Guest Interviews — 4 Minutes

John Elder Robison Reflects On His Time Working With Effects & Pyrotechnics for KISS

Guest Interviews — 4 Minutes

John Elder Robison Reflects On His Time Working With Effects & Pyrotechnics for KISS

An excerpt from John Elder Robison’s full interview at the INSAR conference in Montreal.

John Elder Robison is the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, and one of the founders of the Neurodiversity Program at the school—one of the first of its kind at a major American university. He teaches neurodiversity at the Williamsburg campus and at the Washington DC continuing ed facility. He is an active participant in the ongoing discussion of ethical and legal issues relating to autism therapy, services, and intervention. He is particularly interested in improving quality of life for those people living with autism today—both autistic people and family members. He’s been a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Department of Health and Human Services, and he serves on other boards for the US National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and private organizations. He is also a Professor of Practice in the Department of Education at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, MA, and the co-founder of the TCS Auto Program, a special ed high school program for teens with developmental challenges in Springfield, MA.

John Elder Robison: What was really cool is one of the more famous of those guitars was a light guitar that we built for a song New York groove. It was a disco era KISS hit. Ace stopped playing the guitar when it broke in the early eighties.

John Elder Robison: About eight years ago he called me up and he asked me if we could resurrect the guitar.

Frampton Gwynette: Whoa.

John Elder Robison: I went down to Jersey and got it from his manager and it was just a wreck. It’s all beat up and stuff and gutted. But I thought, well my ex wife who built it with me was interested in doing it and our son was… at that point he was like a grown up and he could solder and we thought he could do it because I couldn’t see up close anymore to do the soldering.

John Elder Robison: They took on the guitar task, which stored it with all the old parts. Then my son’s mom, she got sick with cancer and she died. We were at a loss a little bit, but I turned to one of my other old friends in engineering, Bob Jeff White, and he and my son finished putting the guitar together. Ace played that thing before 10,000 people back in 2015. I never thought I would see that guitar play again. It was the coolest thing.

Frampton Gwynette: Unbelievable.

John Elder Robison: The audience just roared for it just like they did back in the 70s.

Frampton Gwynette: I cannot believe that you-

John Elder Robison: That was just a cool thing to see.

Frampton Gwynette: Oh. You were that guy because I read Ace Frehley’s autobiography recently called No Regrets and he was talking about how he works so hard because it’s…

John Elder Robison: I did those… Yeah. It was all me making those things.

Frampton Gwynette: Unbelievable.

John Elder Robison: Yeah.

Frampton Gwynette: You must have been having a great time. Yeah.

John Elder Robison: Yeah, so that was a really cool thing.

Frampton Gwynette: When he would play, would you be behind stage watching it to make sure everything was going… or you’d be in-

John Elder Robison: A lot of them, I would run with radio control.

Frampton Gwynette: Okay.

John Elder Robison: Smoking stuff. I would… he would play it and I would do the radio control operation off to the side.

Frampton Gwynette: It’s kinda of like a… almost like a RC car. We had those-

John Elder Robison: Yeah, that’s right, chip.

Frampton Gwynette: Wow. I’ll tell you what, I don’t think people… young kids these days, these young kids in the music, I don’t think they can fully appreciate the complete domination that KISS had over major parts of the 70s in terms of record sales and the amount of tickets they sold-

John Elder Robison: We… Those shows were a really intense experience because the pyrotechnics… you went to one of those concerts and the pyro that we set off, it would just rock you back on your heels.

John Elder Robison: It was a powerful show.

Frampton Gwynette: Wow.

John Elder Robison: It was a cool thing to have done back then.

Frampton Gwynette: Yeah. Yeah, it’s never been duplicated.

John Elder Robison: I used it against the law. Now, they won’t let you carry all those explosives across borders on planes and stuff. We used to set off more explosives than most towns do on the 4th of July, and we’d do it every single show.

Frampton Gwynette: Routinely. Oh man. That is something else. Well, I’m glad that we talked about that.

John Elder Robison: Yeah.

Frampton Gwynette: Yeah. Cool. I’ll tell you how the concert goes.

John Elder Robison: All right. We’ll see, yeah. All right.

Frampton Gwynette: Yeah. Thanks John. This is John Elder Robison, you’re watching the Autism News Network from Montreal, Canada. Thank you.

John Elder Robison: What was really cool is one of the more famous of those guitars was a light guitar that we built for a song New York groove. It was a disco era KISS hit. Ace stopped playing the guitar when it broke in the early eighties.

John Elder Robison: About eight years ago he called me up and he asked me if we could resurrect the guitar.

Frampton Gwynette: Whoa.

John Elder Robison: I went down to Jersey and got it from his manager and it was just a wreck. It’s all beat up and stuff and gutted. But I thought, well my ex wife who built it with me was interested in doing it and our son was… at that point he was like a grown up and he could solder and we thought he could do it because I couldn’t see up close anymore to do the soldering.

John Elder Robison: They took on the guitar task, which stored it with all the old parts. Then my son’s mom, she got sick with cancer and she died. We were at a loss a little bit, but I turned to one of my other old friends in engineering, Bob Jeff White, and he and my son finished putting the guitar together. Ace played that thing before 10,000 people back in 2015. I never thought I would see that guitar play again. It was the coolest thing.

Frampton Gwynette: Unbelievable.

John Elder Robison: The audience just roared for it just like they did back in the 70s.

Frampton Gwynette: I cannot believe that you-

John Elder Robison: That was just a cool thing to see.

Frampton Gwynette: Oh. You were that guy because I read Ace Frehley’s autobiography recently called No Regrets and he was talking about how he works so hard because it’s…

John Elder Robison: I did those… Yeah. It was all me making those things.

Frampton Gwynette: Unbelievable.

John Elder Robison: Yeah.

Frampton Gwynette: You must have been having a great time. Yeah.

John Elder Robison: Yeah, so that was a really cool thing.

Frampton Gwynette: When he would play, would you be behind stage watching it to make sure everything was going… or you’d be in-

John Elder Robison: A lot of them, I would run with radio control.

Frampton Gwynette: Okay.

John Elder Robison: Smoking stuff. I would… he would play it and I would do the radio control operation off to the side.

Frampton Gwynette: It’s kinda of like a… almost like a RC car. We had those-

John Elder Robison: Yeah, that’s right, chip.

Frampton Gwynette: Wow. I’ll tell you what, I don’t think people… young kids these days, these young kids in the music, I don’t think they can fully appreciate the complete domination that KISS had over major parts of the 70s in terms of record sales and the amount of tickets they sold-

John Elder Robison: We… Those shows were a really intense experience because the pyrotechnics… you went to one of those concerts and the pyro that we set off, it would just rock you back on your heels.

John Elder Robison: It was a powerful show.

Frampton Gwynette: Wow.

John Elder Robison: It was a cool thing to have done back then.

Frampton Gwynette: Yeah. Yeah, it’s never been duplicated.

John Elder Robison: I used it against the law. Now, they won’t let you carry all those explosives across borders on planes and stuff. We used to set off more explosives than most towns do on the 4th of July, and we’d do it every single show.

Frampton Gwynette: Routinely. Oh man. That is something else. Well, I’m glad that we talked about that.

John Elder Robison: Yeah.

Frampton Gwynette: Yeah. Cool. I’ll tell you how the concert goes.

John Elder Robison: All right. We’ll see, yeah. All right.

Frampton Gwynette: Yeah. Thanks John. This is John Elder Robison, you’re watching the Autism News Network from Montreal, Canada. Thank you.

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