Voices Of Live: David ‘5-1’ Norman Of Tour Forensics

All  ‘n All:
Courtesy David Norman
– All ‘n All:
David ‘5-1’ Norman (second from left), with members of Earth Wind & Fire (l-r) Ralph Johnson, Philip Bailey and Verdine White

Pollstar caught-up with the preternaturally talented tour production master David ‘5-1’ Norman, who with more than 35 years in the industry has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. The multi-hyphenate, who works as a tour director, manager and accountant as well as a production manager and audio engineer – in addition to having his own company Tour Forensics – has worked on tours for Prince, Green Day, John Legend, Alicia Keys and Earth, Wind & Fire, among many others. Here, Norman discusses what he learned from Prince, how to build a career in the live business and how he’s dealt with discrimination. 
Pollstar: How’d you get your name ‘5-1’? 
David ‘5-1’ Norman: I was on a tour where we had 16 Davids, eight of whom were on the production channel. About the second or third day, the artist pulled me aside and said, “Hey, what kind of things are you interested in so I can come up with a radio code name for you?” And I said, “Well, I’ve always been a practicing Buddhist, interested in conspiracy theories, the Loch Ness Monster, Area 51 …” Every tour I’ve ever been on there’s usually another David or two or three, so I just tell people to call me ‘5-1.’
How did you get your start in the business? 
I was a frustrated drummer. I played in top 40 bands and a Rush cover band. We played Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and did a little Southeast tour. 
Did you even have Rototoms and a gong like Neil Peart?  
I had an old Simmons kit and a gong and a double bass kit. We played biker bars.
You’re the real deal.
It was hilarious, a black guy in a Rush cover band. But when I was 18 my phone rang in my hotel room at like 5:30 a.m, and it was the neighbors who lived across the street from my parents and they said, “You’ve got to come home. Your parents were in a car accident.” I said, “Well, are they okay?” They said, “You just need to come home.” And when we got back, I got the bad news that my parents were gone.
Norman’s Touring Case:
Courtesy David Norman
– Norman’s Touring Case:
with pictures of his late-parents, Prince’s glyph symbol and Mr. Burns
Oh my God. I’m so sorry.
I was in a daze. My parents left some money to my sister and myself. I lost the love for drumming but still wanted to be involved with music so I bought studio equipment. A friend helped me build walls and insulate and taught me how to engineer and mix. One of the groups at my studio got signed to Motown Records and when they went on the road they asked if I would come out and mix, set up the gear, drive the van, book hotels and flights and more. That’s how I learned. They were opening for a major band and the tour manager of that band was leaving, funny enough, to go work with Prince.
What was the band?
AC Black. They were from Macon, Ga. When she left to go work with Prince I got called up to work with the headlining band The SOS Band. Then I went on to Peabo Bryson where I did mix production and tour managed him for a few years. 
Were ladies throwing undergarments on the stage?
In some cities they were. It was embarrassing.
Those R&B shows, man, that’s when it gets crazy. Who came after that? 
Arrested Development for a few years. They were hip-hop alternative and won a couple of Grammys and opened up the doors to groups like the Fugees, Black Sheep and Diggable Planets.
What kind of venues were you doing? 
 SOS Band was doing arenas at the time. Peabo was doing theatres and dinner theatres and small arenas. He opened up for Kenny G on a big arena tour. Arrested Development did the WOMAD tour. They’re still huge in Asia. But I wanted to branch out into rock, country, jazz and not limit myself to one genre. I wanted to push my limits and learn. 

Tonight, I Celebrate My Love:
Courtesy David Norman
– Tonight, I Celebrate My Love:
Peabo Bryson performing at the Regal Theater in Chicago in January 1991.
What were you doing on those tours?  
I was tour managing, production managing and settling shows, I was doing everything and I was mixing.
Are they paying you one salary or four?
One-person salary. But I was just starting out, I didn’t know any better and I wanted to prove myself. And I enjoyed it.
Is that a typical trajectory? 
It’s still the way independent artists start out. The tour manager does everything a lot of times. It’s still difficult to this day cutting your teeth and to learn how to do this stuff. 
It sounds like your ability to pivot, work hard and learn different skills helped you and is a good lesson for people trying to get into the business. 

I had three great mentors and I still call them from time to time to get their advice. Tom Barfield, he worked with everyone from Mötley Crüe to Luther Vandross to Rick James, and the best advice he ever gave me, he said, “Dave, as you’re coming up you need to learn everything – tour managing, production management, accounting. If you can, be a promoter rep so you could learn stuff from the other side of the table. Take that and run with it because your phone will ring four times more for possible gigs than just ringing for one gig.” That was some of the best advice anyone ever gave me.
Who were your other mentors? 
The lady who noticed me with AC Black on tour, Karen Krattinger, who went on tour with Prince and the Dixie Chicks. She lives in Nashville, we still talk every month or two. She shoots right from the hip. She’ll tell you straight out, “You’re fucking up. You shouldn’t do that. This is my advice, but you’re a grown man …” 
Who was your other mentor? 
A guy named Bob Ward, who’s over in England at Sanctuary Management and had Iron Maiden, Morrissey and Joss Stone, who I tour managed. He’s worked with Beyoncé. He’s retired now, but man, what a wealth of information. We just spoke a couple of days ago, just an amazing man. 
Who came after Arrested Development?
There was a few other artists in between, but Green Day was one of my favorite groups to work with because I love the music and they were so unpredictable. We were playing theaters, baby arenas, a lot of festivals in Europe. Goo Goo Dolls, too. I did the first year of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The Beautiful Game:
Courtesy David Norman
– The Beautiful Game:
David ‘5-1’ Norman at the 2006 World Cup in Germany where he went with Toni Braxton, whose song with Il Divo “The Time of Our Lives” was the official FIFA song.

Always perennial top earners.
I’ve worked with Toto, Dream Theater, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Earth, Wind & Fire and Prince.
Wow! So with each of those were your responsibilities different? 
I was either tour manager and accountant or production manager and accountant or tour director and accountant. It was a hodgepodge. I took the advice of Tom Barfield, my mentor, “Learn everything you can, because your phone will ring.” 
How do you do those jobs at the same time?
Here’s what I tell people: If I’m the production manager and I’m the accountant, I have to see all the bills anyway and I prefer to do both jobs. So, pay me a little extra because the artist is going to save money. If you hire one person to do two jobs, you’re saving an extra hotel, flight, salary, per diem, etc. – it’s well worth it. 
So you’re up early in the morning for the production call and late night for settlement, what are your hours? 
Usually loading in at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning and then I get back on the bus like maybe 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. But you figure out how to budget your time. 

Four hours of sleep? 
Four or five, yeah. 

Were you a lone wolf, working for another company or did you have your own business?
I just started my own last year called Tour Forensics, but it’s more of a tour consultancy thing. But as far as touring with artists, I’m an independent contractor. 
U Got The Look:
Courtesy David Norman
– U Got The Look:
A meme made by one of the crew members Norman oversaw when he was working Prince’s 2014 “Hit and Run Part II Tour.”
What are your tent poles from those tours? 
Working with Prince, he pushed me to be a better production manager and an overseer because he was a perfectionist. He was very difficult but when you’re a perfectionist, you have such high standards that you expect other people to have the same standards. He really, really pushed me. 
How did you get the gig? 
I got a call, it was his last tour with 3rdeyegirl, his all-girl band, nine days before the tour started. They said, “Hey, we’re looking for a production manager for Prince,” and I said, “Absolutely.” And I said, “Can you start sending me information?” And they said, “What do you mean? What do you need? We can send you the tour dates.” I said, “Okay, can you tell me who the vendors are?” They said, “We don’t have any of that in place. We need you to put everything together.” So in nine days, I put together the entire European tour. I hired all the vendors, staffed it, did flights, hotels, a preliminary budget, helped put together the touring itinerary, I did it all in nine days. I didn’t sleep for four days putting it together with the time difference in Europe being six hours ahead. That was a highlight because I pushed myself and I wanted to make a good impression on him.
Did he interact with you? Was he giving you encouragement or advice or criticizing? I know he was shy.  
Oh my gosh, yes. He would come up to me directly because I was the main person, so if someone had to be fired, he would go, “Hey, that person, get rid of him.” But there would be days he would call me down to the dressing room and talk to me just like a guy, like, “How’s your family? What do you think about basketball? Who’s your favorite football team?” We would talk about religion sometimes.
But other days, it would be, “Why did you do that? That’s unacceptable” or “I didn’t like this portion of the show tonight. We need to change this.” I carried a small notebook in my pocket because he would ramble off a lot of things he would want changed during the show that I would tell the audio, video or lighting departments. “Hey, the boss wants this changed for tomorrow’s show,” and on and on. He taught me a lot and he worked you to death, but the shows were well worth it. I would stand on the side of the stage and watch the show, it was just like I can’t believe I’m a part of this.
His after-show jams would go until 4:00 a.m. It seemed so off the cuff and improvisational but always pitch-perfect in his music decisions. Was it all as improvised as it appeared?
It was spontaneous because he could read a crowd so well. He could give the band a look or a hand motion and they would know what to do. He learned a lot of that from James Brown in how he directed the band. But he was an underrated guitar player, an underrated bass player, underrated drummer. He’s one of the greatest musicians of all time. Just to see him walk up, even not on his own gear, pick up a guitar and play it, not knowing the gauge of the strings or the size of the guitar pick and just make it sing or to just sit down at a keyboard or piano and play something classical or jazz or gospel – I would look at him and just go, “This guy is on a whole other planet.” 

Wouldn’t Prince route the tour off the cuff and add another show here and there?
Very much so. We were in Brussels and had a “day off.” And on our “day off,” myself, the production coordinator and promoter had to drive around Brussels to find a venue because he wanted to play on our “day off.” We would go to different venues and take pictures and text them to him and he would say, “No. No. Possibility. No.” He decided on the Botanical Gardens, they had a little room in the back that held 300 people or so. We did three shows that night and packed up and rolled into the next city. We were burnt.
What year was that?
Did you work with him after that? 
He did the “Piano & a Microphone Tour,” which was his last tour and some dates in Canada, but I wasn’t a part of those. When we got back from Europe, I was done mentally and physically. I was just worn down. I was doing everything – production manager, pseudo-tour manager because our tour manager never showed up, we didn’t have a tour accountant out there, so I was helping out with those things. I was burnt out, just mentally and physically done. There was a lot of things I wanted to do for him and with him, but the timing wasn’t right. 
What were your other tentpoles? 
There are three other artists I wanted to mention that made a huge impact in my life: John Legend, Alicia Keys and Earth, Wind & Fire. They all have the same kind of element that I really love: They believe in the words “please,” “thank you,” “yes, sir,” “no, sir,” “yes, ma’am,” “no, ma’am.” It’s top down how they treat their people and they’re very, very good to their people. They made a huge impact on my life as far as dealing with touring.

Courtesy David Norman
– Fallin’:
Alecia Keys on the back of David ‘5-1’ Norman in Dubai and who he says encouraged him to be more outgoing.
And they’re all African-Americans, interestingly enough, and incredibly talented, obviously, and very successful. How did they make great touring teams? 
It’s top-down from the artist and how they view not only their internal world but their outer world and in general how they treat people. And you see it and feel it as soon as you come on board. All of those artists, even to this day, I’ve taken something from all of them. 
John Legend said something that always stuck with me. He said, “‘5-1,’ if you don’t have your word, what do you have?” And man, I got goosebumps right now even relaying that. Alicia Keys, she’s a very, very smart lady.  The thing I got from her was, I’m very much an introvert, I’m a private person and she would always try to bring me out to be a little bit more outgoing. 
And then Earth, Wind & Fire and how they treat people. Some of the band have been there for 20 or 30 years. So it’s top-down. 
What about in the industry? 
Rob Light, who’s at CAA, has been a huge impact in my life. Because I can call him from time to time just to have a quick chat. Meredith Jones and Brian Hill in the CAA offices in Nashville have been a huge help. Brett Steinberg at CAA has been a huge influence. Mitch [Rose] also in the L.A. office.

How about managers? 
A lot of times, the really great managers are visionaries themselves in making the vision of an artist happen. Irving Azoff, Stuart Ross at Red Light Management, John Cutcliffe, Ty Stiklorius, who manages John Legend, she’s an amazing manager, a visionary. A great manager who works with an amazing artist is often the reason why they’re very successful. 
How has a lack of diversity and inclusivity in our industry impacted your career and approach to the business?  
I’ve made a concerted effort in my career to branch out and work in different genres, but I have also felt I haven’t been given a seat at the table to be on those big tours like the Stones, U2, Black Sabbath or Madonna. I haven’t had an opportunity. I’ve applied to be on those tours but have never gotten a call. And it begs the questions, am I not good enough? Do they not know me? Is it a color issue? Which I don’t think it is. I think it’s that people usually hire people they know and they’re comfortable with, that they’ve worked with before. I do the same thing when I’m hiring on my tours. But I make a concerted effort to hire people of color and women because we need more female tour managers, production managers, accountants, front of house engineers, and monitor engineers, and we don’t and they don’t get those same opportunities. 
How do you approach hiring? 
One of the things I do is when I’m hiring vendors, especially bus and truck companies, I say, “Hey. Do you have any black drivers? Do you have any female drivers?” And that’s for buses and trucks because I not only want to give them an opportunity but by requesting that, it’s also making the industry as a whole a little bit more well-rounded. 
Prince and I had a conversation one night in his dressing room. He said, “You know what? My next tour, I want it to be all women.” And I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “I want everyone to be a woman; the band, the lighting person, stage manager, truck drivers, bus drivers. I want everyone to be female on the tour.” And I said, “I think that’s an amazing idea, do you think that you can make it happen?” He says, “It needs to happen.” 

Have you been subjected to bias on tour where it’s like, “Oh. Who are you? You can’t come back here.”
My last country tour I was the tour manager and accountant so I’m the big cheese. And whenever I got off the bus – and we started making memes about this – people would say, “Hey. Are you the bus driver? You need to move that bus.” It’s like, “I’m not the bus driver. I’m the tour manager.” “No, really. Where’s the tour manager?” I’d say “I am the tour manager.” “Well, okay, dude. Just move the bus. Okay?” Or, “Hey, are you the truck driver? Are you security?”

John and Chrissy Sandwich:
Courtesy David Norman
– John and Chrissy Sandwich:
David ‘5-1’ Norman between Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, who he says had a “huge impact” on his life.

How do you not lose your cool when those situations arise? 
You can’t because there’s always going to be ignorant people. Especially if you’re in an industry where there aren’t a whole lot of us, you just kind of deal with it and roll with it because you have to. You get frustrated but you move on because I know that I’m better than that. I don’t have to explain to you that I’m the tour manager of a country tour. If you don’t believe me that’s on you. I’m going to keep on doing me. You just keep on doing you. 

We got a long way to go but maybe things are starting to get better? 
There’s something different about this one, for sure, because people are mad. This is a whole different kind of anger and people are really talking about it, more so now than they ever have. I am very hopeful there will be change.