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Eric Wade: An Early Start Leads to a Successful Career

PLSN Staff • PLSN Interview • February 16, 2009

Eric Wade, owner of Wadespro, Inc., has been in the moving light business in one way or another since…well, since its inception. He is the favorite programmer and lighting director of many of the industries’ leading lighting designers. The demand for his services is so high that he often programs a show and turns it over to an operator after it is up and running. He’s also an accomplished lighting designer.

 

 

Last year was a busy one for Wade. PLSN met up with him at one of his many gigs — the Motor City Blues and Boogie Woogie festival in Detroit. The annual event is a celebration of American music, and it’s a fitting setting for Wade. He grew up in Texas, surrounded by live music, which led to a distinguished career in the lighting industry. PLSN recently revisited with Wade for this interview.

PLSN: How did you get involved in the lighting industry?

Eric Wade: Oddly enough…it’s very strange. When I was about 12 or 13 years-old, my mom, Carole Wade, was a rock singer. She sang in the Dallas area with local bands, with guys that worked with Stevie Ray Vaughan and that kind of stuff. She sang all over Dallas. That was my first experience with a traveling band. They had me doing some lighting and sound and all kinds of stuff. When I was about 16, I went to work for a band in Fort Worth that actually owned a club. I worked for these guys for a couple years. It kind of just evolved from that.

I owned a bunch of lights and rented them out. I did all kinds of bands that my mom played for, which was very fun back then. My mom would actually go to the clubs with me because I wasn’t old enough to get in. She would go and hang out with me so I could work. [Laughs.] It was funny.

So essentially, you were raised in the industry.

By my mom. My mom finds any excuse to sing today.

How did you move from working with one band to several different bands?

I was working for this band in Fort Worth, for this guy — he’s a country artist now — Ricky Lynn Greg. I ended up taking the lights I was using for him and renting them to other bands around town. I went to work for a lighting shop around the same time — Dallas Backup. I never had a ton of stuff, just enough to rent to local bands and make money when I was young.

So, at a very young age, you worked for local lighting company and you were freelancing at the same time?

Right. The first lighting company I ever worked for was a company called Stillwater Group Industries. They did disco lights for clubs and built dimmers and consoles in their office. We would build all of this stuff. This was around 1979 or 1980. At the same time, I’d go off and build dimmers and stuff that I could rent out. Because my mom was a single mom, they put me on a half-day work program. I went to school until noon and then I went to work at Stillwater until five o’clock. They not only paid me, but they gave me a grade.

That must have been a good learning experience; hands-on, building the products.

This guy taught me electronics — how to build dimmers, how to build consoles. Back then, they were simple two-scene preset consoles with a little bit of memory, pin-patch and that kind of stuff. And we were building them from scratch.

I left there when I was 18, when the band broke up and I sold everything. That’s when I went to go work for Dallas Backup. Charles Belcher was the owner. I was 18 and started doing shows for him. I ended up working there for a year-and-a-half and he ended up making me the LD for George Strait for about two years. We were doing arenas and he was huge, but it was two lighting guys, two sound guys and a truck driver. We were riding in the truck because there weren’t any buses. I had to hang the rig and run it. We did it all.

I assume you were used to it because in high school, for all intents and purposes, you were used to getting up early and working all day and night.

I did. When I was in high school, I had to be in school at eight o’clock in the morning and then I went to work at Stillwater from noon until five o’clock. And then I had just enough time to get to the bar in Fort Worth. I was there from eight o’clock until one or two o’clock in the morning. God bless my mom because she went with me every night. But that’s how we got by.

When you were working with George Strait, it sounds like you didn’t have a lot of luxuries in terms of gear.

Back then, we’d do some funky kind of truss shape and 300 PAR Cans.

That’s a lot of work for two guys.

Yeah. We’d go out for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and be back on Monday. And occasionally we’d go out for a two-week run.

Was that your first big break going out on the road?

I would think so. Charles Belcher at Dallas Backup and I went through a period where he was almost raising me. My dad was out of the country working, so I never really saw him much back then. Charles treated me like one of his kids. He got me work and he’d make sure I did things the right way. Eventually, I kind of outgrew what they were doing, the stuff they taught me to do, which was great.

As you were developing your skills, did you see yourself as more a designer or programmer?

I always did a little of both. For most of my career I’ve been mostly known as a programmer. I do a lot of programming. At the same instance, I do a lot of design stuff on my own. But I’ve gotten a lot of the design stuff based off the work I’ve done as a programmer. I started programming when I worked at Vari-Lite. I went to work for them in ’84 until ‘91. I teched lights, I ran the console, I did whatever they wanted me to do. One tour, you’d go out as a moving light tech and the next tour you’d go out as a moving light tech and programmer. They were the only moving light company and we did everything. Those were the days they made us lock the lights in a dressing room when we worked on them.

You played a big part in the early years of the industry. What have you been up to lately?

I work with Peter Morse all the time. This year has been one of my busiest; it’s been crazy. I’m the house lighting director for Bette Midler and I run the show all the time. I also went out as LD for Dave Maxwell on Eric Clapton in the States and in Europe. Dave and I swapped off and he did the UK. Dave’s the designer. He did the rig and he was having a baby, so I programmed the show, put it all together and ran it. We did that all summer and that worked out great because all the dates fell during Bette’s down time. I was able to do both and I didn’t have to get anybody to fill in. I don’t know how it worked out, but it did. [Laughs.]

What else has been keeping you busy?

Right before the Detroit Boogie Woogie Show I did a big corporate event in Chicago with Michael Shulman (of Illuminating Concepts). It’s a big super secret party that happens in Chicago every other year. It’s massive. This year, the band was The Eagles. We lit everything from the bathrooms, to the catering, to everything in the room. I brought in two programmers— Keith Hoagland and Errol Reinhardt— both really good guys.

I saw you at the Motor City Blues and Boogie Woogie Festival.

I love doing that gig. The talent is always amazing. And over the last couple of years, Ron (Harwood) has let me get more and more lights and video. It’s turned into where it’s a pretty good-looking show. And it’s fun. How many times do you get to run lights for a 93-year-old blues pianist? [Laughs.]

What advice would you give to up-and-coming programmers?

First off, be good at what you’re doing. Learn whatever console makes you comfortable enough to do your job. To me it’s like a guitar player playing a Strat or Les Paul. You play or run whatever console fits you and makes you able to do the job. Whoever you’re working with needs for you to perform. It’s about comfort. Find the one that works for you and learn it to the best of your ability so you can run it inside out.

Any other advice on dealing with the demands of our industry?

I have been married now for 14 years, which, as you can imagine, in our business with all of the travel, is amazing. I have only been successful because of the support and understanding of my wife, Toni Wade. She handles everything at home and deals with shipping gear, accounting and invoices— all of the day-to-day stuff— besides homeschooling my twin boys, Aaron and Brandon Wade, so that they can travel with me on a bunch of my gigs. Without her understanding I might have quit and decided to do something else years ago. I think it is important for people to know that support from your partner is huge. I know many guys who could’ve had a very successful career, who gave it up because their partner or spouse couldn’t stand, or understand, all of the travel that is involved in our business and discouraged them enough to stop doing something they loved. Because of my wife, I’ve never had to endure any of those problems. She is my biggest supporter.

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