Friday, December 23, 2005

The Skies of the 60's: Homage to Bill Graham

Bill Graham cast a large shadow on the music scene during the halcyon days of the 60's and 70's. The master cylinder of live events on both coasts, he brought top notch rock, blues, jazz and even gospel musicians to audiences that were broad-minded and into more than the crass commericalism that incessantly spams us these days.

His story is incredible on many levels: Entrepreneurial, supremely human (he literally walked across Europe to escape the Nazis) and visionary.

Today, the Bill Graham's of the world are relegated to the back rooms of history, replaced by blue suits in the board rooms of the mega corps, replete with hip haircuts and "attitude". They couldn't hold Graham's jock strap and are in no way deserving of even knowing who Graham was.

Perhaps above all, he had an ear and the guts to develop artists in his own unique way. That's completely missing in this formula driven, crass, treat-consumers-like-the-default-ipso-facto-
mindless-drones-wall-street-sees-us-as music era.

Last, a favorite Graham story. Before the legendary Band of Gypsies (BoG) Fillmore East concert, Graham told Jimi that he was tired of all the stage antics and wanted to just see him play his ass off.

Jimi's answer was to go out, put his head down, and overwhelm the audience with his axe on cuts like "Machine Gun," in my opinion, one of the greatest electric guitar performances ever.

At concert's end, as the legend goes, Jimi walked off the stage, past Graham, and said, "How's that, muthafucker?"

Of the BoG performances (there were two) Graham would say that they were, "the most brilliant, emotional display of virtuosic electric guitar playing I have ever heard."

Jews say, "he's a mensch" to denote someone of admirable characteristics, but on the street it has a "hidden dimension," connoting something more. Bill Graham had "it."

Sadly, Graham died in a helicopter crash in 1991, leaving us to the soul-less drivel of today's music industry.

But what a vision, what a life.

What a mensch.