Light Shows in SF / Hippies & Guns
April 9, 2018 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Bill Ham and his San Francisco light show was an immersive ocular experience for audiences and musicians alike. Without the light shows, San Francisco’s fabled music halls, where everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton held court, would have resembled just so many more run-down auditoriums and crumbling former ice rinks. And then it kept expanding and growing. There's lots of technical info about how he brought his light shows into being.

Hippies Guns & LSD. Around the time of the Charlatans’ first paying gig, in June of 1965, the Grateful Dead were still playing pizza parlors as the Warlocks, Jefferson Airplane had yet to take off, Big Brother was a year away from handing Janis Joplin a microphone, and Quicksilver was not even a gleam in anyone’s eye. They should have been huge but... Bill Ham's light shows for them at the Red Dog in Virginia City Nevada is considered the first psychedelic concert.
posted by MovableBookLady (6 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I always thought Virgil Fox was associated with this light show. Apparently not. Nevertheless...
posted by lagomorphius at 1:10 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Very cool. thanks for posting. Mad Alchemy is carrying the tradition on, and if I remember correctly, they add digital imagery as well to make an updated hybrid.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:37 PM on April 9, 2018

Oooooh! Thanks for this post MoveableBookLady! As a former light jockey (I prefer the term they use in the article, "light artist ") I can't wait to read the whole thing when I have a moment.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:38 PM on April 9, 2018

This photo: "in 1965 in front of City Lights Bookstore" -- Last week I noticed Allen Ginsburg standing in the background in Dylan's '65 video for Subterranean Homesick Blues. And there he is front and center by City Lights. That guy was everywhere that mattered in the 50s and 60s. And if you want an idea of what Ham's work looked like, there are some Jefferson Airplane shows kicking around YT from '65-66 that might be featuring his work.
posted by morspin at 9:49 PM on April 9, 2018

In Los Angeles around the same time there were a few light show performance groups, including the Single Wing Turquoise Bird. They performed at the Shrine Auditorium and other Southern California venues. I'm fairly certain I saw them there with Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Wild Man Fischer also did a gig. He played solo on a guitar made out a paper bag, which of course made no sound.
Three or four years ago some of the people who were involved were in a pannel at USC and that I attended. They showed some archival film that was taken of a few shows and talked about how they came together and what their performances were like.
They used film projectors with found footage, overhead projectors with liquids in watch glasses and some still projectors. Because of the film industry and experimental film community in LA there was a lot influences going back and forth. They didn't use oil and regular dyes, they used volatile solvents and film printing dyes. This lead to very intense color pallets. If the projection location was not well ventilated they had to take breaks to breath clean air or there was a danger of passing out. It was very toxic.
The light show performers went on to do many influential things in the arts and entertainment industry. One became an experimental film maker and ended up teaching at Cal Arts. Some had careers in the film industry in visual effects. I know that the special effects house Bob Able and Associates had alumni from the SWTB. Able did the optically printed swooping logos for the ABC network and later on was a pioneer in computer generated special effects.
Light shows had a significant impact on visual style that continues to this day. It is one of the many unacknowledged contributions to the world that came out of the counter culture of the late sixties.
posted by Metacircular at 2:24 AM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Light shows were fun, an added synesthesia experience to the music. I remember being pissed at Blood Sweat & Tears when they played a gig at Aaron Russo's Electric Playground in Chicago. They made a big deal about their purity, demanding that the light show didn't occur while they played. "Turn off that shit or we won't play!", etc.

Yeah, don't detract from our hambone vocalist David Clayton Thomas and over-arranged horn parts, fergoshsakes.
posted by Chitownfats at 8:27 AM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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