Several months back we did a 5-part series of interviews with Showco aficionado Jason Sprinzen, who owns the world’s largest collection of these rare shirts. During the interview Sprinzen told us of his ongoing book project about the company. The project has now kicked into full gear, so we figured that we would catch up with Jason and see where things currently stand with his collection and book. For a refresher on our last interview, check out Part I, II, III, IV, & V.
SHOWCO Shirts Courtesy of the Jason Sprinzen Collection.
Last we spoke you were the caretaker of 126 Showco shirts. And now?
Yes it has! However, before we get started, I would like to express my gratitude to Max, everyone at Defunkd, and each and every vintage t-shirt fan on their great site. A huge thank you for your continued support and encouragement with my book SHOWCO: 10,000 Nights On The Road. My partners and I appreciate it very much and hope to live up to your expectations! That’s my promise!
Alright! Let’s talk about some SHOWCO shirts! I’m very happy to report the collection has increased since we’ve last spoken, however, it’s never an easy task. The competition is fierce and I play to win. These artifacts are extremely important to the story and myself. Currently, I am the caretaker of 153 original, vintage SHOWCO shirts. It is the largest, most comprehensive collection of this type of ephemera in the world. All of which will be pictured in the book! My ultimate goal is to have three hundred original examples included. I can just visualize the glaring expressions on my creative team’s faces now. That’s a lot of work! Actually, with the way it’s looking, we might exceed that lofty mark.
Since going public with the new book Website, Facebook, and Twitter, I’ve been flooded with emails from production industry personal (past and present) from all over the world. They were either employed with SHOWCO at one point or working in the industry back in the day. Everyone was very happy to report they still have their old shirts tucked away in a trunk or stored in an attic or garage. They also wanted to swap out a few old war stories too! They would love to have their shirts (that traveled the rock n roll world) pictured in the book. It’s great because this generosity has become an important aid in my continued research. I’d like to give the reader an insight to fully encompass the entire scope of the marketing t-shirt genius that was SHOWCO. I’m very excited because now we’re creating a book community so that everyone can contribute their small part. The shirts are going to be a beautiful, fun, illustrated time line of every act SHOWCO produced throughout the years. There will also be t-shirts from the various production companies that worked in association with SHOWCO. So, in addition to this amazing story- it will be a visually stunning, never done before, benchmark for vintage t-shirt enthusiasts worldwide.
Tell us where things currently stand with your book?
I’m very happy and proud to say that the wheels are in motion and at a very exciting pace. This welcomed plateau has been the culmination for almost eight years of continued non-stop, exhaustive research. There simply was no other way for an undertaking of this magnitude- the period (1965-1981) to be executed.
Surprisingly, there has been a limited amount of literature published throughout the years (even at their peak) about SHOWCO’s accolades and innovations. Maybe once in blue moon if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a poorly scribed article or two in an old trade or newspaper with tour accounts from a long forgotten “rock” journalist. I had to explore, discover, and rediscover the history of this skilled, reticent company from scratch. This was no easy feat man. Eight years ago, I recall sitting at my desk late one evening with pen in hand staring down at a white hot phosphorous blank sheet of paper uttering to myself, “where the fuck do I begin?” How do you research a topic that’s virtually non-existent in lore, print, and internet? How do you ferret out the elusive directors, employees and associates and somehow persuade them to speak with a lonely guy from New York City? Who essentially knows very little of the subject matter, but has some heart? Good fucking luck buddy! Thanks for playing! Outside of their industry SHOWCO was very much a professional secret society loved by the musicians and appreciated by their fans. That’s why I truly believe they achieved that brand of massive, mythical success. In the wise words of John “J.R.” Rea (SHOWCO sound engineer/crew chief), “ a good show was one where I did not see any roadies or techs on stage at all.” In other words, the better you were at this business, the more invisible you were.
In the early naive years of my book quest- I experienced so many pitfalls and multifarious barbed wire covered road blocks, camouflaged claymore mines, middle fingers and concealed Viet Cong Punji sticks to last a life time. I was begging for sweet mercy! I had no idea what I was doing and was surly on the brink of a nervous breakdown. I wanted to run for the hills screaming, crying and pulling my hair out. Alas! There was a turning point. I suddenly began to learn, absorb and become competent with my passion for the discovery of SHOWCO.
This book is so timely and needs to be properly documented NOW! In my opinion, there is nothing more devastating than after years of searching for a contact to interview to be informed from a somber relative that he or she has passed away the month before. That’s such a huge inconsolable loss. That history and part of the story is now sadly gone forever. Inspired by these turn of events- I persevered, stuck with it, and slowly gained my studies curiosity, trust and respect. I will always remember and treasure that overcast afternoon in July when finally after so many quiet months- the return phone calls started trickling in. “Hello Jason, (with a cool, unfamiliar Texan drawl) this is Gary Carnes, (SHOWCO lighting engineer) from SHOWCO lighting. How you doing today sir? I’m real happy to hear about that book of yours my man! I’ve got some great crew stories for you about that huge ‘77 Zeppelin tour!” FUCK YEAH! How cool is a phone call like THAT? It was a huge confidence builder for me man. I’ve never looked back since.
So to answer your question, this is where I stand today- I have eighty five percent of my research completed for the book (I still learn new things every day), the writing has slowly commenced, my source information will be culled from over two hundred hours of one on one interviews conducted myself with over forty SHOWCO alumni, musicians and associates (and now, the interview requests are pouring in daily). I have amassed over a thousand pieces of cool rock n roll ephemera such as: concert tickets, tour laminates, backstage passes, rare tour itineraries, stage blueprints, three hundred pieces of original SHOWCO staff swag (including t-shirts and jackets), hundreds of never-before-seen photos taken by the SHOWCO staff, and the coolest, unknown (until NOW!) rock n roll story ever. I’m chipping away at every social media outlet to spread the good SHOWCO word including my new independent startup publishing company Bootstrap Publications, LLC. I have two fantastic and creative partners, a smart and beautiful girlfriend, supportive and caring family and friends, and my band Heather and the Heathens. Oh and I can’t leave out Otis- our little girl bunny. I am locked and loaded bro. People ask me still, “why has this book of yours taken long?” My response is, “well, nothing like it has ever been attempted before, I learn as I go, mistakes are made and corrected. I live in New York City on a local musician’s earnings and I don’t have the bread to spend on Tony Robbins inspirational tapes.”
SHOWCO Shirts & Memorabilia Courtesy of the Jason Sprinzen Collection. Photo by Avi Bonime
You started a publishing company what does that entail?
Bootstrap Publications, LLC is not solely a literary publishing company, but a publisher for all creative outlets. We work closely with musicians, visual artists, writers, and other innovative individuals. The decision to start our own company was a very positive, strong and ballsy move on our part. Had it not come to fruition, there was a very good chance that SHOWCO: 10,000 Nights On The Road might have never seen the light of day (or night). About six months ago, I felt like I hit a solid brick wall and came to the realization I could no longer maintain the daily responsibilities myself. It was overwhelming and way too much man. To make matters worse, I couldn’t close a deal with any major publishing houses in America. It was always, “sorry Mr. Sprinzen, we decided to go with Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Justin Bieber this quarter. We appreciate your proposal and passion for SHOWCO, however, it simply does not fit into our company’s vision. Don’t call us, we’ll never call you.” I took a trip to the local bookstore chain (Harnes and Jobles) and surveyed their limp rock n roll section just to suss things out for myself. Do you know how many books there are on the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones? While I LOVE these musicians, I feel as if it’s the same rehashed stories, same photos, the same ol’ same ol’. Unbelievable right? I walked away in utter disappointment because my dream is to share this unique story from a completely new and fresh perspective- directly from the guys making it happen backstage- the REAL rock n roll working class hero. I needed to find my way back, rediscover inspiration, and find a new direction.
I’ve met many interesting people along the way while pursuing the SHOWCO story and two names just kept bubbling up to the surface. Now I’m thinking to myself? I’ve taken this thing as far as I could go. A little help would be grand. If I was ever going to partner up with someone- who’s it going to be? I remember meeting Al and Rick Schad at their small upper west side New York City apartment four years ago. Rick’s father, Philip Schad (SHOWCO carpenter/set welder and design) was in town for a brief visit. A few months back I tracked Phil down in Alaska and conducted a cool phone interview with him about his SHOWCO days. He informed me (at the end of his two hour and thirty six minute interview), “Well Jason, that was a lot of fun. Takin’ a little ride back in time. I’m going to be in New York City to visit my son and his fiancée next month. Why don’t we kill three birds with one stone and all meet up for some coffee, pie and part two? You’ll really like my son Jason, like you, he plays guitar and sings real well.” So there’s Rick and Al, and myself sitting on the apartment’s floor. Phil is weaving animated tales about hitting the road and working closely with the mighty Led Zeppelin in 1973 and 1975. He was reminiscing about the break he took from SHOWCO to work on the Alaskan Pipeline and finding a Wooly Mammoth tusk in a snowdrift. In 1979, he was coerced to return back to the fold after repeated urgent telegrams from the SHOWCO directors. They were hoping he would build the Bee Gee’s (Spirits Having Flown tour) two frequency icosahedron, six foot in diameter, disco mirror ball-all by himself. Once we were finished with this unbelievable American rock n roll history lesson, I gushed my warm goodbye’s. In deep thought, digesting all the information we just heard, Al walked me silently back to the subway. She stopped dead in the middle of the block and said, “ That was fucking unbelievable! Holy shit!” She grabbed my arms and looked me straight in the eye and said, “If you EVER need help with this project? PLEASE let Rick and I know.” I never forgot that and eventually pitched my thoughts to my now partners in crime Al and Rick Schad. They own and operate their own successful media company called Sefener Fine Arts and Graphic Design. Rick’s father Philip and his cool uncle David Schad (SHOWCO lighting engineer/operations) both worked at SHOWCO for many years in their heyday. Rick grew up listening to their road stories around the kitchen table. When I finally asked them to join this venture- they fell in love with the opportunity to tell the story. In Darth Vader’s words to Obi Wan Kenobi “the circle is now complete.” It couldn’t apply more man! We now have the Force! Don’t get me wrong- after what I’ve been through it’s amazing to have complete artistic freedom and control over your projects and visions. However, the financial, promotional and daily tasks of running and operating your OWN company completely falls into your lap. We are up to that challenge and I can confidently say, BRING IT!
Philip Schad (SHOWCO carpenter) in 1978 with Bee Gees mirror ball (icosahedron) and Wooly Mammoth Tusk. Courtesy of the Philip Schad Collection.
Do you plan to publish other music related books?
Very possibly yes. Foreseeable in the future, but currently there are no substantial plans at the moment. That’s what Bootstrap Publications, LLC is about.My partners and I are very passionate about music and have affection towards musically related subjects. Once this book is complete we can then move on and move forward. Right now the SHOWCO book plan is our main focus because it demands so much invested time. Since starting my research years ago, I’ve meet so many fascinating people in the rock n roll production field. They have their own compelling stories in addition to their affiliation with SHOWCO. Their stories alone could lend itself to an interesting read. As it stands right now, I personally have five, very strong and captivating possibilities. All music related with a fresh subject, story and viewpoint. We are also planning a continuation of a bookend to the SHOWCO saga with part two (1982-2008). Things are and will be busy, busy, busy, but I’m looking forward to every single minute of it.
Your site mentions you will be selling officially licensed Showco tees?
Indeed it does and we’re very happy to announce this exciting, new marketing endeavor. Here’s an abbreviated story line leading up to our purchase of the SHOWCO logo. During the 1970’s and 80’s, SHOWCO and Clair Brothers were the two biggest rivals in the concert production industry. They were always striving for new innovation and technology each pushing the other to greater heights. In 2000, the two companies then merged to form CLAIR /SHOWCO, the largest lighting and sound reinforcement company in the world. Ultimately, in 2008 the name was changed to Clair and the SHOWCO name was officially retired to the history books. The legendary SHOWCO shirt was the avatar of the SHOWCO crew both men and women. We thought making these available (what was essentially their work uniform) was the perfect way to assist in raising funds for a book that celebrates their unique story. SHOWCO alumni and fans of classic rock from all over the world have expressed enthusiastic interest in purchasing these shirts. Due to the overwhelming response and support, we have created a reservation list on our website and it’s now filling up quickly.
Regarding the official licensing, we have purchased the SHOWCO logo trademark for apparel, which makes us the ONLY legal distributor of new SHOWCO shirts in United States. We wanted to be true to the original spirit and quality so we are replicating the materials and design. To distinguish these t-shirts from the original staff shirts, we are creating new artwork to be displayed on the back that relates to SHOWCO: 10,000 Nights on the Road. Each limited run will feature a unique back design with the classic SHOWCO logo across the chest. Currently the shirts are only available at our website. They will be lightweight, 100% cotton, flocked and made in the USA. A certificate of authenticity will be included with each shirt purchased. One hundred percent of the proceeds are dedicated to funding SHOWCO: 10,000 Nights On The Road.
You found some investors; did you do a funding campaign?
We have the support from the SHOWCO family. Campaigning for funding is still a task at hand. We would like to encourage anyone interested in supporting the book to please check out the payment and donations options on our site. We also have plans underway in the near future to proceed with a Kickstarter campaign. Mostly, there has been an enormous amount of donated time.
Is there currently a targeted publication date?
Specifically no, but our goal is to have everything complete within 18 months and and e-book version out in 2014.
So how can we keep up-to-date?
Please check our website for general information, updates and donations. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter as I am constantly posting rare photos, memorabilia and fun facts. These social media site’s and web pages have become a great meeting place for SHOWCO alumni, industry professionals, and fans of classic rock n roll. I’ll keep you up to date on the details and progress of the book. We encourage everyone to participate in the process leading up to the final release date. I would personally like to thank everyone that has taken the time to be interviewed, contributed memorabilia, or has lent support and direction to the book. Thank you!