Jack Calmes, seen here in a promo photo for his band, the Forever Fabulous Chickenhawks Showband & All-Star Revue Dallas, TX (January 7, 2015)—Jack Calmes, who co-founded pioneering concert sound company Showco, died of cancer on January 5 at the age of 71.
Calmes first became involved with music in 1961, playing in high school bands with future rock legends Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs, but eventually founded a Dallas-based concert promotion company with partner Angus Wynne in 1965, with Wynne coining the fledgling company’s name: Showco. Building on the success of their first concert—a Chuck Berry concert arranged purely because Calmes happened to have Berry’s home phone number—the pair brought name acts to the city as the Sixties progressed, including the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Doors, Stevie Wonder and others. Calmes recalled the era in a 1980 D Magazine profile: “The musicians were getting tired of bad sound. Their own systems would be just shutting off every performance; they didn’t like to give the crowd a bad show. As a musician myself, I understood their frustration.”
However, Calmes’ inspiration to start a sound company came in the wake of Showco’s attempt to create a Woodstock-like event: the Texas International Pop Festival, held on Labor Day Weekend, 1969. While the show brought in big acts and reportedly went off without incident, it lost $100,000. In the months that followed, Wynne left concert promotion, burnt out from six years of booking shows (though he eventually returned to booking in 1973 and today heads Wynne Entertainment in Dallas). In the meantime, Calmes mulled reconfiguring Showco into a production services company.
In the D profile, Calmes explained, “When I saw how much money Bill Hanley got for doing the sound at the Texas Pop Festival and at Woodstock, it set me thinking. Hanley didn’t get burned at either festival, although the rest of us did. And Hanley was just about the only guy in the country with access to enough equipment needed for the big shows. What’s more, although Hanley’s sound was superb for the day, it would still go off three or four times a concert…. So I knew it could be done better. And if it could be done better, we’d have all the business we could possibly want.”
Having moved on to real estate, Wynne sold his rights to the Showco name to Calmes and his new partners—college friend Rusty Brutsche and a local recording engineer, Jack Maxson. While the team built the company and its gear through trial and error, Showco soon had Three Dog Night, Led Zeppelin and Steppenwolf as its first three touring accounts. Things only grew from there; Calmes resigned as president of the company in 1980, but by then, Showco had become one of the biggest sound providers in the world—a position it would hold until 2000, when it was purchased by and merged with its chief competitor, Lititz, PA-based Clair Brothers, to form ClairShowco (now Clair Global).
After leaving Showco, Calmes founded lighting company Syncrolite in 1984 and remained its president until his passing, though he had retired from day-to-day involvement in recent years. Notable high-profile events handled by Syncrolite have included the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 NCAA Final Four in Arlington, TX, and the company garnered an Emmy award for its work on American Idol.
Some of Calmes’s other endeavors over the years included producing concert films such as The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live In Texas (1978, though unreleased until 2011) and The Who Rocks America (1982); managing Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Freddie King and the band Bloodrock; inventing mechanisms for production light fixtures which were awarded two patents in 2009; a brief marriage to future actress/pinup Morgan Fairchild; and playing guitar for decades in regional act the Forever Fabulous Chickenhawks Showband & All-Star Revue, which he founded in 1980.
Calmes is survived by his wife of 25 years, Susie, stepdaughter Audrey Bagwell Dellgren and grandchildren Johan and Ally Dellgren.. His funeral will be held Monday, January 12, at the Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home in Dallas, and the family has asked for donations to be made to the SPCA in lieu of flowers.
2:44 PM, 1.7.2015 – UPDATED to clarify Angus Wynne’s departure from Showco.