Bill Graham is having a birthday party Saturday night . This annual fundraiser is sponsored by the Bill Graham Foundation. The foundation supports music education and the arts with grants. Bill loved athletics and music and he put his talents to work to save school music and sports in the San Francisco Public Schools for the 1975/76 school year. Bill put on SNACK Sunday at Kezar Stadium the former home of the 49ERS located right at the edge of the Haight. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jerry Garcia Band, Jefferson Starship, The Doobie Brothers, Santana, Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Mimi Farina and a few other bands played to raise money for the arts and sports programs. Frankie Albert, the 49ers first QB and Willie Mays appeared along with John Brodie, Cecil Williams and Jessie Owens. Over $200,000 was raised and Bill's friend Marlon Brando made a speech about the American Indians then presented the proceeds check over to a nervous school district official.
SNACK stood for Students Need Athletics, Culture and Kicks. It was a great success and it may have been the greatest concert ever held inside Kezar - at least in anyone's recollection. That is just one of many benefits that Bill supported over his career in San Francisco and New York.
In 1973 Bill sponsored a music education program with San Francisco's Opportunity High school. Country Joe was a volunteer teacher at the school for about a year and a half - he taught several music classes like song writing, guitar, recording, and a special class on the music business - Joe said high school kids could learn how to stage concerts in San Francisco. Since I was leading the music department the headquarters for the music business class set up was in my classroom - we had a red telephone installed and had somehow talked Bill Graham into being our advisor and sponsor. The program was called Summerland and Bill supported the class getting a hall, hiring some groups to play, and putting on a real first class concert. He never thought they would succeed when they first went to him for help and advise. He said he would help them if they could get a real show together on their own. He dared them to go out and get the Jefferson Airplane, Santana or the Grateful Dead. That was a tall order for a bunch of school kids. Little did he know that one student Claire Tomlinson took it upon herself to go out and get Jerry Garcia to agree to perform. Graham was impressed. So they rented Bimbo's and put on a great show with Jerry Garcia with one of his bands called Old and In the Way, The Rowan Brothers, The Sufi Choir (hard to explain how they got on the bill but they did and they were great) I had heard them once at a Dead concert. Also a group called Seymore Light opened the show. The lead guitar for Seymour Light had just returned from India and he had recently played with a Grateful Deadlike influenced group called Osceola. It was really a fantastic show and eclectic enough even for Mr. Graham. Bill made it all possible and gave many students an experience they would never forget. They did it all: booking acts, publicity (handing out flyers in the Haight and on Market St.), tickets, accounting, security, stage managing, emceeing everything. Following Bimbo's they did a gig at the bandstand in Golden Gate Park with Copperhead. It didn't last long but Bill made this fantasy like event take place.
Lately a youtube has surfaced on Facebook showing Bill and a helicopter full of Playboy magazine Girls "OF THE MONTH" landing at a jungle outpost in Vietnam during combat conditions to put on a morale show for about 2,000 marines. The chopper lands on stage and Bill jumps out grabs the mic and starts vigorously talking to the troops about the show they are about to see. A rock band was already there and it starts playing a far away slightly off key version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Suzie Q." The clip is from the blockbuster movie "Apocalypse Now" starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando. Bill had a fledgling movie career going as he appeared in several large scale Hollywood movies.
Bill was also know for sticking his neck out on local talent - some of the bands he did that for did pretty darn good. He really loved Santana and got them on the bill at Woodstock. He later featured Carlos and his band regularly over the years. I managed a band with my brother Dennis called Gold back in 1968 to 1973 Bill told us to bring the band to an audition night he ran on Monday Nights at The Fillmore-West on Van Ness and Market Sts. The band did so well they were called back to open a Fillmore-West weekend show in 1971 with Mike Bloomfield, Chicago Slim and Bola Seta. Later Bill put them on at Winterland to open for Ten Years After and Big Brother and The Holding Company - both Nick Gravanites and Kathi McDonald sang with them then. Then one more show at Winterland to open for Hot Tuna. Bill then called Dennis and me into his office and he said, " I really like your band but you need to go out and get a hit record before I can book you again, right now I am booking 3rd bill bands like Foghat that are on Billboard's top 100 with a bullet." Well it took till 2002 for Gold to finally come out with a CD - bill would have liked it too. Anyway what I am saying here about Bill is that he had heart for the underdog and he helped lots of musicians get started. Just like Chet Helms did at the Avalon. Graham and Helms together were a tremendous musical force that made San Francisco the center of the rock and roll world for a long time... I believe that San Francisco was a a better place musically when both Bill Graham and Chet Helms were around and doing their thing.
Bill was cut down in his prime tragically in 1991 in a helicoper crash as he was going home to Marin from the Concord Pavilion in Concord, California. The chopper ran into foul weather and it was flying above Highway 37 when it rammed in to an Electric Tower killing all on board. Bill has been missed ever since. He was one of a kind.
Call (877) 598-6659 www.livenation.com for more info.
Causes Ron Cabral Supports
National Wildlife Federation, California State and National Parks, Arf, Paralyzed Veterans, National Film Preservation Foundation, California Historical...