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Classic Posters - Promoter Bill Graham

Classic Posters - Promoter Bill Graham

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Published by Michael Erlewine
These are articles on concert-music posters and poster collecting from the site ClassicPosters.com founded by award-winning archivist of popular culture Michael Erlewine who founded All-Music Guide, All-Movie Guide, Astrologyland.com and many other popular Internet sites. All articles copyright and written or produced by Michael Erlewine. Do visit ClassicPosters.com in its current incarnation.
These are articles on concert-music posters and poster collecting from the site ClassicPosters.com founded by award-winning archivist of popular culture Michael Erlewine who founded All-Music Guide, All-Movie Guide, Astrologyland.com and many other popular Internet sites. All articles copyright and written or produced by Michael Erlewine. Do visit ClassicPosters.com in its current incarnation.

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Published by: Michael Erlewine on Jan 08, 2011
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Classic Posters - Promoter Bill Graham
 
Classic Posters - Promoter BillGraham 
By Michael ErlewineBill Graham has a reputation as a pretty roughcharacter, and a well-deserved one as I canwell remember from the one shouting match Ihad with him, when my band opened for Creamat the Fillmore Auditorium in the Summer of
Love, 1967. I didn‟t like his manner then and it
has taken me some years to come tounderstand that, aside from his brusque style,he has made an enormous contribution to rockand roll in general and to the San Francisco(and poster) scene, in particular.It helped me to understand where he was
coming from, where he came from, so let‟s
start with that.Born Jan 8, 1931 in Berlin as WolfgangGrajonca, of Russian-Jewish parents, his fatherdied shortly after his birth and his mother wasforced to place both his sister and himself in anorphanage. The two siblings were in France aspart of a student-exchange program when theGermans invaded, and Graham and his sisterwere part of a group of 65 Jewish children andone Red Cross worker who fled across thePyrenees to Spain. Bill Graham was one of theeleven children who survived the march, manyothers dropping off along the way or dying inthe process. His sister never made it.After arriving in America, Bill Graham wasraised in a foster home in the Bronx. He
assumed the name “Graham” and became an
American citizen in 1949. He was attending CityCollege in New York, when he was drafted in1956 into the army during the Korean War,earning both a Bronze star and a Purple Heart.It was after this that he relocated to SanFrancisco and became a businessman.As mentioned, Graham was drafted, forcinghim to leave school. From the start of his armexperience, he had several run-ins withauthorities, a major one during boot camp andanother while serving in combat. In the troopship over, Graham worked in the kitchen,making extra money at night selling pilferedsandwiches to hungry soldiers. His fascinationwith gambling was also tweaked on that trip.He mad himself unpopular with his superiors bypointing out that he was serving in the armyand was not himself yet a citizen. What he wasafter was to help his sisters immigrate toAmerica. He came very close to having a courtmarshal and finally got early leave and thenrelease from duty with the death of his stop-mother, and then his step-father.
The Catskills and On to the West Coast
 Next came a period of time working in theCatskills at some of the largest Jewish resorts,in the kitchen, first as a busboy and prepperson, and later as a waiter. According toreports, he was in his element and a hotcommodity. He ran a gambling house on theside at one of the main resorts.After relocating to Los Angeles and then on to
 
Classic Posters - Promoter Bill Graham
 
San Francisco, he mainly worked in variousbusiness capacities, working for Allis Chalmers(the tractor firm), where he met his wifeBonnie McLean. He wanted to act and work inthe theater, but was mostly frustrated in theseattempts.He was making over $21,000 with AllisChalmers, but gave it up to take overmanagement of the struggling San FranciscoMime Troupe, a street-theater group, for afraction of that salary. Due to an archaic lawthat limited any group performing in a publicpark to two performances a year, Bill Grahamengineered a public confrontation withauthorities, making sure reporters and otherimportant city leaders were present. Thisresulted in a number of arrests and a greatamount of publicity.It was Graham who engineered the series ofthree appeal parties for the mime troupe, thatnot only raised much-needed cash, but openedhis eyes to the commercial possibilities ofputting on similar events. That first event wasthis large party, packed to the brim, thatraised some $4200. All the hip crowd in SanFrancisco showed up and it was a huge success.He received hundreds of phone calls and lettersafter that event asking him to hold anotherparty, and the heck with having to have acause. They just wanted the party.The second appeals party was held in theFillmore Auditorium, and thanks to a plug fromBob Dylan, who was playing in Berkeley, it toowas very well attended. It raised some $6000and even had a nascent kitchen that servedmatzo-ball soup and salad. This was December10, 1965.Another appeal scheduled for January 14, 1966,the first one to charge admission rather thanrequest a donation. It was after the thirdbenefit, that Graham knew that he wanted todo more events like these, and like many of hispartygoers, the heck with having to raisemoney for a cause.According to some mime-troupe members,Graham made a pitch to the troupe to market
the emerging “hippie” culture through
scheduled events, and most of the othermembers saw it as an attempt by Graham toexploit the emerging culture as a business.There ended up being a vote and they all votedagainst him, some 48 to 2, the two beinghimself and one other. Graham walked out andwent on his own way from that point forward,but he now had a much clearer idea of what hewanted to accomplish.
The Trips Festival
 The next major turning point came whenGraham was invited, due to his organizationaltalent, to help organize the forthcoming 3-dayTrips Festival that, while already scheduled,seemed to be languishing and not comingtogether quickly or well enough. The TripsFestival was advertised to that public as a non-drug event that would create the atmosphereand ambience of and LSD-inspired event, the
public‟s chance to get a taste of the emerging
 
Classic Posters - Promoter Bill Graham
 
culture.There has been a lot written about the TripsFestival and it makes for fascinating reading, ifyou know something about the players andhave the time. Keep in mind that there weresomething like over 3000 people a night inattendance. To summarize all this, Bill Grahamhad been brought in to better organize whathad been to that point more of a looselyorganized event, mainly the work of Ken Keseyand the Merry Pranksters. Well, of course, thetwo approaches did not mesh and thus all thefunny stories.Most of them take the form of Graham trying tocontrol what was, and had always been, notabout control, like Ken Kesey dressed in aspace suit and helmet letting dozens of bikers
in the back door for free, much to Graham‟s
horror. As Kesey explains, these were acid-testmembers, who had always been there andhelped to create what the event was. They hadno need or reason to pay. They were, for allpractical purposes, part of the show.Graham, of course, who was running aroundwith his cardigan sweater and clipboard sawthese freeloaders as lost revenue. The funnieststory I read was that Kesey and other leadersdid not even speak to Graham, who stoodyelling at them not to let these people in. Infact, Kesey with his space suit, and large roundbubble helmet with visor up, simply turned toGraham, looked in right in the eyes and with anod of his head, flipped the visor down. Hethen turned away from Graham and continuedto let people in.Graham, in turn, was not exactly sure whothese people were. As the story goes, a fewmonths later, one of these leaders, Ken Babbs,was at a Fillmore show, now firmly in G
raham‟s
control. Bill Graham spots and recognizes him
and yells out “Trips Festival. Trips Festival,”
while banging his palm against his forehead.Ken Babbs responds in return, by banging his
palm to his forehead, while crying “Asshole.Asshole.” Of course
, Babbs was ejected fromthe Fillmore, at once.It was during and after the Trips Festival thatGraham realized this is what he wanted to do,put on these great theatrical events. He beganplanning a series of three dance concerts, Feb.4th, 5th, and 6th, 1967. Graham restructuredand expanded the light show concept, filling allthe surrounding walls with moving light. He setup areas before the stage to sit in, and plentyof dancing room. He had black lights, facepainting, balloons on the floor blown about byhidden air blowers.
Big Bad Bill Graham
 There are hundreds, if not thousands, of storiesabout how rude, harsh, conniving, etc. Grahamcould be, and most of them are no doubt true,having experienced his bedside manner myself.Again, it helps to remember that Graham was arefugee and probably greatly influenced by thedifficulties of his survival and entrance into this

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