In 1968, a band that I was managing in Mexico City sent me to San Francisco, California to scout the ‘scene.’ They wanted to move there and become famous.
During my first week, I attended performances of the Grateful Dead, Beautiful Day, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar and Joni Mitchell. I decided to pay an impromptu visit to Bill Graham, who was already famous as the producer of rock ‘n roll concerts at Fillmore West and Fillmore East.
I traipsed up to the second floor of Fillmore West at 10 a.m. The ballroom was dark and cavernous with basketball hoops at each side, fronted by a large stage. An adjacent café was dimly lit and some guy sat at a table sobbing. He hardly looked up at me as I passed him and knocked on a door with light leaking underneath.
“Come in,” a gruff voice shouted.
I opened the door to see a large, fullback of a man glowering behind his desk. He probably thought I was going to be the guy sobbing in the cafe.
I looked Bill Graham straight in the eyes. In my most confident and modulated voice I said, “Mr. Graham, my name is Diane Sward. I’m the manager of the number one band in Mexico City. They want to move here and sent me on scouting expedition.”
This little speech took Graham aback even more. You could almost see him wondering whether I was putting him on. Nothing was quite fitting together. I paused and smiled.
“Have you come to any conclusions,” he finally asked.
“After listening to some of the bands here, my conclusion is my band couldn’t begin to compete with the originality of songwriting and the quality of musicianship. Now I have to go back to Mexico and tell them. They’re not going to like hearing what I have to say.”
His face relaxed. I could see he liked my straightforwardness and the fact that I wasn’t trying to ‘sell him’ on my band. I was having difficulty continuing to look in his eyes, which were beginning to unnerve me with their intensity. And besides, I wanted to look at all the psychedelic posters, photos of rock stars and copies of gold records taking up all the wall space.
We chitchatted only a few more minutes. I had decided before I arrived to take no more than ten minutes of his time. Before I took my leave, however, my curiosity overwhelmed me. “Why is that guy out there in the cafe sobbing his heart out?”
Graham changed into a red-hot, intimidating monster in one flat second. His voice became a loud growl.
“That goddamned son of a bitch had the nerve to come in here asking ‘Hi, What’s happening, man.’ What’s happening is that I’m running a fucking business and if he had any balls, he’d figure out how to manage Beautiful Day. All he thinks about these days is how to get stoned.”
Graham went on in this vein for another minute, my eyes getting rounder by the minute. I hadn’t ever heard that kind of raw language. I tried to keep a calm demeanor. I kept looking into his eyes and did not flinch or step back. My heart was pounding. It was a glimpse of a master in the tactics of intimidation.
Then he did something that took me as much by surprise as my entrance did for him. His face suddenly lit into an impish and very charming grin. He shook my hand and winked. I was so nonplussed that I barely remembered to thank for his time.
The guy in the café was still sobbing. He was John Walker, the manager of ‘It’s a Beautiful Day,’ one of the bands Bill Graham signed to Fillmore Management and Fillmore Records, along with Santana, Cold Blood, Elvin Bishop, Lamb and Taj Mahal.
Little did I know that a year and a half later Bill Graham would become my boss and that I would be managing the acoustic groups that he had signed and, for a brief period, The Pointer Sisters.