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Bandit History: 40 Years of Excellence
Part 3: The 80s
As the 80s unfurled, the music scene was changing. Country act, Kenny Rogers had become one of the biggest artists in the business, and the movie Urban Cowboy put country music squarely on the front page in America. John Travolta and Debra Winger started an explosion of the genre and Bandit Lites lit almost 100% of the industry at that time. This led to substantial growth within the company. Bandit clients Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Eddie Rabbitt, Crystal Gayle, Mickey Gilley, Charlie Rich, Ronnie Milsap and many other artists of the era topped the pop and country charts.
Country was not the only sensation of the 80s, as the phenomenon known as "hair bands" came and went, and Bandit was in the thick of it all. Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Krokus, Ratt and many other heavy metal bands came calling on Bandit Lites for lighting services. The brief from the late Kevin Dubrow of Quiet Riot on their 1985 World Tour was ‘Bigger than Van Halen", and it was! Avo custom-built the world's largest (and only) 120-way console. It was a staggering 10 feet from end to end.
The southern rock genre was still in full bloom in the early 80's with The Outlaws, Blackfoot, Molly Hatchet, The Johnny Van Zandt Band and others in the Bandit stable. At that time, the line between country and rock was blurred by one of the biggest acts in music history, Alabama. Bandit and Alabama linked up in the band's infancy and together rose to the top of the industry in the mid 80s. Alabama was the first country act to take a huge, ‘rock & roll' light system on the road, a trend many acts would follow in the future.
Bandit continued to build momentum and in 1982, Bandit opened the first office in Nashville, TN to better service the Nashville market. The addition would prove to be beneficial to this very day. In that same year, Bandit set up a partnership in the UK with an English lighting company in order to provide a global lighting service for Bandit artists.
Most of the metal bands and rock acts Bandit worked with toured Europe, so it was imperative that Bandit add a European presence.
Michael Strickland met Graham Thomas and John Walters from Thomas Engineering in the UK and was immediately attracted to their "spun aluminum" par can. English firms had begun using this new aluminum par can, but no American firm had embraced it.
Bandit placed an order for several hundred PAR cans and introduced the Thomas PAR to the US market in full force. In the process, Strickland, Thomas and Walters struck a deal to have Bandit represent Thomas Engineering in the U.S.
Upon returning to the states, Michael employed Mike Garl to run Thomas Engineering in the U.S. Over time, the company grew from a 2,000 square foot facility into over 20,000 square feet. The company is still in business today (though Strickland sold it in the 90s).
In his ownership of Thomas, Strickland and the staff at Bandit played a part in the development of many standard products on the market today. Elements of the revolutionary Thomas Pre Rigged Truss came from Bandit, as did the Thomas (and later Tomcat) roof system. In fact, the first roof system ever erected was done in the car park at Bandit as Bandit assembled a box of PRT on 4 Thomas Towers and then literally "put a skin on it". Photos of the device were sent to the Thomas staff in the UK, and the world was forever changed! The 36 Lamp Pod and many other devices were also a result of the Bandit staff working with the Thomas staff to meet the needs of the market.
Around the same time, Michael Strickland was introduced to the good people at Avo and he adopted the Avo dimming and control to the U.S. By the mid 1980s, Bandit used all Thomas truss and PARs, all Avo dimming and control and socapex cable. Bandit introduced these standards to the U.S., and by the end of the 80s most major hire companies had deserted their own style of truss, PARs and dimming and followed suit.
English companies that opened in the U.S. already used this technology, but thanks to
Bandit's contribution, these companies became household names in the U.S. One of the many bands that Bandit began working with in the 1980s included a little old band from Athens, Georgia known as REM. Together, Bandit and REM would tour the world for the next 25 plus years. The late 80s also brought Bandit another little act: Jimmy Buffett. The Buffett- Bandit relationship continues to this day and the party is showing no signs of letting up.
Several 80s mainstays such as Adam Ant, The Pretenders, Anita Baker, Billy Ocean and
Cameo all had their heyday with Bandit. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young would begin a relationship with Bandit that continues to this day. The late Dan Fogelberg was a Bandit mainstay from 1984 up until his untimely passing in 2007.
The Christian music market also saw substantial growth during this time, led by Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and heavy metal band, Stryper. All of these acts as well as many other Christian acts turned to Bandit for their visual needs as the genre developed.
As the 80s wound down, a funny thing called ‘email' began to emerge and Bandit embraced it. At that same time, Bandit discovered that being a trucking company and a lighting company was not something they enjoyed, and like most other companies, they got out of trucking. There was a two-year relationship with Morpheus and East Coast Pan Command that eventually ended as Bandit began to purchase new moving mirror lights.
The ‘Bandit Standard' continued to develop in the 80s. Already known for fully pre-building its systems, for silver aluminum flight cases and for attention to detail, Bandit added personalised case labels, P-Touch and Bandit Tour Books as well as extensive training of staff, fulltime pay, health insurance and retirement programs.
One of the biggest leaps forward was the Bandit Custom Motor Controller. The added safety of having the motor control switches laid out on a graphic of the lighting system makes it all but impossible to select the incorrect hoist for movement. This would lead eventually to a bigger motor control device in the 90s.
The 1980's history would not be complete without mention of the Bandit Lites Christmas parties. Attendance reached over 4,000 people each year and the infamous events often lasted all night. In addition to socializing with friends, the parties started a Bandit tradition of taking care of underprivileged children each Christmas. Attendees were asked to bring a toy to gain admission, and each year it required a 24' truck to carry the wonderful gifts to the needy. Many manufacturers simply sent in gifts just to be part of the giving. The tradition of giving continues to this day at all Bandit Lites offices.
As the 80s came to an end, Bandit moved into a 30,000 square foot facility in Knoxville and purchased a good-sized lighting company in Nashville to expand the presence in that market. The company was fully booked heading into the 90s with a great mix of all types of musical clients, corporate work and a new, growing sales division. Lee Anne Donaldson joined the family and is today the Global Business Manager. Dizzy Gosnell was introduced to Bandit on the road with Iron Maiden and joined Bandit later in the 90s.
As the famous 80s song goes, "the future is so bright we gotta wear shades!" Stay tuned for Bandit History, Part 4: The 90s.
23rd May 2008
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