David ‘5-1’ Norman, Tour Director / Tour Accountant (R. O. C. U.)
By Liam Klenk
David ‘5-1’ Norman is an incredibly versatile music industry veteran. Whatever you need done for a tour, he can do it. ‘5-1’ as he’s affectionately called, is a tour manager, tour director, production manager, and tour accountant. And if necessary, he will do it all at the same time as he’s been touring and doing events for over thirty-five years.
In this interview, in our series on members of Roadies Of Color United (R. O. C. U), David shares part of his life story with us. And how he ended up managing tours for major bands of all kinds of different genres.
I was born into an American military family, in a small village in the UK, called Ruislip. My father was stationed at Chicksands Air Force Base, Mildenhall Air Force Base, and Lakenheath Air Force Base in the UK.
While I was still very young, we moved back to the United States.
Growing up, we always had music in our household.
My father was definitely a renaissance man. He listened to every type of music (Motown, classical, jazz, country & western, etc.). My mother was a substitute teacher. She loved playing clarinet and the piano. My sister also played the piano and a little bit of drums.
I gravitated towards drums.
In high school, I played in the marching band and the concert band. I also played outside of school in a couple of top 40 bands.
At a very young age already, I auditioned for bands. When I was fourteen and too young to drive, my dad was my roadie. He would drive me to the auditions and rehearsals. He’d help me set up and tear down my drum set after we were done.
My parents were a huge influence in my music career. They were always supportive and open minded about everything.
Being in the military, you’re around all kinds of colors, creeds, and backgrounds. I think, growing up in this environment made me more rounded as a person and more appreciative of other people’s views.
When I was eighteen, I graduated from high school. Right after, I played in a Rush cover band. Imagine, a black kid playing for a white rock band at that time.
One day, while we were on tour, I got a phone call in my hotel room (back then, mobile phones weren’t a thing yet) that my parents had been in a serious car accident and I had to come home. At the time I received the call, I was five hours away. I didn’t know what to do. One of my band mates said, “We’ll cancel the show today and tomorrow night, and I’ll drive you home.”
During the drive, I had all these scenarios going through my head. I didn’t know what I would find once we arrived.
When we did arrive, military people and friends of the family were there and told me, “David, both of your parents are gone.” After that, it was upon me to tell my sister. And, to this day, I can still see the expression on her face. I will never forget how utterly devastated she looked.
My aunt and uncle had also been in the accident. They were injured and still in the hospital. So, I had to do all the legwork for settling my parents’ affairs.
Then, after my aunt and uncle got out from the hospital, they decided to take my sister with them to the country in South Carolina where they were from. Because at eighteen years old, they figured I was too young to take care of her.
It was tough for my sister who had trouble coping with the abrupt change from city life to country life as well as the loss of our parents. From then on, due to the geographical distance to each other, my sister and I would only see each other a few times a year.
I wondered what to do. I was still interested in music but had lost my love and interest in playing drums. My parents had left a sizeable inheritance.
So, I bought studio gear and found a building in which I was able to build a studio. Then, found someone who taught me how to mix and engineer.
About two years into owning the studio, a group came into the studio whom I helped engineer, mix and produce some of their material. They eventually got signed to Motown Records. When they were about to go on the road, they asked me to come out to mix their live sound as well.
Soon they asked, “Hey, since you are a drummer, couldn’t you set up the drums as well?” Then they asked, “Could you organize our tour? Do the production management? Etc.”
It just kind of gravitated and I ended up doing nine things at the same time. I didn’t know what a tour manager was back then even though that was effectively what I ended up doing.
Then, we went on tour. We were the opening act for a bigger band.
The valuable lesson I learned during that time was: You never know who is watching, observing, and listening to what you’re doing, how you treat people, and how you do your job.
After a while, the tour manager of the bigger band approached me and said, “I really like your working style. Would you like switching over from your smaller band to our bigger band?”
I thought about it and it occurred to me that I would be doing “only” two instead of nine things at the same time, plus the pay would be better as well. I was reluctant to leave the other guys, but I eventually agreed.
The headliner’s tour manager said, “Ok, we’ll make a slow transition, and in a few weeks, once I leave you, it’ll be sink or swim.”
So, I took over from her and worked with other groups.
It just developed from there…
I never wanted to limit myself to only working for RnB groups, because growing up with my father, I had been exposed to such a diverse range of music.
Same with the scope of my work. I wanted to be as versatile as possible.
One of my mentors, Tom Barfield had said, “David, if you want to be good at this you need to learn everything: tour managing, mixing, programming, production managing, tour accounting, tour directing. As a result, your phone will ring three times more, because whatever they’re searching for, you’ll be able to do it.
So that’s what I did, and I have become all of these things.
In worked in all genres of music. For example, I’ve worked with Prince, Green Day, King Crimson, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, John Legend, Earth Wind & Fire, Alicia Keys, The British Rock Symphony with Roger Daltrey, Star Trek, Avicci, John Fogerty, Toto, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Fall Out Boy, Toni Braxton, Panic! at the Disco and many others.
I was let go by Earth Wind & Fire early last year.
I’ve spent the time since then, pivoting and readjusting my role.
I’ve been involved with a webinar on tour management – Tour Management 101. As you know, I’m also active with Roadies of Color United. And I’m involved with an organization called “Well Dunn” through which we provide students with a small stipend to be able to assist with their unpaid internships and mentorships.
I’ve also been teaching classes on tour management. Thus far, I’ve spoken at ten different colleges and universities.
Additionally, I volunteer for local charities. I provide consulting as well.
The webinars are still going ahead. Successfully.
If you are interested, you can take a look here:
Earlier this week, I had a day during which I had seventeen webinars to do. My throat was so sore from talking all day. Yet, I am truly enjoying myself.
I’ve been busy and it was important to me to use this enforced downtime as much as possible for my own development as well as for taking the initiative, doing some good, and helping others in furthering their development, too.
Weblinks to David’s work and projects: