Preparing for a seven-country tour of Europe is not a common practice for many musicians. However, it is an undertaking that I have faced a number of times in my career. In 1994, I conquered Europe with the R&B/ roots rock band Fish Heads & Rice. With David James on vocals and bass, Walter Ferguson on the Hammond organ and the late Stuart “Stu Train” Brower laying down the back beat, I was given the daunting task of assuming guitar duties after Memphis great Gary Talley (formerly of the band The Box Tops) left to pursue other interests. While in Europe, we performed in every cramped club from Big Mama’s in Rome to the barely inhabited tourist town of Terschelling, a 15-mile-long island off the coast of The Netherlands. We anchored those dates with two festivals in Switzerland and a once-in-a-lifetime appearance at the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy.
Our travel planning was simple. We rented a van in Milan and the four of us trekked across the continent spreading the good words and music of the Fish. On that tour my gear setup was also quite uncomplicated. The only guitar I brought along was a 1984 Fender Strat Plus with a Sunburst finish. Gearwise, I brought along a Boss tuner, Ernie Ball volume pedal and a couple of cables to hook everything up with. Our backline consisted of a makedo- with-what-they-give-you approach, even though at most venues I remember being able to score at least a Fender Twin Reverb. After tweaking and playing through several different Twins night after night, I did discover just how much individual character each of these amps really did possess. My tone was formidable, but varied each night. I remember one particular show at the Conga Club in Bellinzona, Switzerland, I played through a two-channel Ampeg amp marked “Channel 1: Guitar,” and “Channel 2: Accordion.” It was an experience I’ll never forget.
This winter, for the first time, Toby Keith is spearheading a major tour of Europe. We’ll be performing in England, Scotland, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. This tour across the pond is a bit more difficult, and considerably more involved. Although our crew is stripped down to 30 essential people, they all need to be fed, housed and flown as we travel to all of our European destinations. Thankfully, I haven’t had to do any of the leg work involved in booking transportation or rooms, but there has been a great deal of preparation on my part to make sure that all goes smoothly at the shows. Due to space limitations, I’m not able to bring my normal arsenal of guitars. We went back and forth on the actual number that I needed for the show to not suffer and decided on my three main axes—my U.S. Masters Super T Tele, my PRS McCarty and my Gibson ’58 Les Paul Reissue—plus my hollowbody singlecut PRS and Jerry Jones 6-string bass, which is a must-have to pull off one of Toby’s biggest hits, “Should Have Been A Cowboy.”
All of the guitars will travel in trunks that will be ground transported from gig to gig. We’ll also be taping a few television shows in between concert dates, and to pull that off I’ll have to fly some of my guitars separately from the pack. Here in the States most airlines are cooperative about that, and only a few airline personnel have ever insisted I check my instrument when I show up at the gate with it in a gig bag. The musicians union has an official agreement with the FAA that allows musicians to bring their instrument with them on board as long as it fits in the overhead compartment. However, it’s often at the discretion of the airline personnel (and what kind of day they’re having) whether they’ll allow it onboard the plane.
Personally, I carry a copy of that agreement with me in all of my gig bags, although I’ve never had to present it. My strongest argument has always been that if there is a lack of space in the overheads, wouldn’t it make more sense to accommodate my fragile and expensive instrument, and gate check some of the carry-on bags filled with clothes and toiletries instead? When I do carry my guitar onboard I make sure it’s my only item, which does strengthen my position when I need to play that card. Knowing that the airlines are a bit stricter about bringing guitars, for this tour I’ve also taken the precaution of putting my McCarty and my Super T inside ATA flight cases, so that I can fly them to these television dates safely in the belly of the plane. The only other gear I’m taking with me will be my Roland GT-8 pedalboard. My guitar tech had a case that fits it quite nicely, so it gets to travel in style on this trip. Now that my gear is packed and ready to go, I just have to be sure that my passport is up to date, and that I have enough minty-fresh toothpaste to last until I return home. I’m all set to tour the world!
Rich Eckhardt is one of the most sought-after guitarists in Nashville. His ability to cover multiple styles has put him on stage with singers ranging from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to Shania Twain. Rich is currently playing lead guitar with Toby Keith. His latest CD, Cottage City Firehouse is available online at CDbaby.com or at richeckhardt.com.
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