He was an activist, humanitarian, manager, finder and champion of musical talent, and above all – a music lover of all genres. The legendary concert promoter Bill Graham died on this day 20 years ago. I attended many Bill Graham promoted concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area. I admired him greatly, there was and never will be another like him…ever! The great archive website Wolfgang’s Vault has a fitting tribute posted remembering Graham today: Steve Jobs was to the computer industry what Bill Graham was to the concert business. Both were abrasive, unapologetically brilliant visionaries that rewrote the rules of their businesses. The doors of perception for both were shaped by 60’s idealism while the roads they drove to success were paved with streamline capitalism. A half million people paid homage to Graham at a wake after his death.
By March 1966, Graham had secured a three-year lease on the Fillmore Auditorium in the Western Addition district of San Francisco. He also began to manage Jefferson Airplane, the Fillmore house band. Graham realized he “had a knack for carrying out the details of public assemblage. Working the room, hiring the right people to do the security … trying to get closer and closer to the way something should be.”
At the Fillmore, and later the Fillmore West, Graham introduced audiences to Otis Redding, The Butterfield Blues Band, the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin. He gave local artists free reign to design eye-popping posters and kept ticket prices low. Graham expanded his productions to New York City in 1968, and for three years the Fillmore East was the East Coast music Mecca for the tune in, drop out generation. Concerts included light shows and were a laboratory for technical and musical innovation.
Between 1966 and the closing of the Fillmores in 1971, Graham staged thousands of shows. He found talent and mixed new names and familiar groups in the lineup. He met with the musicians, assembled a workforce that functioned as a family, and kept a close eye on the bottom line. His greatest talents were his keen business sense and his ability to organize events charged with creative energy but presented in a comfortable, safe environment.
Educate yourself on one of the all-time legendary non-performing figures in rock here.
Here’s a link to Bill Graham promoted concerts poster art of the era available for purchase www.wolfgangsvault.com
A week after Bill Graham’s untimely death in 1991, the Bill Graham Presents staff organized a free concert in Golden Gate Park featuring the Grateful Dead, CSN&Y, Santana, Journey, Jackson Browne, Joe Satriani and many other musicians and special guests; this playlist presents the entire day’s worth of music. The gathering marked the end of an era, but a concert in the heart of where it all started was a truly fitting memorial: a celebration of Graham’s life, filled with Laughter, Love and Music. Listen to the concert here: www.wolfgangsvault.com