Words with Bill Graham

This is a 1972 promotional record on Fillmore Records, named for the San Francisco auditorium operated by promoter Bill Graham until about a year earlier. Although many acts were associated with Graham, few of them released recordings on his label, which folded altogether after the release of a box set, Fillmore – The Last Days, about four years later.

Graham is most known for his work as a promoter, including the organization of the largest outdoor concert of all time in Watkins Glen, New York in 1973, which entertained more than 800,000 paying ticket holders who came to see the Band, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band.

He was also one of the famous “One Thousand Children” — actually now known to be a number closer to 1,400, they are the Jewish children who were sent to the United States without their families between 1934 and 1945 to escape the Holocaust. Graham’s childhood name was Wulf Wolodia Grajonca. They came from many backgrounds, but one commonality between nearly all of them is that their parents would not have been able to obtain visas to leave the country, and nearly all subsequently perished in concentration camps.



Graham established monopolistic control over large music events in California, and was an early associate of BASS Tickets, which is now Ticketmaster. Still, after his death in a 1991 helicopter crash, Graham was remembered for the fairness with which he treated performers and also for his concern for the well-being and safety of attendees. He also has a history of assembling bills with diverse artists, giving fans the opportunity to hear things they might otherwise never experience.

Years ago when working at Al’s Breakfast here in Dinkytown, we heard a great story from a regular customer there, a guy so popular there that a dish on the menu was named for him. He said as a teenager he went to see the Who at the Fillmore West, and the opening act was Cannonball Adderley. Throughout their set, Cannonball and his brother Nat were smoking cigarettes and putting them out on the stage. Later, before the Who came out to perform, Roger Daltry went out and picked up a few of the butts, saying that back home in England nobody would believe that Cannonball Adderley had opened up for them. Who know if the stories are true. Another, in Miles Davis’ autobiography, shows another side of such a show:

I remember one time — it might have been a couple of times — I was opening up for this sorry-ass cat named Steve Miller. I think Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were on that program and they were a little better. Anyway, Steve Miller didn’t have shit going for him, so I’m pissed because I got to open for this non-playing motherfucker just because he had one or two sorry-ass records out. So I would come late and he would have to go on first, and then when we got there we just smoked the motherfucking place and everybody dug it, even Bill!

This went on for a couple of nights and every time I would come late, Bill would be telling me about “it’s being disrespectful to the artist” and shit like that. On this last night, I do the same thing. When I get there I see that Bill is madder than a motherfucker because he’s not waiting for me inside like he normally does, but he’s standing outside the Fillmore. He starts to cut into me with this bullshit about “disrespecting Steve” and everything. So I just look at him, cool as a motherfucker, and say to him, “Hey baby, just like the other nights and you know they worked out just fine, right?” So he couldn’t say nothing to that because we had torn the place down.


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