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.”
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.
More information on Pamela can be found on her web site. http://www.PamelaPolland.com
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.