1983 found me in the role of Production Manager for the rock band Petra. The album the band was promoting at the time was titled Not Of This World. We certainly had some crazy "out of this world" experiences on that tour!
Petra was the biggest group in Christian music at the time and toured nonstop. The band had just come off the highly successful More Power To Ya album and tour and were seeking to up the ante. Clearly the band was a sum of it's parts; good songs from writer Bob Hartman and strong lead vocals from Greg X Volz, but they also benefited from the super savvy management and booking of Mark Hollingsworth.
Mark was, and is, one of the most knowledgeable guys I have ever met in the music business. He understands the role of relationships, radio, media and touring better than most. There is not a doubt in my mind that without the skills that Mark brought to the table along with his relentless drive, Petra would not have had the success they enjoyed for so many years. The marketing plan that he created for a Steve Taylor album and tour some years later still blows my mind.
After keyboardist John Slick had made his exit from the band, they hired Rob Watson of Daniel Amos fame to fill in on keyboards for several legs of the tour. The band eventually settled on John Lawry as a permanent member and John stayed on for quite a few years. Rob and I call each other cousin as there is some remote chance that we are related going back to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, both past presidents of the United States. Years later Rob and I worked together on a project called Great Hymns of the Faith - Keyboard Textures for the Twentieth Century. This project took old hymns and used modern synth sounds to give these old classics a new life. We created this album in a studio in Orange County, California in 1987 and had a great time working together. One of the "cutting edge" innovations at the time was the very first Digital Performer programs. We sequenced the entire project, not using one piece of analog tape or a microphone. We had about 20 keyboards and modules lined up around the control room all firing simultaneously. This was all "recorded" on a Mac Plus and mixed direct to digital.
Through Mark's relationship with Kerry Livgren, Petra was able to get hold of a previously used lighting rig from a past Kansas tour. This spaceship looking rig was perched high over top of the band and certainly added a great visual element, fitting in nicely with the Not Of This World theme. One of the little things I came up with was to take a small cosmetics mirror and lay it upside down on the drum riser. During the song Blinded Eyes, Greg would run by the drum riser attaching the back of the mirror to the palm of his hand. At just the right time he would hold his arm straight out to the audience. As the mirror picked up the follow spot he would shine this light back out into the audience for a pretty cool effect.
Another song the band would perform every night was called Occupy. I had one of the road crew purchase a fairly large remote controlled army tank. Unknown to Greg, during that song, one of the crew drove the tank out behind him and then out to the front of the stage. The crew had attached a small flag to the tank with one of Greg's favorite slogans, "O YEAH!", written on it. The tank climbed over cables and the gun turret cycled back and forth. Greg saw the tank and began singing at it, then backing up as the tank came forward. The tank retreated and Greg "charged". This went back and forth for a while, until the end of the song when the tank made it's exit. The audience loved it and this became part of the routine on that tour.
Somewhere Rob and I had procured a box of Black Cat firecrackers. There are spots in the US where the selling of fireworks is a very big deal. I can't tell you how many stores I've seen claiming to be the "World's Largest Outlet". We had a lot of fun seeing what creative endeavors we could get up to with these little devices. One of our favorites was to go to an empty mall parking lot at night and drop a lit Black Cat down one of the large drains. I am pleased to report that there must not have been any sewer gas down there or we could have blown the place, and us, sky high. The sound would rumble and echo for ages underneath the entire mall parking lot providing great entertainment.
I decided that I would take one of these Black Cats and give Greg a bit of a surprise. At the end of one of the songs, I snuck around back stage and came up between Louie Weaver's drum riser and Rob's keyboard rig. The idea was that I would light the Black Cat at just the right moment and lob it so it would land right behind Greg. This was meant to coordinate with a big drum flourish finale that Louie would be playing at that point and the explosion would just add to the whole effect.
I got myself into position, lit the fuse, cocked my arm back and . . . BANG!!! The Black Cat went off in my hand. I am not sure if the fuse was defective, or if I waited too long, but the end result was the same. Louie was laughing so hard he almost quit playing. Rob was killing himself as I'm sure the look of shock and pain on my face was priceless. Greg kept right on as if nothing had happened. Probably with the noise of the band he didn't hear it. If I hadn't physically seen my hand I would have thought it wasn't there. It felt like it was gone. Over the next few days all the fingers and thumb on my right hand went black and blue and slowly the feeling returned. The Black Cat had bitten back and I was it's victim.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.