Credit: Elektra Records

From Black Sabbath to The Doors: The 10 wildest tour stories of all time

The lifestyle that live touring encourages can often cause band members to drive each other around the bend. In truth, many groups struggle to rekindle their chemistry after first stepping out onto life on the road. While touring is a dream job, the boredom that comes with it has made some artists do the craziest stunts in order to keep themselves entertained.

There is zero normality with life on the road, and with a lack of routine, it is easy to go off the rails and become familiar with extreme habits. While bands have romantic ideals about what touring life is like, the reality can be rather less fantastical and, in truth, quite depressing. Of course, the thrill of being able to play to fans every night – whether this is 50 people in a local bar or a sold out stadium – eclipses anything else.

After a year of being forced away from live shows due to the ongoing pandemic, most bands will be missing every intricate aspect of playing a show. These facets could range from the pre-gig rituals, the hedonistic after-party rock ‘n’ roll exploits, or even the mundane selection of food choices at service stations for the more wholesome rockstar.

Although touring can be the bane of some band’s lives, one which they may hold disdain for — that’s not always the case. Over the years, there have been more than a fair share of wild stories from touring, with some becoming more infamous for their off-stage antics than their on-stage performances.

Here, we look back at some of the best.

The 10 wildest tour stories:

The Who fight with the police

The Who’s tour of the States in ’69 was chaotic from the moment they stepped off the plane right up until they played their last show. During their gig at the Fillmore East in New York, Pete Townshend found himself on the wrong side of the law, and the show ended in utter disaster.

During a performance of ‘Summertime Blues’, a plain-clothed police officer attempted to jump onto the stage. He then began wrestling the mic from singer Roger Daltrey, who himself is handy in a fight and made sure the officer abruptly found out. Townshend, seeing the fracas, swiped at him with a heavy boot.

However, the band didn’t realise the officer had come on stage because on the other side of the wall, smoke had begun to creep into the theatre. The smoke had started to cascade into the venue from a grocery store next door that was on fire. The undercover policeman attempted to warn the band about the impending danger and instead received a swift kick to the crotch from Pete Townshend. Ouch!

Tony Iommi sets Bill Ward on fire

Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi was a serial prankster in the heady days of the band’s initial stardom, and he went through a stage of setting people on fire while bored during their endless days on the road, which almost ended fatally.

“It was our party piece,” Iommi confirmed to The Guardian 2016 about setting people on fire, “Which always worked until the last time we did it.” The final time took place as Martin Birch looked on, the producer who was already a little wary of working with the notorious band.

Iommi remembers: “Bill says – in front of Martin – ‘Are you going to set fire to me then, Tony?’ I tipped rubbing alcohol over him. Normally it just burned off, but this time it soaked into his clothes, so when I lit it, he went up like a bomb. He was rolling on the floor, shouting and screaming. I thought it was part of the joke, so I poured more stuff on him. Martin couldn’t believe it. We had to get an ambulance for Bill.”

Adding: “He’d got third-degree burns. I felt bloody awful. We still play jokes on each other. Not quite as severe as that. I learned my lesson.”

KISS’ Ace Frehley drinks perfume

Kiss member Ace Frehley was known for his downright strange and reckless exploits during the band’s hedonistic heyday. On one occasion, Frehley even got weird by his distorted standards when he decided it would be a wise idea to down a whole bottle of perfume.

Frehley left the band in 2002, but when Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley talked to Rolling Stone in 2014 to reflect on 40 years of Kiss, they revealed that not a day goes by where they don’t discuss a crazy shenanigan that their former guitarist.

The pair explained that Frehley needed a stiff drink while ‘stuck’ in a limo. One of his bandmates quizzically told him about the high alcohol percentage that is in perfume. Without even a moment of contemplation, the guitarist then gulped the whole bottle in one go.

Keith Richards burning the Playboy Mansion

The incident in question took place in 1972, a time whilst the Rolling Stones were on their infamous tour of North America that saw the group cause a barrage of chaos night after night in each passing town they set foot in.

The Stones performed three shows in Chicago at the International Amphitheatre. Upon their arrival, where else would the hippest rock act on the planet lay their head at night apart from Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Mansion?

In his autobiography, Richards came clean about the scandalous stay at the party house and explained how he nearly made the whole mansion erupt into flames. “[Saxophonist] Bobby [Keys] and I played it a little far when we set fire to the bathroom,” he noted. “Well, we didn’t, the dope did. Not our fault. Bobby and I were just sitting in the john, comfortable, nice john, sitting on the floor, and we’ve got the doc’s bag, and we’re just smorgasbording.”

Richards then disclosed further detail: “‘I wonder what these do?’ Bong. And at a certain point… talk about hazy, or foggy, Bobby says, ‘It’s smoky in here.’ And I’m looking at Bobby and can’t see him. And the drapes are smouldering away; everything was just about to go off big-time… There was a thumping on the door, waiters and guys in black suits bringing buckets of water. They get the door open, and we’re sitting on the floor, our pupils very pinned. I said, ‘We could have done that ourselves. How dare you burst in on our private affair?’.”

Joe Strummer attacks a fan

The Clash’s 1980 tour of Germany was a nightmare. Not only had the band built up frustration after issues with their label, but Joe Strummer also found himself at a loose end. The result, it would seem, was his frustration turning into a fit of anger which would see him arrested during The Clash’s Hamburg show.

Strummer later regretfully recalled the incident: “In Hamburg these kids attacked us, going ‘You’ve sold out, you’ve sold out. But I figured that they hadn’t come to that conclusion, it was rather a trendy supposition that they thought, ‘Oh, we’ll follow that. I don’t think they worked it out using their own brains. A tough year. I mean, it’s changed my mind a lot. That Hamburg thing was kind of a watershed, y’know?

“How much can a man take, y’know? I was playing and I saw this guy, sort of using the guy in front of him as a punch-bag, trying to be all tough. So I rapped him on the head with a Telecaster, I just lost my temper. After that, after I’d been taken down the cop station and charged with assaulting a German citizen by striking him over the head with a guitar, I began to think that I’d overstepped my mark.”

John Bonham destroys the Chateau Marmont

Hollywood hotel Chateau Marmont, located on Sunset Boulevard, first opened its doors in 1929, and if the walls could talk, then the Marmont would have a New York Times bestseller in no time.

Though it has to be said, John Bonham arguably created the most notorious event in the history of the iconic hotel. Legend has it the drummer rode a Harley Davidson right through the hotel’s lobby in an insane stunt he would repeat on a further two occasions while staying at the Continental Hyatt House Hotel and the Andaz West Hollywood. Whilst Bonham was performing his trademark stunt, Robert Plant allegedly shouted from a balcony, “I am a golden god!”

Unsurprisingly, Bonham destroyed the hotel lobby’s carpet—which they kept in the state he had left it in to mark his legacy. Sadly, when Andre Balazs purchased the hotel in 1990, he would replace the Bonham tire marks.

Ozzy Osbourne snorts a line of ants

Ozzy Osbourne was a rule-bending maverick that made every other name on this list seem like a saint. When he was on tour with Motley Crue in 1984, as depicted in the Netflix film, The Dirt, Osbourne allegedly snorted a line of ants which is simply depraved.

“I handed [Ozzy] the straw, and he walked over to a crack in the sidewalk and bent over it,” Motley Crue’s Sixx recalled. “I saw a long column of ants, marching to a little dugout built where the pavement met the dirt. And as I thought, ‘No, he wouldn’t,’ he did. He put the straw to his nose and, with his bare white ass peeking out from under the dress like a sliced honeydew, sent the entire line of ants tickling up his nose with a single, monstrous snort.”

Oasis fight German police

Oasis were on tour in Germany in 2002 when they decided to have a night out on the tiles in Munich following a show, which left them with more than a sore head. The evening resulted in a mass brawl with police who claimed that Liam kicked an officer in the ribs before losing several of his teeth — which the musician remains adamant was at the hands of German police.

Gallagher and two other band members got themselves involved in an altercation with five Italians in the Bayerischer Hof nightclub. “The boy didn’t look good. Several of his teeth were punched out,” said Munich police spokesperson Christoph Reichenbach.

“Here’s what I think happened,” Gallagher said to The Guardian in 2018. “It all went down after I kicked a copper at some point in the fucking lobby, I think because after that I woke up in the fucking nick. So I think they give me a whack over the head in the back of the fucking van and I think they’ve just gone, ‘Fuck you, you cunt’, later on. Because they were pulled out completely perfect.”

Keith Moon gets banned from every Holiday Inn

The drummer’s 21st birthday was the most archetypal Keith Moon anecdote in history. The band were on tour in Flint, and their day of wild celebrations ended with The Who banned from every Holiday Inn in the world after Moon outdid himself. 

Moon’s birthday celebrations started as soon as he woke up and dived two feet into a booze-filled slumber that led to him driving a Lincoln Continental into the hotel pool of the Holiday Inn.

It’s been hotly disputed over the years whether this happened, but Roger Daltrey later insisted: “It flaming well did happen. We got the $50,000 bill for it. He could have gone to jail for three years. This was Right-wing America in the Sixties. They just didn’t like us long-haired hippies. People write books and never talk to the band. They just talk to drunks and people who were half there.”

Jim Morrison makes history

The Doors’ Jim Morrison was a pioneer in plenty of ways throughout his career, but one time he made history for all the wrong reasons when he became the first artist to be arrested on-stage in 1967.

Morrison, characteristically, met with a girl in New Haven and took her backstage. According to keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the two were “making out” in a shower cubicle backstage when a police officer tried to cool proceedings down.

The officer then took out a non-lethal pepper spray from his holster and declared “last chance”, to which Morrison replied: “Last chance to eat it.” The officer then apologised after pepper-spraying Morrison, with The Doors paying the officer to look after them. 

The apology fell on deaf ears, and during the show, Morrison told the crowd, “I’m just like you guys, man – he did it to me, they’ll do it to you.” The cops responded by jumping up on the stage and stopping the show. A riot broke out on the streets leading to 13 further arrests.