Funny Thing Happened On) The Road To Rock Stardom:
by Tammy Moore
you read this issue’s cover story, and I suggest you
do, you will discover that I had the pleasure of going on
the road for a day with indie artist, Kevin Fowler and his
band of new breed of country outlaws. It was a typical day
for them, but for me, it was poetry in motion as I watched
the road warriors work their tails off as they do every day,
every show. As if it were buried treasure, I discovered some
secrets to succeeding in this business of music that day.
Read the story if you want to know what they are, but suffice
to say that when I said goodbye to the renegade crew at the
end of our journey, I felt like I had been given an amazing
gift…the gift of knowledge.
The Kevin Fowler band is poised for superstardom. They have
defied the odds, broken the rules, refused to compromise,
and have risen to a level of success that rivals what many
major-label acts have secured. They play to crowds of thousands
and pocket the door receipts and merchandise. They own their
own tour bus that is on par with any that are out there today
with its black leather couches, twelve bunks equipped with
televisions in each, satellite stations, state of the art
stereo equipment, and one crusty bus driver named Mike who
keeps them all in line. The irony, though, is that there is
no label support here. Although they are in the final stages
of drafting their first recording deal with Clint Blacks’
new Equity Records, they have acquired everything they have
now, including a fan base of thousands, on their own. The
entire Fowler organization is impressive, and they are where
they are today due, in large part, to the ruthless touring
they have done for the last five years in support of their
After meeting the man that corrals the band that day, I decided
he would be the perfect subject for this issue’s “Road
to Rock Stardom.” His name is Daren Fleming, and he
works as Road Manager/Sound Engineer for the Fowler band.
He oversees everything, and after witnessing it first-hand,
I can assure you there is much to keep track of on the level
of their playing field. Fleming does it seemingly effortlessly
though, and you can tell that the band and crew both trust
and respect him. He has earned those feelings with them over
the years with the level of dedication he has worked with
since he recorded and produced the first Fowler record, One
for the Road.
Born and raised in Amarillo, Texas, this middle child of Howard
and Sue Fleming remembers vividly the time that music claimed
him. His father always listened to music, and one day a song
called “Hello, Goodbye” came on the radio. When
the DJ announced that it was a Beatles song, Fleming remembered
that he had seen a box of old records in their home. He found
them, and it turned out that his parents owned all but a couple
of the entire Beatles collection. He turned on the record
player and listened to every one of them from start to finish.
He claims he has not recovered to this day. He was mesmerized
by the music, and not just the songs, the sound of the recordings.
The next band to blow him away was Led Zepplin, and from there
he got pulled into the world of heavy metal when bands like
Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Queensryche emerged.
He joined a band in Amarillo. They wanted to make a demo so
they went to look at a local recording studio. As soon as
he saw the control room he knew he wanted to be an engineer.
He was fascinated with the big console and all the knobs and
buttons. It all looked so cool. Once he realized that this
was where people made records like the ones he loved to listen
to, he knew that was what he wanted to do. He called the studio
owner who let Fleming come in and work as an assistant. He
cut his chops recording local bands and learned through trial
and error. He says, “These days there are recording
schools all over, but there’s no substitute for just
getting your hands on the gear and figuring it out.”
Eventually, he opened his own studio in Amarillo. It was then
that he first met Kevin Fowler when he came in to record with
his band. Fleming got a kick out of Fowler. In those days
he wasn’t a great guitarist, but he could always get
the girls so his band kept him around. After Fowler left Amarillo
for Los Angeles and the Guitar Institute of Technology, he
returned an awesome player and approached Fleming about recording
a demo for him to take to Austin where he was planning to
move. They made the demo, and it eventually landed Fowler
a gig with The Dangerous Toys. Fowler loved Austin and kept
pressuring Fleming to move here. Around the time that the
lease on his studio was up, Kevin called again and said that
the Dangerous Toys were looking for a live soundman. That
was all Fleming needed to hear. The Dangerous Toys were one
of his favorite bands, and he needed a change of scenery anyway
at that time. It was 1996, and his life was about to change
He got the gig with the Toys and has remained their soundman
to this day. He also has recorded Broken Teeth and Octane,
in addition to the Fowler records, working in various places
from bedrooms to top of the line studios.
Probably the biggest professional thrill so far was when he
and Fowler decided to record their third record, High On the
Hog, at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales studios. Nelson thinks
Fowler is going to go a long way and was willing to come in
and lay down some guitar and vocal tracks as a guest on the
record. Flemings’ eyes literally dance when he recounts
the story and tries to make you understand what it was like
to be behind the console recording Willie freakin’ Nelson!
Fleming is a happy guy these days. He’s got the best
of both worlds. In his down time from the road he can record
bands and in the case of Fowler’s music, actually get
to “follow” the music around when they are out
on the road. He gets to see the crowds grow as the music they
have made charts higher and higher. He gets to see the smiles
on people’s faces when they sing along to Fowler anthems
like “Beer, Bait and Ammo” and knows that he helps
to put those smiles there. Normally engineers record a band
and send them on their way, never knowing the progress or
final outcome of the work, but these days Fleming has a front
row seat to watch the effect their music is having on people.
On top of that, he adores his son Brandon, and is very newly
and happily married to Kynda who doubles as his best girlfriend.
That may explain the easy-going demeanor and the smile that
Don’t think his life is all fun and games though. Fleming
is part of one of the hardest working crews in the biz. Of
course, it can be a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t like to
travel with their buddies to new places on a gorgeous tour
bus and put on shows for thousands of people every weekend?
But it can be dangerous out there too. He recounts a story
that is on its way to legendary status by now. Read this strange
tale of how close he came to death one night, and then read
the answers he was cool enough to give us concerning touring.
He’s learned the ropes just the way he likes to—hands
on—and after watching him in action for a day, I can
attest that he is great at what he does.
isn’t very funny, but we were playing Woody’s
Tavern in Fort Worth with Jason Boland. The show had been
sold out, and it was one of those ‘everybody get drunk!’
shows. It was the last night of a little tour we did with
Jason, and we made it count. While we were loading out some
drunk guy that was pissed off about something drove his pick-up
through the front wall of the club at around 50 miles an hour.
The truck came all the way into the club and hit the bar.
The guy driving threw it into reverse and peeled out backwards
out of the club and took off. Less than an hour before that
the club had been packed and there were still about 40 people
in the building. He only missed hitting some people (including
me) by inches, but no one was hurt. It was truly amazing that
much damage was done so close to so many people and no one
got killed. The club was repaired but there is still a skid
mark on the carpet!”
Where does the road manager fall within the “chain of
command” inside an artist’ organization?
DF: I handle the shows after the have been booked by our booking
agent John Owens and approved by our manager Sarah Blinco.
They send the contracts to me after they are signed and I
take it from there.
What are your responsibilities as a road manager?
DF: Pretty much everything that happens from the time the
bus rolls until we get back is my responsibility. I start
by “advancing” the shows. This means calling the
venue ahead of time and going over things that are in the
contract to make sure all the terms are met. I need to know
where and what time we need to load in, get directions (very
important!), show time and length, etc. I also advance the
PA system or the sound company providing it to make sure our
PA requirements are met. Then I give the band a schedule for
the week that has all the info they want on a daily basis.
I decide what time the bus needs to roll in order to make
load-in on time. I deal with the club and venue owners and
with settling up at the end of the night. I am the main contact
for the band while we are on the road. I also have to make
sure that we are on time to any radio shows or meet and greets.
You have to do a lot of planning ahead, but if you do your
homework it usually goes pretty smooth. Since I am also the
band’s soundman, it can get busy.
What is a “per diem”?
DF: It’s a daily amount of money (usually $25 or so)
that you receive for expenses while on the road.
Describe a typical day on the road.
DF: Sleep, eat, watch tv, soundcheck, eat, sleep, do the show,
party, eat, sleep!
Any tips for staying sane on the road?
DF: Try to have fun. There can be a lot of boredom involved
in long road trips, and you have to have an outlet.
Knowing all that you know now, what is the best piece of advice
you could give to aspiring artists in this crazy pursuit of
success in music?
DF: Be persistent. It takes a long time to get anywhere in
this business. Hard work pays off. Try to learn from those
people who are doing what you want to do.
many times have we heard it now? Persistence is the key. Learn
it. Know it. Live it. Keep reaching for the dream. Peace.