Three months went by without my having any clue about how I could get a job with Bill Graham’s Fillmore Management.
I continued to find bookings for Pamela Polland, Jan Tangen and Dave Friedman. Gigs in Bay Area coffeehouses were easy to get, but they didn’t make a lot of money for anyone, including the performers. They were able to get a few gigs in clubs at 8 or 8:30 p.m., prior to when many rock bands began setting up for a 9:30 show. I told club owners that my band would help warm up the audience, didn’t need a big stage setup (no drums, no big amps, no stage monitors) and would make them enough extra bucks selling drinks to pay us.
However rock fans and acoustic music fans didn’t always mix well. More often than not the audience would start getting impatient around 9:15. “We want jerry (Garcia); we want Elvin (Bishop) and so on.”
I attended a lot of Lamb gigs and saw such other Bay Area acoustic performers as Lambert & Nuttycombe, Jeffrey Cain and Uncle Vinty. They were all bucking up against rock ‘n roll. The audiences for rock bands were larger; and that meant more money for the club owners. The only songwriter that seemed to draw a large crowd was Victoria when she played outdoors at San Francisco’s Cannery.
Lamb and Victoria were signed to Fillmore Records (distributed by Warner Brothers); Jeffrey Cain to Warner Brothers via the producer of the Youngbloods; Lambert & Nuttycombe to A & M Records. But nobody, including my trio, were going anywhere. Everyone was making just enough money to feed themselves.
A Lightbulb Flashes Inside My Head
While washing dinner dishes one afternoon, I thought, what if Bay Area acoustic performers had their own evening? They wouldn’t have to compete with the rock bands and have their more gentle sounds become dwarfed by raucous fans stomping, “We want the Grateful Dead.” Each of them had small, loyal followings and, combined, would make for a decent audience. A name came into all these thoughts in the same flash: Equinox; A Traveling Faire of Acoustic Music.” I could talk the record companies into giving me money promoting the idea.. The music critics would love to write about it. A win-win for all.
The vision was so complete that it reminded me of how many songwriters described how some window in their heart opened, and their songs came to them complete, as though they were channeling it.
In a rush of excitement I called David Rubinson of Fillmore Records. He was the one who sent me to see Bill Graham about a job in management many months ago, only to be rebuffed. “I have an idea . . . Can I come down and talk with you about it?” He didn’t ask what it was. He just said yes.
After blurting in all out in a rush, Rubinson asked, “What do you need to carry this idea out?”
“An office, a phone and a salary.”
“How much salary?”
“$150 a week. I’d take the expenses out of any promo money I got.”
He led me to a windowless office in the back of the first floor. Gave me a desk. Set up phones. I got to work.
David was supporting an essentially rogue operation out of Fillmore Records.
Equinox: A Promotional Hook as Good as a Hit Song
First, I told the bands about my idea and new job and asked them to agree to perform as a group once or twice a week. They were completely supportive. The records companies pitched in $200 a month for promotion of Equinox gigs. Then I had a poster designed and printed that made it possible to add the names of performers and the club/date and took it around to various clubs and began to get bookings.
Equinox was a fabulous promotional ‘hook.’ It was easy to get club owners on board, especially on off nights like Monday or Tuesday. It was easy to get reviewers to come to the gigs and write about the idea and the individual bands. The fan base got larger; the bookings increased. Airplay for their recordings followed.
My involvement with Lamb and with Victoria increased. Because they had no manager to resolve their day-to-day problems, it became my job to get them to gigs on time, make sure they had a decent sound system and sound check, collect and divvy up the money, and talk to record companies about how much their fans loved them, send out press releases, contact people on a growing mailing list every time there was a gig.
And all the while I also used my office and the prestige that went with it to further Pamela’s career, I made a demo and started approaching record companies to sign her.
My Job at Fillmore Management Becomes Reality
Six months later, David sent me upstairs to see Bill again. This time Keeva Krystal, Bill’s gatekeeper, let me pass into Bill’s office. He was polite, rather than dismissive. I did not remind him of his sexist remark, “No women. No way.”
“You can have the back office next to Taj Mahal,” Bill said. “I only want to see you when you have problems you can’t solve. Same salary that David is giving you.”
Although I had proven I had a lot of creative spunk, there was a lot I did not know.
My bands were now part of a much bigger team in a conglomerate that included Bill Graham Presents (concert production at Fillmore West and Fillmore East), Fillmore Records, Fillmore Management, Fillmore Publishing, and The Millard Agency. Theoretically, all these entities would help forward the career of bands that were signed to Fillmore Management, which included Santana, Taj Mahal, In Cold Blood, It’s a Beautiful Day, Elvin Bishop, Lamb and Victoria, and for a few years, The Pointer Sisters.
In practice, these bands competed for the same attention and bucks. Right up there on the third floor of Fillmore Management, a big internecine war was always going on, between band members, band members and managers, manager and managers, managers and booking agents and so on. There were hundreds of ways to be jerked around. At one point, Santana walked on and took on the job of management on their own. It was ‘office politics’ on a scale I never even dreamed existed.
Bands that had record deals with major labels competed not only with other bands that were signed to Fillmore Records, but the entire stable of bands signed to the larger record label.
Problems? There were always problems. Every day. The manager was chief problem solver. And the person that would take the flak for anything that went wrong with a smile.
The sign on my office door read, “Here’s Help.”