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Friday, May 18, 2007

Recalling the Impressario

I've been enjoying the string of comments that Frank Paynter's recent post, "Entheogens," has inspired. Frank's posting of an early Grateful Dead video has stimulated some nostalgia and memory-searching from some of us old enough and lucky enough to have been there.

Frank describes Bill Graham as "running around as self important as Dave Winer." I haven't had the distinction of seeing Winer in action, but I did indeed have occasion to see Graham doing the running around number (in small venues, that is, before the days of arena concerts).

However, my take wasn't so much "self-importance." What I saw was a guy fantastically committed to perfection--in a frenzy to get it right--for the fans and for the musicians, both of whom he dearly loved, underneath that gruff, foreboding, getouttamyface, boss-man presentation.

Yeah, Graham may haved seemed self-important, but Frank's commenter, Hannah (she doesn't provide a link to a website) has got it right, imho. His contribution to popular culture is historic--and crucial--because, as Hannah says, a lot of it might very well not have happened without him.

I rank him as a true pop visionary, right up there with Sam Phillips, Barry Gordy, and Jann Wenner.


  • That's some exalted pop cultural company. I could go on and on about why each of the three was more important than Bill Graham, but let me instead compare him to Flo Ziegfield or Busby Berkeley. he was an impresario, maybe not of the stature of Berkeley or Ziegfield, but certainly as important as oh, Zev Buffman.

    The musicians and the fans benefited a lot from Graham's work, but I don't think he was as central to the rise of a genre or the support of a community as Berry Gordy or Sam Phillips, and he certainly didn't have the impact or reach of Wenner.

    Heck, maybe it's just the echo of some testosterone thing.

    By Blogger fp, at 5:27 PM  

  • You could be right, Frank--or not. The trouble with these kinds of comparisons--which, after all, are merely a reflection of my own individual emotions--is that there's no way to prove one side or the other. It's just speculation, but it's fun. I enjoy it. Thanks for getting the thread going with that great video.

    By Blogger Tom Shugart, at 10:15 PM  

  • I too had occasion to know Bill Graham - at the Fillmore East in New York where, due to the radio show I produced in those days, I spent a lot of time hanging around back stage and at party functions there.

    I tend toward Tom's take on Graham, although I see Frank's point on the wider influence of Gordy, Phillips and Wenner.

    But within his sphere, I don't think there was any other producer who cared as much about the musicians and who went out of his way to see to their well-being in personal ways far beyond the call of professional duty.

    By Anonymous Ronni Bennett, at 2:20 PM  

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