Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for KPCC comes from:

Tour manager Jim Runge and the unglamorous life of the rock 'n' roll roadie

Ways to Subscribe
Jim Runge is currently the tour director for Major Lazer and has worked with The Black Keys, Wilco, and Lucinda Williams
Jim Runge
Jim Runge is currently the tour director for the EDM act, Major Lazer. He has also worked with The Black Keys, Wilco and Lucinda Williams.

He's traveled the world with The Black Keys, Wilco and Lucinda Williams, but the rock lifestyle definitely has its low moments.

If you’re watching the Showtime series, “Roadies,” you know that life on the road with a rock band isn’t always glamorous.

Yes, roadies get to travel the world and work with rock stars, but as tour manager Jim Runge explains — and he’s been been in the business for more than 20 years — it’s a lot of hard work. Runge has to keep the band on schedule, from the minute they wake up to the moment they take the stage. He has to make sure the dressing room is stocked with the right snacks and drinks, and that everyone — from the lighting crews to the security guards — is doing his or her job.

Runge is one of the best at what he does. He won Pollstar’s “Road Warrior of the Year Award” when he was a tour manager for The Black Keys, where he beat out tour managers for The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. When he spoke with The Frame’s James Kim, Runge said being a roadie definitely has its low moments.


The downside of being a roadie:

People don't understand the bad side of what I do ... [like] when I have to scoop stuff out of bus toilets with a cup, because I knew an artist had O.C.D. and if they would have seen what was in the bus they would have probably never gotten back on. I had to deal with getting rid of people, security stuff. It's worse, and not as bad, as everybody thinks it is. 

How he became The Black Keys' tour manager:

I use a database that a lot of tour managers use. It's just a big database that keeps all the information that we need to do a tour and it also allows us to build itineraries, day sheets, and it just happened to be that The Black Keys' management had just bought that database. So they called me and at the time it was kind of a step down from where I've been. 

Lucinda Williams at the time had been doing bigger things than what The Black Keys [were], believe it or not. It was around 2010, and at the time I said, Well, until something better comes along I'll take it. It ended up being the biggest thing I've done. 

The Black Keys

The rise of The Black Keys:

When we started, the first shows I did, they were just transitioning from a two-piece to a four-piece [band]. At that point we could put all the band and crew and the gear in one bus. By the time we wrapped things up last year, we were 10 trucks, 10 buses, and 70 people. 

My role [went] from doing everything to basically having security people, assistants, production coordinators, a production manager, dressing room people, [and] wardrobe people that we didn't have before when it was just me alone with a sound guy, lighting guy and a guitar tech. 

I was hired in March, 2010 and I think that May the record ["Brothers"] came out. They went from selling out clubs to — within a year — we sold out our first arena. 

Why he wanted to become a tour manager:

I grew up in Wisconsin, in Green Bay. It's football, Green Bay Packers and cheese. I love cheese, but I don't love the other option. But for me, being a kid, there was like six of us into punk rock in the late '70s. We got beat up a lot. The people wearing green and gold, the sports fans, were also the guys that were beating us up because we were the ones that were different. 

So music is the thing that saved me. I sang in a hardcore band in the early '80s. We put on shows, which is how I got involved in doing what I do now. And the thing I wanted to do all my life was travel. For me, getting to do what I do now is a connection to what I was dealing with growing up. It's all I ever wanted to do was get out of Green Bay, travel and do music. 

Stay Connected