Sympathy for the Devils: 8 of the Wildest Tour Stories in Rock Music History
Life on the road as a rock star can get weird, especially when you throw large amounts of money and partying into the mix. Many famous rock stars—including Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and others—could even be considered lucky to come away relatively unscathed, given the amount of on- and offstage brawls (and assorted hijinks) they got up to along the way. Below are eight of the wildest and most bizarre tour stories in the history of rock music.
1. Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a live bat while onstage.
While onstage during a performance in Des Moines, Iowa on January 20, 1982, Ozzy Osbourne reportedly bit the head off a bat that someone in the audience threw on stage. Osbourne believed it was made of rubber, so he picked it up and sank his teeth in—but as it turned out, the bat was indeed the real deal.
“Immediately, though, something felt wrong. Very wrong,” Osbourne wrote in his memoir, I Am Ozzy. “For a start, my mouth was instantly full of this warm, gloopy liquid, with the worst aftertaste you could ever imagine. I could feel it staining my teeth and running down my chin. Then the head in my mouth twitched. Oh f**k me, I thought. I didn’t just go and eat a f**king bat, did I?”
Osbourne was later rushed to the emergency room where a doctor confirmed that the bat had been real after all and the rockstar had potentially been exposed to rabies. For the rest of the tour, Osbourne had to get a series of injections from doctors as a precautionary treatment against virus.
2. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who got into a fight with a plainclothes police officer.
During The Who’s U.S. tour at Fillmore East in New York City in May 1969, a plainclothes police officer reportedly jumped onstage. He rushed the British rock band and tried to wrestle the microphone away from singer Roger Daltrey to warn them about heavy smoke wafting through from a fire next door.
But Daltrey didn’t see the smoke—nor did he realize the man was actually part of law enforcement. He started to fight him, and then guitarist Pete Townshend joined in the melee.
“There was a warrant out for Pete’s and my arrest because we kicked a cop off the stage,” Daltrey, told AOL (via Yahoo!) in 2018. “He was in plain clothes. He ran on the stage while we were in the middle of ‘Tommy’ and took my microphone away. Pete came and kicked him up the ass.”
Luckily for both, the charges were eventually dropped.
3. Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle through hotel hallways.
Circa 1968, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham reportedly rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle—a gift he received from the band for his 25th birthday—through the halls and lobby of Los Angeles’s legendary Chateau Marmont, which ruined the hotel’s carpet with tire marks. He repeated the stunt again at the Continental Hyatt House Hotel and the Andaz West Hollywood. Meanwhile, Robert Plant is believed to have shouted out his infamous, “I am a golden god!” line (later recreated in Almost Famous) from one of those hotel balconies while Bonham went full hog inside.
4. Ozzy Osbourne took Mötley Crüe “under his wing.”
The bat incident wasn’t Ozzy’s first brush with controversy while on the road; in 1984, he found himself in a peculiar competition with Mötley Crüe’s bassist Nikki Sixx, while both acts were on tour together.
According to the hair metal band’s 2001 autobiography, The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, Osbourne snorted a line of ants from the pavement, urinated on the ground, and started to lap it up. He then challenged Sixx to do the same, but the bassist soon learned that it’s not easy going toe-to-toe with the Prince of Darkness.
“We were a wild young band and he kind of took us under his wing,” Sixx told Page Six in 2019. “We thought we could compete with that, but you can’t with Ozzy. He won.”
While Sixx claims it’s all true, former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee has maintained that some of the antics described weren’t exactly accurate—namely, that Osbourne never snorted a line of ants. “I was there, and I never saw ants,” Jake E. Lee told Tone-Talk. “I was right there ... Ozzy snorted a little tiny stupid spider that was crawling across. There was no ants.”
5. Keith Richards almost burnt down the Playboy Mansion.
In 1972, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and saxophonist Bobby Keys reportedly set fire to the original Playboy Mansion in Chicago while the pair were up to some party-related hijinks.
“We managed to set a bathroom on fire in the Playboy Mansion. We didn’t notice the curtains had caught fire while we were sitting around on the john smoking,” Richards told NPR in 2015. Fortunately, the structure remained intact and was even put up for sale in 2018 for a cool $3.7 million.
6. Liam Gallagher of Oasis lost teeth during a huge brawl in Germany.
In 2002, Oasis was on tour in Germany when three of the band’s members, including lead singer Liam Gallagher, got into a serious brawl at the Bayerischer Hof nightclub in Munich.
According to reports, 80 police officers were called in to keep the peace and break up the melee, and Gallagher lost several of his teeth during the altercation, which resulted in the arrests of five people (including Gallagher and two other members of Oasis), a €50,000 fine, and the cancellation of two tour dates in Germany.
In 2018, Liam Gallagher told The Guardian, “I remember we were sitting at a table under a balcony, and our security guard just grabs us by the neck, drags us over the f**king table, and the next minute, there’s a geezer on the balcony drops a f**king glass table on our heads, but the security’s got us out of the way, or it could have f**king killed us. And then it went off, man.”
7. Van Halen’s infamous brown M&M clause in their tour rider.
During Van Halen’s 1982 tour, the rock band added a small (yet soon to be notorious) detail to their tour rider contract—the band wanted M&M’s but with a disclaimer: “WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES.”
While the seemingly random rider has definitely elicited some chuckles over the years, it actually was less bizarre than it seems. For the band, it served as a test to make sure each concert venue thoroughly read through the document and followed each technical specification included.
“There was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function,” lead singer David Lee Roth explained in his memoir, Crazy From the Heat. “When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl ... Well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.”
If the band saw brown M&M’s backstage, they’d get upset because they knew the concert promoters likely hadn’t read the entire contract and therefore couldn’t guarantee their show would go safely and smoothly. In one instance, Roth trashed his dressing room because he found brown M&M candies backstage.
8. Coheed and Cambria’s Michael Todd was arrested for armed robbery at a concert venue.
While on tour in 2011, Coheed and Cambria’s then bassist Michael Todd reportedly walked into a Walgreens and showed a pharmacist a text on his phone, which claimed that he had a bomb and would blow up the drugstore unless he was given OxyContin. Todd then left the store with six bottles of painkillers, hailed a taxi, and went back to the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts to play the show.
However, police tracked him down and arrested him for armed robbery and possession of a class B controlled substance.
“Todd was arrested today on what we consider very serious charges and therefore he will not be finishing up the current tour,” the band later wrote on their website, following the incident. “We are surprised, to say the least, and will address the situation with Michael after the tour.”
Todd was later sentenced to one year of home confinement and three years probation after pleading guilty to charges. Meanwhile, touring keyboardist Wes Styles took over on bass for the rest of the tour.