“Roll them cases out and lift them amps. Haul them trusses down and get‘em up them ramps.” The Load Out, Jackson Browne
I thrive on influences and influencers. Whether it is The Kingston Trio, The Who, Jack White, or Chance The Rapper, I will find something that I can apply to my business of artist relations and pro audio marketing. A current influencer is David Meerman Scott, the marketing strategist, author, and music nut. He wrote a book called “Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead” that is great. All of his books are hugely helpful.
And while artists and products come and go, one item has stayed more or less consistent and important to me. The road case. I’ve loved road cases since the first time I saw them come off a bobtail truck at the Michigan State Fair. The road case was, and still is, a symbol of music, travel, and adventure.
Road cases, specifically the ATA type from companies like Anvil – the holy grail of cases – housed secrets. When working for my brother Scott’s local stage crew, some of those secrets were unlocked. One of Springsteen’s truck drivers showed us “the sound” inside a road case. A glockenspiel. If you can’t place it, think of the intro to “Born To Run.” Famed bassist Leland Sklar’s case was purposely made so that two stage hands had to carry it, thus insuring, theoretically, that it wouldn’t be mishandled.
Of course it’s all fun and games until you find yourself on the receiving end of a case coming down a truck ramp at, what I consider to be, a reckless speed. I was almost flattened by percussionist Steve Forman’s huge case that held hubcaps, garbage can lids, bells and other goodies that one would think didn’t need such care and protection. I was tempted to ask him if he couldn’t just steal hubcaps in every city and save freight hassles.
When I moved to Southern California I got a job driving the truck for Express Sound, a great company that built pro studios and the occasional portable recording system for all sorts of clients, mostly in the Los Angeles area. One day I was sent to the Anvil factory to pick up cases for a mixing console that Express had sold. Needless to say I was in heaven. I got a tour of the facility and was told that I could pick out any color of briefcase, they would stencil it with my name, and give it to me for free.
A couple of weeks later my very own blue Anvil briefcase showed up at my house. I had arrived. This, combined with the fake Marshall Tucker Band tour jacket that my brother had given me, made me feel alive. I loaded my papers, pens, and a copy of CREEM magazine into it and, well, didn’t do much. But I looked good. Later, when I began doing serious travel for manufacturers, it became apparent that the Anvil briefcase was not practical and was retired.
I continue to be fascinated by road cases and they still play into the work that I do. If you really want the inside scoop, look at the outside of a case. Check the stencils and other labels on them if you can. Management contacts, studios, rental houses, sound and lighting company intel is there. There are also some great old logos that pop up – Brother Records/The Beach Boys come to mind.
Being inquisitive is a critical and often overlooked component to business success. Data and analytics are good. But so is a road case.