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Riders Revealed

You can tell a lot about artists by what they ask for (or demand) in their dressing room.

A “musician's rider" is a list of amenities and necessities that a promoter or venue is contractually obligated to provide for the touring artist they've hired. Along with sound, stage, and production needs, the contract rider may also include accommodations, food, a personal runner, dressing and party rooms, exercise facilities, and all types of funsies. A rider is a bit like a Rorschach test (you know, those inkblots that shrinks show to patients to reveal their personalities). You can tell a lot about artists by what they ask for (or demand) in their dressing room.

I work primarily with country acts and their riders tend to be pretty tame: the ubiquitous deli tray (sweaty cheese, grey gig meat, questionable mayo, white-ish bread), a case of beer, several cases of water, a case of soda, coffee, and maybe a bottle of Crown, Jack, or vodka. Rockers, popsters, and divas, however, tend to be far more needy. The Smoking Gun has an extensive list of riders with ridiculous demands that provide interesting insights into some of our favorite acts. Here are a few highlights from real-life riders.

Chuck Berry. The father of rock guitar travels light on the road and is all business. After receiving his total fee via bank wire at least three days before the engagement, Chuck hops a plane, checking his Gibson ES-335, stereo, and one bag. Once Chuck arrives at his destined airport, he is given the keys to the largest, gassed up, four-door Mercedes Benz they can find (excluding Japan), a key to a suite at a “five star" hotel, and $200 per diem to cover his food.

Once at the venue, in addition to the normal sound and stage requirements, Chuck demands a card-carrying American Federation of Musicians band (drummer, bass player, and piano player) that knows his songs. Chuck also needs two matching “unaltered Fender Dual Showman" heads with cabinets and a guitar cable.

A friend of mine did one of these Chuck gigs. He said there was no rehearsal. They stood onstage for about an hour before the show waiting. Chuck walked on two minutes before the curtain opened, plugged in his guitar without tuning, hit an out-of-tune chord to make sure the amp was on, then turned to the band and said, “You all better know the songs. We're starting with 'Roll Over Beethoven.'" Not a bad day at the office.

James Brown. The Godfather of Soul knew how to travel in style. His rider reads, “Mr. James Brown and Entourage MUST stay in a (5) FIVE-STAR HOTEL. One two-bedroom Presidential Suite, two Junior Suites, one Deluxe Single. They will need one stretch limousine, 186-inches long, current year model; one van for luggage."

His band and singers, however, must stay in a four-star hotel. Dancers must stay in a separate four-star establishment, where the band can't mingle with them. At the gig, James needs a well-appointed dressing room with two full-length mirrors, another makeup mirror with lights, two garment racks, a circulating fan, an ironing board with a steam iron, a hooded hair dryer, and an oxygen tank. Oh, one more thing—a separate room nearby “provided for James Brown's wardrobe mistress." An oxygen tank and a mistress—“I feel good," indeed.

Van Halen. Probably the most famous rider of them all remains the 53-page, 1982 Van Halen World Tour rider containing the infamous statement: “M&Ms (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)." Diamond Dave and the boys were men of simple needs: “Herring in sour cream, three-bean salad, fresh-baked breads (with knife and cutting board), one-half case Tab diet soda, four cases of Schlitz Malt Liquor beer (16-ounce cans), eight bottles of wine and liquor, and one (1) large tube K-Y Jelly." Now that's running with the devil!

Prince. One would expect His Royal Purple Badness to have some strange backstage demands, and Prince does not disappoint. “A DOCTOR must be available every Show Day at 6:00 PM." Said Dr. must be prepared to administer B-12 shots on demand. In addition to the Doc, Prince needs “500 pounds of ice." No booze backstage, but they do need six-dozen doughnuts from Krispy Kreme or Dunkin', as well as “3 DOZEN ASSORTED PASTRIES FROM A REAL BAKERY." Prince also needs Yogi cocoa tea, jasmine and lavender candles, and tables “at all entry points (of meeting room) for collection of Gifts and Flowers." Very thoughtful of Prince to make it easy for his fans to shower him with gifts.

Back in the days of the Beatles, their only requirements were a “hi-fidelity sound system with adequate number of speakers ... and a platform for Ringo Starr and his drums." Backstage they asked for “four cots, mirrors, an ice cooler, a portable TV set, and clean towels." Amazingly meager requests for arguably the most influential musicians in the last 100 years, don't you think?

The Foo Fighters call their rider the “Field Guide to Food Coloring Book and Activity Pages." The rider includes funny drawings by Dave Grohl and his bunch, as well as jokes, activities, and a “word hunt" for the reader.

Willie Nelson's rider states in bold caps “ALL WILLIE NELSON engagements must be Smoke Free." Perhaps he means “tobacco free." Maybe he means “free to smoke."

Much like the old truism that you can tell a lot about your date by the way he or she treats a waitress during dinner, riders reveal an artist's personality: how greedy, needy, demanding, hypocritical, hypochondria-prone, sugar-crazed, or booze-driven they may be.

So for any of you touring stars out there, remember, just because you can make selfish demands, it may not be in your best interest. Everything makes it online eventually.

One of my favorite riders was for B.B. King, from a multi-act tour a few years ago. The other acts on the bill had a long list of post-show food and beverage needs. Here is a direct quote detailing B.B.'s post-show needs: “Nothing."

With Lucille and the blues, what else could he want?

John Bohlinger is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist best know for his work in television, having lead the band for all six season of NBC's hit program Nashville Star, the 2011, 2010 and 2009 CMT Music Awards, as well as many specials for GAC, PBS, CMT, USA and HDTV.

John's music compositions and playing can be heard in several major label albums, motion pictures, over one hundred television spots and Muzak... (yes, Muzak does play some cool stuff.) Visit him at

or and check out his new band, The Tennessee Hot Damns.