Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Bill Graham (1931–1991) was a rock promoter. Graham was born Wolfgang Grajonca in Berlin As it became increasingly difficult for Jews to survive in Nazi Germany, Graham's mother placed Graham and his younger sister in an orphanage in Berlin. This orphanage sent them to France in a pre–Holocaust exchange of Jewish children for Christian orphans. After the fall of France, Graham was among a group of Jewish orphans spirited out of France. A majority of the children – including Graham's younger sister Tolla —did not survive the journey. Graham's mother died in Auschwitz.
Once in the United States, Graham stayed in a foster home in The Bronx in New York City. After being taunted as an immigrant and being called a Nazi because of his German accented English, Graham changed his name. Graham was drafted into the United States Army in 1951 and served in the Korean War, where he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Graham moved from New York to San Francisco in the early 1960s to be closer to his sister, Rita. He was invited to attend a free concert in Golden Gate Park, where he made contact with the San Francisco Mime Troupe. He gave up a promising business career to manage the troupe in 1965 and produce concerts. One of the first concerts he promoted was in partnership with Chet Helms of the Family Dog organization and featured the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The concert was an overwhelming success and Graham saw an opportunity with the band.
A charismatic personality, Graham's shows attracted elements of America's now legendary counterculture of the time such as Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Country Joe and The Fish, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, The Committee, The Fugs, Allen Ginsberg, and, a particular favorite of Graham's, The Grateful Dead. His successes and popularity allowed him to become the top concert promoter in rock music. He operated the famous venues the Fillmore West and Winterland (both in San Francisco) and the Fillmore East (in New York City), where the best up-and-coming acts would come to play.
Graham promoted the West-Coast leg of the legendary The Rolling Stones American Tour 1972, also known as S.T.P. Tour (for Stones Touring Party), as well as parts of the Rolling Stones 1975 and 1978 tours. He would then promote the entire Rolling Stones American Tour 1981 and Rolling Stones European Tour 1982.
Graham's first large-scale outdoor arena concert was a benefit for the San Francisco after-school programs, called the SNACK concert and starred Bob Dylan, with Neil Young and members of The Band. He was careful to make sure everything ran smoothly at his events, fearing the unpredictable nature of large crowds.
Graham was killed in a helicopter crash near Vallejo, California in 1991, while returning home from a Huey Lewis and The News concert at the Concord Pavilion.
Graham published an autobiography Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out (with Robert Greenfield), which was re-published 2004.