Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: I Want, I Need, I Must Have: Rock Stars and Their Riders

According to “This Day in”, on August 31, 2006 – 14 years ago today – the Times of London ran an article on the sometimes outright whacko-crazy demands made by rock stars when on tour. Today we’ll live vicariously through a few of these rockers and see what sort of extravagance we too could command if we were among their number.

But first, let us mark three worthy birthdays and one death.

Alma Marie Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel in 1909
Alma Marie Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879-1964) in 1909

On August 31, 1879 – 141 years ago today – the composer, pianist, and muse Alma Maria Schindler was born in Vienna; she died in New York City on December 11, 1964. Had Ms. Schindler been born 100 years later, in 1976 rather that 1886, she would almost certainly be a professional composer today with a career of very much of her own. But alas and alack, the time and place of her birth forced her to find self-realization through the many men in her life, three of whom she actually married: the composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911); the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969); and the author Franz Werfel (1890-1945). That this extraordinarily talented and literate woman should be best remembered for the men she slept with (The Telegraph calls her “the ultimate femme fatale: the muse who seduced Vienna”) is nothing short of tragic. Then again, she has been honored as few will ever be honored, as the subject of a Tom Lehrer song. A bit dated though it is, the song – recorded in 1965 a year after Alma’s death – does in fact reflect her posthumous reputation. Here’s a link: 

Itzhak Perlman
Itzhak Perlman (born 1945)

On August 31, 1945 – 75 years ago today – the violinist Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv, in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine and what today is Israel. He is a giant: there would seem to be nowhere he hasn’t performed, no one he hasn’t performed with, and nothing he cannot play (he has recorded jazz with Oscar Peterson; he has performed Klezmer; he has played the Star Spangled Banner for the New York Mets; and among many other films he was the soloist in John Williams’ film score for Schindler’s List, which won an Oscar in 2006). Along the way he has snagged 14 Grammy Awards.

Happy 75th, maestro!

We mark as well today the 75th birthday of the singer and songwriter George Ivan “Van” Morrison, who was born in Bloomfield, Belfast, in Northern Ireland. We would be, perhaps, a bit more enthusiastic about “The Belfast Cowboy’s” birthday had he not made a fool of himself during the pandemic, demanding that his fans ignore social distancing and “Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudo-science and speak up.”

The Benny Goodman Quartet in 1937
The Benny Goodman Quartet in 1937; left-to-right: Lionel Hampton (1908-2002); Teddy Wilson (1912-1986); Benny Goodman (1909-1986); Gene Krupa (1909-1973)

Finally, we mark the death on August 31, 2002 – 18 years ago today – of the vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, in New York City at the age of 94. Hampton was not just a brilliant musician who recorded with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Quincy Jones; he was also a key player in the desegregation of the music business. In 1936, the clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman (1909-1986) heard Hampton in Los Angeles and was knocked on his keister. He hired him on the spot, and in doing so became – in 1937 – the first major white bandleader to integrate his band, a full 10 years before Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” in major league baseball. Many years later Hampton remembered:

“As far as I’m concerned, what he [Benny Goodman] did in those days—and they were hard days in 1937—made it possible for Negroes to have their chance in baseball and other fields.”

Artist “Riders”

An “artist rider” is the collective “requests” (or demands!) made by performers as conditions to be met in the course of a performance. The rider is attached to the performance contract. All sorts of things go into a rider, including the dressing room and hospitality (meaning hotel) requirements, security, stage set-up and technical requirements, comp passes, food, ground transportation, and even parking. 

It is a fact: high end concert artists in general and rock stars in particular can get away with making demands while on tour that the rest of us can only fantasize about. And while it is also a fact that most performers will make reasonable requests, intended simply to ensure their comfort backstage and success on stage, others will make demands that far exceed the ludicrous because they can.

For example, here are a few not entirely ludicrous requests (in my opinion).

Ozzy Osbourne (born 1948) requires on an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor at each venue. Given the chemical cocktails Osbourne is reputed to routinely pour into his body, this seems a perfectly reasonable contractual stipulation (though we wonder why a gastroenterologist and poison control officer are not in his rider as well).

Meat Loaf (born Michael Lee Aday, 1947) demands that his dressing room contain a mask and small tank of oxygen. Okay, whatever; he likes oxygen, and it’s healthier than nitrous oxide.

David Bowie (1947-2016) requested that his dressing room be kept at a downright chilly temperature of between 14C (57.2F) and 17C (62.6F). (Bowie was a man after my own heart. The first thing I do when I walk into a hotel room is turn down the thermostat as far as it will go. If I cannot see my own breath, it’s too warm.)

Among Mick Jagger’s requirements is one that makes total sense to me: a teleprompter on stage with the lyrics of the songs under performance that also keeps reminding him the name of the city in which he’s performing. (Perhaps it’s a reflection of the Mick’s present age – 77 – but having a prompter around just-in-case seems to me a fine idea. Question: what’s more embarrassing than forgetting a lyric? Answer: forgetting where you are: “HELLO . . . Hello . . . hello . . . (where the eff are we?) . . .” Not good. 

The Beatles during their 1965 tour of the United States
The Beatles during their 1965 tour of the United States, left-to-right: John Lennon (1940-1980; Paul McCartney (born 1942; Ringo Star (born 1940); George Harrison (1943-2001)

At just three pages in length, The Beatles rider for their 1965 U.S. tour is the most modest one I encountered. It requests adequate police protection, “a platform for Ringo Starr and his drums”, and dressing room accommodations that can only be described as Spartan:

“Four cots, mirrors, an ice cooler, portable TV set and clean towels.”

The rider further states that the band “will not be required to perform before a segregated audience.”

We should not expect such modest demands from most modern performers, many of whose riders approach (and go beyond) the absurd. There is no shortage of web sites describing such contracts, though one called The Smoking Gun features over 300 actual riders for you to peruse and marvel at; it can be found at

I would cut to the chase and offer up a few of my favorites.

Van Halen, original personnel
Van Halen, original personnel; left-to-right: Alex Van Halen (born 1955); David Lee Roth (born 1955); Michael Anthony (born 1955); Eddie van Halen (born 1957)

Perhaps the single most famous rider is that from Van Halen’s 1982 tour – 53 pages long – that along with a tube of K-Y Jelly famously demanded bowls filled with M&M’s in which all the brown M&M’s had been removed. (The demand was on page 40, under a heading called “munchies”: “M&M’s: (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).” Absurd though the demand appeared, it turned out that it was included to make sure the promotors actually read what was a rather lengthy and detailed rider. “If brown M&M’s were in the backstage candy bowl, Van Halen surmised that more important aspects of a performance – lighting, staging, security, ticketing – may have been botched by an inattentive promoter.”


Madonna (born Madonna Louise Ciccone, in 1958)

Madonna’s rider is surprisingly brief, at least compared to Van Halen’s 53 pager. It’s the nature of the demands that make Madonna’s hospitality rider so gob-smacking. Here it is in part:

Facilities to accommodate a 200-person entourage [apparently it takes a village for Madonna to put on a performance]. 20 international phone lines back stage [the village has to be able to call home, right?]. Madonna’s dressing room must look exactly like her own home [which means she will be shipping in and installing her own furniture]. Special flower-scented fabrics are required, as is a personal chef who prepares only vegan foods and her own dry-cleaning service.

Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez (born 1969)

Madonna has nothing on Jennifer Lopez (born 1969), whose rider is so extravagant that it has actually cost her major gigs. J. Lo, bless her, requires a private jet and a “host” of five-star hotel rooms for her team of stylists, handlers, and flunkeys. For herself, she demands a 45-foot long trailer with triple slide-outs and two entry doors. (If a 45-foot trailer is not available, a minimum length of 40-feet will do in a pinch.) The dressing room inside the trailer must be a “white room” and contain “white flowers (white lilies and white roses); white tables and tablecloths; white drapes; white candles; white couches; white closets.” Famously, Madame Lopez requires that coffee prepared in her trailer only be stirred in a clockwise direction; I kid you not. But most irksome is her attitude; girl has most definitely forgotten where she comes from, meaning the Bronx, NYC. You see, among the stipulations in her rider is that no unauthorized person shall either look at or speak to her. Well excuuuse us. When your maintenance/arrogance level (insecurity level?) is that high, you are not going to make many friends. And as the old saw goes, “you’d best be nice to the people you met on the way up, ‘cause you’re going to meet them again on your way back down.”

Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop (born James Newell Osterberg Jr., 1947)

Rocker Iggy Pop’s 2006 rider is my all-time favorite. It’s 18 pages long, written in a stream-of-consciousness style, utterly non-PC and very funny. You will pardon me, please, for quoting the section on his dressing room at some length. (As a public service, I would suggest that the faint of heart, weak of bladder, and humor-challenged among us consider stopping here.)

“You know what would be really nice? If you could make this room look less like a typical rock ‘n’ roll dressing room and more sort of . . . interesting. Are you with me? Just let someone loose with a little bit of artistic flair. Er, do you know any homosexuals? Am I allowed to say that? Probably not.

It should contain:

A kettle or water heating device.

Some fresh ginger, honey, lemons, and a sharp knife so we can make ginger, honey, and lemon tea. God knows why. And some Chinese gunpowder tea so we can attempt to blow up the dressing room. That’s a joke by the way. Good job this isn’t an airport.

An English language newspaper like the New York times, The Miami Herald, or the Guardian (my personal favorite), or a copy of USA today that’s got a good story about morbidly obese people in it. Most amusing.

Somebody dressed as Bob Hope doing fantastic Bob Hope impersonations and telling all those hilarious Bob Hope jokes about golf and Hollywood and Bing Crosby. Oh God, I wish I had been alive in those days so Bob Hope could have come and entertained me. 

A big bucket of ice or a refrigerator containing two liters good quality still mineral water; I think it should originate in the country we are in. 

One six pack of Grolsch and a case of big bottles of good premium beer. You decide but remember: I might ask you to taste a bottle so buy something nice. Here’s a clue: it probably won’t start with the letter “B” and end with “udweiser.”

Two bottles of smooth full-bodied Bordeaux type red wine. Probably French and something we’ve heard of but still can’t pronounce.

Four large clean towels.

See: not all that bad, is it?

Some crackers and maybe some dips assorted nibbly things; a bit of fresh bread, some corn chips, smoked fish, tinned sardines and tinned tuna. 

10 packs of American Spirit cigarettes.

Six cans of Red Bull (or similar; something with testicles in it or testicles-lite). 

A bottle of vodka. Decent stuff, please; not made in bloody England.

One case of Coke in cans. (I think it’s disgusting stuff, like McDonald’s. Do you know, if I had to choose between a McDonald’s with Coke, and having my tongue ripped out and placed inside my own colon, I’d probably be licking my own arse right now.) 

[Finally], Cauliflower/broccoli cut into individual florets and then thrown immediately into the garbage. I fucking hate that [stuff].” 

Thank you, Master Pop, for allowing us to conclude this exercise in self-indulgence with a laugh.

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