Keyboardist Joey Huffman’s Tips for Surviving on the Road

Joey Huffman is a veteran keyboard player who currently tours with Hank Williams, Jr. and has previously toured with Keith Richards, Isaac Hayes, Matchbox Twenty, Soul Asylum, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Drivin’ N Cryin,’ The Georgia Satellites and many more.

“You’re not gonna be soloing on every song if you’re just a side man. You have to play for the gig.”

Do you have any tips for first time touring musicians?

Don’t think you have to have a drink to perform. Stay cognizant and listen to the other members of the band when you’re playing, and you’ll develop a reputation of being a good player. It’s all about listening and keeping your eye on the ball. Also, when I was out with Matchbox Twenty and Soul Asylum, I ran two or three miles a day and it really helped my frame of mind about being away from my family and being away from home. Take good care of yourself and eat healthy. It’s hard to do but if you make an effort to do it, you can do it.

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What are some things to avoid on the road?

You need to get plenty of sleep; don’t stay up and party all the time. There’s a time and place for everything.

Do you have any advice for seeking side work with established artists?

Just get out and play every chance you can and get your name out there. Even if you’re playing for not a lot of money, it’s important to just get out and play and get a name. Then, they’ll call you. Get out and meet a lot of people. A lot of gigs came from people I met and knew, and not from a cattle call audition. I play mostly vintage keys so I’ve developed a niche there. I would get calls to do sessions and play live from that.

What about gear transport? No one wants to haul around a Hammond B3 anymore, right?

Right. I’m crazy. I still haul around a Leslie and I work it. Not a B3 anymore, but when I worked with Matchbox Twenty and Soul Asylum, I was hauling around my B3.

I imagine that kind of stuff is hard to transport, isn’t it?

Hank [Williams, Jr.] bought a Leslie, so I don’t have to carry mine out with him anymore. And he bought an organ. He supplies the [equipment], so that’s really good for me.

Does it get really tricky when you have to fly?

Yeah. Lots of times you’ll play rental gear. You just have to make sure that you or someone’s advancing the shows to make sure that you get the right gear.

Do you have any tips for achieving great on-stage sound?

Keyboards are getting better; more high fidelity. Just a good clean signal chain, like a clean mixer, good power, good speakers, and you should be fine.

Do you use your own speakers or are they provided?

When you’re touring at the level I’m touring at, you usually have monitors provided for you and 99% of the time, they’re fine. Have a good DI [direct input] box, a clean signal path and it sounds good on stage for keyboards. When I was in Matchbox Twenty, everybody used in-ear monitors except for me. I was the dinosaur. I had to have speakers but it sounded good.

Do you have any advice for dealing with life on the road?

Make sure you keep in touch with your family and exercise and eat right. Try not to drink or do a lot of dope, and find a hobby. I’ve read 300 or 400 books; I read constantly on the road. It helps keep the mind active and out of trouble… that, and exercising at the hotel fitness center.

How do you deal with conflicts with band mates?

You should be able to just talk it out, and not takes things too personally. Everybody has an opinion, and the best thing to do is to deal with it quickly, you know? Don’t let it fester. Deal with it directly and with as little emotion as possible. Treat it like a business. You’re not gonna be soloing on every song if you’re just a side man. You have to play for the gig.

Do you have any tips for keeping track of expenses, taxes, anything like that?

Well, there’s the good old ledger and manila envelope. If you don’t have a computer, if you don’t have a laptop and can’t run Quicken, which tracks your expenses, there’s nothing wrong with putting receipts in a manila envelope and marking them in a black journal. You should always keep equipment receipts because you can set that up on your tax program to depreciate it.

Is it good to just run a credit card, or do you think musicians should use cash?

Cash is always good. Credit cards are good, but you’ve gotta be careful that you don’t overextend yourself. That’s really easy to do with unsecured credit. I mean, you just have to be smart about it. Gear is an investment in yourself. You’ve gotta look at it that way. Hopefully you can be in a situation where [the band you’re playing with] has a company credit card for anything you need that’s pressing.

When you’re touring with a popular band, does it seem like they have that kind of situation [a company credit card] for expenses like accommodations and food?

Yeah. You get three meals a day out on the road, and you get the bus stocked and you get pretty good accommodations. Lots of times, Hank will roll that night so we’ll just have day rooms. But I’ve traveled in a van. Most of the artists I’ve played with will have some sort of backstage spread. There’s always ways to eat on the road, at least in my experience.

You’re talking about riders, but I imagine when you’re in a new band, you just scrounge.

Yeah. You know, when you have to eat at McDonald’s or Taco Bell because when that’s all you can afford, that’s what you do.

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