Guitarist André Cholmondeley visited Asheville as early as 2001 when Project/Object, his Frank Zappa tribute band, played a show at Stella Blue (now the Asheville Music Hall). By 2006, he had moved here from New Jersey, and his career had taken a major, unexpected turn.
As a guitar tech and tour manager, Cholmondeley went from just playing the music of his rock heroes to working with a succession of top-notch names. By 2011, he was the technician for Yes guitarist Steve Howe; he toured Europe and the U.S. several times with the band and will be with the group when it comes to Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel & Casino on Friday, Feb. 3.
Cholmondeley’s move into tour management and “teching” happened by chance. One day in late 2006, when he was still in New Jersey, he was chatting with a friend, sharing plans for the coming weekend. “I’ve got this gig I’m supposed to do, but I’m too busy,” Cholmondeley’s friend told him. “I’m supposed to go tech for Al Di Meola … hey, you should do it, André. They’re looking for someone for the weekend.”
That evening, he gave the opportunity some thought and realized, “Wow — I’ve actually had the training for this!” His years leading Project/Object found him handling most or all of the duties this one-day gig would require, even though he hadn’t been doing them in an official capacity.
The next day, he got in touch with Di Meola’s assistant, and fielded a barrage of questions. He recalls his answers. “I’m not a luthier, but yes, I can set a guitar up. I can change the pickup, I can change the jack, tune the guitar, set up amps, etc.” He was told, “OK, we’ll see you. Just come to this address on Friday afternoon.”
Literally overnight, that one-day gig turned into an international tour. “I learned a lot from Al,” says Cholmondeley. “It was a trial by fire. He’s definitely a perfectionist, a stickler.”
What’s more, Cholmondeley soon realized that life on the road with Project/Object meant that he had the skills and experience to be a tour manager, too. “I didn’t know it — and I didn’t call it that — but because I was the band leader, right away I was figuring out the money, renting the van, booking the hotels.”
This month’s tour is his fourth with Yes. Along the way, Cholmondeley got to know the band members well, so when founding member and bassist Chris Squire died in June 2015, the loss was both a musical and personal one.
Cholmondeley also worked closely with Greg Lake & Keith Emerson for several years. He toured with them together and separately and was a technician at the final Emerson Lake and Palmer concert in 2010. Cholmondeley can be seen onstage — albeit briefly — in the commercially released DVD of that show.
The chemistry between Cholmondeley and both men was obvious and extended beyond a working relationship. When Emerson visited Asheville for Moogfest in 2014, he spent most of his free time with Cholmondeley. And on Lake’s 2012 solo Songs of a Lifetime Tour, the guitarist made a point of introducing Cholmondeley — his technician/road manager — to the audience by name. Both Emerson and Lake died last year.
The behavior of some artists can seem quirky or even intimidating to outsiders who meet them in person. Howe, for example, won’t shake hands with strangers, lest he run the risk of damaging his hands. Like Emerson and Lake, he has a reputation for being very demanding. This is true of most for whom Cholmondeley has worked — a list that also includes David Torn, John Wetton, moe., Derek Trucks, violinist Eddie Jobson and many others. “I think they’re all perfectionists,” Cholmondeley says. “And I have no problem with that. That’s how we got those albums!”
Rather than advertising his services, Cholmondeley has been content to let his work speak for itself. “Every job I’ve gotten is because I met someone” while working, he says. “And they just know, ‘Hey, I worked with this guy on this previous tour, and he did a good job.’”
Cholmondeley has taken to heart the lessons he’s learned along the way. “I’m still in this balance,” he says. “I’m a musician, and I do guitar tech work.” Other than learning one’s craft, his rules for being successful working as a tour manager/technician are quite simple.
“Be nice to people,” he says, “and do your job.”
WHO: Yes Album Series: Tales of Topographic Oceans/Drama concert
WHERE: Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center, 777 Casino Drive, Cherokee, caesars.com/harrahs-cherokee
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 3, 9 p.m. $25.50-$123