Saturday, May 12, 2007

The music of your life

Today, I looked at my statistics program to see where visitors to my blog come from. A few came from Kim Stagliano’s blog, http://kimstagliano.blogspot.com/ so I went over to check it out. Her post on music made me think of the part it’s played in my own life. My first career was in music. I built sound and lighting equipment, and special effects, that traveled all over the world. Sometimes, I even got to watch and hear my gear perform. And occasionally, I just went to a concert. Here are a few of the shows I remember . . .

Perhaps you readers can add some memorable shows of your own.

I remembered Kim's songs . . . all those discos I installed sound and light in, all over New England. Every one of them played Sylvester's Mighty Real. And the other standbys of disco life . . . I Will Survive. MacArthur Park. . . even Always and Forever.

The mirror balls. The neon on the ceiling. The colored lights under the raised dance floors. Mark Anthony's with the velvet walls. The VIP, with the mechanical bull. Do you remember that?

Disco's all gone now, at least from clubs. The only Discos today are Land Rovers - Discoveries. I have a white one.

Long before disco, I remember Leslie West and Mountain playing Long Red and Nantucket Sleighride at the Student Union Ballroom, Amherst, Massachusetts. I helped set up the equipment, stacks and stacks of Sunn amplifiers. 2000s, 1200s, and Coliseums. Some were still stenciled with the name of the former owners, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

I remember The Guess Who and Blue Oyster Cult at the Springfield Civic Center. As the band lit into the first song, the MC howled, “On your feet or on your knees! For Blue Oyster Cult!!”

There were all the bands that played my sound equipment at the Rusty Nail . . . local legends Fat and Clean Living. James Montgomery. James Cotton. Lydia Pense and Cold Blood. The New Riders.

I remember B.B. King and the Royal Philharmonic playing Royal Albert Hall in London. When you listened to the tapes of the show, in the soft passages, the hall was so quiet you could hear footsteps on stage. And when B.B. played his guitar alone, you could hear the low A notes set the hardware on the drums buzzing.

I remember Canadian artist Dan Hill singing his hit, Sometimes When We Touch, through my sound system at the Orpheum in Boston. That night, he played with Phoebe Snow, and at the end of the show we had a tussle as a limo driver arrived to pick up Billy Joel, and he blocked the ramp and got into an argument with the police.

I remember every song KISS played back then, and how it looked and felt, the pyrotechnics and the bass kicking you in the chest. Sometimes Cher would stand next to me, on the right side of the stage, and I marveled at how big she looked on TV and how tiny she seemed in real life.

I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd when Ace Frehley of KISS stepped out with my guitar in Madison Square Garden, 1979. As he started into New York Groove, the flashing lights on my guitar reached all the way to the back wall, where tiny faces flickered in the rippling light.

Meatloaf, with Karla Devito, singing Paradise By The Dashboard Lights to a sellout crowd at the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts. I’ll never forget that show, because on the way home, I saw an unforgettable fight between a pimp and a female gas station attendant who proved to be 200 pounds of solid muscle. The pimp, no small guy himself, ended up under his 1972 Cadillac Fleetwood. His knife lay in a pool of greasy water twenty feet away.

That was the first show for my first five-way sound system. And we were back there again a few weeks later, for Barry Manilow. I’ll always remember the medley he sang, Commercials of Your Life. It seemed like he’d written every big jingle from every TV ad of the 70’s that night.

And how could I forget Diana Ross, in a sequined gown, playing the big hall at Caesar’s Palace? And Wayne Newton, the Fifth Dimension, and all the other wonderful acts who played there?

And Peter Frampton, who I first heard on Humble Pie, Rockin’ the Fillmore, playing Toad’s in New Haven. We were all wild back in the early days, but that night, I watched the show with the musician’s wives and families and marveled at how far we’d come in 20 years.

And those were a few of the ones who played my sound equipment. There were so many more. There were also the ones I photographed . . .

There was Rick Springfield, dripping sweat after a hot performance, still carrying his guitar, picking up the roses and gently brushing them against his face.

There were the hot girl bands . . .Destiny’s Child. Dream. Mandy Moore. Standing by the edge of the stage, I met Mandy’s mother. I had no idea she was only seventeen.

And all the rockers. . . Def Leppard. Styx. Roxy Music and the Kinks. Talking Heads. So many bands. And I mustn’t forget all those country musicians . . . Clint Black. George Jones. Travis Tritt. Willie Nelson.

Sometimes, in my photography, I see faces from the past. In 2005, in northern Vermont, I shot KC and the Sunshine Band on an outdoor stage. As I watched them, I remembered KC and Terry, thirty years before, playing a sellout crowd though my PA at the old Rusty Nail.

I’ve shot so many of the great old bands as they tour the big state fairs. Hundreds of them, for sure. The Irish tenors . . .Frankie Valli . . . Brooks and Dunn . . .The Village People . . . there’s something for everyone at those fairs. Even Larry the Cable Guy, and the Great Pig Races.

I didn’t even hear those shows. I just saw them, through the viewfinders of my cameras. Nikons, mostly. A progression of models marked the advances in technology. f4 . . f5 . . d1 . . d1x . . d2h . . d2x . . d2xs. And now, even the old Leica's back, as the m8

Some of those people, I haven’t seen in years. With other’s, it’s almost like yesterday. Do you remember the Fillmore East? One of the owners still comes around – retired now – and tells us of jamming with Dylan and sitting around backstage with Janis Joplin.

Taj Mahal’s brother walked in the door the other day, and the Rolling Stone’s stage chief’s car is parked out back. . . walking along the waterfront at Newport, and there's Peter Frampton now, with John Regan! I have to ask whether John's still got that Mercedes we bought together, down at Manheim. Somehow, I never seem to leave music behind.

Perhaps you’ll meet a few more of these folks in my next book.

15 comments:

Kim Stagliano said...

John, you know what a crush I had on Peter Frampton. Great post! See you later this week. Happy Mother's Day to C'ster! (I don't want to give away any book secrets.)

Matty said...

Wow, THAT walk down your music memory lane was worth the price of admission!! I hope that someday you also have a music pictorial book. How amazing would that be with your memories recorded with the photos!?

I can remember my brother, who is 13 years older then me at 54 this year, talking about going to Watkins Glenn NY for THE famous Watkins Glenn woodstock-like concert.

In the early 80's I can remember being caught in the Aerosmith Springfield Ma. concert during the snowstorm. I heard they came back out and jammed as they couldn't leave either. Testament to the '77 Sedan Deville of my folks I was driving at the time. I was able to drive off the roof of the parking garage AND all the way to Wilbraham when Western Ma was shut down.

Every Kinks Concert, Blue Oyster Cult...I was there. Loverboy, Poison, Rat, Bon Jovi, Van Halen (the real one) in Hartford. Wow! John, thanks for bringing back all the memories. Can't beleive I remember considering all the contra band I was inhaling back then!! ;)

Jess said...

Wow, you've had a slew of interesting careers. Amazing stuff. I'm a little young for those particular music memories, but I have my own... And I'm a concert promoter (I happen to work with a lot of artists from Western Mass, where I used to live, many on the great Signature Sounds label, do you know about them??).

I am really enjoying your blog. :)

John Elder Robison said...

Jess, I don't know Signature Sounds. Are you still working with local bands? If so, tell me who they are, and where they play, and I'll check them out.

Southern Writer said...

What great memories. There has never been better music than that of the '60's and '70's. Or was it the times that made it feel that way? I still have a ton of old vinyls, one I'm sure you remember with Peter Frampton on the cover wearing tight pink pants (head shaking). I put Baby, I Love Your Way in the first paragraph of the first chapter of my novel. I still have Bonnie Raitt's Home Plate, too. What year was that - 1972? It's the only place you can still hear I Can't Make Love. Or is it Run Like a Thief? I played them over and over and over. Dan Hill's Sometimes When We Touch was "my first husband's and my" song when we were dating. And don't forget Alan Parsons Project's Time (is Like a River). And Jackson Browne's Running on Empty, The Pretender, The Load Out / Stay and You Love the Thunder. I get all teary eyed just thinking about those days. Sigh.

Chumplet said...

I wasn't in with the sound crews - the closest I was to 'rock stars' was having a bass player for a boyfriend. We 'toured' the dives of Ontario. The required cover music was Led Zeppelin. The glass ball was still there.

I remember seeing some classic bands in the local rinks - Max Webster, BTO, etc.

In the 80's, my husband and I made good use of our Nikons - he has some great shots of Gino Vanelli at Maple Leaf Gardens, and I managed to get a shot of local boy Al Connelly of Glass Tiger. He's got it hanging in his dining room, I think.

Dan Hill's hit made me cry when I was a teenager.

Kanani said...

I have to say, that as far as rock, I missed it almost completely.

My earliest memories are of my two sisters sitting at the piano and playing Für Elise.

It was classical, classical, classical in my house. Concertos, concertinas, Sonatas. We all played them. And then eventually I played the flute in band (which was a blast) and the most memorable pieces were Oye Como Va and The Gates of Kiev. I played piano for ten years, and flute for ten years as well.

I grew up in a town with a music conservatory, and I'd go an listen to rehearsals.

Who? Oh, guy named Dave Brubeck, another dude named Herbie Hancock, another one named Ramsey Lewis. So jazz became important too. I could relate to it easily due to the classical.

But then, inevitably there were peers... and I found my groove with Earth Wind and Fire. I also looked for hours at the Beatles cover art, could sing with Carol King, James Taylor, and a really cool LP that looked just like Denim --Elton John.

And Janis Joplin just scared the hell out of me. So raw, so desperate, so...sad.

Anyway, I find myself always going back to jazz or classical when I just want quiet.
Right now I'm listening to a reissue of an old LP on CD, Fred Astaire's "Steppin' Out," which is all his old classics put to jazz. It's wonderful. It's the freshest sounding stuff I've heard in ages.

Kanani said...

Thanks for this, John. I've written more about it on my blog.

John Elder Robison said...

Chumplet, Gino Vanelli had sound equipment I worked with on his tours in 79-80. Did you know April Wine? They were big up there, and they're in my book . . .

John Elder Robison said...

Southern Writer, I liked Load Out, too. It captures the feel of driving city to city, dragging the gear in and out, and the audiences that make it all worthwhile.

I lived to see the crowds respond to my systems in those days. The musicians played the instruments and sang the words, but the audience wouldn't have heard a thing if not for our sound systems. And of course my visual effects made their own shows.

John Elder Robison said...

Kanani, I used to use live recordings of Earth Wind and Fire to test souns systems. The horn passages in Devotion and Reasons were particularly good for that.

And we did quite a bit of jazz, using our all-cone systems. Most PA equipment in those years used JBL or Gauss horn drivers, which sounded sort of shrill when reproducing brass instruments. One of the innovations I worked on was the five and six way systems that used cone drivers and lensed horns to smoothly reproduce brass.

Kanani said...

John,
Your work sound like it was interesting! I loved EW&F. Still do! Oh, and also that entire album by Isaac Hayes --Shaft. That had to have been the coolest LP. I listened to it endlessly when I was all of 13.

As an adult, I'm constantly amazed at the lack of exposure people have when it comes to music. Some of the parents I know are really limited to whatever was played on the radio. I feel lucky to have had such a rich background --and that by and large it was all enjoyable and much of it was self discovery.

Two years ago I had the pleasure of hearing the entire Brubeck family play at the university conservatory where I grew up. He was giving them his papers. It was so wonderful, to see him up there playing Take 5. I'll never forget it... and to think, I had been passing through town and just happened upon this event.

Holly Kennedy said...

I feel like such a music dweeb!

I can think of artists I LOVE, but never song titles. How sad is that? Bryan Adams is so diverse, Rod Stewart was a favorite during some tough times, CCR will always be on the list, and The Eagles...

Manic Mom said...

Paradise by the Dashboard--they played that at our wedding. I just shared my music post over at Kim's.

I also asked her to smuggle me the galley to LMITE but she wouldn't!

Drat.

Chumplet said...

John, I remember April Wine played at our high school dance. We also had a sampling of Crowbar in the local arenas.

Maybe they used your equipment at MLG!

My eighties exposure was with Glass Tiger when they were still called Tokyo. I sat with my friends in a loft above a funeral home, listening to them jam. My brother's band opened for them at the El Macambo just before they took off.

If you're ever in Buffalo, check out The Feast, my brother's band. They play some nice jazz/blues/rock fusion.