Bargain Bin Book Review: Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield

In this day and age, the term “rock ‘n roll legend” is bandied about so often it has been reduced to being meaningless. Instead of denoting some accomplishment of significance, it now seems to refer to somebody who has merely been in the “business” for more than ten years. In the world of rock and roll, the musicians on the stage are well known and admired, but what of the rock and roll legends behind the scenes, the people often referred to as the “builders”? You don’t hear too much about the men and women behind the mixing console, office desk or typewriter (hey we’re talking legends here!). One man who could justifiably be called a rock and roll legend, yet might not be so well known by the average rock and roll fan is the late concert promoter Bill Graham as described in Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out. Founder of the historic Fillmore Auditoriums in both San Francisco and New York in the late ‘60s that were home to countless rock and roll defining moments (and concert albums) as well as San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom (subject of the just released Grateful Dead – The Closing of Winterland. It’s playing on various PBS stations around the USA this December. Check your local listings.), Bill Graham was the Barnum and Bailey of rock and roll and Bill Graham Presents tracks the life of this fascinating man from his birth in Poland to his death in a 1991 helicopter crash.
When I saw this book in the bargain bin I immediately scooped it up for two reasons. The first was because it was co-written by Robert Greenfield who wrote probably my favourite book on rock and roll “S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones.” The second reason is that I wanted to get Grahams side of the infamous Led Zeppelin backstage beating fiasco when a member of Graham’s crew was savagely beaten to a pulp by Zep manager Peter Grant and a couple of his henchmen. On all accounts the book was an enjoyable read. From being a Jew in war torn Europe who escaped to America, to his travails in the Catskills in the ‘50s, to his roll as the Haight Asbury’s ringmaster in putting together some absolutely killer rock and roll shows that I would have loved to be at, Bill Graham Presents describes it all through Graham’s own words as well as the various participants there at the time. Not only was he involved with these legendary venues and concerts, he managed the Jefferson Airplane, advised on Woodstock, managed colossal tours by the Dead, CSNY, the Stones and more. He was the man responsible for the logistics behind Live Aid, the Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope Tour and the mammoth Amnesty International Human Rights Now tour which visited every continent and a half dozen countries that have never even hosted rock and roll such as Costa Rica and Zimbabwe. The stories behind the asshole managers and flighty rock stars is fascinating. The stories told by others about Bill are equally fascinating because not everyone “loved” Bill Graham. Respected him yes but he was a hard driving authoritarian figure who often rankled the free wheeling rock and rollers he was ostensibly working for and the tension wasn’t always just emotional!. A great read about an interesting guy during an interesting period in rock and roll history. Highly recommended.

1 Comment

  1. Mark,

    Yes, Bill Graham Presents is a great book about one of the most important non-performers in the music business.

    Really a shame that he passed away so tragically. One can only imagine his reaction to the Ticketmaster monopoly, the auctioning of prime seats to the highest bidders and other concert shakedowns.

    Here’s another review of the book:

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