From the full version of Sunnysides Lousy Book.
Give Me Lights....
One time I was at a party in a small rundown grange hall called, Clover Creek Grange. The hardwood floor had a crown to it because the building had settled and the floor sloped down towards the walls. The ceiling had a height of only about ten feet and the hall was long and narrow. The main room was about 60 by 24 with a kitchen area partitioned off by a wide doorway at the rear portion of the hall.
The thing that got me thinking at this party one night was that somebody with one of the bands had mounted an assortment of colored flood lights in wooden boxes with the use porcelain sockets for a light show. The boxes were placed on the floor in front of the band and were hooked up to a few switched and dimmers on a piece of plywood for a control board. I knew I could build a better lighting system and more importantly felt I could play the lights better than the guys who were operating them at the time.
The experience made me think back to the first rock concert I'd ever seen. It was a "Yes" concert back in 1975. I was fifteen and I went there with a married couple I'd met on my paper route from Alabama, but stationed at Madigan Hospital as medics on Fort Lewis Military Base just south of Tacoma. They were a clean cut couple, she was quite charming and her husband was a responsible type.
Somehow we managed to get the approval from my parents for me to go with them. It might have had something to do with the fact that I had an album by a former band member Rick Wakeman, titled Journey to the Center of the Earth. I played it for my dad and since it was more or less a classical oriented album, my dad felt it would be ok if I went to the concert with the couple and he talked my mother into letting me go.
When we got into the Seattle Coliseum, I noticed a wall of speakers off to each side of the stage. They seem to fill-in the pie shaped voids of the space from the floor to the ceiling with blackness. We sat in the seating at the rear of the coliseum just above where tunnel thirteen came through -- strait back from the stage. I asked if we were too far to experience what was going on stage, but they assured me that it was a smaller coliseum than they were used to and that we would get to see plenty and it was going to sound just fine.
When the house lights dropped out, I was amazed. Throughout the coliseum people were holding lighters up into the air. I would have never imagined the sparkling of lighters filling the coliseum as if they were stars. Another thing I never imagined was what the light show could do. It had many shades of colors and it seemed to draw the stage near to the focal point in front of me. The sound was the best I'd ever heard. They had a matrix stereo system which comprised JBL speakers. The matrix system could make the sound like it was coming from the back of the coliseum as if it a four channel stereo sound but without the use of rear speakers. The thing that was most fascinating about the light show was the special effects the lightman could create with the use of lights, props, and projectors. Unlike any light show I'd ever seen since; this guy’s light show was setup for theatrical illusions. His lightboard was a custom built console that wrapped around him. It was based on a matrix system and had everything including stereo cigarette lighters.
The thing that was unique about the theatrical part of the light-show was how the stage was set up. Behind the stage was a back drop that looked like a large picture of a pile of rocks with a blue sky behind it. He also used projectors to simulate clouds floating along in the sky at times. Sometimes he could project patterns that would rotate to the beat of the music.
About three feet in front of the backdrop hung a large net with a mesh of three or four inches. The cool thing about the net was that if the lights were shined on it at an angle, the backdrop couldn't be seen.
A large rotating mirrored ball was hung above the stage on the front sky bridge which was made out of trussing. When the follow spot operators raised the follow spots up from the bottom of the ball, the lower portions of coliseum would fill with spots of light. As the operator slowly raise the spots up the mirrored ball, the lower portions of the coliseum would get denser as the mid-elevations filled up with the spots, and the ceiling followed just the same. With spots of revolving light around the whole room being denser at the bottom than on the top, it gave the illusion like water in a desert mirage. It was swirling around the room as if we were in a gigantic toilet bowl.
One of the most impressive illusions was created with the help of some prop stands placed on stage with splintered pieces of wood mounted to them horizontally. When the lights were projected on them in a certain fashion, it would make a member of the band appear to be inside a cave within the pile of rocks printed on the backdrop. The soundman would even mix in sound effects so it would like the musician was inside a cave. Each band member would be in a cave at one time or another. Sometimes they were all in caves.
At times, projectors were used to project revolving patterns which oscillated with the beat of the music. There were times when the projectors were used in conjunction with the rest of the lights to make the whole stage appear as it was on fire.
The neat thing about the concert was that we not only heard the band’s music, but with use of illusions they were able to take us to the places the songs were written about. At times it looked and sounded so beautiful, I thought, "Gee, my mother would enjoy this." Then ten minutes later it was hard pounding psychedelic rock and being so psychedelic, you would feel like you were experiencing hallucinations. To say the least; during those times, I knew my parents would have freaked out if it weren’t for the mellow parts. Never the less, the concert was the best one I’ve ever seen and one tough act to follow. I have never seen another concert even come close in comparison ever since.
A few years later I went to see them again hoping for another fascinating lightshow. Well they had just got Rick Wakeman back into the band and the concert sounded mostly like long drawn out keyboard stuff. The lights were of a strange configuration giving them a unique characteristic but they never changed format. It was a strange looking stage lighting system, but it lacked theatrical effects. No rap-around console; but just a front man on the keyboard type show. Pretty boring compared to the one without Rick Wakeman.
My second favorite light show I've ever seen, (not counting my own,) was the one Jeff Beck had in the Seattle Center Arena back on September 2, 1980. Though the show didn't perform any illusions, the setup was ideal for a smaller venue. The stage was somewhat enclosed in black backdrops and the lights were of the standard Par type. The lights shined through a net screen sewn into the back drop that was draped up from behind and over the top of the stage. The screens were sewn into the black drops in rows underneath the trussing that held the lights. What I liked about it was how the lights were setup in cluster patterns and rows that rayed outward in sunburst patterns out or inward in rays that shined towards the middle of the stage. The light man could break up the clusters or patterns and sort out the individual musicians with just pairs of lights if that was what he desired. He had a thing for placing the separate musicians in their own colors. The fallow spot operators were some of the most talented ones I've ever seen. The thing I can praise about the light show Beck had; was that for a scaled down system, it was used very well and the members of the crew were some of the best in the business because they made the most of the system they had. And I have to say they knew the music very well, because their timing was spot on and it was one of the tightest light shows I've ever seen.
One night during a party at one of the local halls, I spoke to the members of the local X-band who played at the party house George and I had rented. They played most of the parties around town had a hall gig coming up on the following weekend. I told them that I was thinking of putting a light show together for it. They said that they couldn’t pay me to do it, but they were sure they could get me in the door. So I went out and bought about ten various colored flood lamps and I made a rack out of some wood for a sky bridge and mounted sockets for the bulbs in the bottom of two pound coffee cans. For sleeves to extend the cans for better light beams, I cut out the bottom of three pound cans, made a cut down the sides so I could reduce the diameter down to the size for a sleeve and with the help of some metal tape, cans were made longer and then I painted them with flat black inside and out to help make a better beam, and hide the fact that they were coffee cans. I wired up some dimmers on a control board with a switch for each light. I used the dimmers as sub-masters for each group of three switches and used several 25 ft. leads of wire connecting the lightboard to the sky bridge.
At the first gig I arrived too late to hang them overhead above the stage so we just placed the sky bridge upside down on the stage just in front of the band. The Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin and Heart music I had no problem following, but when it came to the Rush I had a more difficult time following because I wasn’t familiar with the complicated progressions within the music. At one time I handed the lightboard to their roadie who was also a drummer and he just flashed away to the beat.
The next gig I added more lights and I was able to hang them from the ceiling which helped the light show quite a bit. I also picked up on the Rush material better the second time around. Then for the third gig, I revamped the how the lights were mounted. Instead of the wooden sky bridge, I used some sheet metal two by two studs’ by interlocking them with sheet metal screws making a lightweight hollow tube. I bolted wooden two by four pieces at each end so I could control the angle of the lights with chains fastened to each end of the 2 by 4 end pieces.
By then I also had twelve lights, (three positions in four colors). I had switches so I could connect any one or all of the same colors to the same dimmer used as a sub-master. The next gig I had sixteen lights, (in four colors in four positions). Soon I was doing some of my best light shows to Rush. The thing that worked out so cool with the Rush music was that there are many solo cuts. By knowing where the solos were, I'd light up the soloing musician in his own color. At times I’d divide up the whole stage in separate colors. The guitar player could be doing a solo in yellow and the bass and drums could be doing their rhythm thing in an alternating three color combination mode.
Sam had been another person that saw the potential of the band and put together a sound system for them just as I did with my lights. Many people thought we were brothers and I have to say we had quite a bit of a likeness going on.
Eventually I got pretty good at playing lights and received many compliments. The band even began to pay me as a member of the band. It was a three piece band, but with Sam the sound-man and me, it was a five member band with each of us getting a 20% cut. We ended up playing most of the hall parties around town. Jamie the drummer happened to be living next door to the Clover Creek Grange Hall that we'd find ourselves playing most of the time. One night we all left the equipment up overnight had practice the next day with Sam the sound man included.
I came up with an excellent idea of trying to get the management of the hall to lease the building just like the biker club and others that leased it by the year. So I went and talked to the managers and worked out a deal where we would have it during the time the other clubs wouldn't be using it for three or four days in a row. It was an easy thing to do since the club calendar hung on the wall in the hall. The lease was only $125 per year with no deposit required. One hellovahdeal I'd say.
We set up our equipment and hung out in the empty hall and got tight with the performance of the band. The band was a three piece band and they had a large repertoire. The bass player had a voice that sounded just like Getty Lee of the band Rush, so we ended up playing most of the songs written by Rush. We didn't just do a song here or there; we did album sides and separated them with material by different artist.
We had set up mid week for our practice and as the weekend neared, word got around as to what was going down in the little run down hall out in Clover Creek. A few car loads of people began to show up in the parking lot on Thursday night. They hung out drinking beer in the parking lot and during a break some of the guys in the band went out and had a beer or two with the folks in the parking lot. It seemed like every one of us had a friend outside and of course we all had a few friends we wanted let in to listen to our practice. A couple of the band members invited a few of their friends in and the rest of us followed suit. The hall had more or less a private gathering and we locked the door shut so more people wouldn’t wander in while we were playing. We worked on some new songs which seemed like a treat to our friends whom I’m sure realized the whole setting we were in was quite unique because they didn’t have to pack them-selves in and try to watch the band. It was a relaxed atmosphere because they could see the whole band and light show from the connected theater seats strung along the side walls of the hall. Afterwards, we learned that we had to clean-up the parking lot because of all the people drinking in the parking lot.
The next night was Friday night; things were a bit different I’d say. Cars began to fill the parking lot because there wasn’t anything happening in town so there wasn’t anything better to do than to sit in a parking lot and listen to the X-band play. We realized that the garbage and empty beer bottles were about to surpass the amount of the previous night and we decided we might as well get paid for cleaning up the mess the next morning. We started charging $3.00 per head.
I reorganized the way the seating was arranged before we let anybody inside. Normally the theater seating was connected to each other along the walls, but the problem with the standard set-up was that when people stood on the floor in front of the band, only a couple dozen could actually see that band because they were set up on the floor at the end of the hall. I’d have to sit off to the side of the stage to see the band myself. But when practising in the hall, I'd sit out front of the band and get a better view of what was going down.
Therefore I took the groups of seats which were joined together and set them up in rows crossing the floor in front of the band. I staggered each row so the person behind another wasn’t positioned looking at the back of some else’s head. With the staggered arrangement, they would be looking between the shoulders of the people in front of them; giving them a better view of the stage. The second half of the main hall was standing room for people to pack in, but they still got a good view because the people in front of the band were sitting down. It was like a mini theater seating arrangement with rock and roll band and light show. Then behind the people who were sanding, we had placed tables on top of other tables against the wall partitions which stuck out to the open doorway to the kitchen area. Sam and I set up on top of the tables so we could see over the top of all the people standing. And then there were people standing around me and Sam on the tables.
The sound was better and the light show was much more enjoyable since everyone could actually see the stage show I created. The place was intensified just by having a better atmosphere for people to enjoy the band.
Someone drove up to the tavern and bought a keg of beer. The price to get into the party raised up to $5.00 per person as the place became too full to let any more people inside. It was better to be supplying the beer than having people bring their own because it resulted in less garbage to pick up the next day. We ended up going through 3 kegs that night and by the time the money trickled down to me I got twenty bucks for the long night. The next day we had to clean up the mess and tear down because some organization had the hall reserved for Saturday night.
The next week we setup again and within a couple nights the parking lot began to fill up again. Since we liked performing for people we ended up opening the doors at the end of the week's run and charged them money again. Though we were supplying the beer, guys like B. J. were doing some supplying as well. B.J. told me what he had available, but I said I didn’t want any at first because I felt I had to be somewhat responsible that night. I could tell he wanted me to have some because he offered me a good discount and of course I just couldn't pass it up.
By then I was at full out assault as far has trying to put on the most extravagant light show I could. I even showed up with a new piece of hardware. I’d come up with a homemade follow spot with the use of an opaque projector lens. Then I had a guy climb up onto my platform and sat down in the chair next to me. He asked me if I wanted to smoke some of his weed. While taking a few hits, I learned that he was Jamie's friend with the weed that went for $125 per ounce. He’d pass the large joint to me and didn't seem to mind I'd just keep it in my mouth for awhile as my hands operated the lights. After my share of hits off the joint I was pretty well lit and thoroughly enjoying what was happening before my eyes.
The inside of the main hall was pitch black without my lights on what so ever. That way my lights seemed that much brighter. From even the dimmest amount of light turned on, the colors from my lights glistened from all the hardware made of chrome. The white drum set wasn’t just white because I could make it sparkle in any color I wanted.
The next major breakthrough happened when a fellow guitar buddy Mick, climbed up onto my platform. He took control of the follow spot and he sure knew how to operate it. It was so damn cool because he knew the music well enough to know the sort outs for the solos. Instead of sorting out solo cuts with my stage lights, I'd just dime out the lights and Mick used the fallow spot as a special effect for the solo. That is, at times right as I dimmed down for a sort out, he's rotate the follow spot in circles as he zeroed in on the solo player. The smoke was so thick, it seemed like a large bar of light going from one end of the room to the other. As the beam went up and around, back and forth, and in spirals, the people standing began to weave as they were thrown off balance with the large bar of light bouncing around the room. As you might imagine, I got many compliments throughout the night. With BJ’s product and me at the controls, I’m sure it was a night that will be remembered by many. You can beat it was the best party I’ve ever been to and the most remember able one at that.
We had heard that the cops were on strike and we went through five kegs and played music until four in the morning.
The next night I even got even more compliments from the local musicians as for how my light show had progressed over time. Things were going good until the house lights came on. The manager lady stood in the middle of the hall and appeared to have lost her mind. She flipped out about the floor being covered with beer soaked mud. (She had no idea that we'd moped up the mud reeking of beer several times before.) She made an issue out of the fact that Jamie had pounded nails into floor to hold his drums in place; something that he had done several times before also. She chased people out just by the way she was freaking. Of course it spelled the end of the hell-of-ah-lease.
What I found to be interesting was how calm her husband or partner in managing the hall was. He even said some things in contrast to what she had to say. To a few of us standing around the tables of which Sam and I had stacked up as our control stage, the man said, "I think what you guys were doing here was great. I saw the show you guys were putting on and what I saw was quite impressive. I think this sort of thing is great; it gives the kids some place to hang out instead of driving around town all night. I think its better to have them all congregated in a designated place like this, because it's better to have them here than out on the road drinking and driving; but I'm not the one who decides what goes on here.”
What he said made sense, because many of us were aware that the cops would park off the side of the road just a few blocks away from the hall. Anyone pulling out of the place squealing their tires or being a bit squirrelly was sure to be pulled over. Most of us would just stay at the hall or let only sober drivers run for the kegs because of it. The kegs would eventually run dry and the partiers would sober up during the afterhours when beer couldn’t be bought.
Unfortunately the older brother of a couple of the band members had just come back from California liked what he saw too. He decided he wanted in and talked the band into letting him be the manager. The result was that he cut into my pay and thought I should be happy to work for only a 10% cut. That didn’t go over very well with me so I quite the band and started working for other bands in the area.
I built a newer lightboard which was designed for six colors in four positions and began running 24 lights. The two brothers in the X- band dropped by my place with their runt of a big brother and try to talk me into rejoining the band a couple of times. They were curious of what I was building my light show into. They tried to tell me that they were so good that I should be happy playing for nothing. Obviously I didn’t feel that way. Eventually Jamie the drummer quit the band and soon after the brother gave their runt brother/manager the boot and Jamie and I got back together with the band.
Jamie was back to managing the band, but this time we were practicing in the little blue mushroom house. I tore the wall out of the back of my long narrow front room that separated the spare bedroom. We set the drums and amps up in the back bed-room and I hung my lights from the ceiling. I used some curtains to separate the back room from my living room when we weren’t practicing. To say the least, it was like having a mini concert theater right inside the small house.
Over time I got rid of the coffee can lights with color flood lights and built lights out of five inch stove pipes with the base made out of the bottom of two pound coffee cans with porcelain sockets. I began to use true spot lights with gel coat frames which provided brighter light and sharper edged light beams for better precession when sorting positions on stage. The better lights allowed for a wider verity of colors and beams much more pronounced.
Eventually I built a 24 channel board with a 12 sub-masters and worked with 6 colors in four positions. The board has a six color (or channeled) keyboard for each of the four positions. Two of the six channel keyboards connect directly to their own sub-masters and the other two six channel keyboards can connect to either of six sub master/keyboards. If that isn't confusing you, just try writing it out.
Basically I use six sub masters (With sliding dimmers) for solo sort outs. Then I grouped any of the other three six colored keyboard positions together on the second set of sub-masters. Believe me the possibilities are endless. It works more like an instrument than any of the dual scene theatrical boards the other bands I see use. It has no auto-sequencers; therefore I have to play the sequences manually, so this means I play with the beat. No fake shit allowed.
I never could understand why these lighting companies manufacture dual scene boards which are only practical for two cord songs. What the hell are you suppose to do when you have to play a three cord song? I know you will probably blow your mind because they are based on two sub-masters for all the channels.
The think the thing that differs myself from the rest of the lightmen I see is that I think of colors as different pitches. I use red for the lowest sound and purple for next to the lowest. Then blue, then green, then orange, then yellow for the highest and of course you've got clear for the very highest. I also use two different shades of blue. I use a darker shade of blue for deeper tones and a lighter shade of blue for higher tones. Get the picture? As for purple, I’ll raise the pitch with a pink for a higher sounding purple. Greens have two shades too.
Then I'd split the shades of colors up by doubling up on some channel circuits so I can run two shades of the blue, purple and yellow with clear. I'd split up the channels on the secondary keyboard so I have yellow on some and clear on one or two of the other sixth keyboard channels. All in all I was covering a scale of nine or ten colors. With certain combinations I can create what looks like the sound of musical cords. For instance; if green and blue set up and aimed right; they can make the musicians on stage look like they are made of steel.
If the room I was playing allowed me to; the technique I'd usually use in setting up my lights was inspired and more or less based on the technique Jeff Beck's light man used. From behind the stage I would use incoming rays in red and yellow I use yellow. I used purple and green in sunburst patterns and clear in a strait out projection pattern. I could go on and on of course, but I have to stick to getting this book out so, maybe the next time around I’ll make a chapter for lighting rock bands in my book of Good Things to know.
Back then I wanted more than just being another guy to a girlfriend, but I found it hard to get a girl to give me the individual attention I wanted. I really wanted to find some girl who was interested in dating me. I felt that the girl to guy ratio around Tacoma made it hard to get a girls individual attention because they were constantly propositioned every where they went. I discovered that the more serious monogamous relation-ships I had were with girls who were not from Tacoma.
When I was almost twenty, I met a girl I’ll call Joan. She had just arrived from the east coast not too long before I met her on the beach at American Lake. She looked much like the actress named Kerry Russel who played Felicity on TV, but with a couple features a little bit more pronounced. At seventeen she was more mature than most girls her age around Tacoma. She had been going into night clubs from the time she was fifteen on the east coast and after moving to Tacoma, she rediscovered what it was like to be considered a minor again.
We got along just great and seemed to relate to each other very well and with thin a couple of weeks, I knew I was in love with her. Though I told her I loved with her, she was reluctant to say she loved me back. She said that she didn’t want to hurt me and it took her about three months before she finally said that she loved me too.
In Washington during her senior year in high school, she discovered that she had the same text book as the year before on the east coast. After the first semester she opted to go to Clover Park Vocational Institute and take a course for becoming a legal secretary.
I remember one of my birthdays, we wanted to go out to a bar with a live band, so we barrowed my sisters back-up copy of her driver’s license. Joan didn’t look at all like Disco D, but with a game plan in mind it always worked. What we did was wait outside the club until a group of women would approach the door. Then Joan would walk up to the door as if she was with them. Of course when the bouncer looked at the ID he must have noticed that it wasn’t her in the picture, but if he turned her away, he’d assume it would create a problem with the rest of the girls. Since the loss of a group of girls would be undesirable, the bouncers would let her in every time. After Joan made her way in; I’d follow on in by myself.
One time I had a gig to play for a camp-out type party on Memorial Weekend on a farm just outside a small town called Morton. It was given the name the Ash Festival because Mount St. Helens had blown its top earlier in the year and covered the area with ash and you could still find spots of its residue around the area.
The X-band was the only band that was truly hired for the gig because we were the ones who supplied the PA and lights. Having us headline the show was an effort to being out more of a crowd which not only paid for music, but the kegs of beer as well.
For the first day the weather didn’t want to co-operate too well but I had brought a camper for which I operated my light board from inside and the stage was set-up under a temporary lean-to which was build off the side of a barn was open to one side. People could walk around behind the stage and stand inside the barn if they felt like getting out of the rain. My lights were hung-up just under the cross supports that held the tarps up over the stage sheltering the equipment underneath it.
Out in front of the stage was a bon-fire to help keep the audience warm. When the rain would let-up and the bands would take their turns performing from the stage which resembled a small Woodstock. At times the rain began to fall during a performance and the audience would retire to their cars. With wind-shield wipers flapping, Joan said it looked like a mini-drive-in Woodstock rock concert.
The second day more people arrived and the weather improved quite a bit. The crowd truly enjoyed themselves and during break they were sure to let us know of how great our performances were. At times the taps had to be removed from the kegs as an effort to conserve the beer since the budget was limited by the amount of funds people brought in.
One of the guys putting on the gig was a pretty good friend of mine and somehow he found out that none of the money he’d paid the band had trickled down to me. While me and Joan were around back stage during one of the breaks, this buddy of mine asked me about whether I’d got paid or not. He said that he had already paid the band and he was wondering what the hold-up was. Well the hold-up was Jamie and his cocaine habit and we both knew that, so he said he would try to do something about coming up with more cash for me.
While we were standing around about back stage, the people from the audience would come in and tell all of us how much they enjoyed the show. While my girlfriend and I were standing right behind Ratty the bassist in the X-band, he must not have known because some guy came up to him and said, “Man, you had one hell of a lightman. The things he was doing was magnificent.” Ratty answered back, “Don’t tell him that.”
Me and Joan looked at each other. The feeling was mutual; we could not believe I was working for such creeps.
I wasn’t long before my buddy who was putting on the party walked up to Jamie and said, “We heard Dennis hasn’t receive any money yet, so we came up with an extra fifteen dollars so you can make sure he gets paid.” Then he walks away and Jamie turns around and hands five dollars to me. My girlfriend and I looked at each other with disbelief.
Later that night when everyone turned in, the heavy rains started back up and really poured down. We heard a knock on the door of the camper. It was Battie, Ratty’s brother. He said that his tent was flooded with water and wanted to know if he could stay in the camper with us. Sure – I learned how to say, “No.”
The next evening word got around about how the band screwed me over. I wasn’t even sure my truck would even make it back home since my gas tank was far from being full. While we were in bed, there were only few people standing around the fire spending the last night of the three day weekend there. I heard them talking about what the band did to me. A few moments later, we heard a knock on the door. It was my buddy, with fifteen dollars he had rounded up from the few that were around the fire.
I left the X-band and freelanced for others but I began to get side tracked because of the girl I had in my life. Even the X band had a falling out and disbanded.
The next chapter of Sunnyside's Lousy Book is:
The Worlds Greatest Guitar Player
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Give Me Lights is-
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