Bill Graham, The Who, and The Grateful Dead

by Regis Boff

I saw this picture of Bill Graham posted by Lisa Seckler- Rhode this morning, and it grabbed a memory from that section of my mind that is usually only aroused by drugs.
We were doing a deal with him for The Who to play San Francisco sometime in the late 1970s. He was bawling that we were not paying him enough, a not unfamiliar theme.
It can be exposed now that concert promoters never got what they said they did on deals with the Who. Usually, we took most of the money in exchange for our permission to lie about it for face-saving.
Predictably Graham’s negotiating tactics relied chiefly on whining and screaming.
When doing deals with him in the old day’s Bill Curbishley, the Who’s manager would be on his suite’s phone, and I would be in the bathroom on an extension. No cell phones.
In Graham’s standard, and there are pictures, we put the phone on a coffee table between us and could still hear him screeching.
He was a formidable adversary. He controlled San Francisco. Few promoters had the courage to stand up to certain bands — the Who had become too big to lose.
That said, when I started with Genesis, he did me endless favors, which he did not have to do. He was infinitely and deeply kind.
The other variable was that the band (The Who) loved him, so we never really fucked him. No doubt, he did them many favors too early on.
The conversations about these shows actually went on and off for years, Always breaking down somewhere.
We had settled on the Cow Palace in San Francisco for two shows.
The contract between us was one of a kind. It was one sheet of paper because we could not agree on anything.
The shows represented at least 250,000 tickets( most likely far more, I can’t recall), to be sold at an agreed ticket price.
Our biggest apprehension was that The Grateful Dead wouldn’t leave the stage when the Who were set to begin. They sometimes just played and played, on and on.
The contract read, ( and I still have it somewhere), The Grateful Dead can commence their show anytime after dawn and must leave the stage at sunset.
The Who will guarantee The Dead X. 50% payable on return of contract. That was it.
These were fabulous shows— in the sun in a beautiful football stadium. Everybody had a backstage area, The Who, The Dead, the press, self-important assholes, various Indian tribes, and bicycle gangs. Nothing could have been more fun.
They indeed started very early and played all-day. Everybody was nice to each other.
They were a fabulous band. I seldom knew an individual song unless it was about trucks, cocaine, or Uncle John’s band.
In the greatest trick ever pulled by a rock promoter, without telling us, Graham raised the face ticket price ( which he printed) one dollar, hoping to keep the money.
When confronted, he replied nearly in tears,” But you were stealing from me” — again at the top of his lungs.
One of a kind. We took the money.