Guest Interviews — 3 Minutes

John Elder Robison’s Beginning in Live Rock & Roll Production

Guest Interviews — 3 Minutes

John Elder Robison’s Beginning in Live Rock & Roll Production

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.

Frampton Gwynette: So I’m here with John Elder Robison in Montreal, Quebec, Canada – International Society for Autism Research annual meeting – and, um, John, I wanted to tell you that I am scratching an item off my bucket list, this August, 2019, I’m dragging my wife to a KISS concert and this supposedly is the end of the line tour, the final, final tour for these guys who are 70 years old, they don’t have any hip transplants they’ve had or whatnot. But apparently there’s going to be lots of pyrotechnics and also music. I am a KISS fan musically, but I understand you go back in terms of technology and sound and help develop some of the music technology that they’ve put into use. Can you tell us about that?

John Elder Robison: In the 1970s I worked first for local bands and then I worked for bigger and bigger bands and started working for sound companies who lease sound equipment to rock ‘n’ roll tours. I was hired by Britannia Row, who was the sound company formed by Pink Floyd to lease out their equipment when the Floyd wasn’t on tour.

John Elder Robison: Actually that was what first brought me to Montreal. As an adult I had my a 21st birthday ride, the ferry to corner Brook, Newfoundland-

Frampton Gwynette: Wow.

John Elder Robison: … play in the first glance tour with April Wine, their big band in Canada and we came back up here with Gino Vannelli with Rush Dunhill and Phoebe snow. We had bunch of Canadian acts. In the United States, the thing I’m best known for is we put together a monitor system for KISS for one of their tours in seventies.

John Elder Robison: I got talking to Ace Frehley, the lead guitar player, and he asked if I could make his guitar blow fire. I said, “Well, yeah, sure.” We hollowed out a Les Paul guitar, we put a stainless steel box in it, we insulated it and we put in smoke bombs and high powered lights and the thing burned so hot that it would pop the strings right off the guitar-

Frampton Gwynette: Oh my God.

John Elder Robison: … and it would cover the stage and smoke and we went on and we made a whole bunch of special effects guitars, all the ones you saw KISS play and like you see them now in the videos from the 70s-

Frampton Gwynette: Wow, I had no idea.

John Elder Robison: … that light up and shoot rockets and explode and stuff. That was one of the better known things I did in music.

Frampton Gwynette: So I’m here with John Elder Robison in Montreal, Quebec, Canada – International Society for Autism Research annual meeting – and, um, John, I wanted to tell you that I am scratching an item off my bucket list, this August, 2019, I’m dragging my wife to a KISS concert and this supposedly is the end of the line tour, the final, final tour for these guys who are 70 years old, they don’t have any hip transplants they’ve had or whatnot. But apparently there’s going to be lots of pyrotechnics and also music. I am a KISS fan musically, but I understand you go back in terms of technology and sound and help develop some of the music technology that they’ve put into use. Can you tell us about that?

John Elder Robison: In the 1970s I worked first for local bands and then I worked for bigger and bigger bands and started working for sound companies who lease sound equipment to rock ‘n’ roll tours. I was hired by Britannia Row, who was the sound company formed by Pink Floyd to lease out their equipment when the Floyd wasn’t on tour.

John Elder Robison: Actually that was what first brought me to Montreal. As an adult I had my a 21st birthday ride, the ferry to corner Brook, Newfoundland-

Frampton Gwynette: Wow.

John Elder Robison: … play in the first glance tour with April Wine, their big band in Canada and we came back up here with Gino Vannelli with Rush Dunhill and Phoebe snow. We had bunch of Canadian acts. In the United States, the thing I’m best known for is we put together a monitor system for KISS for one of their tours in seventies.

John Elder Robison: I got talking to Ace Frehley, the lead guitar player, and he asked if I could make his guitar blow fire. I said, “Well, yeah, sure.” We hollowed out a Les Paul guitar, we put a stainless steel box in it, we insulated it and we put in smoke bombs and high powered lights and the thing burned so hot that it would pop the strings right off the guitar-

Frampton Gwynette: Oh my God.

John Elder Robison: … and it would cover the stage and smoke and we went on and we made a whole bunch of special effects guitars, all the ones you saw KISS play and like you see them now in the videos from the 70s-

Frampton Gwynette: Wow, I had no idea.

John Elder Robison: … that light up and shoot rockets and explode and stuff. That was one of the better known things I did in music.

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