Jerry Fitzpatrick Shares Tales from the Trails of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Bus Driver
Jerry Fitzpatrick has been in the musical industry for close to 30 years in a role typically unappreciated by the general public. Fitzpatrick has been a bus driver for some of the most popular musical acts of our time ranging from The Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, KISS, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and for the last 12 years he has been Dave Matthews’s bus driver. Fitzpatrick recently decided to chronicle his life by writing a book titled, Tales from the Trails of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Bus Driver. Here he talks about the process of sharing story and a bit about his life on the road. For more information or to purchase a copy, “visit the Cowboy Buddha Publishing website:“http://cowbudpub.com/.
Jerry, just so everyone has a little background about you, how long have you been a bus driver in the music industry, and what got you into the business?
I’ve been a driver for nearly 30 years. The first few years, I drove trucks, hauling gear. The rest of the time has been spent behind the wheel of custom-lease coaches. I had thoughts of being a “trucking tycoon” before I started driving coaches. Rules and regulations in the trucking industry, deregulation of the industry and the “safety” re-regulation by the government led to many frustrations with trucking. At the time, the coach business wasn’t falling into any transportation categories so the rules were different. That, along with my persistence to work around the live music and entertainment industry, is what got me into the business.
Who is the first person you started driving for?
I first started working “one-offs,” meaning I’d work a regional show for a band that wasn’t on tour. I worked those shows for a local production company from Little Rock, Arkansas, where I lived. I drove the truck, helped stack speakers and pull cables, adjusted par cans and did whatever needed to be done. Several of the first tours I traveled with were Peter Tosh, Mickey Gilley, Air Supply and Barbara Mandrell. The first band I drove in a tour bus was a country band named Atlanta from where else than Atlanta, Georgia. *
Getting to book, Tales from the Trails of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Bus Driver, what made you want to write it? How long did it take to write?
I wanted to create something from nothing in a fashion similar to how those I work around create every day. After a summer tour ended, I had a long stretch at home. During the fall and winter months from October to March, I sat down in my home office every morning to write. For the rock ’n’ roll stories, I looked through my old itineraries, which are filled with dates and notes, and the memories came flowing back.
The entire process of writing and editing and learning about the publishing business took three years. Lots of help came from Jillian McGehee in editing and getting my work into book form. Going into the project, I thought it would go faster. In my line of work, I’m used to things going by quickly, from the miles to the tours. I did enjoy the process of writing, though, so much so that I am trying my hand at a fiction book.
You make it clear early on in the book that it is not a “tell all book” so what can readers expect?
I wanted to share some unprecedented rock ’n’ roll stories to entertain the reader, but I wanted a focus on my life experiences as well. The personal stories that led me to my career seemed like a different kind of life than by most people I know. How I got here and why the job fits someone like me were important aspects for me to share.
Readers can expect to learn about the industry from my perspective, especially from the transportation side of things. It’s not a big party; it’s a big job with huge responsibility. I literally have the lives of my passengers in my hands. Readers can also be expected to giggle, smile and scratch their head from tales of life on tour.
Readers might be surprised to see one of the themes of your book seems to be redemption, why did you want to focus on such a serious topic?
I think there are a lot of folks like me, who tried to figure out life with the minimal resources and guidance we were given. I didn’t have the ideal upbringing, and I longed to escape my surroundings and search for my own life meaning. It’s a message to others not to give up on searching for the best life possible for yourself. Searching has its detours. Getting around them is important to moving on.
Even through all of my rebellion and hard times, I maintained a self-honesty and integrity. I knew there was something better out there. I had to keep searching. I used to think searching would lead to some sort of meaning in my life. I realize now that the meaning of my life was in the searching. My searching led me through some detours. Those detours led me places where I could be forgiven and learn how to forgive. The trying times during my youth ultimately redeemed me from a downtrodden life so that I could be successful.
In the book you talk about your time in the Marines and then the time you spent in jail, looking back at that time in your life what did you learn?
At that time in my life the Marines Corps turned out to not be for me, but I’ll never take for granted the organizational skills and self-discipline I learned during my enlistment; much of which benefits me working in this business. Being a Marine also helped me gain self-confidence and raised my self-esteem. On having experienced jail, I learned that I didn’t want to be caged like an animal my whole life and, that choice was completely up to me.
As I explain in the book, shortly before I was to be released from jail, I was accidentally left in the rice field, where we worked during the day. I could have easily escaped, but instead, I started walking back. A guard stopped after noticing me as he was driving by. He was shocked I hadn’t tried to escape. I was done running and didn’t want to mess up my chance at being released and starting a new life.
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