Watch Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution featuring Max Weinberg - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The New-York Historical Society presents the rock & roll world of Bill Graham (1931–1991), one of the most influential concert promoters of all time. Join us for a conversation with the curator of the exhibition and stories from those that knew him.
Read below for a full transcript of the conversation.
Greg Gooch - Good afternoon, my name is Greg Gooch. It's a privilege and a pleasure on behalf of First Republic Bank to welcome you here today. we are delighted to partner with New York Historical Societies on today's program. Our organizations have been working together for many years. First Republic Bank has supported exhibitions as well programs that explore African American history, the founding of our nation, and numerous historical topics. We are proud to champion the work of New York historical centers for women's history. First Republic is very on Kit Jackson is one of the first members of the city's corporate council, and we look forward to continue our work together to bring extraordinary histories to life for years to come. Today's my pleasure to welcome Cristian Panaite. Cristian is curator of exhibits at the New York Historical Society and coordinating curator for the Bill Graham and the Rock and Roll Revolution Exhibition. Cristian is joined by a few other special guests who he will introduce. We're delighted to be able to bring together this group to reflect and bring to life the life of Bill Graham. Cristian?
Cristian Panaite - Hello, I'm Cristian Panaite, and I'm very happy to be with you here today. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the First Republic Bank for their continuous and generous support of the New York Historical Society. It's through longstanding partnerships like this one that we continue to make history matter, so thank you. I'm going to give a brief overview of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, which I was very fortunate to coordinate here in New York City. And then I will introduce my very special guests. So I'm going to start with a screen share. Let's see. Okay, here we are. I can do this on this photo. So who was Bill Graham? Bill Graham was described as a cross between Al Capone and Mother Teresa. The most important figure in the music industry who never did is send a note. He was crude, charming, some called him cranky, also very creative. And one of us and one of them is what Grace Slick called him. Bill was a most hands-on professional who found himself fixing a Jerry Garcia's guitar in the infamous Trips concert of 1966, and also duct taped Keith Richard's boots in the "Tattoo You" tour of 1981. He was known as the man with the clipboard. He was ready there to make sure the concession stands were full at the Fillmore. He made sure to scream at the artists who were late to get on the stage, and he was always, he always made sure that the ticket payer had a safe and pleasant, and fun experience. Now, no matter how one describes him, one arrives at the very same conclusion. This is the story of refugee, of an immigrant who arrived in America, who changed much of the popular culture and music of the 20th century.
Who brought the likes of The Grateful Dead, Santana, Jimi Hendrix to national fame who really turned the rock and roll, revolutionized in the way it was presented, turning it into a multisensory experience. And who really saw in rock and roll a weapon to be used for good. So who was Bill Graham again? Well, Wolfgang Granjonca in 1931 in Berlin, Germany, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who came to Berlin for a better life. He was one of the six children, he had five older sisters. When the Nazis came to power, the mother decided to put him in a children's home in Berlin. Then later on, he found himself in a chateau outside Paris with other children. When the Nazis took over France, Bill and 64 other children steadily made their way to Lisbon, and from there across the ocean, reaching New York after a six-week perilous journey in September 24th, 1941. He was 11 years old, I believe about, malnourished and suffering of rickets. In upstate New York, he waited in a camp for about nine weeks until he was adopted by a family from the Bronx. When he moved to the Bronx, he was bullied for his German accent. And later on, he decided to change his name by picking a new one from New York City telephone book. And so he became Bill Graham. He practiced his English by reading newspapers out loud to his foster brother.
He went to DeWitt Clinton High School and then to Brooklyn College for a business degree. He ended up busing tables and working in the Catskill resorts. And not long after his naturalization, he lived right up the street from the New York historical society. And I like to think that on the days he would walk down Central Park West on his way to the Palladium Ballroom where you would dance and to the music of Tito Puente and Machito. We'd like to think that maybe he stopped by our museum. He also was a veteran of the Korean War. He got a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for this service. Now Bill's big dream in his youth was to become an actor and he trained ferociously for this. He studied in New York and audition on both coasts. And in early 1960s, he finds himself as the business manager of the political theater group, the San Francisco Mime Troupe. And it is here that in 1965 and then early 1966 he puts together these three benefit concerts, the Appeal Parties, which were a mix of theater, music, dance, gnarly Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, formerly known as The Warlocks as you can send the poster to the right. And through these fundraisers for the company, he finds his talent for people assembly, and he finds his talent for organizing concerts and bigger events. He will split ways with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, but he will get his own permit to put concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium. He would get his own dance hall permit in March of 1966. And this is where really his mantra of giving people not what they want, but what they should want is born, so to speak. If you look through the playbills of his concerts, and that's all I can do as a 30-something year old, you can see that he really liked to surprise his audience, educated.
On a given night you could have Lenny Bruce, and the Mothers of Invention, or plays by Leroy James and The Band of Birds. He really liked to, again, surprise audiences. He also brought new British acts like The Who and Cream to San Francisco and introduced black artists like Otis Redding, B.B. King, Albert King to white audiences here at Fillmore Auditorium. Now, in New York, in March of 1968 in an old Yiddish theater, on the lower East side, he will give New York its church of rock and roll in Fillmore East. And it's here that on March 8, 1968, sparky spunky, black Janice Joplin, I read that in the New York times description of the review really gives the concert of her life opening the Fillmore East. It is here that rock and roll experienced almost as a theatrical and powerful performance comes into play. The psychedelic liquid light shows of Joshua White and his collaborators created unforgettable nights at the Fillmore East next to the musical acts of Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Allman brothers, which I believe was called Bell's House Band at the time of the Fillmore East. My favorite album miles Davis and Neil young, which is something I learned about while working on this exhibition. In San Francisco, he moved to Carousel Ballroom, which he named Fillmore West. And here on Tuesday nights he would have up and coming bands perform among the most memorable concerts for both San Francisco, And Bill remains the three night engagement of Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, and the Tower of Power.
And I was trying to find footage of the third night when Ray Charles joins Aretha on the stage for a nine minute rendition of "Spirit in the Dark." I'm always excited to hear stories from people who actually went to this concerts and saw them, and they were welcomed by Bill, or they feasted on, on the early breakfast at the Fillmore East. So if you have any such memories, please, you can write in the chat or let me know about it. That would be great. Now the psychedelic posters of the Fillmore East and West are equally famous, just as famous as the concerts themselves. And I met some enthusiastic collectors when we were putting this together and filling it. And Bill, as far as I know, from the interviews I watched, wasn't really such a big fan of them. He thought that some of them were so busy, they would be worthy of an asterisk at the bottom explaining each and every concert. Now growing tired of traveling well to both coasts. I believe in some years to traveled 36, 40 times weekly between San Francisco and New York. And also growing a bit weary for the growing demands of artists who would now book bigger venues like Madison Square Garden, Bill decided to close the Fillmore East and West in June, July of 1971. And again, if you have memories of the one night Allman Brother at the Fillmore East or the five-day long extravaganza at the Fillmore West, please let me know. I love to hear these stories. But Bill could not stop, so he found Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, a place that he could do things a bit different, a bit larger. And it is here, but the Last Waltz, the band's farewell concert is put, and Martin Scorsese turns it into a successful documentary, which should still be played very much out loud.
It is here that he has his Grateful Dead New Year's Eve parties. And you can tell Bill's love of theatricality from the way he dresses for these parties as a chicken, as a bald eagle, as a child, as father time. This tradition of the, of the concerts between years would grow, continue, and he also moved to the Oakland Coliseum. And it is here that on December 15th and 16th of 1978, the greatest concert of your life, as KSAN DJ, FM San Francisco. As the DJ of the radio station referred to the Bruce Springsteen and his three bands stop on their 1978 "Darkness on the Edge of Town" tour. So we're going to learn a bit more about that later on. He closed the Winterland in true Bill-fashion style by organizing a giant party and a lottery where in the exhibition you'd be able to see thousands, of well, a selection of letters received by Bill People begging for four tickets for the last night on December 31st, 1978. Again, Bill got bigger and bigger in his concerts. And from '73 through 1990, he produced The Day on the Green, which he saw as Special Concert Special for the audience, due to these giant outdoor spectacles he would put together. And special for the artists because of the behind the scenes areas he would create for them. Now Bill's humanitarian work and his kindness, I guess I should say, can be traced all the way back to the time as a child when he was in the chateau in Paris in the 1938, '39, he would sneak outside the chateau and go into the orchards around in the dark of night and steal apples that he would bring that back and feed the malnourished children that were with him. It can also be traced to the San Francisco Snack concert of 1975, Student Needs, Athletics, Kicks and Culture. And this is the first big humanitarian concert in a big line of them.
The causes kept following Bill throughout the '80s. You have the 1985 Live Aid where he organized the American leg of the concert in the JFK stadium in Philly. And it's here where he thought that the best way to, I guess, counter the London leg was opened with royalty, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He found royalty and Jack Nicholson and Joan Baez. And there's a really, really nice letter from Jack Nicholson in the exhibition I hope you'll get to see. Further on, he continued with a series of concerts for Amnesty International, A Conspiracy of Hope and Human Rights Now in 1988, which brought awareness and celebrated 40 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And we'll talk about this a bit later on I'm going to go back, concerts like the Earthquake Relief in 1989, the concert organized for welcoming Nelson Mandela in Oakland, in the Bay area in 1990. Even a concert for raising funds for what at the time in 1988 was pretty much drug awareness in New York City during the crack epidemic. And in parallel, under the Bill Graham Presents, he produced number of concerts throughout the 1990s with legendary names like Prince, Bowie, U2, Madonna. Tragically in October, on October 25th, 1991, Bill passed away in a helicopter crash as he was heading out from a Huey Lewis and the News concert. And this makes this week that much more special to do this presentation and to talk about him, to talk about his legacy and remember him. The Laughter, love and music concert of November 3rd, 1991, and his induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 should also be mentioned during this time. So I'd like to end this very, very broad overview with a quote by Robert Greenfield, the author of "Bill Graham and My Life Inside Rock and Out," which I think sums Bill's life and legacy.
For more than a quarter of a century, Bill Graham was the heart, the guts, the soul and the conscience of rock. To the very end of his life, he continued to identify himself with those who had no real power in the world. Difficult as he could sometimes be, Bill always wanted to help. That the Bill Graham foundation continues to do good work in his name is not just entirely fitting. As Bill might have said, it is also right. And now this is the moment you've all been waiting for. I am thrilled to welcome our guests who have some very special memories of Bill, and they will share some with us. Max Weinberg, Rock & Roll Hall of E Street Band, Bob Barsotti, president of the Bill Graham Memorial foundation, and Bonnie Simmons, executive director of the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation. So thank you for being here today. As a freshmen student in the history of rock and roll, we were thinking about ways of organizing this, though. So the best way for me to learn more and for everyone to again, to listen to before, I'm going to pretend I'm a student in a classroom, and I'm going to ask each one of you a few questions, and I will start with Bonnie, followed by professor Bob and then followed by professor Max. This is just my little exercise, get myself going. And hopefully at the end of the class maybe I'll pass, maybe I'll fail. So Bonnie, the first class is with you.
Bonnie Simmons - No problem, and it's nice to be here. It's good to see you, Cristian.
Cristian - Good to see you too. So how did you meet Bill? And I have to ask, what was your first impression of him? Because again, there's this whole thing about, he's described in many, many ways.
Bonnie - Well, I was thinking about it and I believe the first time I actually met Bill, I was working for the Avalon Ballroom for Chad Helms, which was the other ballroom in San Francisco of a similar size. And Chet was a lovely guy, perhaps not as organized as Bill tended to be. And one night as we were about to open, 20 minutes before the doors opened, Chet realized that we had no cups to be able to sell drinks at the concession stand. So he sent me in my car, the mile and a half over to where Bill was doing a show, and I met Bill. He told me to go ask for Bill Graham. And so I did that, and I got in the door, and I met Bill Graham and he loaded me up with 2,000 paper cups so that we could sell drinks at the Avalon that night. And we chatted for a couple of minutes, And that was the start of 25 years of knowing Bill, and knowing him better and better. And as things sometimes happen, we became very entangled between the radio station that I was at, KSAN, and Bill Graham's company BGP because we grew up together, and we did so many projects together. Over the many years that I knew Bill, I certainly saw some of the more theatrical presentations that Bill might make in one situation or another, but I always found him to be a kind and terrific person. So that's my take away with Bill and always will be.
Cristian - Now you mentioned KSAN, known as the hippest station in the nation in the '60s and '70s, I have to--
Bonnie - Not to the people in New York at WNEW, but perhaps other places.
Cristian - So you got to spend quite a bit of time with Bill on air, and I was reading about the instances. And we had lots of forum fans for Bill out there talking about how he would come in the studio and he would bring tapes of concerts, of Fillmore West and Fillmore East concerts, And you'd put them on air at the time, and he would just hang out with you guys for a while. So I'd love to just hear more about that vibe and--Sure, sure.
Bonnie - Bill would come up to KSAN and be interviewed from time to time. And in 1972, we came up with the idea of doing a KSAN Bill Graham Fillmore and Fillmore West special. And being as young as we were, we set it up to be 60 hours long. It was going to start on a Friday and go all the way through the weekend, 24 hours a day. And we picked 60 shows that had happened at one of his rooms and use those as the focus. So each hour would be based on a different show. And we had a wonderful guy at KSAN named Milan Melvin at the time who worked for months putting this thing together. And he invited different artists who had appeared on the various shows to drop by the station. It was pretty complicated, logistically for us in those days. And we basically made Bill stay awake for 60 hours. From time to time, when we'd be playing a really long track, he would get to go take a nap. We had a sponsor. In those days, KSAN was basically kept alive by record stores, record companies, waterbed stores and hippie clothing stores. We didn't have bank of America or any of the larger sponsors in those days for good or bad. And the sponsor who had this company called Pasha Pillows had given us two or three of these gigantic pillows, they're big as two couches.
And we would let Bill take a nap. About every four hours, he would catch a 20-minute cat nap on one of these pillows in my office. But other than that, that was all the sleep he got and all the sleep any of us got. And there were a few pretty classic arguments that Bill got into with one or another of the artists who came up to the station and may have remembered things differently than Bill remembered them. But it was quite a terrific experience that we got to have, and just brought us a little bit closer. In those days, KSAN was really the only station that anybody of what we used to think of ourselves as the alternative culture before we became the actual culture. And since the two companies grew up together and we did so many things together, Bill just became kind of our pal, and he loved to be on the radio. And when I went on the radio full time a few years out into being at KSAN, I loved to have people come up and I used to let them be the DJ, which would mean they could pick the music they wanted to play. KSAN was quite an unusual station in that the only thing we were taught to do is try to determine what was good. And that's what we based what we played on. It wasn't by genres of music, or colors or any of those things that later came in to strangle us all. And Bill loved to come up, because he could play Charles Aznavour right next to Traffic or Santana, or in the later days more contemporary things.
And Bill was always a music freak. He really paid attention and he really loved some things. And the other thing about Bill is you couldn't keep them off the phones. The minute he would come up to the station, he'd have his eye on the phone board that was right next to me at the board because he just wanted people to call him. He wanted the audience to call so he could talk to them personally. And I would often have, I'd be almost yelling at him, "Bill, get off the phone. "You're supposed to be on the air right now. "You have to stop talking to that person "that you have on the phone." But anytime I wanted Bill to come up to be on the radio, I would invite them. I was on from 10 to two during the day, so it was kind of perfect. And we weren't far from each other geographically. And he could run over. And he knew that if he was going to come over that I was going to go to David's Deli on Geary Street. And I was either going to get him a bologna sandwich or a pastrami sandwich. Maybe I'd get him some chopped liver and a little dessert, and Bill could come over and spend a couple hours on the air and know that he was also going to get something that he really liked for lunch. But our relationship between BGP, it wasn't just Bill or just me by any means. It was everybody at the radio station. And everybody at BGP, you know, we filled in an on each other's softball teams. It was quite a wonderful time for us all.
Cristian - Thank you for sharing all this with us. I'll jump and ask Bob now about the Winterland concerts, since he was the general manager of Winterland. And again, I was just listening to the December 15 to December 16, 1978 concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. And I was hoping you could share some secrets from those days. And that happened, the concert happened what two, in the closing week, in the last two weeks of Winterland.
Bob Barsotti - Yeah, the last two weeks Bill tried to have as many shows as he could there. And starting it all off was 14th and 15th, whatever it was, with Bruce and E Street Band. And the big controversy on trying to get the agreement to do the show was the fact that at that point, Bruce was pretty much just playing reserved seat audiences. He was not playing any festival seating audiences, and Winterland never had seats on the floor. It always was an open floor situation, festival seating, what we called it. And the energy thing that happens at a festival seating event is quite different than that that happens at a reserve sitting event. And Bill was determined to maintain our strict festival seating-only policy at Winterland up until the end. We were two weeks away from the end at this point. And by his own a force and good humor, and whatever else it took, he was able to convince John Landau and Bruce to come and do this show festival seating, which we were all very pleased, because we knew it would be an experience that they're not used to. One of the things that really was a great example was, at one point during one of the shows, Bruce got up to the front of the stage, and the stage is only five feet tall. So people are right up against the stage, there's no barricade separating people from the stage. They're right there. And he came up, turned around, and his back was to the audience, and he leaned back over the audience.
The audience picked him up in his hands and took him about 10 feet out from the stage on his hands, as he's playing his guitar, and they circle him around and then they bring them back up to the stage and they plop him back up on his feet onto the stage. And he turns around and he finishes the song, and the place goes nuts. And this was before any of these groups were doing head surfing, that came much later. He started it that night and it was an amazing experience. Two weeks later, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers there, it's a couple of nights before we close it out with the Dead. And Tom hears this story from some of the backstage people about how Bruce did this amazing thing. So Tom gets out and he's doing his show. and he gets to this really rousing song. And he has the audience really going well. And he walks up to the front of the stage, and he turns around and he leans back, and the audience parts, and he falls straight onto the floor on his back. We all freak out. Bill's on stage, he jumps into the audience and gets people to stand back. He helps Tom back up on his feet, the stage hands come over, grab his hands, lift him back up on the stage. And he finishes the show, but it was quite surprising to see the difference between what Bruce was able to pull off and what Tom pulled off that night. And then, speaking of Bruce Springsteen, I want to go to the Human Rights Now concert, which I know took a toll on both Bill, everyone who worked on it, at least from the stories I read in Robert Greenfield's book. So I was hoping you'd share with us a couple of anecdotes about your stops either in India or in London to balance things out, or any other of the 20 cities at the tour.
Bob - When they were planning the tour, a few of the stops were, one was in New Delhi, India, and the other was in San Jose, Costa Rica. And both were very, for political reasons, important gigs for the tour to go into. At the time, India only had 500 people on signed up to be part of Amnesty International. And there was a lot of issues with people being, political jailings in there. So they were trying to get more presence in India. And Costa Rica was the only place in Central America and South America that didn't have a military. So it was important for them to go there as well. So Bill was arranging these concerts, but in every other city they went to throughout the world, there was a local promoter who did music concerts. In New Delhi and in Costa Rica, that did not exist. So they were about to cancel those two important dates on the tour. And Bill convinced the tour that, well, I'll just take my company and we'll send my guys over there and we'll be the local promoters. We'll make everything right, trust me. I'll get this done. So the next thing I know, me and my brother and the BGB crew are traveling to New Delhi and to Costa Rica advancing shows in the national soccer stadiums where they've never done anything like this before.
And in Costa Rica, our partner was one of the big travel agencies there. A guy named Barry Roberts, who was a young guy who loved music. And he knew the ins and outs of the government. So we hired him as our local person, and just before the shows were about to happen, it almost got closed down by the Catholic Bishop there, came out all against it, because it was going to bring open drug into San Jose and he was all against this. So we had to scramble, and Barry was behind the scenes able to get ahold of Óscar Arias, the president of the country who had just recently won the Nobel peace prize. And Oscar arranged to give a special citation to Amnesty International that weekend, commending them on the human rights tour on the 40th anniversary of the human rights declaration. And by him doing that, it totally chilled public opinion about the concert and we were able to happen. So those were the kinds of things we were dealing with in those days, trying to get at something like that to happen in some of these countries.
Cristian - So, you can, oh sorry.
Bob - Yeah, go ahead.
Cristian - You continued putting up concerts and producing concerts even after Bill passed, and I wanted to ask, this is a broad question, but what would be one of the most important lessons that you learned from him in terms of organizing this huge events? For me, it's just mind boggling, the amount of effort, the work.
Bob - Well, the main thing you have to do is you have to always pay attention to the safety of the people. Because he always taught us that we were the hosts and we were inviting people into our house to enjoy themselves. And as hosts, we were responsible for their wellbeing. And it's one thing if you got 20 people over your house, it's an outer thing if you got 50,000 people over at a stadium and a place you've never done something before. So, like the International Human Rights tour, it was an eight-hour concert. In Costa Rica, people usually only work six hours a day. So we were asking stadium personnel to come on and work much longer than they would normally work doing something that they'd never seen before. And I got to tell you, I was out at the front gates when we started the show. There was still about two or 3,000 people outside. As soon as they heard the music, all the ticket takers turned around and walked into the show because they wanted to see it. And everybody else just streamed into the stadium, not showing any tickets. So those are the kinds of things we were up against when you're trying to go to a place that's never done it before.
Cristian - Thank you, well, I'm going to have now to Max.
Max Weinberg - The first benefit I ever worked with Bill was at Winterland, and it was a benefit for one of the poster artists, Bob Fried. And I used to get $25 a night, and that night I got a $30 in my envelope at the end of the night, I went up to Bill at the end of the show and I said, Bill, why did I get $30 tonight? And he said, "Well, I do a lot of benefit concerts, "and it's my choice to do these. “I don't ask you to give up anything for it. "And in fact, whenever we do benefits, "there's all these extra things we have to do, "extra guests, extra parties, extra donation buckets, "and you guys have to work harder. “So I pay you an extra five bucks "because I want you to enjoy your experiences "of working benefits because they're so important."
Cristian - Thank you, actually, we had one of the poster artists, Helen Hirsh visit the exhibition a while back before the quarantine. And she mentioned her two pieces by her in the show, she pointed at one of the poster and said, "Bill paid me so well for this one." And she was so impressed by the fact that he would pay a young, fairly unknown artist at the time. So this goes on to prove that his character. I want to move to Max right now, and I'm excited to have you here with us. Again, I got to hear Bob's version of the Winterland events on December 15, 16 of '78. So I was hoping you could share with us some memories from those two nights.
Max - Well, I certainly can Cristian, and it's a delight to be here for you at the New York Historical Society with Bob and Bonnie. I'm hopeful you hear me. Can you hear me?
Cristian - Yes.
Max - Good. Yeah, playing Winterland, and any time Bill Graham presented at any venue was really something, I must say. Winterland was very special, because we knew it was closing in a couple of weeks. We were on tour, obviously, we drove in buses to Winterland. And of course, coming from the East in December, we were happy to be in San Francisco, because it was slightly warmer. An incredible vibe, as Bob mentioned. It was the first time we had played to a non-seated audience. Which by the way, now we do regularly when we do play and it does create an energy. And that's what Bill was all about. Yeah, those two nights was special. I can remember. I think it was maybe the world debut of a song Bruce had written that he gave to Greg kin, who was, I believe in San Francisco recording artist back then, and was called Rendezvous. And as Bruce's want to do, he'll just call it out. You never know exactly what he's going to do. You do know that he's going to do something, so you've got to keep your ears and your eyes open. And that falling into the audience and crowd surfing when it wasn't a thing that became a thing. And that was really something to watch from my seat, which of course, as the drummer has always been the best seat in the house. But it's so great to be talking about Bill Graham and to be remembering.
Cristian - You for a minute there. I think it works.
Max - There you go, I'm back.
Cristian - You're back.
Max - Can you hear me?
Max - Good. You're talking to an analog guy in the digital world. Bill Graham Presents, that was really at, Because Bill, who I considered a friend, was in my view the original rock Impresario. and I'm sure it had to do a lot with his as youthful desire to be an actor because, he didn't just put on a concert. He put on events. Every show was an event and he was particularly tuned into artists. Now I have, of course, within the context of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, nothing to do with the business. So for me, it was like playing for Bill Graham? This is where I used to wait in line to get into Fillmore East, being from New Jersey. I can remember at the Fillmore East, Bill sort of initiated, at least in the rock world, the idea of the presenter coming out and talking to the audience first. It was blood, sweat and tears. The Chambers Brothers, before their psychedelic era and The Amboy Dukes. And it was just exciting to be at the Fillmore East. But then a few years later, I'm in a band that's playing for Bill Graham. I can remember the first time, it was a Halloween, 1975. We were out playing the "Born to Run," album. And Bill sought me out, which I later found out from him that night that he was interested in my name, Max Weinberg. And he said to me, "Weinberg, that's a German Jewish name. “You didn't change your name." I said, "No, no, no, no, it's a German Jewish name. “But my family came here actually quite early "in the mid-19th century to Philadelphia though.
“The Weinberg’s from Germany, they were from Russia." So our common Jewish background was a link that Bill and I shared from that day forward. And it was very special, because I only really knew him on the personal side. Of course I'd heard all the stories, I'd never seen any of the, as Bonnie referred to, the extemporaneous and histrionic performances. He was always to me certainly, and to my colleagues, a wonderfully warm, outgoing, caring individual, apart from being the promoter. And I tell you, I have actually a visual aid that I wanted to show you and your webinar audience today. But if I can hold this up, you'll see this, I'll get back a little further. It says E Street Band. And we came into one of the venues early on. It may have been in Winterland, and over the dressing rooms, this when we all in the band had shared a dressing room, Bill had these carved, by, I suppose, one of his friends and no one had ever done that before. And it was over the door. So I, of course, right before we went on, I grabbed it and I put it in my suitcase and took it, because I was so touched actually that it was the star of the show and his band, and Bill had such an empathy and a connection to performing artists throughout his life. And as far as I was concerned, that informed, every time I saw him, which was on all the tours we did, most particularly, Bob was talking about the "Amnesty" tour, which was an amazing experience, because you would have someone in his position who was involved with logistics, where the rest of us who were playing.
Cristian- The steak so to speak. From what I read, Bill referred to Bruce and the E Street Band as the steak of the tour, of the Human Rights Now.
Max - To hear, but it was a cornucopia of talent from Sting to Peter Gabriel, Use Endure, Tracy Chapman, and then all their accompanying musicians. It was about eight weeks, and it was very grueling, because one night you play in India, the next night we'd go to Tokyo, maybe up to Canada and over to down to South America, I don't know how to this day they actually pulled it off logistically. You would go on sometimes eight o'clock at night, sometimes four o'clock in the morning. It was a life changing experience, I know for anyone who was on that tour. I think there were about 400 people on that tour between the musicians, the technicians. And for some reason, my eating schedule very often would hook up with Bill's. I'm not quite sure, in a hotel, and I shared many a meal with him, usually breakfast. For him was probably post lunch, for me it was definitely an early breakfast because you never knew exactly when you had to get up, so you ate when you could. It tested everybody's patience and will, we were talking about Costa Rica. One thing that Bob didn't mention was Costa Rica was in a stadium that had no grass, it was all mud. And it was torrentially pouring out that night. And everything was wet.
And this was 1988, so you didn't have to have the modern-day physical plant supportive of impregnable stages and coverings over the stage. So we got drenched, there was mud everywhere. It did a bit look like the revival of Woodstock in 1988. We were looking back, it was a life changing experience. It was a wonderful experience. And whenever I'd see Bill, you never forgot that you were, it was a special date. You were playing for Bill Graham. And of course, those days are over where every region had their own promoter. And Bill Graham was kind of the capo di tutti capo so to speak. He was the larger than life guy who yes, he organized rock and roll performances. When you think of the immense job it was to organize what was essentially the unorganizable. You're dealing in a business at that time particularly that there was no business. And Bill and people like Frank Barcelona, and many others created a business out of a love affair that we all had, whether it's performers or audience members, a love affair with the music. So long before I ever met Bill, I was so aware of his reputation, his personality, his way of doing things. So to get to finally play for him, as I've said earlier, was a thrill. And if I can share a story with you, I forget what exactly, it may have been 1990 or '90. In 1990, '89. No, it was 1989, it was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. It may have been '90 actually. This is what happens when you get to this age. I forget it was being inducted.
Bill was the host of that night. And I was out in the audience, someone bought me a ticket. I can remember that it was not long after the E Street Band parted ways for many years, 1989. And Bill was up there organizing what they used to have this jam. This improvised segment, which I'm not quite sure they do anymore. And I was sitting on a new audience in the balcony, and suddenly I heard my name. Bill Graham, who I think Bill saw me earlier in the evening. But at the end of the evening, when they had this jam, Bill Graham called me by name to come up on the stage. I wasn't in the E Street Band at the time, I was there as the guest to someone else. So for Bill to do this for me at that time was just huge. And I didn't ask him, I'm sure nobody told him. It registered in his mind. So you do hear all the stories of business dealings, and his larger than life impresario personality, but build a man was a sweetheart. He was a lovely guy who was a sponge for history and art, and he would talk to you about things when he got away from putting on the show.
Cristian - I want to bring, I know we're running out of time, but I wanted to bring Bob and Bonnie back on. And I don't know, maybe you have with this story from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, maybe this was or is your fondest memory of Bill. I wanted to bring everyone together to share one last story again, what would be your fondest memory of Bill, on this special week, as I said on the October 25th and November 3rd just around the corner. So it's only fitting to end on this note, I think. Anyone?
Bonnie - Bob, looks like you're ready to jump in.
Bob - No, you're welcome friends.
Max - As I said--
Cristian - Go ahead.
Max - The three of you here today, and to be talking about the dear Bill Graham. One quick memory, it goes back to the night I met him and it doesn't have to do with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame necessarily, but I think it for me anyway, typifies the Bill Graham that I knew. That was at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, as I said in the Halloween, 1975. And we were talking about my name, and our common Jewish heritage. And before he left, he hugged me. And that was all he did. He didn't say anything, he didn't say goodbye. He just put his arms around me and hugged me. And three years earlier, I was standing on line waiting to buy a ticket. And that was something that I've never forgotten.
Bob - Hey, Max, I just wanted to say something and that's that I'm very impressed that you still have the Redwood dressing room sign. I used to be responsible for taking big lists of bands down to fisherman's Wharf, where this guy had a little stand, that he made little signs for people. And we had a regular deal. I'd bring him a list of 20 or 30 band names and I'd come back two days later and he'd have them all done for me. And the whole idea was that once you did your show, you're supposed to take it home and enjoy the fact, and remember Bill. And look, here at ours, what is it? 40, 50 years later, and you still have your E street Band sign. I'm impressed!
Max - I have it on my desk usually, and it's just supported by a little weight. And I do remember exactly when, as we're going to the stage, I think it wasn't Velcro, but it might even taped up there. And I just pulled it off the wall quickly, ran back and put it, not a road case, a suitcase.
Bob - Well, one night I was paying Leo Cocky at the Berkeley community theater, and he had to sign sitting there on the table. He'd taken it off the dressing room door, and he goes, "Hey, I really liked this sign." I go, "Yeah, well, we make that for everybody." And he goes, "Well next time here, "could you make it say Leo's Bar and Grill?" So the next time he came, he had Leo's Bar and Grill on his dressing room door. And he looked up and he goes, "Oh, you remembered!" Those are the kinds of things that Bill taught us to do to, to connect with people. That was who Bill was.
Bonnie - For me, I always have felt like I had this little lucky star of Bill Graham on my shoulder. I mean, I've done lots of really enormously fun and enormously tiring things in 50-plus years in the music business. And there'd be long periods of time that Bill and I, didn't talk, but every once in while in my life, when I suddenly found myself sitting in LA without a job after leaving Warner Brothers, out of nowhere, Bill called me on the phone and said, made up some crazy story about how important it was that I come and go to work at BGP because he needed to go off on the road with The Stones. And somehow he thought it was really important, and I completely went for it. And I was sitting in LA doing nothing, staring at the wall. And three days later, he had moved me back to San Francisco and put me to work for a number of years. Many years after Bill was gone, found myself in another one of those, luckily infrequent things in my life where I just didn't know what I was going to do next. And I got a call from somebody on the Bill Graham Foundation saying, "We're looking for a new executive director "and we thought you might be good." And that was 10 years ago, and I'm still running the Bill Graham foundation. So Bill's just that kind of person for me. But the things that always really stuck with me are he loved women, but in the good way, and he allowed us at a time when that was not usual to be able to take that step up, if we thought we could handle something. And if you could do that, you were friends with Bill for life. he was the most loyal, and there are thousands of people who were touched or work for one of Bill's companies over the years in San Francisco, and we all feel that way about him. That Bill always had your back. And finally, if he thought there was something wrong, Bill spoke up. Even if it was going to cause him enormous problems, he had a such a sense of justice. And I always really appreciated that about him.
Cristian - Well, looking at the time, I know we could spend an hour or two or three more, but we unfortunately ran out. I'd would like to thank the First Republic Bank for hosting this fantastic program. And I'd like to thank you, Max, this is the first time I meet, and it's an honor. I really enjoyed your Mighty Max Monday Memories. The episodes that you put up through the summer, they're heartwarming, they made this whole quarantine easier here in Queens. And thank you Bonnie and Bob, always a pleasure to see you. And it's humbling for me to talk about Bill and be in your presence as the immigrant that I am. So thank you very much. The New York Historical Society is now open to the public. I hope you'll get the chance to reserve your time tickets for Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution and other exciting exhibitions. So hope to see you there safely. And this is it. Have a great day, thank you.
Bob - Thank you. Here's to Bill!