By Dez FaFara (DevilDriver)
Since 1996, I’ve been on the road, meaning away from home and most of this time has been spent on a tour bus.
The road life brings its unmistakable highs and torn down, dragged out lows. It also brings about characters. Our business is based on unique, one-of-a kind characters.
You’ve got label people, managers, agents, business managers, tour managers, crew members, bus owners, bus drivers and band members. Then you’ve got the club promoters, radio DJs, security runners and local stage hands.
Today, after 15 years on the road, I’d like to discuss the most intense character of them all: THE TOUR BUS DRIVER.
Let’s understand this together shall we?
You’ve got a two-and-a-half ton vehicle with 12–sometimes more–people sleeping in tiny bunks called coffins and you’re letting a perfect stranger drive you all night through all sorts of difficult weather and terrain?
He eats fast food or at truck stops, sleeps all day, listens to our loud music, takes out the overflow of trash and puts up with the hilarity that is “the tour bus party”.
What’s scary is that a real tour bus driver loves his job.
1,200 mile drive? No problem. Truck stop food? No problem. Haven’t left my seat in eight hours and I’m starting to see things? Don’t worry, I got it. No problem.
Most of my drivers either remind me of cowboys from the old west–the kinda guys you wouldn’t really want to fuck with or rub the wrong way–or there’s times you get the driver that resembles a carny in many ways. He looks like he needs sleep, laundry, a hot meal and a shower, and not to mention, some teeth in his head. Either way, they’re brave, resilient and do a job that’s still on the fringe of society.
Most have a crazy insanity that keeps them doing this work and a look in their eye of determination about getting to the destination every time they get behind the wheel.
Here are just a few examples of driver stories.
My first bus driver in ‘96 was named “Biscuit”. He was a “good ol’ boy” that wore big gold rings on all his fingers and spoke with a drawl that you could barely make out as English. He knew ‘green’ musicians when he saw them. One day, before going to the hotel, he informed my whole band he had put his rings in his center driver console. That night when he returned, he informed us that all of his rings were missing and we owed him five-thousand dollars for his missing jewelry. When we said we didn’t have the money and put our manager on the phone, he backed down about the money began to drive and we hit the bunks to sleep.
Damned if I didn’t get up early in the morning to find him driving with all his rings on his fingers and not even a word about it was spoken. He tried to take us for money, but it didn’t work. “Biscuit” was the exception and even he taught me lessons that day and along the month of highway we shared that have lasted a lifetime.
These men are characters–not all of them are hustlers but they have hustle in ‘em. Some are shady. Some just look shady and most are honest, hard-working men trying to provide for their families. Another infamous driver story happened when we got Roger–name changed to protect the stupid. Roger was a spindly, quirky, greasy-haired looking guy. We had an overnight drive from San Francisco to LA to catch an afternoon Ozzfest performance. Roger decided to go over the mountains in Humbolt County. Once atop the hill, we started to make our descent. You could hear the brakes on the bus squealing and we all could smell the rubber burning. In a quick moment, the driver told our tour manager that, as he slowed, we all had to exit the bus. We were coming through California so most of us had girlfriends and wives with us. What Roger was saying was we needed to jump off the bus as he slowed, not stopped! So at several miles an hour, one-by-one, we jumped off a moving tour bus and some of us grabbed huge rocks to stop it from rolling. Roger pulled in the dirt and came to a stop.
Now up rolls a police officer. First words out of his mouth to our driver are, “What in the hell are you doing with this machine up on these roads?” Then he proceeds to tell us how this is the steepest grade in California and they lose five trucks a year that can’t stop and go over the bottom.
He also informed Roger that no wrecker could get up to help him down and he would need to try and make both the steepness of the grade and the corner at the end somehow…and good luck.
By now, it was night and the bottom of the grade was a few miles. If Roger was going to have to make that drive, none of us were going to be onboard, so we began to walk down the hill, at night, with wives and girlfriends in tow and we were all picked up by a woman in a truck with a baby in the front with her.
The driver made the grade and eventually made the corner at the bottom of the hill but not before he tried to pull the ‘Jake brake’, a device designed to bring a truck or bus to an immediate halt. It didn’t work as well as it should and he literally defecated himself in his driver’s seat because he thought he was going over the edge.
There’s plenty more stories where those come from. I’ve had drivers take care of me when I was sick, break us on overdrives, and drive for free. I’ve had drivers that have fought off thieves with baseball bats and drivers that have done the impossible and got us to gigs we shouldn’t have made it to. I have had drivers that have cooked for us, brought us to their houses, let us use their rooms for showers and took the band and the crew in like family.
So here’s to you… with whom I’ve trusted with my life and who still I don’t fully understand.
Hail to the Driver!
** View Dez’s Hail to the Tour Bus Driver blog here.
** Vew Dez’s Redheads Rule All blog here.
** View Dez’s Hate Humans, Love Dogs blog here.
** DevilDriver’s new album, Beast, is out now on Roadrunner Records. Click here to order.