Not long ago, our girl in Germany, the one and only Susi Müller of Rocket Queen Promotions talked with Colin Hart. Best known for the work he did with such bands as Deep Purple and Rainbow, Colin recently released a memoir of his time with the 2 bands as their tour manager and life on the road with these mega bands back in the days of rock n roll excess and musical excellence. Susi is sharing their conversation with ZRock’R so the American audience can get a better feel for Colin the man and tour master and his insights into some of the musical greats he has worked with like Ritchie Blackmore, Ronnie Dio and Ian Gillan. ~ SL
Susi Müller: Please give a short introduction about yourself, the man, Colin Hart.
Colin Hart: Hi everyone, it’s me………what does a person say about his or her self? I have had the pleasure and pain of working with some of the most successful bands in the world and have had a life that I would not change much if I had it all to do over. (except for a few health problems!)
SM: You first studied technical drawing and then you worked in the Borough Engineers department. When did you get in touch with Rainbow/Deep Purple back then?
Colin: I was never an engineer for any band! I went to college to try and become an architect in the Borough Engineers department in the town where I worked at the time. However, the music business got in the way. I had been driving some local bands around in my spare time and was beginning to love the work and atmosphere. Eventually, I got an offer from my first professional band, Toby Twirl, to join them as their only roadie/driver! That was the end of my technical drawing days. I was never hired as an “engineer” by any bands. Ritchie used to insist that I was at the sound console at every show to ensure he was “loud enough in the mix, especially the solos.” But I wasn’t the real sound engineer. Rainbow wasn’t even an idea back in those days. I ran into Deep Purple on a US tour when I was with Matthews Southern Comfort and ended up getting a job with them after that tour. Then a little later I was working with Elf and that’s when Ritchie and Ronnie started to talk about writing and recording some stuff. At the last Purple show when Ritchie left the first time, in Paris, I was offered the job as tour manager for the new band Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. I accepted immediately, of course. And the rest is……as they say…..history.
SM: I wonder if you had a nickname for the “RAINBOW” with the bulb lights you always carried with you on tour?
Colin: Some of the crew and I used to call it “The Beast” and “The Monstrosity”.
SM: How did they get you the tour management job in Rainbow then? First you started with engineering, and then you tour managed the worlds greatest rock group. How does it feel?
Colin: See the answer to question 2. above!
SM: Your statement about the various rainbow singers like Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner in your own words.
Colin: I enjoyed all of the singers we had in Rainbow over the years. Each of them had their own particular style and personality. By far the easiest to get along with was Ronnie. Graham and Joe both did an excellent job following in the footsteps of RJD and I enjoyed working with them both as well.
SM: Ronnie James Dio in your own words.
Colin: Ronnie was a great guy who absolutely loved his fans and friends. He would go above and beyond to make people happy. He would never leave anyone without an autograph and a kind word. Always was a pleasure to work with for all those years. I spent many a great evening sharing food with Ronnie and friends at his condo in Malibu back in the early Rainbow days. Ronnie was a great cook!
SM: What made Ronnie tick to leave Rainbow in the end was it Ritchie in first place or was it due to other circumstances as well?
Colin: Ritchie and Ronnie had been having differences of opinion about song writing and direction for some time before Ronnie made the decision to split.
SM: Were you sad when Ronnie left the band? What was your personal feel about it?
Colin: Yes, of course. We were very good friends. I had no idea which way Ritchie was going to go without him, but I knew Ronnie would be OK with that voice!
SM: How did you acquire all the knowledge about tour management?
Colin: It all came from years on the road…..first as a roadie for local bands, then as a professional roadie, then on to tour manager eventually.
SM: Your advice for newcomer tour managers nowadays is?
Colin: It’s a very different business now compared to the older days. First of all, it’s harder to get into unless you have experience and a good resume. So, for newcomers, work hard with local bands and try to be the best at what you do. Then you can apply for touring positions. These days, most tours request applications on a per tour basis and require a resume and references. Also a lot of tours advertise anonymously for crew positions, so you don’t know who you are applying with unless you get accepted. Very different from when I came up through the ranks!
SM: What was the most expensive tour for Rainbow and/or Deep Purple you ever had to cancel? Was it the Spain tour in the 90s for $75000 because Ritchie took it easy and was head over heels in love with Candy?
Colin: Sorry, but these things were not part of my direct business on the road and were handled by Bruce Payne. I try not to discuss money questions I am asked about.
SM: And what apparently was the most unmanageable circumstance for Rainbow and/or Deep Purple which YOU managed successfully?
Colin: Some of the most difficult things with Rainbow were related to getting out of situations created by Ritchie, damage from practical jokes, being late, pushing boundaries of time constraints. With Deep Purple there were a few things. The almost impossible group and orchestra dates in London. The crew were great on those shows. Travel and lodging problems were quite tricky. Also trying to control an almost impossible guest list and make it all look easy! When Ritchie came back to Purple in ’84, it was quite difficult to try and work his requests to blend with those of the rest of the band and try to make it all work and keep everyone smiling. He tried hard to make life hard!
SM: Did the bands appreciate all the cloaks and discomfort you had while you always had given 100 % doing anything which could be managed and solving it to their full satisfaction? I think that was hard work… mostly the people think tour manager is an easy job… but if they don’t know the whole background they surely will be amazed what it takes to be a full time and also travelling tour manager right?
Colin: I don’t think they ever sit down and think about what it takes to get it done and the stress involved. Especially when there are two people pulling in different directions, like RB and Ian G. especially in the build up to RB’s departure again.
SM: I already read Ian Gillans book CHILD IN TIME so I already know the story about the so called SPAGHETTI INCIDENT. Did you have a laugh about it back then? And were you at the same room as Ritchie smashed the spaghetti plate into Ian’s face? What are your thoughts on this incident?
Colin: Yes, I was there and was frozen to the spot when it happened, as I thought that Ian was going to erupt and kill RB. However, it was amazing how Ian kept his composure and almost ignored him, which infuriated Ritchie even more, but he left the room quickly. Everyone managed to look back at the incident and have a few laughs about it.
SM: Cozy Powell in your own words
Colin: Another one of the greats who left this world too soon. I shared a house with Cozy in Connecticut, so we were really close and good friends. He would leave me his car, a nice Trans Am, to play around in when he was out of the US on personal business. He was among the very top best rock drummers in the world. He was also one of the only guys who stood up to Ritchie defiantly, if there was something Ritchie said or did that Cozy didn’t like.
SM: Ritchie Blackmore in your own words
Colin: Well, what can one say about him. He is still one of the best rock guitarists around, although he’s playing a much different style of music now. Not exactly my cup of tea! There were times when Ritchie would seem like the best friend in the world, then next day he could be like you’d never met before. After shows sitting around hotel bars, he would ask me to tell tour stories to whoever was around and he would laugh and laugh at all the same old stories. I’d like to take a look inside his head one day!
SM: Jon Lord in your own words
Colin: A true gentleman in every sense of the word and someone who should never have been taken from us. Aside from being a brilliant rock and classical musician, he was a great story teller. He would tell jokes using the best accents to suit the subject and have me rolling with laughter. He was one of few who could really do a Geordie accent to perfection. I still can’t believe he’s gone. Very sad.
SM: Ian Gillan in your own words
Colin: Ian could be a handful, but then he had a great and generous side to him too. He took me on a paid diving vacation to Grand Cayman one year! A very talented gentleman who I enjoyed working for and with. He also liked a really good laugh. He stunned me with some of his unique antics over the years. A fearless man!
SM: What was the hardest time in your career being a tour manager? And was there a time when you thought about quitting this job? From what I read I don’t think that you ever wanted to quit as you loved what you do, don’t you? But stress was always a huge subject in your job. And in the end doesn’t make you feel good at all.
Colin: Well, there were a couple of times when I considered leaving, but it was offers from other bands that nearly lured me away, not wanting to quit. Looking back, I think it was the best move to stay with them until the end. Some of the other bands who made offers fizzled long before I was ready to hang up my briefcase! There were certainly some very stressful times but also some very relaxing tours and recording sessions too, so it was well balanced.
SM: Well by the way how can you explain Ritchie’s love for Germany?
Colin: Ritchie loved and still loves Germany. I think it comes from the early days when most band from that era had to do their time in the German clubs, especially Hamburg. He fell in love there and was married twice to German ladies, Margit and Babs. I’m sure that helped seal his love of the country too. He loves spending his holidays touring German castles, which is something I would help organise for him. I would do special tour itineraries for him and his guests. He never really seemed to appreciate it, though. As far as I know, he is still a supporter of the German National football team and would always try to watch their games whenever he could.
SM: Is there any secret tour story which you didn’t mention in your book you exclusively can share with my readers, Colin?
Colin: Nothing that wouldn’t get me into trouble!
SM: What about your feelings when you got the letter from Ritchie stating he want to leave Deep Purple and YOU have to tell the Deep Purple guys about it?
Colin: That was an amazing night and quite amusing to look back at it. After he gave me the letter, I read it and immediately called Bruce Payne, who simply said, go and tell the guys about it and then I will call them afterwards. So I did. They really didn’t seem too surprised. I think Jon was the most upset about it at the time. I was a little worried personally, but knew they would continue somehow.
SM: When you stopped working for Deep Purple back in 2001 – which bands did you work for after them and what else did you do for a living back then?
Colin: After Purple I took a long vacation from everything. The next thing I did with a band was the Living Loud recording sessions in Orlando, Ocala and London. Drew Thompson hired me to oversee the transportation, accommodation, etc., and to look after Jimmy Barnes and his family as well as the others, Bob Daisley, Lee Kerslake and Steve Morse and the engineer, Darren Schneider. It was quite an exciting project and I had hoped there would be a tour, but I think they only ever played two live shows in Australia. A little while after that, I moved to Miami and took a job as a stage manager in a theatre, a job which I loved but unfortunately, the place closed down after about 18 months. I dabbled in a couple of projects and even opened an antique store, until I got screwed out of lots of cash by my partner at the time. After that, I returned to Orlando, which is where I am still living and eventually took a job as a driver trainer in the motor coach division of Mears Transportation. That’s where I stayed until I happily retired in February.
SM: What do you miss most about the business – do you ever want to go back out on the road again if the time would say: Colin this is something for you we want you to be our manager? Or would you prefer to maybe do this within your area in the USA only? Or have you round off with it?
Colin: I do miss it, but it’s not the same out there anymore. Things are very stiff and sterile at most shows I go to these days. I don’t think I would do another tour unless was with someone I really admired and the money was right, of course.
SM: Are you still in touch with Mr. Glover and Mr. Blackmore and Mr. Blackmore Junior?
Colin: Jürgen and I are in contact occasionally, but not the rest of them. I stay in touch with JLT and Graham too.
SM: I understand you were super sad and heartbroken when you lost lots of buddies all along the way… last it was Mr. Jon Lord. And before Ronnie James Dio. I am sure you and Ronnie as well as you and Jon were still in touch to this day? When and where did you get the sad news?
Colin: I was here in Florida when I learned of both passing away. Jon’s death seemed very sudden to me, as I was chatting with my nephew Paul who had just seen him days before. Then the news. Horrible. Similar situation with Ronnie, except I was getting limited information through his management company. Then someone sent me a text at work saying he had gone. Very hard to believe then and still is now.
SM: Last but not least the floor is yours… Leave a final message for all my readers.
Colin: Well, dear readers, I hope these answers are somewhat interesting and informative for you. I wish you all the very best and you never know………….I might be back one day.
Colin my dear friend, I thank you from the heart for answering all my questions. That means a lot to me. And I am super happy bout this. Any friend of Ronnie is a friend of mine.. all gentle people with a huge heart. Thanks for your time and friendship this is simply priceless.
~ Susi Müller / Rocket Queen Promotions
For more of the story- get Colin’s book- ” A Hart Life” which is published by Wymer UK and available on Amazon.
Writer: Susi Müller
Photo Credits: Colin Hart- Rocket Queen Promotions and Wymer UK
Colin Hart with Deep Purple background ( original photos Rocket Queen Promotions and EMI (UK)/ WarnerBros(USA). – compilation by LisaKay Allen )
Interview courtesy Rocket Queen Promotions- used with permission