One thing the music business has never had is a shortage of attitude. Anyone who’s involved in the industry in any way has dealt with people in a position of power who have attitude. Within minutes of meeting Jeff Linton, Stage Manager at the House of Blues Sunset Strip in Hollywood, one immediately finds that he too has attitude–and plenty of it. “Appreciate having you guys,” he tells a local band. “Let me validate the parking for you,” he says to another. When he has to inform them that they don’t get a sound check, he says it in a respectful, understanding, almost father-like way. After the opening band is finished with their set, Linton doesn’t hesitate to pitch in, hauling amps and mic stands as if he was their roadie.
Is this too good to be true? After all, here is a guy who has worked with some of the biggest names in music (ask him about the time he came to work, and the first thing he sees upon walking in the door is Slash and John Mayer discussing their Twitter accounts), and yet here he is, setting up a table to help a local band sell their merchandise.
Perhaps it comes from his background. He got his start in the music business with local bands, so he knows what it’s like to be slogging it out there on the road. “I worked mainly with two bands from the Southern California area. The main band consisted of some of my high school friends. I was a roadie/driver to start, and quickly became their tour manager. I did that for about four years before going back to school here in West Hollywood, at Musician’s Institute, to study audio engineering. After graduating I was able to get a job at HOB. I started being a stage hand again, and was quickly promoted to stage manager. I had the great opportunity to be the head lighting director for over a year, and to practice my engineering on and off for the almost four years here at HOB.”
The responsibilities of a stage manager are much more than just ensuring that the bands start and end on time–although that is an important aspect of his job. “Any audio, lighting or video needs fall to the production crew, and therefore the production manager or stage manager,” he says. “I also handle the bands access, guest lists, hospitality, settlement, the run of show, etc.” The night Screamer followed him around, Linton arrived at the club at 6:00 pm, long before the doors were scheduled to be opened at 9:00 pm. Linton has what he calls a “punchlist,” which is a list–both physical and mental–of items to be checked off before the first band hits the stage. Telling the bands where to stash their guitar cases, putting the cloth skirt around the stage, getting ice for the green rooms…whatever needs to be done. He’s constantly in motion in these pre-show hours, walking around the various levels and rooms of the HOB, taking calls on the walkie-talkie, and trying to (usually unsuccessfully) eat a uninterrupted dinner. He usually works eight to ten hours days, but on occasion, has put in 20-plus hours for extensive, difficult shows.
To an outsider, working in the music industry seems exciting and glamorous–which it certainly can be at times. However, there are less-than-thrilling things that happen behind the scenes that the general public rarely sees. For the uninitiated, Linton gives some examples. “Dealing with rude people (bands or guests), or those artists who have played everywhere and done everything, and are at the stage in their career that they are opening on a local night. Picking up cables that bands have spit on all night, or cleaning up after those who treat green rooms like dorm rooms. One of the toughest is working with those artists that are unprepared, or feel entitled. We run our department and venue at a professional level. Any band or artist that is unprepared to perform, or is unprofessional in their attitude are the hardest to work with. All I ever ask is for an artist or band to be on time, to be respectful and to be prepared. If you are prepared, then you will be on time, and being on time is respectful to the staff and other artists. Act like you want to play a show at the House of Blues, we say. There are a lot of egos that I am confronted with at my job. It takes the right kind of person to accommodate high-profile artists, or a tell a drunk band member ‘no’ with a smile on your face. With any day there comes new challenges in this line of work, both technical, logistical and emotional. It is a great job in an awesome venue, and no matter what happens, there is always another show that needs to be a success the next day.”
On the flip side are situations that create nervous anxiety and anticipation, but actually turn out OK. “There are a lot of large national bands that we fear. Anytime you have a stadium caliber band coming to play an 1100 capacity room it can be nerve-racking. With that said, most of the time those bands and crew are the most professional people I have ever worked around. In addition, they can provide for some awesome learning experiences. Those bands bring in a lot of experience and a lot expensive, new and fancy gear that we in a club level may never get to work or play with.”
In chatting with Linton, he mentions that he enjoyed working with Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan. In his office, he points out a photo of Slash and Joe Perry playing together. Still, when he describes another situation he enjoys, it shines a light on how real, authentic and truly refreshing his attitude is. “The other situation is with the unknown acts. The passion that is exuded from these locally promoted, amateur, or young bands and artists can sometimes never be matched. I really enjoy watching a band play a great set to a crowd that could be ten times bigger than they’ve ever played in front of, and killing it. They are so pumped and grateful. They are grateful for our skills, professionalism, courtesy, hard work, hospitality and efforts to make their show great. It reminds every time that I do this work because of the music, and what it takes to bring that music to the people.”