The Conversation: Richard Borders

Richard Borders

Gemini Light Show

Conversation with Jim Alabiso • Photograph by laird

For over fifty years, Richard Borders has been the creative force of the Gemini Light Show. He created the first concert touring light shows for The Who, Pink Floyd, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few. He invented the first live video projection and laser systems for entertainment, including lasers that could draw pictures on clouds. Five years ago, he landed on Jacksonville’s music scene.

When I met you for the first time, it was at the Amrit Yoga Institute ashram in Salt Springs, Florida. What brought you there?

I had been on tour with the country band JT Curtis when I first moved to Florida. I was asked by a friend to get in touch with Malay Desai, Yogi Amrit Desai’s son, about building TV broadcast systems there. Having done yoga in 1967 and meeting Amrit at the Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1970, where I did lights, I thought it to be an exciting idea. 

I got off the tour bus in Ocala, was picked up by Malay and started my journey. Once I arrived, it was another world. I spent over a year there on a technical and spiritual path. It was quite a change from the loud concert music past midnight. Now it was quiet mornings, shooting TV broadcasts, and silent meditation. At night in the forest without light pollution, the stars were so bright it added to the enlightenment of these times.

One of the best things was I got to become friends with yoga teachers and students from around the world. An insightful cultural exchange. All the meals were vegan and healthy, with so much variety compared to a restaurant meal along the highway on tour.  I also got to go through every significant yoga training program, as well. The wisdom I soaked in there spun a creative wave that I swam through to take me away to Jacksonville. 

How did the idea of mixing laser light, projection, and music come to you? Tell us about your first light show apparatus. 

I was blending light to music at nine years old. I cut out photos of UFOs and aliens from Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines. I glued them to a wall with blinking colored Christmas lights under each one. I would put on headphones and listen to music from Spike Jones to Vivaldi to go with the lights. 

I began doing stage lighting for concerts and thought about using the back curtain area to project the images. The touring light show included slide, overhead, movie, and film loop projectors. I also brought in strobe lights.

While doing the light show for Tommy on The Who tour, I got a video projection system. During Listening To You, I had a photo of Mount Shasta, and the audience’s faces appearing on the mountain as they sang the lyrics, “I climb the mountain; I get excitement at your feet.” That’s what seeing the music was about to me. 

I got a red laser from the Edmund Scientific Company. I glued a mirror to a speaker and watched the beam dance to the music. That beam began another path for me. It gave the light show a depth that had not been seen until then.

What was the first touring act to pick up on the idea, and how did that change your destiny?

The Who was the first group to ask me to go on tour. I bought the first Dodge Mini Motor Home so I could fit the crew and equipment in there. It said “The Who On Tour” on the backside windows. The front had a zodiac ring with a sign that said, “Gemini Light Show.” The band enjoyed riding in it and wrote “Goin’ Mobile.” 

Seeing so many people in audiences across the country who loved music like I did awakened an awareness of the positive message I could spread through light. 

We did a show in San Diego with a 12,000-seat venue. After the sound and light check, we went to the hotel. When we came back, I hung in the dressing room until just before the show. When I opened the stage door to walk to the lighting board, the whole audience screamed. I shut the door and said to the band and crew, “you have to see this.” We all peeked and heard the screams. I walked out shyly through the crowd to my booth in the center of the arena. This tour led to many more tours, especially with English bands. I had found my calling. 

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