Sunday, April 12, 2015

MY MAJOR MAGIC PIZZA CAREER


The best band I was ever involved with besides the MC5, Secrets, New Order, New Race, and the Motor City Bad Boys was made out of fur, metal tubes, fiberglass, latex, and air cylinders. Life sized three dimensional fully functional animatronic characters ala Disney. They were bigger than me, and if they had taken on a life of their own they would've kicked my ass for how I treated them. I was a bloody dictator. But we had no in-fighting that’s for sure. The Center Stage was a Rock Band and the Left was a Country Band


The drummer’s name was Flash. He was a big, super furry lion. He had 21 movements. The lead singer was named Barbra Stringband and she was a seven foot tall fox. She was a very hip dresser. The keyboards were manned by Rock the Crock, a huge crocodile who sat behind the keys. The sax player was Sergeant Pepperoni. He was a very fat walrus. He had 23 moves. This was the center stage band at Major Magic’s All Star Pizza Revue. We were on a par with Showbiz and Chuck E. Cheese. Only our animation was far superior to theirs.


I was Vice President of Entertainment, musical conceptualist, producer, plant manager and robotics programmer where we built these guys. I also was the foreman onsite during restaurant installations. Best “job” I ever had. If you’ve been to Disneyworld/Land and seen the animatronic “Hall of Presidents” you will know what I am trying to explain here. They were life-like, life-sized pneumatically operated robots.

This band’s gig was at pizza joints that were loaded with video games and kiddie playrooms. Actually the proper term is Family Entertainment Center. The creatures were prototyped by a man named Ken Acton, a former Disney animator. Who worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, and more at the Disney Theme Parks across the globe.


These animals were controlled by a computer that I programmed with the help of two friends and a super tekkie. I had the good fortune to write a Happy Birthday song for all three stages to perform. Birthday parties are big fun for kids at these establishments. Together with one of the owners, we shopped the northeast suburbs of Detroit to find a factory to build these creatures en masse. We found the perfect place and named that company Magic Robotics.


I needed to hire machinists, welders, fiberglass men, a draftsman, secretary, plant foreman, and ex Disney people who knew how to do the fur, costumes, and makeup. Whew, talk about multi-tasking!


I called the Detroit News and Free Press, (this was during the recession of 1981) to place ads in the classifieds to hire these people. So I wrote ads for lathe operators, milling machine operators and welders first. The ladies taking the want ads warned me I better do this by one classification of worker at a time as there was a hell of a lot of journeymen guys and gals out of work. Being a stubborn drummer type of guy I told her to run them concurrently as time was my enemy. I needed to build three sets of these guys straightaway.


Well, the ads went out and we planned on interviewing on a Saturday. Myself, and Bob Sap, co-conspirator extraordinaire, waited patiently for the folks to show up. The cars start to dribble into the parking lot. We have them fill out one sheet generic applications, then we interviewed them one on one.

 
As time passed, Ray Gunn, (New Order) who was helping me, said “Dennis you better get outside here.” I trundled to the door and looked in the lot. Holy shit! There was a monstrous gaggle of cars and trucks fighting for parking space and a queue of at least 100 or so people! I was beyond shocked. Those girls were right on. Now what?



After my initial paranoia, we decided to just hand out apps and try and move these people through the system as fast as we could because more and more cars were still coming right on up to 5:00 pm!



We wound up with over 250 applications and guess who had to go through them all. You got it. Little old me…Sheesh, what a learning curve. I tried to find the best photos in my collection to show you what this is all about so I hope you get the picture.




In short time, working 18 hour days I had the place up and running. I was also a tool crib foreman as I had to order thousands of nuts, bolts, air valves, air cylinders, hyme joints, eyeballs, steel, fiberglass, fur, latex etc. We had the molds for the fiberglass bodies. We had the molds for the latex faces. I found some body shop guys who excelled at their craft and they did damn well in converting their skills to adapting to this new venture.


We built three sets at a time. That was a total of 30 robots. We had to order three sets of curtains, three mammoth air compressors, 400 air cylinders, and design and build 30 costumes.



The debut of the first store was in Clinton Township, MI. The place was packed. I was nervous as a groom at his first wedding. I was the daddy of all these creatures and I hope the show would go off without too many glitches.


I was lucky. There were no problems. The whole show took about 2 hours. The audience sat through all of it drinking beer, eating pizza and at the end they gave the show a standing ovation for about three minutes. I was ecstatic to say the least. I do not know to this day how I managed to pull this off but I am sure glad I did.

11 comments:

  1. WOW - that is very similar to an idea I had (on a far smaller scale) when they brought out those toy parrots that repeated everything you said - my thought was PUT THEM ON STAGE - the band would stay in the dressing room playing the music which would transmit to the 'dolls' onstage so it would be a genuine live gig but the onstage band would be these parrots, perhaps dressed in different costumes etc according to their place in the band.... I still wish I'd done it although everyone called me an idiot, you get used to that... but a 7 foot front-robot was beyond my way of thinking, though clearly a fine idea - the Parrots on sale were only about 9 inches tall - front row seats essential!

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  2. MJG196 said...

    This may sound fucked up, but I think I have seen a porn with some of those animatronic dudes!
    May 16, 2009 at 12:30 AM
    Machinegun said...

    Well, i rather doubt it, but some of the stores may have closed and some of the characters had to go out in the street and earn their oil.

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  3. TwitterNovel said...

    Awesome story. I remember going by one of these places in 1982 or 83 -- I was very age-appropriate at the time, and the animals scared the hell out of me.

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  4. Hello machinegunthompson,

    I was reading your blog about creating the characters for Major Magic's. I used to go there a lot when they were in Michigan. The robots were my favorite part of Major Magic's. I used to spend a whole lot of my time in front of that stage. I had a couple questions about these characters. These questions are just out of curiosity. If you can answer these questions, that would be great. If you can't or don't want to, that's totally understandable. Here are my questions:

    -Who did the voices of the characters?
    -How did you start up the whole system for the day on the computer?
    -What were the two bears' names?
    -Was the music contained on reel to reel tapes?

    If you could answer any of these, that would be great.

    Thanks,
    Kyle Calabrese

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  5. July 15, 2009 at 7:24 AM
    Machinegun said...

    1.) A GROUP OF PROFESSIONAL VOCALIST FROM TENNESSE.

    2.) FLIPPED A START SWITCH

    3.) BURLY (THE BIG ONE SITTING ON THE TREE STUMP & SINGIN' SAM PLAYING THE ONE STRING BASS.

    4.) INITIALLY YES, THEN THEY WERE TRANSFERRED TO DISKS

    DOES THIS SATISFY YOUR CURIOSITY?
    YOUR FRIEND
    MGT

    ReplyDelete
  6. Eric Lindow said...

    "I saw on your site your post on Major Magic's Show. It's sad the only one left is in Ohio. It truly is one of the best robotic shows of all time. What happened to the original molds from the robots? The last Major Magic in Ohio is in very bad shape. It would be a tragedy if it was lost. From what I've heard the owner of the last one lost the business to the landlord of the building in a court battle and from what I've heard he doesn't want it. The roof appears to have had major water damage right above and around the show. Do you know what has happened to the other shows Magic Robotics created after their closings?"
    January 16, 2010 at 7:48 PM
    vkeiri said...

    I was so young when I used to visit Major Magic's, and yes the robotics both terrified and fascinated me at the same time. Even when the robots started falling into disrepair in the early 90s... Something about that just made me love it even more.

    I'm glad I found your blog. Now I can fully respect the work that went into creating those characters and the whole show. It is something that will stick with me forever.
    July 11, 2011 at 4:19 PM

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  7. Caleb J. Miller said...

    In a fit of nostalgia, I've been searching the internet for anything to do with Major Magic's, the best place a 6-year-old could conceive of having his birthday party while growing up in the Metro-Detroit area in the 80s. Best. Place. Ever.

    Imagine my surprise to learn that the drummer for a band I came to know and love during high school was so integral to the development of my childhood play land.

    Thank you, Machine Gun, for giving me the Major and his Rock and Roll Rebellion (and the country guys too)!
    September 24, 2011 at 2:56 AM
    John Ashbaugh said...

    WOW! After all this time searching forever to see where these guys are or if they are still around i finally found them! This band here ALSO played in a place in Pennsylvania calle Side Show Pizza.. They were first in Greensburg, PA then moved to a bigger location at an old Kenny Ross car lot and the place was huge! I see that Side Show wasn't mentioned in your blog... just wanted to let everyone know that was also one of this bands homes
    December 28, 2011 at 1:58 AM

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  8. I'm so glad I found this blog! I can finally say 'Thank You' to someone for all the memories. I was obsessed with Major Magic's when I was growing up, to the point that I had memorized the line up of songs....I had more fun watching the shows then playing the games! The robotics were amazing, and were clearly high quality. It's a shame all Major Magics are now gone...I was able to visit the one in Ohio about a year before it closed. I think my favorite of them all was the Drum Ludwig....they all were great.
    Thanks again for the amazing memories, I know it will never happen, but I always hope for a reincarnation of Major Magics....characters and all!
    -Marcus-
    December 25, 2012 at 8:31 AM

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  9. Wow... I grew up loving Major Magic and the other characters above in Greensburg, PA. Thanks for the history of how they came about! As an adult and an engineer now, I'm really impressed by what you pulled off back in the 80's in creating these robots and their act! Loved seeing the characters again here... what great memories. I actually lived in Metro Detroit a few years ago and had seen an ad for Major Magic there and thought, "nah... couldn't possibly be the same thing". Who knew? - Lori F.
    February 20, 2015 at 10:47 PM

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  10. Any chance you might know someone with a set that would want to sell?

    ReplyDelete

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