Bill Graham Presents
Bill Graham & Robert Greenfield
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Buy *Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out* online

Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out
Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield
Da Capo Press
576 pages
May 2004
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Even though he died in 1991, rock and roll legend Bill Graham still reigns as one of the supreme forces that shaped American cultural history. In this hugely entertaining and enthralling book, we get to know the man who helped make the music as never before. From his childhood days fleeing to Europe to escape the Nazis, to his tough street life growing up in the Bronx, to his travels around the world, to his major life decision to open a simple rock club called the Fillmore, this was a man who made music history sing out in a full and throaty roar.

Grahamís life story is filled with tragedy, adventure and danger, and all this before he ever even entered rock and rollís world of sex, drugs and big money. He was a Korean War soldier, winning a Bronze Star; a Borscht Belt worker plugging away in the kitchens of Catskills finest hotels; an office manager for a heavy equipment company; and a failed theater actor who seemed better at selling the tickets than performing the parts, but all the while he was living, loving and learning everything he could. When he founded the Fillmore in San Francisco, he began booking shows there, and soon had his hands in more than just the promotion end of things. After his theater group, The Mime Troupe, failed to act quickly and secure a lease on the Fillmore, Graham jumped and signed one himself, and the rest, as they say, is history.

He began putting on shows with acts such as Jefferson Airplane, as well as benefits and festivals that eventually attracted bigger audiences. He even broke new ground by featuring soul acts together with white groups, which nobody else dared do. As the shows got bigger, featuring artists like The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, Cream, Hendrix and Butterfield Blues Band, so did Grahamís desire for more power in the rock world, and he eventually opened Fillmore East in New York. Credited with launching the careers of such luminaries as Otis Redding, Hendrix, Joplin and the Dead, he was the man to know. Rock and roll was his life. He tried to settle down with girlfriend Bonnie Maclean, who eventually became his wife and bore him a son, but rock and roll proved the only love he could ever possibly be faithful to.

Graham worked with the biggest and best artists of the time, and his reputation as a maverick, activist and hustler grew. He eventually planned such events as LiveAid and Amnesty Internationalís Conspiracy of Hope, working with artists at the heights of their careers such as CSN&Y, Joplin, and the Stones. This was a man who knew everyone who was anyone, and they knew Bill, and respected him. They didnít always love him; often hated his guts, but they respected him.

Bill Graham PresentsÖ documents a man who did everything imaginable in the world of rock, including touring with major acts, wheeling and dealing in backstage rooms, and even verbally attacking then-President Reagan for visiting Nazi war criminal graves. The book delves deeply into his life, his passions, his mistakes, and his deepest fears and dreams, as seen through his own eyes, as well as those of many of his closest friends and allies, including Grace Slick, Jerry Garcia, Eric Clapton, David Graham, Peter Coyote, Bob Geldof, Robbie Robertson and Robert Plant, among many others. Their perceptions of this man make him even more intriguing, a true rock icon unlike any before him, even down to the fiery ending to his own life in a helicopter crash. The many black-and-white photos of Bill interacting with rock legends, and the early photos of his childhood, capture the essence of a man who knew his own importance in an industry that chews up and spits out even the biggest of egos.

As they say, itís better to burn out than fade away, but in the case of Bill Graham, he was going strong until the end, even after he lost out on the disastrous 1989 Stones tour that led him to a period of deep depression and emotional breakdown, and the massive Bay Area earthquake that helped him regain a sense of purpose. This book is a must-read for any fan of rock and roll and a great reminder of the historical importance of an era when all things were possible, including a Nazi escapee who ended up in the mean streets of New York to become a legend in his own time.

© 2004 by Marie D. Jones for Curled Up With a Good Book

Also by Robert Greenfield:

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