Category Archives: Music et al

Woodstock Ventures John Roberts

Woodstock Ventures John Roberts

Remembering and appreciating him on his birthday
January 26, 1945 – October 27, 2001
Woodstock Ventures John Roberts
Clockwise from top left: John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Michael Lang, and Artie Kornfeld

E pluribus unum

Each of the four Woodstock Ventures partners contributed to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair and it would be silly to say any one of them meant more than any other, but I think it is fair to say that the idea, however great, would never have gotten off the ground if not for the financial backing, patience, and endurance of John Roberts.

It may be a stereotype, but the personalities of each Woodstock Venture partner was predictable. Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld, the originators and instigators of the event, are best described as hippies and idealists. Lang in particular. 

Joel Rosenman and John Roberts were the business guys in business suits whose business acumen helped navigate the venture through the choppy cultural waters of the late 1960s.

John Roberts, in particular.

Woodstock Ventures John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts was a nephew in the Block Pharmaceutical family. Alexander Block had founded the company in 1907. In 1969 John Roberts was 24 and had recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and with friend Joel Rosenman delved into writing for TV. They wanted to pitch the idea of two young men with money looking to make a TV program. 

To get ideas, they placed a newspaper ad in the Wall Street Journal which read, that they were ”young men with unlimited capital.” Though they received thousands or responses, the TV idea died.

Instead, Roberts and Rosenman went into business with a recording studio in Manhattan, Mediasound. Since Lang and Kornfeld’s original idea was to build a recording studio in the town of Woodstock, NY, Fortune and fortuitousness brought the four together.

Woodstock Ventures John Roberts

Woodstock Ventures

The four formed Woodstock Ventures and they would (“they” is a funny word to use here) finance the project with profits (another funny word in retrospect) from a festival with an inheritance John Roberts had just received from the Block fortune.

The Woodstock Music and Art Fair story is John’s and it is not John’s. The vision and thrust was Lang’s. John Robert’s patience, persistence, and, obviously, money made the idea a reality despite huge initial losses.

After the event, it was John’s family who strongly recommended that John buy out Lang and Kornfeld from Ventures and also to sell the movie and music rights to Warner Brothers to begin to recoup those huge losses.

It was not until a dozen years later that the still extant Woodstock Ventures made its money back. By that point, Lang had gotten back into the company and remains there, with Joel Rosenman, and the Roberts family to this day.

Woodstock Ventures John Roberts

Legacy

John Roberts

John Roberts died from cancer on October 27, 2001.

Ben Sisario wrote in the New York TimesEven as a producer of Woodstock ’94, Mr. Roberts made it clear that his interests were in maintaining the peaceful legacy of Woodstock rather than in making money, said John Scher, another producer. ”John was a smart businessman,’‘ Mr. Scher said, ”but he had a lot of heart.

Thank you John

Woodstock Ventures John Roberts

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John Berg Columbia Art Director

John Berg Columbia Art Director

January 12,  1932 – October 11, 2015

John Berg Columbia Art Director

Artists create their works and certainly deserve full credit for those works, but sometimes it takes someone else’s inspiration to select or choose the work and put it into the pubic’s eye.

Artists often need art directors

John Berg Columbia Art Director

John Berg was that second person. He was an art director at Columbia Records and commissioned or selected the art that graced the album covers.

According to a Rolling Stone magazine article, “Berg worked on over 5,000 records during his 25-year tenure at Columbia, earning Grammys for his work on Dylan’s 1967 Greatest Hits collection, Barbra Streisand’s The Barbra Streisand Album, Chicago’s Chicago X and Thelonious Monk’s Underground.”

The article went on to say that, “Berg’s innovative covers were as much a product of his own artistic sensibilities as they were indicative of his eye for talent. As art director at Columbia, and later creative director and a vice president by the time he retired in 1985, he commissioned works by noted contemporary designers, illustrators and photographers like Richard Avedon, Paul Davis, Milton Glaser, Edward Sorel, Tomi Ungerer, Jerry Schatzberg and W. Eugene Smith.”

John Berg Columbia Art Director

Early career

According to the Cooper Union alumni site, “John Berg…was born in Brooklyn January 12, 1932.  He attended Erasmus Hall High School. He drew cartoons for the school newspaper. He attended The Cooper Union School of Art where he graduated in 1953.  After earning his degree, he worked for Doyle Dane Bernbach and Esquire. John Berg was responsible for the design of many popular album covers while he served as the vice president of Art and Design at CBS Records. Berg joined Columbia Records in 1961 as art director of packaging, after working for Gray Advertising, Esquire Magazine, Horizon Magazine, and others.

John Berg Columbia Art Director

Don’t dis the director

Not without a sense of humor mixed with a touch of vengeance, Berg designed the cover for an posthumous album by the conductor George Szell. Berg felt put upon and treated poorly by the famed Szell. Berg searched photograph after photograph before deciding upon the right cover for Szell’s recording with the Cleveland Orchestra of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  Appropriate for the album if not for the conductor’s face.

John Berg Columbia Art Director

John Berg

The Waxpoetic site put together a (very) partial collection of Berg’s most famous covers. Follow this link.

I didn’t even know I knew this guy and I bet the same is true for you.

John Berg Columbia Art Director

Berg died on October 11, 2015. NYT obituary

John Berg Columbia Art Director

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

January 8, 1931 – October 25, 1991

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

Bill Graham was born Wolodia “Wolfgang” Grajonca in Berlin, Germany. During World War II, with his father dead, the Nazi pogrom underway, and his mother gassed to death on a train to the Auschwitz concentration camp, Grajonca fortunately became part of a group of children that the International Red Cross enabled  to ultimately escape to the United States where he was placed in an upstate New York army barracks. Later, a Bronx family brought him to live with them.

Though not a citizen, he was drafted into the army and served meritoriously in the Korean War. Graham’s first experiences with entertainment came when he worked in various  New York Catskill resorts, such as Grossinger’s (Liberty), the Concord Hotel (Kiamesha Lake) and the  President Hotel (Swan Lake).

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

Filmores

 

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

In the mid-1960’s, Graham was drawn to concert promotion while business manager for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical theater group. [November 1, 1965: Graham presented his first show, a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe.]  Graham eventually found success promoting and presenting such bands as the Jefferson Airplane, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and famously the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore Auditorium (between 1966 and 1968) and later at the Fillmore West (beginning July 1968).

Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East on March 8, 1968 with  blues guitarist Albert King, folk singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.  The hall’s characteristic schedule was a two-show, triple-bill concert several nights a week. Graham would regularly alternate acts between his east and west coast venues. Until early 1971, bands were booked on both Friday and Saturday nights to play two shows per night at 8 pm and 11 pm, which might end at 3 AM or later.

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

Fillmore East

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

Complimenting FM radio stations (like WNEW-FM in NYC) then recent forays into progressive rock formats whose DJs exposed rock music lovers to so-called underground bands with their extended improvisational jams, the Fillmore East fed the growing appetite for live music venues and presented those bands as well as introducing upcoming groups such as Santana and Sly and the Family Stone.  

Bill Graham made the Fillmore a safe haven where kids could experience the music they wanted without getting busted.  As he wrote in a letter published in the Village Voice just before the Fillmore’s closing:  it was my sole intention to do nothing more, or less, than present the finest contemporary artists in this country, on the best stages and in the most pleasant halls.

The list of performers who played at the Fillmore East is a “Who’s Who” of rock and roll greats. A very partial list includes: the Grateful Dead (39 shows over 28 dates); Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies; John Lennon and Yoko Ono who performed with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention; the Allman Brothers (whose double-album Live at the Fillmore East is ranked 49th among Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”); Jefferson Airplane; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Joe Cocker; Miles Davis; Derek and the Dominoes; The Chambers Brothers; Mountain; Ten Years After; and  Johnny Winter.

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

Joshua Light

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham
Joshua Light Show

An integral component of each performance, the Joshua Light Show provided a psychedelic art lighting backdrop behind bands. From the summer of 1970, Joe’s Lights, made up of former members of the Joshua Light Show, became the house light show, trading duties with The Pig Light Show until the venue’s closing.

By 1971 Graham had become disenchanted with the direction of the music promotion scene and closed both Fillmores. According to Graham: The time and energy that is required for me to maintain a level of proficiency in my own work has grown so great that I have simply deprived myself of a private life. At this point I feel that I can no longer refuse myself the time, the leisure, and the privacy to which any man is rightfully entitled.  (full text of Graham’s letter)

The Fillmore East closed on June 27, 1971; 1206 nights after it opened. (NYT article)

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham

Final marquee

Bill Graham died in a helicopter crash on  October 25, 1991. (NYT article)

Wolodia Wolfgang Grajonca Bill Graham