What I’ve really enjoyed about writing this column is talking to people in all areas of the “Elvis/ETA” business and learning from them. This month, for example, I’ve tackled a topic about which I previously knew next to nothing -- and that is the lighting effects that go into making a spectacular backdrop at a concert or large venue.

What started me thinking about this was watching
George Argo, lighting director extraordinaire, and his lighting artistry at work during concerts I’ve attended recently. I may not know much about lights, but I know talent when I see it. And I know I’m not the only one who admires George’s work -- I’ve seen people actually stand up and applaud his lighting wizardry!!

I’ve come to know George and admire his hard work and talent greatly, and I felt that he deserved some recognition on ETARadio for his outstanding work. For those of you doing shows or putting the lighting together yourself, maybe there is some useful information for you here. George is pretty quiet and unassuming and what I didn’t know, until I talked more with him and with others, was that he’s worked with quite a few professional entertainers and, after 11 years in “the business,” is recognized as being one of the top “Elvis” lighting artists in the field..

George, 34, is originally from Orlando, Florida and now lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with his wife Colleen and daughter Katie.

I asked George how he got started, and here is some of the information he provided:

In 1991, I got my start from Bart Griffin, who played in a rock-n-roll band - The Griffin Brothers Band - in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The band did their own sound and lights from the stage and wanted to get someone to do the sound and lights in front. Bart felt I had a really good ear for music and he thought that eventually, I could be a sound man. So they hired me and taught me how to do both sound and lights. At first we only had a few lights and a light board that I could run with my feet. Then they threw in a spot light. So there I was -- running sound, lights with my feet, and a spot light all at the same time. Now that was tricky. Finally we got rid of the spot light and got more lights and a real light board.

Jeff and Beth Griffin were in the Griffin Brothers Band also. They were hired together at the Rainbow Theatre, in l995, for the new show that was opening there. Ava Barber and Eddie Miles were the stars of the show. They did not have a light man so Jeff and Beth told them about me, and it was decided that it would be cheaper to give me a shot than to have to actually pay a real light man. I had to direct traffic in the parking lot before the show, do the lights for the show and then clean up the theatre after the show for a price that I would rather not say but it got me in the door. About two years later, Eddie opened his theatre in N. Myrtle Beach and asked me to come along with some of the band members to the beach. Eventually, the lease to the theatre was sold to a fellow who kept the Elvis show going and hired another Elvis named Rick Alviti. I worked for him at the theatre for about two years also. Rick, like Eddie, is also a really nice guy and now doing road shows. And I’m now working full time for Eddie Miles on his road shows -- so, here we are today!

George also filled me in on other aspects of his work -- explaining in language that I could understand (thanks George!).

(Some technical explanations below, for those who may be working with lights)

an acl effect with lecos acl lights are the white lights that I point downward in a fan shape. They have a really narrow beam. At these road shows I usually have four on both sides and five in the middle. The acl is a special light that is only 250 watts when most lights are 1000 watts but pack the same if not more punch. You usually have to wire in 4 together so they don't get overloaded and blow, because dimmers that run the lights are around 1300 watts. On these road shows it seems no one ever has acl lights so to do the white fan look that I like I have to make it with some other lights. Lecos or ellipsoidal are lights that I can do this effect with. They are usually at every place we go to. They have 4 flat metal pieces on each side that you can slide in to chop the beam down. I chop them way down to make a nice narrow beam and then focus it in a fan the way I like. Most Lighting people don't know you can get an acl effect out of lecos.

lights pointing up the cyc The cyc is usually white and it is the back wall of the stage that you see during shows. It is made out of cloth usually but sometimes plastic. It can be whatever color I make it with lights. Cyc colors are usually red, blue and green. This way you can mix the colors to get a lot of different colors. But to get the cyc more involved than just shades of colors you can put shapes on it. You can get shapes from some lights by putting a gobo in it. A gobo can be made out of a lot of different kinds of materials but the basic ones are steel. They make all kinds of patterns you can buy. But another effect on the cyc that a lot of people don't use because they must have never seen it done, is to have lights pointing up it in a fan shape. I usually just have the lights white but I have put green gels in them for Christmas time. (Gels are the sheet of color that you can put in front of the lights to make them whatever color). You can use all sorts of lights for this effect. At the theatre I just used regular par cans. But most of time at these road shows I use lecos or ellipsoidal, because the cyc is usually so big that I need to chop in the sides to a separation between the beams so you can actually see the fan that I am trying to create.

Highlights That Stand Out? I have done a lot of shows because many acts came through the theatres... Ronnie McDowell, The Drifters, The Byrds, Chubby Checker, The Ink Spots, gospel singer Michael English, and some I can't even remember. I worked in Pigeon Forge for BJ Thomas for a couple of months. Some of the best times were working with Elvis' former band members. I did lights for Ronnie McDowell in Pigeon Forge and Scotty Moore was with him. We had two shows one day and went out to eat between them. I sat right across from Scotty at a booth with the four of us sitting there eating. Scotty was telling us stories of the old days with Elvis. And - I remember the times I worked with JD Sumner and the Stamps in Myrtle Beach. We did so many shows and they would tell us so many stories about the good old days with Elvis. Ed Enoch would have us rolling with laughter with some of the stories. I also worked on JD’s last show. It really was a sad time.

When we went to Memphis for “Elvis Week” in August 2002, it was just great being back stage with all those guys again...talking to Scotty Moore, The Stamps, The Jordanaires, DJ Fontana, Boots Randolph, and the others.

J.D. Sumner

The Ink Spots

Chubby Checker

Ronnie McDowell

Before the show? As all the shows are “road shows,” at many different venues, George usually sends the people at the venue a “tech rider” ahead of time. This is basically a detailed list of what equipment the show will be using (sound, lighting, rigging, special effects, electrical, communication, stage, and crew requirements), what he will be providing himself, and what needs to be available at the venue -- along with an indication of how the show will proceed. As soon as he gets to the venue on show day, he works, along with the sound man, on getting the sound and lights ready.

George has a lot of equipment that he sets up and takes down himself and this usually takes quite a few hours of concentrated work. He uses his own light board along with the light boards available in the various venues he works at. He says there are a lot of different boards and even though he is familiar with most of them, he does run into new ones which he has to learn how to run once he gets to the theatre.

Challenges? One of the biggest challenges, says George, is having to make his own lighting plot for each show (his lighting scheme and the placement of lights, etc.) work with what the different venues have available to use. As he says, it’s a mental challenge and the mental part of the job is harder than the physical part. He tries to program the board the way he likes (i.e. store a particular selection or scene of lights which can be brought back on demand) but sometimes the venue just doesn’t have enough faders (which raise and lower the intensity of light) on their board, so George has to figure out what he can and can’t use – and often with not a lot of time to decide.

Special Effects? Well, here I can tell you personally that the special effects that George creates are just spectacular and very “tailored” to the show and the song being sung at the time...George truly is a lighting genius. In George’s words: “I have done tons of stuff – I’m not sure if I’ve been the first person to create that effect. I do know that some of the things that I do and use make the light men at some of the venues say they will use the same things and do the same things at their shows later. They have never seen what their lights are capable of doing. For example, I can make an acl effect out of lecos (explanation below) . I also put the lights pointing up the cyc (explanation below) . A lot of people have never seen that done. I like the effect I’ve used a few times at a show where I don’t have the spotlight on the performer -- just some lights coming from behind. I call it the silhouette look. At Christmas time I put snowflake patterns in my moving lights at the theatre. While Eddie was singing “Blue Christmas,” I turned them blue and had them fall as he sang the line, “and when those blue snowflakes start falling.” Eddie turned and saw them. He stopped singing and said, “Did you see that.... those snowflakes turned blue and fell....that was cool.” He complimented me again after the show. I do that type of thing a lot. If the song mentions a particular colour, I try to have that color on at that moment. I don’t know if anyone else notices or not. In the song, “What Now My Love” when Eddie sings, “Here come the stars, tumbling around me” I put stars tumbling around him; he gets a kick out of that. Another special effect includes using red, white and blue lights and stars in the background for “American Trilogy.”

I used to put together videos to play on the back screen for some songs at our theatre. I played a lighthouse video that I put together when Ed Hill (of the Stamps Quartet) would sing “The Lighthouse.” He looked back and could not believe it; he almost broke up crying and I almost ruined that song for him. I did the same thing for a show with Michael Twitty. I put together a beautiful scene to match the video that I made up of Conway Twitty (his Dad) singing. I had rope lights going real dim to match the lights exactly on the video. I had some lights coming down on Michael as he sat on the steps of our stage while he sang "That's My Job." There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre including mine. I still get really sad when I hear that song and it's one of my favorites now.

Compliments You Have Received? I have been told that I do the best Elvis lights of anyone. Now what that means I don't know. I have been told that by Ed Enoch, Ed Hill and Jack their road manager. Jack even said that JD loved the way I did the lights. Eddie Miles says I am the best! Now I don't know if I am the best but I do know I try my hardest every show no matter how many people are in the building. I have received good comments at just about every show I have ever done. I learn as I go and try to learn something at every place we go to. I ask questions when most people would just play like they know it all. I also try and treat people like I like to be treated.

So, there you have it...a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at some of what is involved in creating the lighting effects for a show. And - try to catch George at work some time! I guarantee you’ll be impressed!!

George using some of his equipment.

George Argo

ETA Eddie Miles shares the stage with a stunning lighting effect by George.