LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - This is the story of the biggest rock star to ever call Louisville home.
He has hung out with Paul, George and Ringo, and has worked with Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Yes, Pearl Jam, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dan Fogelberg, Steve Miller and James Taylor.
He is adored by millions of U2 fans worldwide for his partnership with The Edge, and in his downtime he became tennis buddies with Vitas Gerulaitis, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
His name is Dallas Schoo and you have no idea who that is. But don’t worry. Your rock and roll cred is intact because Schoo is the man behind the curtain, the guitar Wizard of Oz.
For nearly 45 years, Schoo has traveled the world as one of the finest guitar technicians in the business. For the last 31, he has worked with U2 and The Edge, helping to refine and maintain one of history’s most unique guitar sounds.
He was to be front and center (but under the stage) last Friday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, manipulating a stack of equipment in his command center - what he calls his Cape Canaveral - so that U2 will sound like U2.
Because of that job, Schoo has become the world’s only rock star guitar tech. He has a fan club, has been featured in every major guitar publication, and has long been considered one of U2’s closest collaborators, even in the studio. A true honorary Dubliner.
“Bono calls it our tribe,” said the insanely affable Schoo, “and we look out for each other.”
But how did a tennis-playing kid from Louisville wind up as a guitar tech to the stars? To tell you the truth, he kind of made it look easy.
Schoo, 64, grew up in a large family in the Bon Air neighborhood, where he discovered live music in the 1960s via Louisville’s first wave of original bands.
Schoo was hooked for life when he saw the “Woodstock” documentary in 1970 but here’s the thing: What fascinated him wasn’t the thrill of the spotlight but watching the crews set the gear up on stage in a rainstorm. He has never been in a band.
“I was drawn to it, not to be a musician, but to watch them pull that off in the rain,” Schoo said. “And I watched it two more times and that’s where it started for me, it really did. It never left me and I didn’t quite know how to proceed with it but that’s how it started.”
While at college in Colorado, Schoo made ends meet by getting a job with the school’s entertainment committee. That wasn’t an accident: He wanted to meet bands.
Firefall was a local group that practiced near Schoo’s favorite tennis courts and he befriended the band, eventually getting a gig as a roadie. Firefall blew up when its first album was a hit and began opening for Fleetwood Mac on its 1976 tour. That’s when Schoo came up with a game plan.
Already a decent guitarist, he began soaking up information from professional guitar techs, learning how to repair, modify and maintain guitars. He became friends with Fred Walecki, an icon in the world of gear, and that took his education to the next level.
It didn’t hurt that Schoo has never met a stranger, so one job led to another: Stephen Stills, Pure Prairie League, Eagles, Fogelberg, Emmylou Harris, Fleetwood Mac at the peak of their powers. He was valuable, Schoo said, because he knew his job, was responsible and had no drug habits.
“I just kept going, man,” he said. “Back then you took the next thing. No one retained you.”
That changed in 1986 when Schoo was introduced to U2 via Daniel Lanois.
Schoo was working with pop band Mr. Mister in 1986, a pretty good gig considering the band had just sold several million records. They were in the same recording studio as Lanois, who was producing Robbie Robertson’s first solo album in another room.
Schoo was recruited to fix Robertson’s guitar and the results got the attention of Lanois, who had recently co-produced U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire.” He began talking up the Irish band.
“I was like, ‘I’m with Mr. Mister, man. Do you know who we are?’” Schoo said, laughing. “And Danny was like, ‘My friend is having some problems with his guitar guy and his name’s Edge.’ I went, ‘That’s nice.’”
Two days later The Edge called Schoo - he still has the message on an answering machine tape - and their 31-year friendship began after an intense band interview on a gloomy day in Dublin.
Schoo was welcomed to the tribe, joining The Edge, Bono, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. just as they were about to become the biggest band in the world.
U2’s current tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree,” the band’s defining album. The 1987 “Joshua Tree” tour was Schoo’s first with the band and it was a wake-up call.
The Edge came as a package deal with a wall of gear that allows him to build layers of sound using delays, processors and effects - it’s normal these days for Schoo to be in charge of more than 40 guitars during tours and another 50-plus pieces of electronics gear.
Compared to past gigs, where the hardest job was stringing a 12-string guitar, this one came with a steep learning curve.
“God, yes,” said Schoo, laughing. “It became a whole different thing, man. Edge brought me along on this total endeavor of signal transparency. He was a pioneer in my world.”
Schoo is careful to make clear that Edge is the architect of his sound while Schoo is the caretaker. During concerts, Schoo is tucked into his space in front of the stage where he triggers effects beyond what Edge controls on stage. At best, Schoo is on the edge of his seat for two hours. At worst, something goes wrong and has to be diagnosed and fixed in record time.
“It’s a massive, massive responsibility and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” Schoo said. “I’m flying a 747 for two hours with him, you know, and we have this agreement that he stays in front of his controller on stage for certain songs and yet Bono can pull him away and now I inherit that song, yet we have an agreement that I don’t do that song.
“It becomes very interesting then. I’m flattered to be asked to be in charge of that but the potential for total meltdown is amazing.”
Joe Bosso has interviewed Edge and Schoo several times for Guitar World and said that Schoo is “preeminent” in his field.
“Dallas’ involvement and attention to detail is really at the top level,” Bosso said. “He’s almost a co-producer of the show in a lot of ways.”
“Dallas is an intrinsic part of the U2 sound,” said Michael Astley-Brown, who writes about music and gear for MusicRadar.com and Total Guitar. “After 31 years at The Edge’s side, it’s hard to imagine U2 without Dallas.”
And it’s hard to imagine Dallas without stories. He’s loaded with them.
There was the time in 1995 when Steve Miller invited him to his home studio in Idaho to service his guitar collection. Miller then warned him: He had some people coming to use his studio and Schoo had to promise to not freak out. Schoo rolled his eyes; he had seen it all.
Two days later, a fleet of SUVs pulled up and out get Paul and Linda McCartney, Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach, George and Olivia Harrison, and Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. They were there to mix “Free As A Bird,” the final new Beatles music that was made using a John Lennon demo tape of an unrecorded song, and they asked Schoo to maintain their guitars.
Schoo freaked out.
At one point, McCartney leaned over to Schoo during a break and struck up a conversation.
“So you’re with that U2?”
“Yes, yes, sir, I am.”
“That’s meant to be a big deal, isn’t it?”
“But they didn’t change the world did they?”
Schoo erupts in laughter. “Then he looked at Harrison and said, ‘If it wasn’t for us, you’d still be walking around in Buddy Holly glasses.’ That story I’ve taken all over the world, man, and Paul and I have remained friends to this day.”
Schoo, as you may have noticed, makes friends easily. That’s one reason he’s become a fan favorite, with a Facebook fan club, and his pre-concert soundchecks are destination events as people jam the stage hoping to catch one of Schoo’s trademark blue guitar picks.
One of those fans is Belgium’s Tina Vanbeveren, who has been going to U2 shows since 1983. It took her a long time to get a blue pick and she struck up a friendship with Schoo, who at a later show tossed her some Belgian chocolate and her husband a hat. In 2006, Vanbeveren returned the favor with an engraved silver pick.
It was a “massive thank you for a hard-working man who goes out of his way to talk to U2 fans and please U2 fans because my story is just one of the many, many stories of his encounters with fans all over the globe,” Vanbeveren said via Facebook.
“He also fulfilled one of my biggest dreams by … strapping The Edge’s Gibson Explorer on me. And then he pulled me on the stage and gave me the cream Les Paul to carry. I just about died.
“So many fans have had that privilege. I never even dared to hope I’d be one of them.
I still have a million questions that I hope one day I’ll be able to ask him. Who knows what else happens, right?”
Fair question. Because with Schoo, apparently, anything can happen.
Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com
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