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Another guy who worked his way up. Taking a lucky break and turning it into a career seems to be what the music biz is about. Here’s an interview with Greg ‘Grizz’ Middleton who is currently out stage managing Dropkick Murphys and has worked as a tech and/or stage manager for Megadeth, Coheed and Cambria, Unearth, Hatebreed, and Dethklok, to name a few. Thanks, Grizz.

With most of the folks I’ve interviewed thus far, I’ve had some history with and saw many start fresh and move up the ranks. One of the first tours (Unearth/Slipknot/AILD) I ever did was with you, and as far as I remember, it was one of your first.  That was the start of something great it seems, because as you look at it, you’ve had a healthy career since. What has been your evolution in this business?
I started teching in 2004 with the band Unearth. A lot of people ask me how I got into the business. I was lucky enough to be from the same hometown as Unearth and I went to high school with drummer. I kept my head down and worked as hard as possible. I sucked at my job for a long time. It actually wasn’t until the Unearth/Slipknot/AILD tour that I actually started to figure out the job. Slipknot’s guitar tech, Sean, made a deal with me.  If I showed up every night after their set and helped them load out, I could shadow him everyday and ask as many question as possible. That tour was truly the turning point for my career.

What do you do to make sure you will always have a job?
“Always have a job” is a tricky one. Because I believe in loyalty and trying to stay within one camp (one band) as much as possible. However, I have found as I have moved up to bigger bands, even though they pay more, they tour less. The most important thing is to be a normal, easy going, adaptable person. You have to remember that we are asked to live in a tour bus with upwards of 15 people. You can be the best tech on the planet but if you suck to have around, good luck. Also, never burn a bridge. I constantly find myself filling holes in my touring schedule with bands I have been fortunate the previously tour with or with new bands that have crews that I have worked with in the past.

To a neophyte, what’s the ultimate job of the guitar tech and stage manager?
Daily routing – load in (empty truck/trailer into venue)
Set the footprint for the concert (backline, risers, amplifiers etc)
Delegated x-amount of loader to assist with lighting/audio/backline duties
Guitar maintenance (polish/change strings/check setup/address issues)
Wire stage
Line check instrument in preparation for band arrival
Sound check
Finalize preping stage for performance conditions (guitar picks/sheets over backline and drums)
Load in support acts
Maintain performance schedule from load in to load out
Final line check prior to band performance
Supervise concert
Guitar changes
Load it all out.
What are some of the other things you are called upon to do and what are some things you should always do without being asked?
With most bands, especially Dropkick Murphys, a lot of my job is just a glorified bartender. Keep the beers cold and the whiskey shots always on the ready. You should always be one step ahead. know what your musician is going to ask from you before he even has a chance to ask.

As far as knowing gear, what are some things someone needs to understand to succeed? Should they understand electronics? Do they even know how to play? Should they buy certain tools?
Your never going to know it all. Something new is always coming out. Know the basics. Know how to solder.
Setting up a guitar isn’t brain surgery. It’s always going to be one of a few things that’s causing the problem. The Internet is a hell of a resource. If you don’t know, take two seconds and look it up. It isn’t your guitar that you’re about to fuck up!!
It blows my mind how many techs can’t actually play guitar. I have no clue how they get a read on how a guitar is behaving if they can rip it up a little. But some on the best techs I know can’t even play Smoke On The Water.
As far as tools, do yourself a favor. Go to stewmac.com and buy one of everything.

What are some essential riffs a tech should know when they are going out to check a guitar? Any interesting moments in that regard?
I usually learn at least one of the bands songs that I work for. Then I’ll play a alteration of those riffs to get a true depiction of what tones my musician can expect. It never hurts to fire off a little iron maiden for fun though. No interesting moments really. I’m usually all business when it comes to line checks. There will always be the Free Bird and Slayer hecklers but I’m not the one that’s there to entertain. Those guys will be out shortly after me.

Touring with younger bands, what do you notice about their crews? I’ve noticed now a days bands pick up techs for everything and I’m not sure how they can afford it?
There is always some shithead that’ll jump in the van and do whatever is asked of him just to quit his job at subway. And don’t get me wrong, I was that shit head. Some of us sink, some swim.

Some bands prioritize things differently. Some bands entourages still blow my mind. Some bands would rather eat chips and salsa everyday just to save the money to afford a touring lighting engineer. And I guess there is something to be commended there. A lot of bands believe in the perception theory: big bus/big crew/big production makes them perceived as a bigger big and ultimately moves them up the food chain. I don’t agree with it, but at the same time, those bands hire guys like me, so lets keep it up.

When’s the right time to hire a crew?
When you can honestly afford it. It’s another mouth to feed, another human to move everyday. Don’t run out and hire a ten guy crew. Hire one or two guys that aren’t afraid to do more that one job. A guy who will load in your gear, then change your strings, then setup the drums, and only takes a few minutes to eat his only meal if the day before he runs out to the lighting desk to also being your lighting designer.

Will you take enthusiastic crew dudes under your wing and push them to do better?
Always.

Have you made any mistakes? If so, how have you learned from them?
Mistakes will always happen. Keep em to a minimum and never make the same mistake twice.

Any tricks you’ve picked up? Any Apollo 13 moments where you’ve had to make something that shouldn’t have worked work?
The Unearth tour where we had 8 full guitar stacks, 4 bass cabinets, and a full lighting package. As a support band, we would need to clear the stage for Slayer after our performance every night. We would have to have it completely done and gone in 5 minutes or less. It still blows my kind how we did it night after night.

When you tour, how do you learn from other guitar techs?  Who are some of your influences as far as crew guys go?
Willie G is the guitar tech for Dave Mustaine (Megadeth). While I was their stage manager last summer, getting to watch him work on a daily basis was incredible. Anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

At what point did you decide this was where you wanted to be?
I walked away from a successful computer programming career to give this touring this a shot and everyone thought I was crazy. It was a lot of hard years in the van. The way I looked at, I could always go back that life whenever I wanted. After traveling the world for the last 7 years, I couldn’t imagine ever being behind a desk again.

As a stage manager, what are some things you require of support bands?
Show up. Stick to the schedule. And for christ’s sake, load out after your performance. Not after your done finger blasting the village whore.

Is being late and lazy a good indicator of longevity?
You snooze you lose. The work ethic in the successful bands I work for, is thought the roof.

Lastly, what’s been your best and worst experiences in the biz so far?
Best experience is the friends that you pickup in this crazy world. Everyone that tours is absolutely insane and its soo great.
Worst experience – Megadeth!!!!!

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