Bill Graham wasn’t always nice, but he was fair, and if he made an agreement he would often honor it without a written contract.
That is until Santana and his band quit Fillmore Management. When they became famous after Woodstock, a gig Bill got for them that put them on the national map, they got swelled hearts and walked out. What did they need him for anymore? Bill Graham and Santana had no written contracts. (Santana came crawling back to Fillmore Management a few years later.)
If Bill’s idea of fair didn’t agree with you, he’d pummel you with words. And then he’d start yelling. You don’t want Bill Graham yelling at you. He made a lot of people cry. Or he’d terrify them. Or both. He got his way a lot.
I learned a lot about negotiation and intimidation from him when I was hired to manage his acoustic groups at Fillmore Management: Lamb, Victoria, Pamela Polland and, for about a year, The Pointer Sisters.
Bill Graham Teaches Diane Sward About Intimidation
Soon after I started working for him, I heard him yelling at me as soon as I started walking up to my office on the third floor of Fillmore Management.
“If that’s Diane Sward, I want her in my office immediately. Get up here now.”
My heart started pounding. I reviewed what I had done for the last few days, weeks. Wasn’t coming up with much.
I walked past his secretary Vicki who gave me an “I don’t know look,” and into his office, which was just across the street form Fillmore West. Before I had a chance to say hello, he growled, “Sit down.” I said nothing.
Bill got up from his desk and walked over to the record player. He put on an album of Tito Puente, one of his all time favorite salsa musicians and one of the great symbols of Latin jazz. Then Bill walked back to his desk, sat down, turned his chair so I faced his back and put his feet up on the windowsill.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZQh4IL7unM Tito Puente’s last performance of “Oye Como Va,” which was also recorded by Santana.
There we sat for fifteen minutes while the infectious music of Tito Puente filled the room. My heart was still pounding and now I was thoroughly confused and disoriented. Then Bill got up, took the record off and put it in its jacket. He turned to me. “Okay,” he said. “You can go now. That’s your energy rush for the day.”
It must have been relief, because I started laughing. “This is a rough business,” he said. Never lose your sense of humor. If you do, you’re dead.” He had just showed me that gruffness and intimidation were just tactics, to be used when needed.
Bill Graham Meets Canina
Maybe it was only a few months later, when Bill yelled at me for the second time. It was during a sound check for Pamela Polland, a singer songwriter I was managing that was signed to Columbia Records. She would be appearing for the first time at Fillmore West. I was back with the sound guys and light guys at the mixing console in the back of the ballroom telling them how I wanted the sound adjusted. Pamela’s dog Canina was sitting demurely in front of the piano.
I could hear Bill Graham running over to the sound console in full pant. “Get that goddamned dog off my goddamned stage,” he yelled. “No dogs. No dog shit. If you don’t get that dog out of here, Pamela isn’t playing tonight. And I don’t want to hear any of your bullshit either. Do you know how many bands would love to take her place?”
By now, I had worked for Bill long enough to not argue and just kind of drift away and out of sight. When I saw him fifteen minutes later, my rap went something like this: “Well, the dog is kind of a ‘logo’ for her, just like the RCA Victor Dog. She doesn’t bark. She doesn’t shit. She has appeared on stage with her countless times. It’ll be okay. Don’t worry about it. She’s probably the only performer who does this.” Bill shrugged his shoulders and I took it for tacit permission. I couldn’t let Bill get under my skin. I wasn’t about to tell Pamela to kick Canina off stage. Nor was I going to start laughing when Bill started yelling at me, but the scene was hilarious.
Pamela gave a stellar performance at Fillmore West with Canina on stage.
The Last Days of the Fillmore
The third time Bill Graham yelled at me was immortalized in the movie, “The Last Days of the Fillmore.” I went into his office to beg him to pay for a ticket to bring Bob Swanson and Barbara Mauritz of Lamb back from Boston.
Barbara was sick and pregnant and would not be able to perform. He threw me out of his office. “I’m not running a goddamn welfare agency.” What the movie didn’t show was me coming back to his office after half an hour and talking him into paying for a plane ticket. I never yelled. I just waited until he calmed down and then gave him what I thought was a reasonable rap.
Lamb opened one of the evenings of performances of the “last days’ with a stunning version and performance of their song “Hello Friends.” A youtube video captures it beautifully as well as an equally stunning performance of her song River Boulevard.Their performances are also captured on the DVD “The Last Days of the Fillmore.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgPw2Q9-6jc
Barbara was a great singer and songwriter who, together with Bob Swanson, her partner and astounding guitarist, should have have become famous, but did not, a tragedy not uncommon in the entertainment business. Lamb’s first two albums, “A Sign of Change” and “Cross Between” were re-released by Wounded Bird Records and by Collector’s Choice Music in 2010 but they are out of print and difficult to find. They were great records.
Bill Graham Captures a Thief
Bill Graham’s most astounding performance of intimidation was on behalf of Lamb.
One morning I walked into my office. Someone had climbed up the fire escape, broken the window and stole their two guitars and banjo. They were trying to sell them and had stashed them in my office. I called the police, who were not very interested. They said to leave descriptions at all the pawn shops.
Then I remembered a guy who had come in the day before and was interested in the banjo. When he started playing, Taj Mahal drifted in from the office next door, and then they started trading riffs. The guy said he sometimes worked in the head shop downstairs. Like a flash, I knew he is was that guy who had broken in to my office.
I paid the head shop a visit. “I know you think this is going to be an off-the-wall request, but one of my bands needs a banjo player tonight. I know that the guy who works here is really good player. He was in my office yesterday trading riffs with Taj Mahal. I need to get hold of him.” The long haired hippie behind the counter was looking at me in disbelief. “We can’t give out the phone numbers of our employees,” he mumbled. “Look,” I said, “I work upstairs at Fillmore Management. This might be his big chance. The gig is at Fillmore West tonight. You can look at the marquis from here.” I went on in this vein. Finally the guy realizes he isn’t going to get rid of me so easily and tears up a corner of a paper bag and writes the first name of the guy and his phone number.
I could tell by the first three numbers that he lived somewhere in the neighborhood. I called the cops again. “Hey I got the name and phone number of the thief. “ I told them the story. The cop said, “You’ve got nothing but circumstantial evidence, lady, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
So I did what Bill Graham told me to go when he hired me. “Try and solve the problem and if you can’t, you can come to me as a last resort.” If there was a situation for a last resort, this was it. After I told Bill the story, he said, “Gimme the name and number.” He picks up the phone and dials. As soon as the guy picks up the phone, Bill starts up, his voice dangerous and mean, his New York brogue thick and rich.
“Roger, you don’t know who I am, but I know who you are. You broke into my fucking office last night, broke one of my windows and stole two guitars and a banjo. If you don’t bring them back to my office in 15 minutes, I’m going to personally break every finger on your hand, one my one, and you’ll never play the banjo again.” He kept yelling for a few more minutes and banged the phone down.
Roger could have no way of knowing how the hell Bill even had his phone number and knew his name. But he wasn’t going to wait for his fingers to be torn to shreds. Ten minutes later, Roger walked up the stairs to Bill’s office with the instruments. Bill let him chill for another ten minutes and then subjected him to another angry tirade.