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Bill Graham Fillmore East

Bill Graham Fillmore East

March 8, 1968 > June 27, 1971

Bill Graham Fillmore East

3 Years, 3 Months, & 20 Nights of Musical Heaven

 Bill Graham’s Fillmore East was the counterpart to his San Francisco-based Fillmore venues. Located at Second Avenue and Sixth Street in New York City’s East Village, the Fillmore East began as the Commodore Theater in 1926. Immediately before becoming the Fillmore, it was known as the Village Theater.

Bill Graham Fillmore East

Wolodia “Wolfgang” Grajonca

Graham was born Wolodia “Wolfgang” Grajonca in Berlin, Germany on January 8, 1931.  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).

Bill Graham Fillmore East

San Francisco Mime Troupe

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 Fillmore East

Bill Graham Fillmore East

Fillmore East

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.

Complimenting FM radio stations 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 amongst 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.

Bill Graham Fillmore East

Joshua Light Show

Bill Graham Fillmore East

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.

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

Fillmore East

Bill Graham Fillmore East
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Church Bans Rock Music

Church Bans Rock Music

Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra, Pachuko Hop

Ban Rock and Roll

Church bans Rock music

Change in the weather

1950s teenagers, living in their increasingly industrialized world, learned that society had postponed adulthood. Education routinely extended beyond grammar school into high school and often to college.

20th century technology had already provided Americans young and old with the ability to do new things (like travel in a car), see new things (in the movies), and hear new things (listening to recordings). Sometimes they did all three at once.

Church bans Rock music

After World War II, the ever growing Boomer generation discovered and turned their radio dials to stations that played bebop and something called rock and roll. It had been called “race music” because rock and roll springs from the roots of the segregated Jim Crow culture of American Blacks. The music’s gut bucket emotion, honesty, and driving sound attracted many teenagers looking for something exciting to fill in those “tween” years. It also distinguished thems from their parents. That wish is as old as humanity.

As rock and roll became more popular, the Establishment found more reasons to try to slow or stop its spread.

Church bans Rock music

Cardinal Stritch

On March 3, 1957, Samuel Cardinal Stritch banned rock and roll from Chicago archdiocese Roman Catholic schools. He said, “Some new manners of dancing and a throwback to tribalism in recreation cannot be tolerated for Catholic youths. When our schools and centers stoop to such things as ‘rock and roll’ tribal rhythms, they are failing seriously in their duty. God grant that this word will have the effect of banning such things in Catholic recreation.”

Church bans Rock music

Church bans Rock music

Racist-based

Of course the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) view behind such bans was racism. The presumed inferiority and moral bankruptcy of Black Americans meant anything having to do with them was also inferior and immoral. Or dangerous.

On June 3 that same year, Santa Cruz, California city authorities announced a total ban on rock and roll at public gatherings, calling the music “Detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.

Why? The night before Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra had played. When Santa Cruz police entered the auditorium,  according to Lieutenant Richard Overton, there was a crowd “engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.”

Two weeks later in its June 18, 1956 issue, Time magazine reported on similar bans recently enacted in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in San Antonio, Texas, where the city council’s fear of “undesirable elements.

We can cynically explain how rock succeeded when faced by such bans (there are many other examples) by the fact that rock made money. More and more money. And while censorship of lyrics has relaxed, there are still complaints today when musicians perform music.

Church bans Rock music
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