Heavy Metal Roadie
Thomas Bright
Interviewed by Paul Vee
I set up my own production company when I was seventeen, promoting rock shows at my parents' theater in Port Jervis, New York. It was an old movie theater that my parents owned with some other people, and Metallica was one of the first bands that I booked. This was 1981 or '82, and we booked them for a thousand dollars and two cases of beer. And fried chicken with the catering. Two cases of beer, a quart of Absolut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. 

John Zazoula at Mega-Force Records was Metallica's manager at the time. I booked a few of his other acts as well--Anthrax, Overkill, Anvil, Exciters--stuff like that. And I got to know John pretty well and all his acts. None of them were a big deal yet, and they all needed road people. I had no training, but I was willing to work cheap. So I started as a roadie for Anthrax and S.O.D. (Stormtroopers Of Death), and I found out that I was very good at road stuff. Some people in the music business are great in the studio, but not everybody can do the road. I was very good at the road. When I was nineteen, I started working as what's called a "guitarist technician" for Metallica. And over the next six years, I did most of Metallica's tours and I also worked for a lot of other bands and I did some production stuff--tour managing type stuff--as well. And I came home when I was twenty-three because I was addicted to heroin and alcohol. 

In the beginning, it was so low-budget. The original Metallica tours were in Ryder trucks. And I drove those trucks and did pretty much everything else too. A typical day was, like, you stayed at a bad hotel; you got up, you had breakfast, you drove to the next show 'cause you were too drunk to drive the night before, so you drove that day to the next show. Mostly it was theaters and big clubs, no stadiums or any of that shit yet. Then you loaded in and set up. The lights get set up first, then the PA, and then the band. Then you did the entire show. 

During the shows, I had a specific job to do with the guitars. I was Kirk's guy in Metallica, which meant that I handled his guitars. I was Cary King's guy in Slayer, and Danny Spitz's guy in Anthrax, and Scott's guy in Stormtroopers Of Death. I set up their guitars, stringing and tuning and cleaning them; everything like that. And then I'd baby-sit them while they're on stage. You see, you're responsible for his equipment and him. You're responsible for him on stage. You have to watch every show from the wings, backstage. You sit right there, all the time, through the whole show every show. Then, when it's over, you tear everything down and go straight to a hotel for the night 'cause you were usually too drunk to drive. 

Most times, I was drunk by the time the show ended. You weren't supposed to be. You weren't supposed to be trashed, but you did drink throughout the day. Metallica was the drinking band. They were not big drug guys, but they drank an unbelievable amount of alcohol. 

As soon as we got to the motels or wherever, it was drinking. Lots of drinking. Metallica was not the biggest tour for women, although there was always local talent. I mean, "groupies," to use the proper word. These groupies, these women, would be there before the show, usually in the afternoon, before the sound checks. And we, you know, the roadies, we were looking for these chicks twenty-four hours a day, every waking moment. It was every man for himself, but most of them were more than willing to do more than one guy. The most memorable were the Chicken Sisters--Debbie and Beth Shell--from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They were the most memorable of all. They would do everybody. Gladly. Both gorgeous, cute, little blondes. Strippers. Underage. They worked porno shows in Philadelphia and stripped. Gorgeous. Eighteen years old. 

Strippers love rock and roll. They love rock and roll people. That's what I learned in rock and roll. There were always girls around who wanted to just meet and fuck. I was surprised at how many girls just want to do that with rock and roll guys. I could never believe it. It changed my perception of women. I mean, the willingness. [Laughs] I grew up in a small town. 

You see, if I went to a show tonight and had nothing to do with the band--if I just bought a ticket and went to see Metallica tonight--these women would have nothing to do with me. But a little piece of plastic will get you everywhere. A laminate around your neck--an ID card that says you are with the band--and a jacket; that's all you need. 

We had these smiley passes. They were backstage passes that had a little face with a smile on it. When a girl got one of those, that meant she sucked dick. I mean that's officially what it meant. For each show, we had these little laminated passes printed up with peel-off backs. We'd give them to the press, to people from the city, guests of the band, the crew, and record company people. And then, specifically, we had pink passes that had a smiley face on them. Those were for the girls who would suck dick. They got a smiley pass. The Production Manager and the Tour Manager were in charge of the box that had these passes. And I had a key to the box, so you know, I took part in this. 

I was called "The Fisherman." I got thanked on two Metallica records for this. They called me "The Father of Filth" and then just "The Fisherman." And then there's an Overkill record that says "Special thanks to Thomas 'Root Cheese,' Father of Filth." 

Now, this was just the accepted practice in rock and roll at the time. And it was all said in plain English--it was all explicit. The girls would hang out at the back doors and stuff, or at the loading docks. And these girls all knew what they were getting the passes for. There was no beating around the bush. 

On a big tour, there's a "Crew Bus" and "Band Bus," but on the first couple of tours Metallica did in buses, after we got out of the Ryder trucks, it was band and crew on one bus. There was a girl who smelled like fish on one of those tours. She'd gotten divorced, like, a month before. She was memorable. She let us videotape her fucking and giving blow jobs to a few guys on the bus. We had a guy, Kevin, who was so ugly girls wouldn't do him. But she did almost everybody else. And this was not unusual. Florida Custom Coaches' buses have like couches, lounges in the front, a set of bunks, and then a lounge in the back. Most of the sex happened in the lounge in the back [laughs]. Of course, every once in a while, somebody's girlfriend would come along, so then it all gets, like, different and we'd sort of have to behave. 

But mostly, it was just very fucked up. We bought a photo album in some Wal-Mart in the South, you know, one of those ones where you peel back the plastic and put the pictures in. This was on a tour for Wasp and Slayer. And we bought this photo album because we were getting so many blow jobs and fucking so many women that we had to, like, document it, so we went and bought a photo album, bought Polaroids and a video camera, and started to do, like, profiles. We would take a Polaroid of the girl before, clothed; a Polaroid of the girl in action and, you know, assorted Polaroids. We'd document it. 

The worst thing was what they did to this fifteen year-old virgin. And this is the actual truth. They stuck the receiver end of a telephone, you know, the end you hear with, they stuck it into her pussy, and went into the next room, and called up and let it ring, then yelled and went "whaaa....whaaa...." They were yelling into the phone while it was in her pussy. This was after this girl did like ten guys. And this was the first night that she lost her virginity. I tried to fuck her first, but I couldn't get it in, cause I'm kinda large, so Bob Deluca did it. That was at the Belleview Hotel, in Washington, D.C. A great rock and roll hotel. The next time we saw her was a year and a half later and she was a changed girl. She was a nice girl when we met her. 

And I'm sorry, I don't know how to explain this without being as vulgar and as crude as it was. And it was very, very fucking crude a lot of the time. And I think the job totally changed my sense of the world because of this. I mean, I saw ego inflation like you couldn't believe. I saw a sense of privilege that you couldn't believe. When you get a little plastic thing around your neck, you get body guards, you go to the best hotels and you don't pay for anything, you get custom buses, private Lear jets. Drugs and cocaine are thrown at you. Pussy is thrown at you like you couldn't believe--twin blonde sisters in a boardroom in a Hyatt. Talk about ego trips. 

At the start, I got paid very little for this kind of stuff. Three hundred a week. That's not much. I was doing it because I liked it. I was living a dream. One of the biggest thrills in the world for me was playing Madison Square Garden for the first time. It's just such a thrill to walk down that back hallway, you know, "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out," and actually stand on that stage. I loved Keith Richards. I wanted to be Keith. The Rolling Stones are what hooked me into rock and roll, really, ever since I was a kid. 

In the end, I was making $675 a week, $350 a week per diem, and they paid for everything. But still, I did it because I loved it. And, in addition, I got special perks and privileges, such as lots of drugs. Lots of alcohol. Lots of ego inflation. And you know what? I traveled everywhere and I never paid a dime. I saw every city in the United States, every city in Europe. And I never paid a dime. 

Of course, I'd get tired of seeing the same show again and again. I heard "Angel of Death," like, 73 nights in a row. It's a Slayer song. 73 nights. On both continents. And after a while, it was just a job. Probably like hookers. Same for the band--it was a job for them, too. Of course, they were also drunk constantly. But they got jaded too, I guess. I mean, you gotta remember, you play places like Salt Lake City and Cleveland. And there's great times--like when you get to California, it's heaven. Or Seattle, that's really nice. But when it's January and you're in like Detroit or Minneapolis or Milwaukee, it sucks. We played the Eagle Ballroom in Milwaukee. It sucked. It smells like yeast. Milwaukee sucks. 

The hardest thing about it was being away from home. I missed my cats. I missed my cats horribly. I was never home for more than a couple of weeks at a time and I always spent the holidays on the road. During down time, I did my laundry. That was the big rock and roll thing. Anytime you had free time, you did laundry. You did laundry, you read, you called your girlfriend or your mom. Or you tried to take a nap, or get pot in strange towns. Or other drugs. I got a nice little heroin habit in Europe. And when I came back, I was in and out of rehab for like two years and drugs and alcohol are gonna be a problem--an issue--for me for the rest of my life. Maybe. And I may have other permanent problems too, like women (laughs). But I don't know, you ought to ask my girlfriends about that (laughs). I'm not unhappy. And you know, if I could avoid drugs and alcohol, I'd do it again. In a second. Although, maybe I wouldn't. Part of me says no, because it was a real spurt of youth and now I just want to buy a house, have a girlfriend, and hang out with my cats. I'm a grown-up now.

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