Zepp-4-Life Posted March 1, 2009 Share Posted March 1, 2009 I just put this together for fun and hope you enjoy it. All information gathered at RO.com. Thanks. @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@ JP introduced the famous lazer cone pyrmid at the beginning of the 1975 North American tour to a new audience awaiting Zeppelin's mighty return after the much anticipated release of the Physical Graffiti album. JP would appear illuminated in the all too famous green pyrmid for each show during the violin bow segment of his guitar solo. We've had the pleasure of reading into the man behind that nightly ritual and he goes by the name of Photonbeam. Photonbeam's job during the 77 tour and also for the famous Knebworth Festival 79 performances was to manually operate the lazer cone pyrmid during JP's guitar / violin bowing. For the record , JP would also use the lazer cone pyrmid for the 85/86 Firm tours as well as his 88 Outrider tour and then finally resurrect it once again for the long awaited Zeppelin reunion show back in 2007. Photonbeam takes us behind the scenes of this magical and historic part of the story. A look into the world of rock n roll. What an insight to have witnessed and participated in . I've taken the liberty of using some of his quotes and quips here to take us further into the JP legacy ...... QUOTES FROM JP's LAZER OPERATOR " I was working in a laser lab in California wearing a white lab coat and bored to death. I remembered seeing "Showco - Dallas, TX" printed on the PA at a Who show in '75 or '76. The Who had the first laser I had ever seen in a rock concert. One day I called directory assistance and got the number for Showco. Called them up and asked if they needed anyone who knew about lasers. Showco had just bought four lasers for the '77 Zep tour and no one knew how to operate them. They offered me the job. I gave four days notice at my job in California, loaded up a U-Haul and headed for Dallas. I walked into Led Zeppelin rehearsals with a pocket protector full of pencils, a calculator on my belt and wearing hushpuppy shoes - a real nerd. I found out later the veteran Zep crew members were taking bets that I wouldn't last a week out there. They were wrong! ". _______________________________________________________ " Used on the '75 tour was a Coherent CR500K krypton laser. The beam was split and sent over Jimmy's head so he could wave his bow through it. That laser was carried over onto the '77 tour with the addition of three argon lasers. One overhead to create Jimmy's pyramid, and two for Jonesy's solo. Hope this helps". " Actually, Pink Floyd first used a small red laser, about like a small laser pointer. But Led Zeppelin was the first to use a high power water cooled ion laser (1975). After that, high power lasers became very popular with touring groups ". __________________________________________________ " I didn't really have anything to compare the '77 tour to. It was my first rock n roll tour and I was blown away just to be there. I had the first two albums so was familiar with those songs. I had seen the movie "Song Remains the Same". After the tour I listened to the studio versions of the songs they performed live in '77. From my position back stage, I couldn't hear very well - just a deafening roar. I almost never ventured out into the house to listen out front - just too crazy! On an off night, they were embarrassing, but when they were "on", they were God-like! ". ________________________________________________ " One thing Zep, the Stones AND Bill Shatner had in common in the late '70's was Showco. Zep and the Stones had the same lighting designer - Kirby Wyatt of Showco. The Stones played a gig at a small theater here as "The London Green Shoed Cowboys" around '78 IIR and Showco employees got comp tickets. The concert was not promoted except word of mouth and the tickets said "The London Green Shoed Cowboys". Around the same time, Showco produced a series of Star Wars concerts with various symphony orchestras and Shatner was the guest narrator for some of them. Small world". ______________________________________________________ " They were pretty cheap bows. Jimmy had a trunk full of them. Someone on the crew probably ended up with the broken ones. I still have a bow from one of the Cincinnati concerts ". ________________________________________________ " On the '77 tour it was generally a one day set-up but there were days off between cities. Since there wasn't a sound check this wasn't too bad. But the overnighter from Minneapolis to St. Paul was a ball buster. And it was early in the tour so the kinks were still being worked out. I think the basic grunt roadie pay was $550/month plus $12/day per diem. They usually came off the road owing money! ". ___________________________________________________ " I think the main reason Jimmy wore the storm-trooper outfit in Chicago was that the dragon suit needed cleaning ". ___________________________________________________ " There was no wardrobe person or seamstress that I remember travelling with the crew on the '77 tour. I assume Richard Cole arranged for cleaning or repairs of the wardrobe. The band arrived at the venues already dressed in their stage outfits and departed after the show without changing. Even though the crew flew almost everywhere on that tour, there were a couple of times when we travelled on a crew bus (ie. to Tampa). I remember once Raymond T. had the dragon suit (there was only one) - it was hanging in the rear of the bus and still damp. I'm pretty sure it was from Jimmy's sweat and not from being cleaned. It may have been rinsed out and hung up to dry occassionally, but not often enough. It was completely soaked with sweat after each show and somewhat smelly. :roll: Robert's bluejeans were always cleaned, pressed and creased probably by the hotel. Bonzo was fond of Showco T-shirts. ". _____________________________________________________ Asked what he did during the rest of the show while not working - " I usually hung out behind Jimmy's amps stage left. Sometimes crouched behind Bonzo or Jonesy. One night JPJ looked down at me and said, "This is easy!" I really dug watching the show and waiting to see if Robert's voice would crack on NFBM - "N-n-n-n-n-nobody's fault ". _____________________________________________________ " Mick Hinton was mostly Bonzo's close friend and confidant. He knew how to set up, repair and tune drums but I never heard him play drums once (except for whacking on each drum during "sound check" to set levels). One of the guys on the Showco lighting crew, Gary C. was (is) a badass drummer and would occasionally sit down at Bonzo's kit and wail during the afternoon setup. I don't think the band picked their personal assistants for their musical abilities". ______________________________________________________ " I don't remember anyone fussing over Jimmy's amps in '77. They looked pretty beat up but they worked every night. By Knebworth '79, someone had gone over everything and tech'd things up - but I'm not sure who. Since they never did sound checks, I would say that Jimmy wasn't very anal about his tone, unless something was noisy, buzzing, feeding back, or not working ". ______________________________________________________ See PHOTO section for document --- " That's correct. You can see what the cue sheet looks like here. It says, "Harmonizer into Sonic Wave. Bow strobed overhead leading into first bowed chords and appearance of pyramid. Staccato repeat (pyramid turns 1/4). Repeat speed up and pyramid revolves and stops when I start on the wah wah. Smoke on the back of pyramid. More high and low wah wah notes leading to more staccato repeats ending with bow waved strobing above my head. Pyramid builds to a spin even before drum entrance." _________________________________________________________ See PHOTO section for picture -- " I don't remember any xenon strobes during '77 or '79. However, we did carry an arc welder and a short piece of railroad track. During the bow solo, Ian Knight (production designer) would crouch on the floor behind Bonzo's riser, don welding goggles (actually laser safety goggles borrowed from me) and strike arcs on the chunk of railroad track to simulate lightning. The eerie rising smoke and flickering bluish light looked better than strobes IMO ". " No doubt the cheesiest effect was the "color wheel" - a rotating disk of various colored gels spinning in front of a par can - used during Trampled Underfoot ". ________________________________________________________ " Zep was the ONLY band that Rusty Brutsche ( pres. of SHOWCO ) would go on the road with. They insisted he mix and trusted him with their live sound. He dug the music, was tight with Page and visited at his house. He gave all the soundboard tapes to Jimmy as far as I know ". ________________________________________________________ " Soundwise, there was no comparison. Live - they were awesome and so loud it was frightening. I can understand why Grant didn't want any live bootleg recordings in circulation. There is an energy in a live Led Zeppelin concert that doesn't come across in any recordings and more than makes up for any performance imperfections. The Showco sound system (the best available at the time) contributed to their success as a live act IMO. I own a few pairs of Showco Pyramid hi-fi speakers made in 1978 that produce a close approximation of what the Showco PA sounded like. Soon, I will offer a pair on eBay for anyone interested". ___________________________________________________ " There was a laser wave over the audience during the piano solo. Later in the tour I used an audio feed from the piano to modulate the laser patterns. The lasers always got a crowd reaction". ____________________________________________________ When asked about the various sound and electrical problems that surfaced at the second Knebworth show in 79 , the 11th of August. " I think before the first show, the management, band and crew all wanted the concert to be the best it could be and we were all fired up. With a week off to relax, party or whatnot, perhaps we lost that energy and focus and by the weekend of the second show, we just wanted to get through it and go home. Also, much of the equipment (lights, PA) sat out there for a week, although it was covered with plastic. Some of the problems were just bad luck. I didn't hear anyone grumbling after the second show. We were pleased it went off as well as it did ". ___________________________________________________ Bonzo's drum riser in 77 -- " It was quite a contraption. Made in the Showco metal shop out of aluminum and plywood and loaded with par cans and aircraft landing lights, it was very heavy. It broke in half for shipping. Since I only had two laser cues, No Quarter and Jimmy's solo, and since I spent most of the time behind Bonzo's riser or Jimmy's amp line during the show, I was recruited to help play out the cabling when the drum riser rolled downstage and to coil it back up when it returned upstage. There was a control box with switches for the left and right motors, which is how the riser was steered in a straight line. There was a heavy bundle of cable for the lights and motors, so it was a three man job driving the drum riser and handling the cables. There were safety interlocks to prevent it from accidentally driving off the front of the stage ". ------------------------------------------------------ " I wasn't really much of a Zeppelin fan when I began the tour in '77 and didn't know what Bonzo looked like. So when he came up to me during rehearsals and talked to me I thought he was maybe a building maintenance man by the way he looked and was dressed. But the English accent made me realize he was with the band. After watching the drum solo the first few shows I began to use that time during the show to take a break and hang out backstage in a dressing room - but I could still hear him. The basic structure of the drum solos was the same so I could always tell when he was wrapping it up and it was time to get back out there and get ready for Jimmy's bow solo. The only other contact I had with him during the tour was when I helped revive him one night when he passed out on stage and fell backwards off the drum riser. We spoke again briefly out in the field at Knebworth in '79 during an afternoon sound check. Looking back now, I regret that I didn't watch him every night. He really carried the band IMO ". ______________________________________________________ On the subject of Bonzo's passing and cancellation of the 80 tour. " The rest of the crew was already in England rehearsing with the band. I stopped by the Showco office to pick up my airline tickets, on my way over to join them. It came over the radio that Bonzo was dead. The people in the office said, "No way. We just talked with crew members on the phone who said Bonzo OK". So we heard the news on the radio before the crew that was rehearsing with them the day before found out. I didn't make the trip and the rest of the crew came home ". ______________________________________________________ " Showco provided all power distribution equipment including cabling, transformers, disconnects and stage power. We supplemented house power at the Falconer Theater with a generator - Knebworth was entirely powered by generators. Most of the equipment, from Jimmy's Marshalls to the Crown amps for the PA to the dimmers for the lights could run on American or European power. Voltage and current were not a problem. The main difference - US power is 60 cycle and European is 50 cycle. I had to use a water pump with a 50 cycle motor to cool the lasers in Europe. That's a very good question about the sound being different. I'll bet there are musicians and soundmen who think they can hear a difference but I don't think so. Guitarist Eric Johnson claims he can hear the difference in different brands of 9 volt batteries in his effects pedals". _________________________________________________________ Discussing JP's bow at the Knebworth show -- " I got the idea for the glowing bow from the part in TSRTS fantasy sequence where Jimmy waves the sword over his head and it strobes colors. The laser pyramid was Jimmy's idea ". " A new laser effect was designed for Jimmy. His violin bow could light up like neon and strobe colors as he waved it overhead. A powerful laser beam was emitted from the end of the bow which Jimmy could aim off into space. Two 100 micron diameter quartz fiber optic cables (with one spare) carried light from the argon and krypton lasers to a tiny lens that produced the beam and to a piece of glowing lucite rod attached to the length of the bow ". " Two different effects were produced - beam from the end and glowing piece of plastic attached to the bow ". " There was enough power coming out the end of the Knebworth bow to smoke the linoleum on the stage! Pagey almost nailed Bonzo in the face, even after I told him not to point it at anyone. I had my finger on the main shutter button and had to terminate the beam a couple of times ". ____________________________________________________ A typical work day -- " Load-in 7am, ready by 5pm, doors at 7pm, show over midnight, load-out done by 4-5am ". " Sleep was for wimps. A show day was sometimes a 22 hour work day. Since the crew flew everywhere on the '77 tour there wasn't much time for sleep. On other tours, I've done as many as 16 overnighters in a row. The tour bus is better - when you're done working, you could go to bed. When you wake up in the next town, you walk off the bus into the hall and start setting up. It's easy to forget what city you are in. On Bad Co. '78, a piece of tape was stuck on Paul Rodgers floor monitor with the name of the city written on it. We forgot to change it once and Paul said, "Hello Ft. Worth", except we were in Houston. BOOOOO". ________________________________________________________ On preparing for his duty in 79 -- " Ian Knight taught me the cues in '77. Jimmy wrote out a cue sheet for me in '79 and gave me a tape of the bow solo dubbed from one of his '77 soundboard tapes". _________________________________________________________ Regarding the record setting Pontiac Silverdome 77 show that set the world record for largest indoor attendance . " The six foot mirror ball was the largest anyone had ever seen - but it looks tiny in the Silverdome. The Zep road crew had nothing to do with the video feed. It was handled in house. I ran the lasers from upstage left, behind Jimmy's amps. I remember climbing the stage right PA scaffold and watching part of the show from the top level. The acoustics were terrible! I don't remember Trampled Underfoot with the lights on!?!? ". ___________________________________________________ " In '77 the shows were supposed to start at 8pm but the band rarely showed up before 9 or 9:30. The limos would arrive and they would go right on stage. After the last encore they would be out of the building even before the house lights went on. We had a lot of trouble in Copenhagen '79 before the show, trying to sort out a loud buzz in the sound system. We were running off of generators. Jimmy kept coming out of the dressing room to find out if it was fixed. I've never seen him so upset. He didn't rant and rave and throw stuff - he just sulked and acted really hurt and disappointed. The band finally went on very late with only half the lights working. Also a laser had been broken in transit ". ___________________________________________________ On working with the staff of various venues -- " Being a green newbie on my first tour ever, I had a run-in early on with the union in Chicago. Many venues were strictly "hands off" when it came to unloading or loading trucks, moving or setting up equipment. You could only point. I learned which venues had the strictest unions like NY, Chicago, or Detroit. Other venues in places like Dallas, Atlanta or Louisville were not as strict and I was able to lift, push or carry equipment along with the stagehands. You did not want to anger the union or they would stop working. Also they knew how to drag their feet during load-out so they would go into double-time pay ". ___________________________________________________ Soundchecks -- " During an afternoon sound check, Bonzo's tech, Mick, or Kim the drum monitor mixer bashed on the drums, Raymond strummed a few chords on the guitars, Brian checked out the basses and keyboards, and a Showco sound guy yelled in the mics. Then everyone crossed their fingers ". ---------------------------------------------- " I wasn't on the Firm crew. The Firm used an English laser company, originally associated with The Who. I knew them from working with them at Knebworth '79 and rented some equipment from them on the European leg of the 1980 ZZ Top tour. They also helped me out with some spare lasers for the Jackson tour in 1984 ". ---------------------------------------------- " Back then, there were no $5 laser pointers. The smallest laser was several hundred dollars, the size of a shoebox and plugged in the wall. I had one with me - and I did have some fun with it from my hotel room on the pedestrians below. There was one time, however when someone was shining a laser at the stage from one of the luxury boxes at one of the stadium dome shows - maybe Pontiac. I pointed it out to Cole and he dispatched a couple of bodyguards to confiscate the laser. Maybe Bonzo ended up with it? hehe... That's a possibility ". ____________________________________________________ " Pink Floyd was breaking new ground in '94 by pioneering the use of copper and gold vapor lasers in light shows. Almost all shows up until then were using argon and krypton ion lasers. The metal vapor lasers had big fat beams, a nice gold color (near the peak of sensitivity of the human eye) and were pulsed lasers with high peak powers - thus the eye safety concern. Gold metal vapor lasers had been used in laboratories for scientific subatomic particle experiments -"splitting atoms" ____________________________________________________ After his work with JP and Led Zeppelin Photonbeam went on to continue his career in the rock n roll scene with ZZ Top. We thank him for all his memories and hope you enjoyed them as well. This had to be cool -- " A little off the topic of Led Zeppelin - I was in a roadie band in 1980 on the ZZ Top tour. We played the band's instruments and soundchecked for the band sometimes. Once, we got up a "set" of about four songs and rehearsed for a couple of weeks. Then one afternoon, Billy, Dusty and Frank came in, sat about two thirds the way back in the empty arena while we performed. We used the PA, lights and lasers and even had a pyro cue. When we played our last song, the band stood on their chairs with Bic lighters held high and cheered. Then they booed us when we wouldn't come back for an encore and the house lights went on! Grand Funk was the opening act on part of the tour. One night the bass player missed his flight and we all speculated about which one of us knew the songs well enough to take his place. He showed up just in time to go on ". Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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