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Road Stories: A Moment In Time (Two Gigs With Eric Burdon, Circa 1982)

"39 Steps To Hell," back-to-back gigs, mayhem, a beat-up Dodge 600 truck, no sleep... Yup, it's pro audio all right...
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Not Eric Burdon but it’s an image evocative of the time period of this story.

In 1982 I was working for a sound and lighting company in Toronto. At the ripe old age of 21, I was already running their manufacturing department, primarily building lighting consoles and 4-way electronic crossovers, and I was the number 2 audio person.

Details are a bit hazy, but one day I was told that I would be doing a pair of back-to-back gigs with Eric Burdon as the front of house system tech (although we wouldn’t have called it that back then). The first gig was at a club called the Coronet, in Kitchener, Ontario, a couple of hours west of Toronto.

I hadn’t worked at this club, but I knew it was infamous for the load-in, the “39 Steps To Hell.” It was on what was essentially the third floor of a building and the only access was up the front steps. Once inside, it was actually a pretty legit concert hall with a good-sized proscenium stage. but getting there was painful. I can’t remember if there were more than two of us on the crew, myself and the lighting director – who was a freelancer – but logic dictates that there must have been a second audio and second lighting tech.

The rig would have been a discrete box, 4-way system with low-frequency and low-mid enclosures built in-house, Altec Lansing drivers on Community horns and Electro-Voice ST350 tweeters, all driven by Uni-Sync power amplifiers. Console would have been a Yamaha PM2000-24 (or maybe a 32, we had one of each) and the monitor console was probably something homemade or a pair of Ashly Audio 16 x 4 mixers. Monitors were house-built 15-inch models with a 1-inch JBL driver on “potato masher” horns.

All of this – and the lighting rig (24-36 PAR cans, Genie lifts and dimmers) – would have been crammed into the company truck, a beat-up Dodge 600 that was nominally a 5-ton but with a fairly short box by today’s standards.

All Fun And Then…

On the day of the first gig, I drove the truck out to the venue, with the LD as a passenger, The load-in went fine, with help from a local crew of about six. They clearly weren’t career stagehands, but they got the gear up the stairs without any damage to themselves or the gear. The setup went fine, with nothing forgotten at the shop (for a change!).

When the band’s crew arrived, their load-in and setup went smoothly as well. Somewhere in there, we sound checked, had dinner, and started the show – and it was fantastic! I knew who Eric Burdon was, knew “House of the Rising Sun,” and so on, but hadn’t really been a rabid fan. However, hearing him and the band live really brought it home to me that this was someone from the true classic era of rock ‘n’ roll.

I remember thinking, “This is the closest I’m ever going to get to experiencing what it must have been like to hear artists like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin” …then someone told me we were having a problem with the local crew.

Over the roar of the band and crowd, I gathered that the club’s bouncers were throwing the crew out, one by one, because they were getting drunk and out of control. Then I found out that they’d been recruited from the local halfway house and weren’t supposed to be in a bar under any circumstances anyway.

Read More
Road Stories #1: A Lesson Learned “Back In The Day”

Nonetheless, I decided to go talk to the head bouncer about the situation as we obviously needed these folks for the strike. He was a very helpful fellow who responded to my request (remember that this conversation would have been shouting to get over the noise of the band) with a hearty, “F-you, if you don’t get lost I’ll throw you out too!”

So, after that great show, the load-out was handled by just the four of us, humping all of that heavy gear down the stairs and into the truck. We finished loading around 3 am, the LD and I stopped at a local 24-hour truck stop for a meal and then I drove the two hours back to Toronto and dropped him off at his place. All in all, a pretty normal gig for the times.

Grinding It Out

Now here’s where it gets interesting. The rest of the crew was only available for the first show – and – the second show was in a “gentlemen’s club” (a.k.a., what we commonly called a strip club) with load-in at 7 am so that everything could be set up by the time the “talent” hit the stage at noon and ply their trade until it was concert time.

I recall returning home, having a shower, and going right out the door to get to the club by 7. (I used to call this a “turn around” because you walk in your door, turn around, and walk out again). This venue was in the east end of Toronto and happened to be just a couple of miles from the shop, so the powers-that-be had decided that they would just send help down from the shop as people became available.

I don’t really remember how this all played out, but I do recall that because of all of the coming and going, I ended up doing almost every job you could possibly do on a show. This included electrical tie-in, PA setup and tuning, stage patch, ringing out the monitors, lighting focus, mixing FOH for the opening band, and doing follow-spot for the headliner, all on no sleep.

And, the show was awful! Understandably, really, as the venue was a dump with low ceilings, with a riser stage stuck in the corner and the band crammed in every which way, but it really struck me that the first night was a “you-had-to-be-there” moment, and I’m grateful that I was.

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