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Smoothing the road ahead for sports, rock stars

Framingham resident Wayne Lebeaux has to leave his vintage pickup behind for his gigs as road manager for Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr. Framingham resident Wayne Lebeaux has to leave his vintage pickup behind for his gigs as road manager for Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)
By Lenny Megliola
Globe Correspondent / October 16, 2011

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Larry Bird leaned on Wayne Lebeaux back in the day. Now the longtime Framingham resident tends to Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr.

It’s a good thing Lebeaux isn’t the star-struck type. From working for the Boston Celtics in the halcyon Bird era to his current job as road manager for the Boss and the former Beatle, Lebeaux insists: “I’m not awed by anybody, except when I met Robert De Niro.’’

It’s that coolness, along with his reliability, that Lebeaux’s clients rely on when they go on tour. “I’m low drama,’’ said Lebeaux, whose duties for the bands include handling travel plans, hotels, and dressing rooms.

When he isn’t on the road with his clients, Lebeaux enjoys a quiet home life in Framingham, tooling around town in a spit-clean vintage 1940 Chevy pickup. But his lull will end next month, when he heads out on a South America tour with Ringo Starr and his band.

Lincoln resident George Travis, the producer of Springsteen’s and Starr’s shows, says the expectations of the superstars might seem overwhelming, but “they have total confidence that Wayne only cares about them. That’s a key part. Wayne can handle the pressure. He’s calm.’’

Lebeaux, 50, has always rolled up his sleeves and kept moving up. As a teenager, he did kitchen work and sundry other chores at Camp Millbrook in Marshfield, which was run by Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

Lebeaux never thought the summer gig would lead to an actual job with the team until trainer Ray Melchiorre asked him whether he’d like to be a ball boy.

“I went right from high school to the Garden,’’ said Lebeaux, who graduated from Brookline High School in 1979. “That was kind of cool.’’ Lebeaux soon moved up to equipment manager, and had the keys to the gym at Hellenic College in Brookline, where the Celtics practiced.

He recognized sooner than most Celtics fans just how competitive Bird was.

“He’d call me at 9, 10 o’clock at night and say ‘Open the gym for me.’ He wanted to shoot around,’’ Lebeaux said. Fifteen minutes later, he would switch on the gym lights and Bird, after a day of practice already, worked overtime on his shooting, which steered him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“He was so competitive,’’ said Lebeaux. “I beat him in Monopoly once. He was so upset he hit the board.’’

Wayland resident Jan Volk was the Celtics general manager when Lebeaux’s role with the team gradually expanded to entail handling travel plans and hotel rooms.

“If I gave him a project to do I didn’t have to worry about it,’’ said Volk. “Wayne was highly responsible. He knew how to get results. He took care of the travel plans, hotels, ground transportation. He made sure the team’s equipment was packed and in good condition.’’

By the mid-1990s the Celtics were chartering a private plane out of Hanscom Field in Bedford. Its owner was David Bernstein.

In 1994, Travis, Springsteen’s tour manager at the time, was looking for a plane to charter for Springsteen and the E Street Band. Travis called Bernstein, and went to inspect his plane. It was Lebeaux who showed him the aircraft.

It turned out to be a fateful meeting.

When Rick Pitino took over as Celtics coach and president in 1997, Lebeaux, among many others, was let go. “I had a few odd jobs. I took time to find myself.’’ He attended college briefly, Lebeaux said, but discovered he was just “taking up space.’’

Lebeaux had stayed loosely in touch with Travis. When he found out Lebeaux was unemployed, Travis asked whether he’d be interested in a job.

Working for the E Street Band? Lebeaux didn’t have to think about it. Travis told him to get to New Jersey, where Springsteen would be performing in a few days. “I didn’t know what I’d be doing, driving a truck or moving boxes around,’’ said Lebeaux. “I walked into the arena and Bruce was rehearsing with the band. I was introduced to him that day. It was crazy. I’m working for this guy now!’’

The job requirements were similar to what Lebeaux did for the Celtics, except Travis points out “it was a different level of celebrity’’ that Lebeaux had to please. Travis has been producing for Springsteen since the late 1970s and for Ringo since the late ’80s. He knew the demands that he was now placing in Lebeaux’s hands.

Springsteen began his 1999 World Tour a week later, in Barcelona. Lebeaux went as the band’s assistant road manager. “I was blown away.’’ He became head road manager in 2003 and has been “all over the world’’ with the band.

When Springsteen isn’t touring, Lebeaux said, “I keep myself available to him 24/7. He’s been great from day one. He’s low maintenance. Very reserved.’’

In concert Springsteen explodes. “He’s as intense on stage as Larry was on the court,’’ said Lebeaux, who has done sound checks for the band before it performs for 75,000 fans in a stadium. “Ringo likes a more intimate audience, four or five thousand,’’ said Lebeaux.

It’s a full life. “I’ve been lucky,’’ Lebeaux said. “I’m around famous and wealthy people all the time. They’re mostly normal people.’’ A model of consistent calm, he helps maintain that normalcy.

Larry, Bruce, Ringo. The Celtics ball boy did pretty well for himself.

Lenny Megliola can be reached at lennymegs@aol.com.