The best lightshow in the world..??........Well that’s what Jerry Garcia said, and he’d seen a few in his time........
When I finished art school I had a variety of zinc and copper plate scraps left over from printmaking. I had been etching and engraving quite a lot in school.
After graduation I was so broke I couldn't afford new
plates so I began to develop processes for working on those small scraps. The scraps were 2 or 3 inches wide by 3 or 4 long. I would coat the plates with softground and draw through the dark ground revealing the
copper or zinc underneath. I developed a kind of pointellistic technique using a steel needle in a drafting pencil lead holder. I couldn't work at that scale
comfortably with unaided sight so I began looking for
a way to magnify the work. I eventually hit on using a jewelers magnifying glass. It worked quite well.
About the same time I found a delightful Queen Anne Cottage in the Avenues District in Salt Lake City.
A friend of mine, Allen Covey ( the younger brother of Mikel Covey who later became my first light show partner) started a promotion company called Numenor. They started out with a ripping show featuring Buffalo
Springfield, The Youngbloods and H.P. Lovecraft. The lightshow was Jerry Abrams Headlights. I was collaborating on the poster with Allen's brother Mikel. I suppose that since I had the perfect counter
and lived there alone, Allen asked me if I would host the five members of the lightshow. I can only remember some of their names. Jerry of course and his girlfriend Marilyn, Kathryn Hall, a guy named David, another
guy and another chick (as we called them) who I can't recall.
This was my first inside look at how lightshows worked. Different members of the crew had different tasks during the performance. Kathryn helped
Jerry with the liquids as did Marilyn. Jerry had been a pornographic filmaker and had a lot of 16MM footage from those days. They used Lietz projectors, behind large color wheels, that were hand fed in a more or
less random fashion during performance while 16MM film loops were running and liquids were being projected.
The artwork for the slide projectors were sort of democratically created by whomever. I think David
did most of them. His technique was to cover a lietz glass slide cover with black acrylic. He would let it dry and place it on a little light table and scratch through the acrylic with a pointed instrument. He was a
technician and had no art training so the slides were quite rough. They were used as decorative elements or as title slides. What struck me with perfect symmetry was how similar the process was to what I had been
doing on the metal plate scraps.
My techniques were the culmination of intense training in art school in the Modernist tradition that included basic drawing then intermediate drawing through advanced and then
figure drawing. I had gone through a similar painting regime. I studied printmaking and art history, sculpture and design both 2d and 3d. So by the time I
realized what lightshows were and how they were created I
was loaded for bear as they say.
As I observed the inner workings of Jerry's show I realized I was also seeing an elegant bridge into a new land of light and performance that I had been training for the past
When they left I immediately went down town to a photo shop on Main Street and bought a box of Lietz cover plates. I built a makeshift light table from a 9" by 14" pane of glass. I taped a
piece of drawing film to the underside of the glass to diffuse the light and rigged a light bult under the glass and leaned it against some books. I taped the bottom edge of the glass to the table and began drawing
on those miniature glass surfaces. That was an exciting moment in my creative oddysey.
I had a new friend (Roy Blumenfeld) who I had also met through my work with Numenor. Roy was the drummer for the Blues
Project and hung out in Salt lake whenever he passed through. One night he showed up with a small case and ceremoniosly opened it and presented me with my very first slide projector. It had belonged to his family
and he thought I should have it. That projector and those techniques, both of which were treasured gifts, made it possible for me to do my own simple, private little one projector lightshows. I would put a slide in
the projector then hold one of the clear glass slides at various angles in front and rotate it to diffract color from the white light projecting through the slides. It was only one layer but rich with all kinds of
newly discovered artifacts of the process and of light and it moved and the image broke into facets that slide across the primary image and suddenly I was playing visual music.
Jerry Garcia thought that Rainbow Jam was the best light show in the world.
He was probably right. It was a reinvention of what light shows were in the late sixties. Instead of the usual liquids in clock face
covers on overhead projectors, we created 'a big visual piano' that played layers of our own original hand drawn graphics in real time. The art work created on a large format then reduced in a process camera and pin
registered onto slides. The effect was one of depth and visual sophistication played in real time with, for light shows, a new level of control.
We also made animations from the same art work that was projected
on 16MM motion projectors. These motion images were registered over the slide images. The overall effect was quite stunning.
We created Rainbow Jam in Salt Lake City in the late sixties and took it to San
Francisco in 1969 without contacts of any sort. The two of us, Richard Taylor and I, just drove down with the show and called the Family Dog from a phone booth next to the freeway in Berkeley. We thought if they couldn't see the show that day we would just stay with some friends who lived in the Berkeley Hills.
I called and asked for the booking agent. His name was Michael Christopher. I told him we were from Salt Lake City and had a light show that we wanted to show him. He said something to the effect of:
have a light show? and your from Salt Lake City? and you want to show it to us? Do you know how many light shows there are in the Bay Area?
I said no.
He said 150. And do you know how many of them are performing?
I said no.
He said 4 and the other 146 are waiting for their chance to audition and if I let a light show from Salt Lake City in the head of that
line they would all hate me. So you see I can't really let you audition here at the dog before them. I hope you understand.
We were obviously done with the conversation and I was about to thank him for his
time and say good-bye when, as a kind of last second afterthought he said. I just took a show to Salt Lake City last month. It was Pogo (later changed to Poco) and A.B.Skye. Did you see that show?
I said yes.
Then he said: there was a poster done for that show that was one of the best rock posters of all time. You don't happen to
know who did that poster do you?
And I said yes, we did.
He said, you did that poster and you have a light show? Ok, ok I'm changin' my mind here. How soon can you come over to audition?
I said right now. He said ok we'll take a look at your light show.
Less than two hours later, which is about how long it took to drive over and set it up and perform one piece, he and Chet Helms offered to
manage Rainbow Jam and send us out on the road with their bands, one of which was The Grateful Dead.
When Jerry first saw Rainbow jam he flipped. He immediately
fell in love with it and we all became comrade artists out on the road. It was a magical time and I'll never forget it.
I'm still tinkering with light show systems and carrying them to higher levels. Light
shows are still to me the one art form that never got recognised on the level that it should have.
With luck and proper funding maybe someday that might change.
The Utah Kid - November 2001