Twenty years ago this week, legendary concert promoter Bill Graham went to the big backstage party in the sky after the helicopter he was riding in flew into a high-voltage tower in Vallejo, Calif. Also killed in the crash was Graham's girlfriend, Melissa Gold, and pilot Steve Kahn. Graham was en route to his home after sealing the deal for an appearance by Huey Lewis & The News at a benefit concert bill for folks in Oakland and Berkeley who were affected by an intense and damaging firestorm. Graham was just 60 years old.
Graham, who was only 60 years old, helped usher in a new world in concert promotion with his strong-arming work in the '60s, '70s and '80s. He operated three venues: San Francisco's Fillmore West and Winterland Ballroom, and the Fillmore East in New York.
Besides the music, his Fillmore West concerts in the '60s were known for their great posters, made by some of the best artists in the scene. Great colorful psych jobs full of swooping letters and cosmic designs, they are still influential and sought after to this day. Let us not forget the great bills those posters advertised, either.
We found about 10 of the best posters from Graham's heyday for you to gander at. Some of these are nearly unintelligible, not unlike some black-metal fonts. The lineups are great too. Can you imagine seeing The Doors open for the Young Rascals in 1967?
It's also fun to see which bands meshed together back in the day, and how their modern fans would kill each other today. The MC5 opening for Jethro Tull? Sure.
A lot of these posters actually advertised residency shows. Most bands would play up to three-night stands in San Francisco before moving on to other cities. Now that's a rarity reserved for people like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
Grahams' company, Bill Graham Presents, is also a distant corporate cousin to today's concert giant Live Nation.
We consulted a great site, Classic Posters, for all these works, which are all on sale. The prices are pretty high for the originals, but you can more than likely find decent-priced reproductions.
Fillmore Auditorium 7/15-16, 1966 Artist: Wes Wilson Performers: Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead
Fillmore Auditorium 8/26-27, 1966 Artist: Wes Wilson Performers: 13th Floor Elevators, Great Society, Sopwith Camel
Fillmore Auditorium 10/21-22, 1966 Artists: Wes Wilson, Herb Greene (Photographer) Performers: Grateful Dead, Lightnin' Hopkins, Loading Zone, The Yardbirds, Country Joe & the Fish
Fillmore Auditorium 2/26/1967 Artist: John H. Myers Performers: B.B. King, Moby Grape, Steve Miller Blues Band
Fillmore Auditorium 2/1, 2/4/1968, Winterland 2/2-3/1968 Artist: Rick Griffin Performers: Jimi Hendrix Experience, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Albert King
Fillmore Auditorium 7/9-14/1968 Artist: Lee Conklin Performers: Electric Flag (7/9-11), Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Blue Cheer (7/12-14), Ike & Tina Turner
Fillmore West 10/3-5/1968 Artist: Lee Conklin Performers: Canned Heat, Gordon Lightfoot, Cold Blood
Fillmore West 10/11-12/1968 Artist: Pat Hanks Performers: Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
Fillmore West 1/9-11/1969 Artists: Randy Tuten, D. Bread, P. Pynchon (Photographer) Performers: Country Joe & the Fish, Led Zeppelin, Taj Mahal
Oakland Coliseum 11/9/1969 Artists: Randy Tuten, Ron Raffaelli (Photographer) Performer: The Rolling Stones
Fillmore West 11/20-23/1969 Artist: Randy Tuten Performers: Jethro Tull, MC5, Sanpaku
Fillmore West 1/2-4/1969 Artist: David Singer Performers: The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, John Hammond
Fillmore West 10/15-18/1970 Artist: Norman Orr Performers: Leon Russell, Miles Davis, Sea Train, Hammer
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, Long Island, NY 3/15-16/1973 Artist: David Byrd Performer: Grateful Dead
Fillmore West 10/8-11/1970 Artist: Norman Orr Performers: Van Morrison, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Jerry Hahn Brotherhood