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road to rock stardom

(A Funny Thing Happened On) The Road To Rock Stardom: Daren Fleming
by Tammy Moore

If 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 four records.

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 forever.

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 surfaces often.

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.

“This 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!”

R&R: 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.

R&R: 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.

R&R: 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.

R&R: Describe a typical day on the road.
DF: Sleep, eat, watch tv, soundcheck, eat, sleep, do the show, party, eat, sleep!

R&R: 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.

R&R: 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.

How many times have we heard it now? Persistence is the key. Learn it. Know it. Live it. Keep reaching for the dream. Peace.

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