Audiences expected immersive light shows at Rock Concerts after the “Summer of Love” in 1967 — Cosmic Aeroplane founder Steve Jones researched light shows in Salt Lake City during the era when they were in demand and his list is published in Volume I of this series. Volume II covers two important light show companies from that time — Frank and Stein Visuals and Five Fingers On My Hand.
Frank and Stein Visuals
The “Frank & Stein” team was comprised of a lady named Toni Covey, plus photographer and graphic artist Mikel Covey — who also created first-rate Rock Concert posters for performances in many different venues around the Salt Lake Area by Steppenwolf; Canned Heat / Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; and Initial Shock / Aum — Mr. Covey also worked with Flash & Edison.
Besides doing lights with Toni, Mikel Covey also created the poster for the ground-breaking concert by Led Zeppelin (and Vanilla Fudge) at the Terrace Ballroom in 1969, during one of the supergroup’s first US Tours:
Interview: Mike Foster of “Five Fingers On My Hand”
“I was doing light shows before there was such a thing as light shows,” Foster says:
Mike Foster’s father ran a camera and instrument repair shop in the Salt Lake Area.
“I grew up with optics” he said. “The first projector I made was an opaque projector, and I projected comics on the wall for my friends. I used 100 watt bulbs, plus had this way of using sunlight through my projector so I had really bright images. Some of them were animated with moving parts in the transparencies.”
Foster spoke about his days going to college in San Francisco — “When I first started to see actual light shows at Rock Concerts, I knew I could do that kind of thing,”
“(Light shows) were being done, and I knew I could do most of those effects, and other things that people didn’t know, ” said Foster, “When I lived in San Francisco, I had a full time job, so I didn’t have time to do it there.
“I moved back to Salt Lake and said … What the Hell, what else am I doing?” Foster continued, “So I made a fair living at that for a while.”
Foster recalled the Frank Zappa show: “Those guys loved it!” While they were playing their set, one or two of them would leave the stage and eyeball the things we were doing.”
At first, the Five Fingers On My Hand team hustled around to buy materials and projectors through want ads, or at flea markets, plus Foster recovered abandoned items from his family’s equipment shop. At the start, they would rent equipment for a big show, if they couldn’t afford to buy it. Foster preferred manual slide projectors, rather than carousels, because switching single slides made it easy to be spontaneous while the music was playing.
“At first, Bill and Bob and I made the show look like Jerry Abrams’ show,” said Foster, “but then we began to evolve our own stuff after that.
Between the Byrds concert and the Mothers of Invention performance at Lagoon, David O’Neil of the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about “Five Fingers On My Hand” in the May 9, 1968 issue.
Five Fingers On My Hand ran lights for one of the biggest, and most influential local concerts of the year during the Autumn of 1968:
“What can I tell you? I liked the Iron Butterfly,” said Foster, “The setup was pretty high up, and we were still using a lot of equipment. Bill and Bob and I worked pretty hard at it. We were running around, tripping over things, and it also got pretty hot up there and we had to take off our shirts and so on.”
Foster described how there was no balcony or scaffolding at the Terrace, just an access area for the inset lighting with wires everywhere. There was no floor “up there” either, and they all had to walk around on the beams.
During another concert at the Terrace, Bill Olsen fell thru the plasterboard ceiling.
“He stuck his elbows out at the last minute,” said Foster, “Bob (Geddie) and I were able to pull him out. Fortunately nobody was below there to get hurt.”
When Foster was running Five Fingers On My Hand with Geddie and Olsen, they used three or four overhead projectors, a pile of slide projectors, and movie projectors. They also used color wheels, geometric transparencies, film loops, slides, plus straight-sided clear glass containers holding colored liquids,with shallow concave “watch glass” bowls floating in them, making those colorful organic patterns so characteristic of 60’s light shows.
They also innovated in their own way: “One of the things we had,” said Foster, “was a cell 4 inches square maybe a 1/2 inch deep with a dropper feed — this would just slip in a slide projector — you’d have oil in the cell — you’d have a dropper feed feeding in colored, various dyed water, droplets going in, so it would look like colored bubbles, so the projector would reverse that, and instead of going down the wall it would be flowing up and it looked pretty cool.”
By 1969, Five Fingers On My Hand was doing concerts in venues all over the Salt Lake Area, and as far away as Pocatello, Idaho and Beaver, Utah.
As time progressed, Bill and Bob became interested in other things. For instance, Bob Gaddie started the Stone Balloon waterbed store in the 9th and 9th neighborhood, but Mike Foster continued Five Fingers On My Hand as a one-man operation.
“After awhile I started to do more and more with less and less,” said Foster.
“Kind of a Zen thing …” he joked, “until you do everything with nothing.”
“I only had a small vehicle,” he added, “and needed to get a lot of show for a little equipment,”
Mike Foster developed his own methods of making colorful visual displays —
“My background was kinetics, color theory, chemistry, photography, and optics,” he said, “I depended heavily on my knowledge of optics and chemistry to do these things. I had some special toning processes, and could get some very colorful effects.”
“I finally decided to do polarization effects, which are quite kinetic, using birefringent materials, and cross-polarizers with one polarizer rotating,” he said, ”
Five Fingers On My Hand all but abandoned using dyed liquids, unlike most other light shows, and utilized two “birefringent” materials with different refractive indices, like stressed polyvinyl and cellophane — “With a Ronchi Ruling below it, and a Color Pattern above it,” said Foster, about his several types of polarization effects.
Foster was able to create effects with Scotch Brand Tape at first, but then 3M changed their formerly cellophane-based product to a polyvinyl that didn’t work even nearly as well, so Mike spent time searching stores for remaining stocks of “old” Scotch tape.
Foster also used his photographic knowledge to make morié patterns, and created his own geometries using ruler, compass, and Ruby Lith masking material.
Mike Foster shared a house with members of a hard-working local Rock Band named Holden Caulfield.
Paraphrased from information supplied by Holden Caulfield’s drummer Dennis Mansfield — The band was originally a Surf and Pop Music cover band in Idaho Falls, Idaho, known as the Perfidians. In 1965 we became Holden Caulfield at the suggestion of a well-read girl friend. In the fall of 1966 David Langlois and Mike Johnson relocated to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah. They performed there with Mike Smith and David Floor. The night I graduated from High School, Mike Johnson picked me up.
I again became the drummer and we continued on as Holden Caulfield.
Dennis Mansfield writes further about Holden Caulfield in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles: Mike Smith left in early 1968 and was replaced with guitarist Hal Monti. Mike Johnson left the group and was replaced by Jon Lamb on Bass guitar, then Hal Monti left and was replaced by Kevin Lewis on keyboards. When we left for Los Angeles the group core was David Langlois, Jon Lamb, and Dennis Mansfield. We had a great friendship with Mike Foster that continued even into our Los Angeles era.
Five Fingers On My Hand would set up on scaffolds, balconies, and utilized various “access points” for conventional lighting high above floor level in different venues.
“The Union Ballroom was kind of a problem because we’d have to set up the scaffolding, which was pretty rickety,” Foster laughed. “There were some other places where I couldn’t stand up straight … but I was having fun!”
When Foster was asked if he sought out promoters, or if promoters contacted him, he said: “Both!” — “I’d do some major shows and they’d advertise, and mention the name of my light show,” Foster said, “I’d get locally famous. They’d hear about me, so I’d load up my stuff and go do a show.”
Foster also spoke about some promoters who tried to skip out without paying:
“I happened more than I liked,” he said. He also found a state agency that helped construction workers with the same problem, and got his money after letters were written.
“For awhile, I had two automated light shows running. There was this place across from Sears in Salt Lake called The End lounge. I did some light shows there, and then set up an automated show. I did another automated one, I think it was up in Ogden,” continued Foster, “It was pretty rudimentary stuff, but they had to have it! People demanded it.”
If you are going to have a Rock Band, you need a Light Show …
With the experience gained by doing many concerts in different many venues,
Five Fingers On My Hand established a presence doing light shows regularly at a popular club called the Old Mill, below Big Cottonwood Canyon.
“My parents first date was at the Old Mill,” laughed Foster, “and Count Basie was playing. Not only that, there was a poster from it … like a wooden board that was kicking around the Old Mill, showing Count Basie at such and such a time.”
The Old Mill had been a dance hall before World War Two, but it had gone through several incarnations since then, and was shuttered for a while before Richard Sheffield and Ed Huntsman opened the doors again in 1969.
There was a custom-built scaffold made for light shows in the Old Mill at the other end of the ballroom. Previous light shows had been done by artists and technicians like Kenvin Lyman and Harvey “Edison” Warnke, with assistance by Harvey’s wife Laura.
Previous to Five Fingers’ tenure, Mikel Covey and Toni Covey partnered in the “Frank & Stein” light show, as noted above, plus Richard Taylor teamed up with Kenvin Lyman to form “Rainbow Jam.” (Their unique and progressive light show will be the subject of Volume III in this series.)
Mike Foster continued to do freelance work during his tenure at the Old Mill, but he also rented a house on Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, within walking distance. There were many times when he would do a light show in the evening, then go to the Old Mill afterward and “party all night,” as he phrased it.
“(The Old Mill) was mostly local groups, like Foremost Authority,” said Foster, “and once in a while they’d have a “name group.” There were also those “fake groups” going around.”
A group in the last category, calling themselves the Animals, played at the Old Mill on New Years Eve in 1969, according to Ed Huntsman. Original lead singer Eric Burdon had recently disbanded the remnants of his own touring band, which featured a dazzling light show that obscured the musicians — so fans of the Animals didn’t really know who was supposed to be in the group anyway. These fans still bought tickets for live versions of the hits and album cuts which they were continuing to hear on contemporary FM Radio. During that same time period, a group of imitation Zombies also toured in the wake of the success of “Time of the Season” and played in downtown Salt Lake City.
Foster continued, “Crabby Appleton liked to come there, but they were a one-hit wonder, which was too bad, because they were quite talented.”
The original Alice Cooper band came to the Old Mill while on the road in support of “Pretties for You,” their first record for Frank Zappa’s Bizzare/Straight label.
They gradually became world-famous over the next two years. During their initial stay in Salt Lake City, though, they slept on couches and floors et cetera in Ed Huntsman’s cabin near the Old Mill.
Webmaster Michael says — I can personally testify that the light show for this extremely theatrical concert drew continuing praise at the University of Utah’s Art Department all through that year and into the next.
“That was me!” said Foster: “It would be one night from another, one night from another. I basically used the same equipment, but I’d do new artwork, and try out new effects — I guess THAT ONE came together really well. It is sort of like a mood thing, kind of like music really.”
Other “name” groups who appeared at the Old Mill included Black Pearl and the Electric Prunes from Los Angeles, plus the excellent Sons of Champlin, AUM, and Initial Shock from San Francisco. Successor groups from the latter two bands also appeared at the Old Mill with different names.
Link to an additional Cosmic Archive page about:
The Old Mill — Alternative Rock Club on Big Cottonwood Creek
(Above) Eric Burdon — of the REAL Animals from the British Invasion, unlike the imposters who played at the Old Mill, later came to Salt Lake City with War, a hit-making band in their own right, from California. They performed at least twice in venues around Salt Lake before going their separate ways — but neither concert used light shows.
Pink Floyd brought its pioneering light show along during two separate concert weekends in Salt Lake City during 1970 — promoting Ummagumma, their breakthrough album for millions of U.S.A. fans.
Advertisement for the Pink Floyd concert on May 9, 1970 — Art by Rob Brown. Courtesy of Steve Jones and Charlie Hafen.
Foster expressed high admiration for Pink Floyd’s performances in our interview, but admitted he also would have enjoyed getting more gigs at the Terrace as well. These two concerts occurred at the peak of general popularity for light shows among Baby Boom concert-goers. However, surviving members of Pink Floyd continue to present gigantic visual spectacles while performing in massive arenas around the world during the Twenty-First Century.
Foster also mentioned disappointment when the Doors specifically requested “no light show” during their appearances at Lagoon’s Patio Garden in 1968. He described other times when he would both maintain a band under steady illumination and ‘do his job’ of presenting kinetic lighting effects for the enjoyment of the audience.
Mike Foster decided to move to Los Angeles around 1971: “The whole thing started going south. The light show thing was passe …”
Many thanks to Mike Foster, Ed Huntsman, Richard W. Taylor II, and Laura Garon.
All photo captions by M.E. except *Holden Caulfield by Dennis Mansfield. (Thanks, Dennis!) We actively request your contributions of artwork, music, corrections, memorabilia, and oral histories concerning the Cosmic Aeroplane and its era — please contact our blogmeister.
Blogmeister Michael Evans is an author and historian.
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