Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another Side of Mr. OpEd - Lighting

I spent the early 80's traveling with bands, a roadie. I worked for a club act called the New York Flyers. I did a little of everything over the course of three years. I started out setting up the back line (amps) then the drums (I'm a drummer after all). I then did lighting, sound and then sound and lighting at the same time. I also did the pyro, flash and flame pots. I got "blown up sir" by the keyboardist and spent a month recuperating from burns on my arms and chin. Lost my eyebrows and was lucky to not lose my eyesight. After that they stopped doing pyro but we developed "flaming drumsticks" and it was my deal to set those ablaze so that Earl could play the drums for a bit with them. Cool trick! You can see them in some of the pictures on their site.

In the middle of that gig I left and worked for a small lighting company that did one night stands mostly (1982ish). I setup and or ran the lighting for a bunch of groups like Joan Jett, Orleans, The Rods, Moonlight Drive, Loverboy, 805, Duke Jupiter, Dakota, Stray Cats, Return to Forever...probably more I don't remember right now. That gig didn't last and I returned to the Flyers as the crew chief.

In 1983 I moved to Atlanta and joined a lighting company called R.A. Roth with the help of my good friend Peter "Wookie" Magdarz. My first tour was with Frankie Beverly and Maze, We are One tour, a great R&B group from the SF Bay area. You might also want to check out their song "Southern Girls". If you check out the videos note the fiber optic back drop. One of my tasks was hanging one like it each night. Had a stage hand (in Macon, GA I think) walk across it one night when we were preparing to fold it carefully for the truck. Crunch...crunch...$$$$

After that I spent eight months with 38 Special in support of their Tour de Force album (1983). This video, Wild Eyed Southern Boys, is from one of their earlier tours and this song struck terror into my heart each night because I had to get the two 50 gallon dry ice fog machines primed for the next song, Chained Lightning as Donnie Van Zant told me one night that he'd "kick my butt" if he couldn't duck down and hide in the fog. Turns out my crew chief put him up to it, inside joke I wasn't party to for awhile.

There were a lot of great opening acts for them too, Huey Lewis and the News (just as Sports was hitting it big), Golden Earring, Night Ranger, Joan Jett, Michael Stanley Band, Eddie Money, Ratt (well you decide about great?), Cheap Trick, there may have been more but I'm blanking...not a bad list though.

When their tour wrapped up I/we quickly turned around another lighting rig and left for four months straight with The Fixx for their Phantoms Tour (1984). God bless YouTube...you never know what you'll find there! I did a search recently for them and found these two links from the tour I was on but don't remember them being filmed so I can only assume they weren't authorized.

This one is their song Wish, which I really like but don't recall them playing it live much so it must have been a fluke that it was caught live, that or my memory is fading. This second one is called "Lost in Battle overseas" which I also liked quite a bit.

This tour was unique for the time because it was one of the first to use primarily moving fixtures, the Vari*Lite made by the then called sound company Showco. Only Genesis tours featured more of them at the time and Genesis was an investor if I remember correctly. Their (The Fixx) lighting director, Alan (the spelling of his first name and last name escape me at the moment), used them in quite inventive ways and it really set the show apart from a typical concert.

There were 29 ellipsoidals, just 12 par 64's (for opening acts), four Mole Fays (audience lighting) and 24 Vari*Lites all mounted on a squarish box truss configuration and 4 Vari*Lites on the floor. There were lots of black curtains with a black scrim and white muslin cyclorama curtain complimented with a long row of cyclorama light fixtures in three colors, white, red and blue. There were two lighting techs, me and Fred (FUF) and two for the Vari*Lites (Eddie and Billy). Later Dunaway replaced FUF when his antics at a video shoot in Ventura precipitated an early return home (that's definitely another story).

This is what the Vari*Lite (1984) computer console looked like. Eventually I talked Alan into letting me use a few of the Vari*Lites for opening acts as long as I didn't "move" them. I argued that the opening acts deserved to be "seen" at least a little bit and maybe one day they'd be a big act that would remember standing in the dark and never hire him. One act ended up hitting the charts pretty well, Bourgeois Tagg with I don't mind at all, a one hit wonder though. Once I made a mistake and changed scenes that refocused the lamps in a different spot, which is what made the lighting "move". Alan was convinced I did on purpose but it was an honest oops!

The set you can see in the video was a real pain in the butt and Malcomb had loads of fun with that each day. The set carts it came on were huge and heavy and the whole thing had sharp bits waiting to bite you at every turn.

I'll save more reminiscing for another time and more time to search for web bits. I'll have to dredge up my old tour passes and scan some for a chuckle or two.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking a photo of Peter M -- I sat next to him in a high school psych class and we 'dated' for a couple of months Junior year (?)- I loved Nantucket but had no idea he was back stage somewhere! small worlds!