The Sound of Great Music

Tour manager for mega-acts — from Madonna to the Eagles — reflects on life on the road
Tour manager Chris Littleton plays in his Medford home, framed by signed posters from some of the greatest names in music on his wall. Julia Moore / Mail TribuneJulia Moore

For more than three decades, Chris Littleton of Medford has carried out the complex job of tour manager for some of the top bands in music — Shania Twain, the Eagles, Madonna, Toto, the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan and many more.

His den walls are crammed with signed posters of the greats. He says he still loves the work, which he compares to building a city in three days, taking it apart in a couple of hours in the middle of the night and doing it again in the next town, all without making any big mistakes.

Among his favorites to work for have been the Eagles and Don Henley (solo). Littleton has been with the group off and on for 25 years, and has tour-managed all over the world since they came out of retirement in 1994. He takes off in September and October with the Eagles, continuing its "Long Road Out of Eden" tour in California.

"As far as who I love to just listen to, he's it," Littleton says of Henley. "Such a great songwriter (he and Glenn Frey wrote all the legendary songs for the group). The quality of writing and performance has lasted."

Littleton's event posters tell of a storied life, accented by his beloved golf and fishing jaunts with the major players.

On Shania Twain: "A real sweetheart, one of my favorites. She's wonderful, the nicest person, couldn't be better to her crews."

Madonna: "The consummate professional. The hardest-working person ever. It's insane how hard she works."

John Glenn (from a concert on the Washington Mall): "Just a great guy."

Steely Dan: "They were great. The quality of their music was spectacular."

Littleton notes that not many people have the experience and "are crazy enough" to set up a giant live performance, a skill entirely self-taught.

As you might expect, he has lots of stories. He's modest about sharing the tales but couldn't resist telling how Twain is just a regular gal from Canada who likes to throw parties and walk about town, like anyone else.

Once, he relates, she was walking from a European concert to a crew party, and two guys, standing by a fountain, stopped her and asked for a picture. She got between them, put her arms around them and had her security man take the shot, then the guys (who didn't know who she was) said, "No, we mean will you take a picture of us?" Twain doubled over with laughter as she told the story to everyone at the party.

Littleton yarns that he was there when Toto keyboardist David Paich had just conceived the exotic song "Africa," and it was amazing to see him put it together and watch it rise to the top.

A native of Redding, Calif., Littleton created his career after being a '60s rocker in a group called Ely and appearing at top spots, including Winterland and the Fillmore in San Francisco, where he picked up tips from Bill Graham, "who built the modern promo business."

Littleton did gigs with some of the immortals of the day, such as the Grateful Dead and Janice Joplin and Big Brother. In the '70s, he played bass with Quicksilver Messenger Service.

"The '60s in San Francisco were so exciting, fun and innovative. I was fortunate to be around for it," Littleton recalls. "The summer of '67 (the "Summer of Love") was spectacular. The '60s could never happen again, not with all the media and technology we have now. I sound like an old guy, but it will never be the same. A lot of groups today are short on talent and big on production — and it's reflected in ticket prices."

Littleton is "the ramrod" for many crews, "a lot of ingenious people who make a lot of amazing things happen. It's like a heavy-duty construction site that moves every couple days. It's dangerous, 80 tons of equipment. The show is done at 11 at night and you're loaded in 17 trucks by 1 in the morning. It's like magic."

Littleton likes the valley a lot, especially the golf and fishing — and not getting your car broken into — which he ticks off as the big reasons he gave up Los Angeles for Medford in 1989.

What's ahead?

"I'd like to get a job with the Britt Festivals and not move around."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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