From C.B. to U2 by Jeremy Schnitker

As U2’s massive entourage rolls into Omaha Thursday, amidst the 18 semitrailers of stage equipment and horde of production workers, there’ll be one sound tech making a metro homecoming. Council Bluffs native Terry Lawless, a keyboard tech on the road with the band, will roll into his old stomping grounds for something more than just gas. With the building of the Qwest Center the big-time performers Lawless works with now stop in Omaha to perform.

“It’s a wonderful thing because it used to be we’d be coming from Chicago, or Milwaukee, and to go west you either stopped in Des Moines or went all the way to Denver,” he said over the phone during a rare day off in North Carolina. “Now you’re not just stopping [in Omaha] for gas anymore.”

Lawless, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1972, has a resumé that reads like a who’s who of major pop stars. He’s toured and recorded with the likes of Cher, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Janet Jackson and Bonnie Raitt. He’s currently on his second U2 tour, having worked with them in 2001 for the Elevation tour. The last stop he had in Omaha was with Cher this past year. After high school Lawless moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to attend Coe College, where he double majored in music and math — a move that would prove to be a smart one. Just as he relocated to California in 1983 the first digital synthesizer was made, creating a need for math-minded musicians in the area. This is where the ball got rolling for him.

“There I was with that math background and standing right in the middle of it,” he said. “It just fell into my lap. You build on what you do and bring more and more to the table each time and then I was asked to go on the road with Barry.”

Barry is Barry Manilow, the first star to give Lawless a break when he asked him to perform in his Big Fun tour in 1987. Eventually the bigger names like U2 came calling. On this U2 tour Lawless works predominantly under the stage trying to perfectly recreate the on-album sound that U2’s live shows are known for. Every now and then, however, he’ll get up on stage and play keyboards with the band as he did during its last stop on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” He said performing with the band is the ultimate rush, but he tries not to get his hopes up to get on stage every show. “I don’t feel badly when I don’t go up on stage, but when they call on me and need me to play it’s nice to say ‘I’m there.’”

Lawless doesn’t necessarily look back in amazement of the fact that he’s one of the few in the music industry from around these parts to become as successful as he has. In fact, he said, he kind of misses the musical atmosphere in Iowa, where he was just named to the state’s Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. And he realizes this is where his musical roots were formed.

“It’s not a question of where you’re from, you just have to be driven inside,” he said. “Fortunately I had enough background of what I needed. I owe what I am to [the music in the] Council Bluffs and Iowa school systems, and I can’t say enough about that.”

U2 plays with Kanye West at the Qwest Center Omaha, 455 S. 10th St., on Thursday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m. The show is sold out. For any information regarding the show call 341.1500.
15 Dec 2005