs, driver fees, and coach fees. Driver and coach fees are fixed costs, but fuel isnít.

For the most part, you have three big expenses in running an entertainer coach. Coach, driver, fuel, you are right. Everything else in comparison is relatively small.

Coach fees are fixed. Youíve got two days of deadhead; 60 days of touring; three days of deadhead (returning) on the back. Itís not going to change unless they extend (the tour) or for some reason the tour falls apart on them.

The drivers feesÖcertain driverís fees are fixed. Normally, the deadhead days for the driver; the tour days for the driver; and the deadhead back for the driver are fixed. The variables are going to be either overdrives or overtime and their weekly services that include generator services; interior cleaning and linen changes; and exterior coach washes or possibly trailer washes.

Overdrive is for compensation of a driver driving over a certain number of miles in a given day. Something they may not want to do for safety reasons. Do you have a maximum mileage limit?

Yeah, and itís a good thing that it has happened. Iím a former driver. I can remember 15 or 18 years ago being put in positions where I had to drive ridiculous miles because I had to get from point A to point B. Back then, nobody paid much attention to it (mileage and hours driving). Nobody did, including the Department of Transportation. It was just kind of a rule of the road. You have to get from point A to point B.

In those days, drivers did whatever was needed.

In 1981, it was the reason that I got a CDL (commercial driver's license. Back then, it was a chauffeurs license. It was because I was a monitor engineer, and our driver got sick, and I had driven large vehicles before. So, I drove the bus. I figured, ďI better get a license so I can do this legally.Ē Quite honestly, I think that it should be a perquisite that the tour manager gets a CDL for that reason.

So they can take over if the driver falls ill or is fatigued?

Anything. Anything. In my opinion a tour manager who has a CDL license would be ten-fold more marketable than one that doesnít.

Would they be insured to drive your vehicles?

We can get them binded (to insurance agreements) almost instantly. There are situations that can happen. In í81, the situation that I ran into was that our driver had food poisoning. Violent food poisoning. At the time, it was a Marshall Tucker tour. But thereís all kinds of stuff that can happen, including a ridiculously routed tour that has a drive that is excessive. Let the tour manager cover the additional drive; especially if itís just running down the interstate driving straight.

Other situations include that there are (criminal) convictions, which Canada places a much greater emphasis on than the United States that would prohibit an individual getting into Canada. I found out one night at about 3 A.M. that I had a driver who had been going in and out of Canada for years, and he got stopped going into Montreal from upper state New York in the middle of the night because 21 or 23 years ago he was cited for taking a switchblade across (the border into) Windsor.

Anyone with a DUI conviction will have a problem entering Canada as well.

A DUI (conviction) too. Any type of child support issues. Bad checks. Both countries place emphasis very much on different things. A tour manager who has a CDL with a skeleton that got past our background checksóand we conduct very extensive background checksóand heís been going in and out of Canada for five or six years. All of a sudden this particular issue pops up, and heís denied entry. Well youíve got a tour manager whoís got a CDL, we can get him binded in the middle of the night.

Any other hurdles crossing the Canada/U.S. border?

I donít know what the Canadian Commercial Driver laws are but I know that there are laws, and they have primarily have been dealt to us through NAFTA, that I must abide by with regards to accepting clients touring in Canada. I had a client contact me recently for a Canadian tour. When I first saw that in the email, my first thought was, ďI canít do your tour for you.Ē

Why not?

A United States-based coach company cannot accept a tour that picks up in Canada, tours in Canada, drops in Canada, without ever entering the United States.

Itís like city taxis not being allowed to pick passengers up at the local airport.

Exactly. The first time that I ever encountered the situation was four or five years ago with a Stars On Ice tour. They had two separate tours running. One was Canadian; and one was in the U.S. I got a call to handle the Canadian tour. I worked up the numbers and then realized I canít do this.

The flip side of this is (country singer) Michelle Wright is a Canadian citizen who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. We handled her (Canadian) Christmas tours for years. The reason that we could is that we picked her up in Nashville, and brought her back to Nashville. We could do that despite the fact that she never performed in the States. But letís say that she did a 30-day tour with 29 dates in Canada, and one in Fargo, North Dakota. That then becomes an international tour, and we can legally do it.

A widespread industry misconception about an overdrive is that itís about mileage.

Itís not. Itís about time. The entertainment coach drivers are primarily charging overdrives based on mileage when, in fact, the Department of Transportation mandates hours of operation which is 10 hours. Well, out west in Montana or Wyoming where you can run 70 mph, you can actually legally drive 700 miles (per day) if you can average 70 miles an hour the entire time that you are driving. Up in the northeast corridor (of the U.S.) you are lucky if you can get 500 miles.

A driver stuck in traffic outside of Toledo, Ohio for 40 miles has to make up time.

Exactly. But the bottom line is this; the drivers in the entertainment industry charge overdrives. The industry standard starts at 450 miles. Once they cross 450 miles they get another dayís pay. Now nobody is going to advocateóat least in my situationóIím going to split a long drive. If you have an 800 mile drive up, you are not pulling it unless you fly a co-driver in.

Do you use co-drivers often?

Yeah. I may send out 20 of them a year.

For longer tours or on tours with big distances to cover?

It doesnít matter. Itís longer drives. The co-driverís primary role is maintaining legal status with the Department of Transportation. Ultimately, quite frankly, what is even more important to me than legal status, is safety. Both of themÖitís all hand-in-hand. Bottom line is this. There are drives that you cannot make legally. So you have to do one of two things. You either have to stop and route; split the drive up and make it legal; or you have to fly in a co-driver and run it straight through and have two drivers. So therefore itís legal. Thatís the only way that you can do them.

Record-high gas and diesel prices are currently putting pressure on bottom lines in touring. In most cases, your clients pay for fuel on the road. You still have to work out fuel, drivers fees and coach fees in client proposals. A big problem?

Iím running my proposals at $4.35 a gallon. Thatís what I am running them. And yes, most of the time the clients are paying for the fuel out on the road primarily because they are able to price shop a little bit. They are able to buy in different states from time to time. For example, if a client is in Texas, and they are going through New Mexico into Arizona, my driversówho obviously know the best places to buy fuelóknow that New Mexico is running fuel at a higher rate than Arizona, then they are going to push it (the bus) through New Mexico and buy fuel in Arizona. When the client is paying for fuel out on the road they are paying with receipts and a lot of times they can get a cash discount as well; whereas, if I make it all-inclusive, in which we are paying for fuel, we are going to make sure that we donít lose money.

[U.S. retail gasoline prices, already at the highest levels on average since 2008, are expected to continue to climb as refinery and pipeline problems overshadow weakness in U.S. consumer demand. As well, there are pockets of the U.S. where the supply crunch is more pronounced. Fuel recently soared in California as supplies were low following a fire at a Chevron refinery, and power failure at an Exxon refinery in the state.]

Shows are usually booked months in advance. Any rise in fuel costs being paid by the client are their responsibility. If Star Coaches is paying agreed fuel costs along the way, does the company pick up the difference?

No, for a couple of reasons. First of all, in all of my proposals and in all of my contracts, I clearly state that fuel is an estimate. I also build a good enough relationship with clients where they know that I am not going to play games with them. I will be very candid. ďIf you want me paying for your fuel as a convenience, itís going to cost you because Iím going to make sure that we donít ever lose money; and Iím going to make sure that I can pay someone here to manage your fuel like a tour manager would; like a bean counter would be.Ē So Iím going to inflate it (fuel costs) a little bit if itís an all inclusive (deal).

The other thing is this. You can always go back and adjust numbers. When you play with your cards face up with a client, and you clearly state, ďHey look, there are plenty of fixed numbers in what Iím giving you, and they are not going to change but fuel is one of those things that is a huge variable. Within a matter of weeks we can go to a situation that I have either overestimated your fuel considerably or underestimated it.Ē Iím sure that I speak for all entertainment coach companies that most clients understand that fuel is a huge variable.

If a client is paying directly on the road for fuel, and costs rise for shows booked months in advance they are on the hook for that.

Yeah, I doubt very seriously that theyíve got any type of a clause in their contracts that say, ďWe are going to charge you more if fuel goes to five bucks a gallon.Ē It (the rise) is going to come out of some place and, ultimately, itís going to come from the client who is footing the bill for the bus.

Fuel prices tend to rise in the summer and come down in the last quarter though thatís not happening this year. Summer prices do spike when you have so many tours.

Absolutely. We are fortunate that we are running wide open pretty much year round. But you are absolutely correct. Whenever either a combination of government and speculators figure out, and oil companies figure out that they can charge more, then they are going to do it. As we all know, itís a combination of those three. For the life of me I have never been able to figure out what diesel fuel is running for. A better processed fuel? Itís all games.

What Iíve really tried to do when I am sending out proposals, and then going to contract, is make the adjustments that are needed in the first proposal that goes out, and in the last version of the contract that goes out. And also, itís something that is discussed. I talk with everybody that I do proposals for. About half of our clientele is repeat, and so they all know where I am coming from on this stuff. I do try to inflate their fuel. I inflate their estimate of fuel. I try to run it slightly higher than the national average. Not so that Star Coaches makes some weird little hidden profit. Itís so that at the end of the tour that, as long as thereís not a ridiculous jump in fuel, that the client goes, ďHey, Neuen shot me straight. I came home with $400 extra in my pocket.Ē

Also different buses have better mileage. The newer buses with emission doodads donít run as cheaply. You donít get the same mileage.

Well, you are right. Not to mention that itís a real headache for coach owners. This EPA (Environmental Protection Agency emission standards) is a real headache for us.

In what way?

Well, first of all some of the newer coaches have ReGen systems on them. The ReGen systems require you to basically burn off a lot of the carbon that builds up; but the process to do so is rather complicated; especially the first time that a driver gets into a bus that is a ReGen bus that heís never dealt with before. Secondly, it happens with no notice. Itís just time to do it. You pull over on the side of the road and you have to go to this ReGen system of burning out carbon. The older coaches actually have the more efficient and, quite frankly, less complicated engines in them. Everything that we use has Detroit engines with the exception of maybe one or two that are either running Cat or Cumminsí engines. But pretty much the industry standard in the rock and roll bus world is going to be Detroit Series 60s.

Is there a tendency to keep the older buses longer than you might have a decade ago?

Well, yeah and for a number of reasons. The economy. The economy affects Prevost, which is the industry standard, and with their XL Ii (engines) too. You basically have two players in the rock and roll bus world. Prevost and MCI (Motor Coach Industries). Prevost has the market cornered. I would say that probably out of the estimated 800 entertainer coaches in North America that 725 of them are Prevost. They really have the market cornered. The problem is that Prevost has really backed down on their production of shells. So coach owners are having trouble finding and purchasing 2013 shells. We just built a brand-new coach, and took delivery on it about two weeks ago. We found a 2007 or 2008 shell that had never been converted. It had 2,000 or 3,000 miles on it. Basically, it was run from eastern Canada to Washington or Oregon. It had been sitting there. And we found this shell, and purchased it, drove it to Nashville, had it built out. You can title it a 2012 (coach). There was nothing inside the cab. A shell is just that. It a plywood interior, steering wheel, seat and a dashboard.

A band will often buy a used bus. A hazard?

Well, the biggest hazard is the financial hazard. Years ago, the people that basically mentored me in this industry gave me two real sound pieces of advice. Number one was if this was easy; everybody would be doing it. Number two, if you buy coaches, donít buy one. Always buy them in pairs of two.

Why?

Because when one goes down, the other will make money for you while you are repairing.

A band buying a bus to travel wants to save some money. Rarely does that work. First of all, they canít afford to buy a $700,000 or $800,000 vehicle that is going to come with a warranty. It is going to cost them a ton of money (in repairs). The second thing is that a lot of times they will buy a bus not from somebody who is actually running the coach and maintaining it. Thereís nothing wrong with old buses. New buses break down just as easily as old buses. The big difference is that with the new buses, a lot of them are under warranty. Thatís really the only difference. The problem with some of these bands buying an old bus off of a lot or online is that they really have no idea what they are getting. They are definitely getting somebody elseís problem or they (the previous owners) would be running it and making money.

The same problems of maintenance and safety can arise with small-time operators running two or three buses.

Thatís true. The people that I mentioned earlier are very reputable, and they are esteemed colleagues of mine. They are going to take care of their equipment. But there are companies that donít, and there are owner/operators that canít afford to take care of them.

What percentage of the companyís business is with corporations?

Well, the corporate work that I do, especially with the sleeper coaches, or that I deal with, is primarily brand marketing. I do a lot of it. Iíve got two or three of them out right now. Iíve got a BET tour that is promoting T.J. Holmesí new show ("Don't Sleep... With T.J. Holmes") on BET which is kind of an entertainment political talk show. We are doing a (cross-country) tour called ďJourney of HopeĒ that is in support of preventing domestic violence that is being sponsored by Verizon.

Your buses have been used by George W. Bush and Barack Obama in presidential campaigns. Are you political?

Iím very political, but George W. Bush has green money and so does Barack, and Iím more than willing to re-distribute their money from them to me. But I am very Conservative. I talk politics a lot. Donít get me started on it.

Mitt Romney hasnít knocked on your door yet?

No. A lot of those political tours are handled out of Nashville.

You live outside Atlanta.

Iím 60 miles or so southwest of Atlanta. Iíve got a horse farm near Carrollton Georgia (mentioned in Margaret Mitchellís 1936 novel Gone with the Wind, and in the 1939 film of the same name). Iím closer to Alabama than anything else.

Were you a musician growing up in Atlanta?

I was a musician in the 7th or 8th grade. I am a true bass player. Iím a guitar player who couldnít find a spot in a band. So, I picked up the bass guitar, and learned how to play on the E string. Then I picked up the A string; and then went to the D, and the G. I went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (Tennessee) on a bass guitar scholarship. So, I was in the music world there.

I wanted to create my own degree but the dean didnít follow me. I put together an entire four-year curriculum. Georgia State (University) actually had the degree that I wanted, which was Music Business. Well, the University of Tennessee didnít see it my way. I ended up getting an offer from Mountain Sound out of Knoxville in late í81. I said (to myself), ďI have insurance companies offering me 13 grand to walk around in a suit and play that corporate game or I can go and make good money doing what I know and what I love, which is sound. So I hooked up with Mountain Sound.

We were primarily working with Marshall Tucker, and Charlie Daniels.

I ended up getting into artist management and producing shows. This and that. Country artists. It was when Nashville was basically throwing things against the wall and whatever stuck thatís what they would sign. Then I put together a bunch of tribute shows. Garth Brooks was one of them. We made a lot of money with a Garth Brooks tribute show. It was a recreation of a real 90-minute Garth show that was note-for-note.

When Paul McCartneyís management came knocking on your door in 2002, you must have been thrilled.

Well, there were two times that I had to come out of the leasing seat and go into the driving seat for a couple of reasons. One was for George W and one was for Paul McCartney. A lot of it had to do with the fact I had gone under FBI background checks.

For George W during his 2000 campaign?

Yeah for W. But Paulís security was equally as scrutinizing. The last time Paul came to Atlanta, we put one of our day coach drivers with him because I wanted to go to the show.

You didnít volunteer to drive Michael Jackson in 2004?

I did not drive that. It wasnít a tour. Thatís an unbelievable story. I got a call from Jacksonís people. This was during the time that he was in Washington, D.C. speaking before Congress about AIDS in Africa. They wanted a couple of buses to go up to the D.C. area. Everything was extremely secretive with the exception that we were told it would not be for a performance tour; it would be for a vacation for Michael and his family.

So we sent two drivers blindly to northern Virginia where (on route) they were told where to meet. It was basically out in no manís land out in northern Virginia. A black SUV showed up, Michael and his kids and all of the nannies and Nation of Islam security and everybody else got onto the buses. Prior to that security went through those buses with a major fine-tooth comb. This was right after Michaelís privacy had been breached on an airplane and (someone) had recorded all of his conversations. So they went through the buses with all kinds of electronic sensing equipment. They even tested the fluids that we had in the coach. It was high security.

Were any modifications made to the buses?

One of them was a Star Car for Michael; the other one was a normal sleeper coach.

Your drivers went blindly to pick Michael and his family up?

We couldnít tell them where they were headed. We told them who they would be carrying. We also told them that they could not refer to him as Michael Jackson or Michael. I believe the reference was simply ďthe client.Ē They knew before they left Atlanta who they were going to pick up. We didnít know an address for the pickup. They were contacted by security on the way there.

What happened after Michael and his family were picked up?

So we pick them up, and we moved them down to, I believe, Myrtle Beach. Positioned the buses in a parking lot so they could look out on the ocean. The drivers went into their (hotel) rooms, and stayed there a few days. They eventually went down to Orlando. They did it so well and so secretively that CNN was reporting that Michael was still in D.C. I never personally had to deal with Michael but my drivers could not say enough good things about him.

A reality TV show on Star Coaches is currently being pitched to networks. How did that develop?

Seven years ago, (director) Tom Bennett asked us about doing a reality show on the company. We said sure. So he came in, and shot for a couple of weeks, and got a bunch of footage. But (the project) went nowhere. About three or four years ago, he called up and said he had some people that wanted to meet with us. So we set up this meeting and about 15 minutes into the meeting Danny and I are looking at each other, ďWe donít want to do this.Ē It didnít have anything to do with what we do.

About six months ago, Tom called again, and said, ďIím going to come in, and Iím going to reshoot. I want to really aggressively pitch this.Ē So they came in and they shot a bunch of footage, which you saw (on YouTube). They are now in the process of pitching it to the networks. Nothing was staged. Everything was shot the way it was shot. But we didnít have any crisis taking place. And I didnít have any entertainers show up. The week before two or three bands showed up here. Coheed and Cambria showed up, Twisted showed up. They were hanging out and eating at the restaurant. They were playing in the office. That was the week before they showed up with the cameras.

Usually, of course, thereís a daily crisis at Star Coaches. What a life.

I love it, man. I love doing this.

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 ďMusic From Far And Wide.Ē


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