This is rock’n’roll like you’ve never seen it before.
Roadies are the unsung heroes of the Australian music industry, there’s no question about it. They unload the PAs and equipment, they set it all up, they make sure everything is running smoothly before, during and after the gigs. Once the show’s over, they then pack everything up in the middle of the night, put it in the back of the truck and hit the road to another town – to do it all over again.
The backbone of the industry, they’ve seen it all, and Tana Douglas’s memoir, Loud: A life in rock’n’roll by the world’s first female roadie, proves it, taking us on a journey behind the road cases from the perspective of the world’s first rock’n’roll female roadie.
Having begun her life as a roadie at just 15 years old – running away from a broken family and into the welcoming arms of rock’n’roll – Douglas has gone on to work alongside some of the music industry’s biggest names during her career of more than 40 years.
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A true music industry pioneer, she’s done it all, working in the backline, sound, lights, logistics, production, and tour management with everyone from Status Quo, The Who, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, The Police, Elton John, and Iggy Pop, to Luther Vandross, Ice-T, Ice Cube, Lenny Kravitz, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and of course, the band that gave Douglas her first job as a roadie, AC/DC. In those days, it was a matter of learning on the job – not always easy as one of the rare women working in the support crew.
With no previous experience in publishing, Douglas has penned a brilliant and boisterous memoir of much of her early life, providing an honest first-hand account about the trials and tribulations of working with these artists within a male-dominated industry. Having been acknowledged as rock’n’roll’s first female roadie in multiple accounts, Douglas was invigorated to tell her story – the right story – in her own words.
“There were people putting stories out there that weren’t really accurate, or they were correct but were misconstrued; I just didn’t trust someone else to tell my story,” Douglas reveals.
“I also didn’t want to sensationalise the people who I had worked for. There is a code as a roadie that if you respect the people, they open up to you and trust you with their deepest, darkest secrets and they expect that you’re not going to write a tell-all book.”
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Despite candid accounts about wrangling Iggy Pop across Europe, a ‘proposal’ from George Harrison, and drinking shots of JD with Bon Scott backstage at Wembley, Douglas’ focus is on educating the readers on the vigorous amount of work involved in ensuring the show goes on, no matter what.
“This isn’t a tell-all book, it has a different purpose,” she says. “Yes, it has a purpose of letting people know what these people are really like, but it’s also a story about letting people know what it’s really like to work with these people, and day to day living with them in and out on the road.
“I don’t think I broke any boundaries and I actually got it right.”
Whether it’s climbing trusses while seven months pregnant, scaling up to the roof moments after an accident, almost getting electrocuted, or donning a tailor-made suit to do lights for Elton at Windsor Castle, it’s clear life on the road is exhilarating, hard work and occasionally surreal – particularly when you’re the only woman in the road crew. For Douglas, enduring criticism from male colleagues and abuse from female fans was just ‘part of the job’.
Having never planned to write a book, Loud is a credit to Douglas’ skills as a storyteller, filled with frank and comprehensive anecdotes from the ’70s through to the new millennium.
“The book covers three decades, the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and most of it is written from memory,” she says, “but it’s been checked and double-checked with other people who were there at the time to ensure it’s completely accurate.
“I couldn’t even get everything in from those decades because there were so many stories that I could include but I just had to write it in a way where the reader who doesn’t live the lifestyle can actually understand what’s going on.
“I tried to be as thorough and in-depth as possible and also keep my own voice.”
Proving that life on the road is anything but dull, alongside the tales about the all-encompassing music industry, Douglas also includes forthright narratives about her personal life, detailing health battles, fractured relationships and a heartbreaking custody battle with her own mother.
“It was difficult to open up about those things but I thought if I’m talking about other people and it’s my story, I’d have to talk about myself and this is going to be the one chance that I had to get it straight,” she reveals.
“I felt I had to do that with as much care as I could, but I had to be honest as well. That’s the fine line that you have to walk, unfortunately. And when you have a rough childhood and a rough existence and you just have to be honest about it, you write it in a way where you let the reader make up their minds about what they think of a person.”
An incredibly engaging, revealing, emotional and funny collection of wild stories, Loud will appeal to the discerning music lover and those with a keen interest in Australian and international music industries. The chapters detailing her time with AC/DC will be especially thought-provoking for the die-hard fans, where Douglas recounts living with them, being there for the launch of their debut album High Voltage and their first pub gig, to the time they got in a fistfight with Deep Purple’s crew, and the day she saved Bon Scott’s life in the early years of his career.
Bon Scott’s 29th birthday at the home of the Marks family, 1975. Tana is there laughing in the background. Photo by Vicki Marks
With the live music industry decimated by the ongoing pandemic making world tours, concerts and festivals all but impossible, Loud is an ode to the once-thriving touring industry. It even offers wistful music lovers a bittersweet escape from reality, evoking that sense of nostalgia for a crowded mosh, the industry’s biggest names on stage and just good old rock’n’roll.
The tale of a true pioneer, Tana Douglas’ Loud is an inspiring and authentic story about a life on the road, fuelled by passion, imagination and a remarkable work ethic. Paving the way for women in the music industry, the memoir is rock’n’roll like you’ve never seen it before, by a woman who not only survived the all-male world on the road but climbed to the top and lived to tell the tale.
Loud: A life in rock’n’roll by the world’s first female roadie by Tana Douglas is out now via Harper Collins. Grab a copy here.