Taylor Swift Production Manager the recipient of IQ Magazine's Gaffer Award 2015.
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As the tenth Gaffer, Lug joins an impressive list of the industry’s production trailblazers. Though, IQ learns, he came perilously close to being honoured posthumously…
By Gordon Masson on 17 Jan 2020
It was a hell of a year for John Zajonc in 2019. Having masterminded Metallica’s massively successful North American tour, within days he found himself in Europe overseeing a build for the band’s arena tour that he’d put together between stadia shows stateside.
But that was child’s play compared with what was about to happen. During a break in the tour schedule, Zajonc travelled to Saudi Arabia to help another long-term client, WWE, prepare for its Super ShowDown event, only to wind up in hospital after a massive electric shock.
“Let’s put it like this; I’m now officially retired as an electrician,” he reports of the incident that would certainly have killed lesser mortals. Thanks to his general levels of fitness, he lived to tell the tale, despite some horrific injuries. “I was electrocuted: 400 volts across my chest and back. The force of the shock ripped my shoulders out of their sockets and broke them both.”
Within hours, Zajonc checked himself out of hospital and took himself to Amsterdam to resume duties for Metallica. But more on that later…
“I was electrocuted: 400 volts across my chest and back”
The memory remains
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Zajonc loved sport from an early age, playing soccer, baseball, ice hockey and “anything that could get me outdoors.” But it was an indoor pastime that would earn him a place in college. “I won a wrestling scholarship, but the plain fact of the matter was that I hated school, so I dropped out after a year,” the 51-year-old tells IQ. “My dad’s reaction was that if I wasn’t going to study, then I needed to work and start paying my way in life.”
Zajonc recalls some of the many jobs: “I drove a cab, I drove a laundry truck, I worked in construction – just anything to earn money, but I worked really hard. My dad’s mantra was that if I was going to dig ditches then I should be the best damn ditch digger in the world, so that’s what I tried to do.”
Perhaps noting that drive, a friend presented Zajonc with an opportunity to earn some extra money, helping out local firm Capron Lighting & Sound with some concerts. “I did two or three shows and I really liked it, so I stayed and ended up doing their Summertime Anytime beach parties. I just did whatever I was told to do and a guy called Steve Sergeant took me under his wing.”
Wherever I may roam
A couple of years after starting at Capron Sound, Zajonc got itchy feet and decided to give sport another shot.
“That’s the case with most people on the tour circuit – you learn on the job”
“I moved to Florida to become a golf professional,” he says. “It was a hard life and I soon realised that I didn’t have the right connections – I couldn’t find sponsorship and, unlike other people, I couldn’t rely on my family to support me financially, so I moved back to Boston and went back to Capron Lighting & Sound for a while.”
Eager to start moving up the ranks, Zajonc began bombarding people in the business with job requests. “Eventually, a friend at Show Power in California said he would give me a chance if I promised to stop calling him. So in the early 90s, I moved west and started to work on bigger tours.”
As Show Power’s new kid on the block, Zajonc threw himself in at the deep end and made sure he was always on hand to help out, no matter the task. That work ethic paid off.
“I got a job as the cable guy on a Genesis tour,” he recalls. “It was a nice gig as I had no responsibility really. I did that for four or five months, until the final show at Knebworth, but that’s when things really started to take off: from there I was straight on a plane to Hershey for rehearsals with U2, and then I was on the road for months with the Zoo TV tour; then Madonna; and then back to U2 again, and so on.”
“As a production manager, I’m also a part-time therapist, uncle and father to a pretty dysfunctional family”
By the mid-90s, he had worked his way up to electrical crew chief for tours by the likes of U2, the Eagles, Metallica and others. “I’m now certified, but I’m pretty much a self-taught electrician. That’s the case with most people on the tour circuit – you learn on the job – and, thankfully, I’ve worked across every department on the road, so I can turn my hand to most things, if needed.”
Things changed when Show Power was acquired by General Electric. “I had a desk job for a few months, but it really didn’t suit me working for such a big company. They didn’t want me to limit myself to entertainment, but I wasn’t really interested in some of the other stuff they wanted me to do, so it was time to move on.”
Turn the page
In 2001, alongside fellow road warriors Henry Wetzel and Carlos Oldigs, Zajonc established Legacy Power Services to provide concerts and tours with portable power systems and solutions. “Legacy has been great to work on – whenever I’m not out on the road, I’m back in the Legacy building in Las Vegas helping other productions with their electricity needs,” he reveals, talking to IQ from those Nevada premises.
Having amassed more than a decade of touring experience, Zajonc’s next step up the ladder came about when Scott Chase, stage manager for Paul McCartney was sidelined with an injury. “Scott asked me to fill in for him, and I spent the year with McCartney, followed by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill until Tim and his team asked if I would take on the role of production manager.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 87, or subscribe to the magazine here
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