Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out

Book Review

Neil Young News

Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out

by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield

Doubleday. 568 pp. 1992


In remembering Bill Graham, the pioneer of rock promotion, Neil Young said, "He always made all of us look good." As the leading impresario of rock from its earliest days in San Francisco, Bill Graham worked with a virtual Who's Who of rock-n-roll: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Band, the Grateful Dead, and many others.

While Robert Greenfield's new biography certainly tells the fascinating story of rock's evolution from a true insider's perspective, it is much more. Author Greenfield has interviewed hundreds of performers and friends for this account. The reader is taken from Graham's childhood as a Jewish orphan, his escape from Nazi Germany on the eve of World War I, to becoming a success in the U.S., and up until his tragic death in 1991.

Bill Graham once called CSN&Y "America's Beatles". As the consummate showman, Graham was constantly hyping both the press and fans, and his efforts to elevate CSN&Y to a mythical status was somewhat characteristic. But Graham's allegiance was always with the ticket buying fan and ensuring that they received their money's worth. Graham's insistence on the best lighting and sound systems and security are almost legendary in the business.

It was Bill Graham who organized what was rock's first massive stadium tour with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in 1974. What are now routine shows for today's stars were logistical nightmares in the early days of rock. Anyone who attended CSNY's stadium shows in '74 can attest to the challenges faced by fans and performers. Many insiders are brought in to reminisce, including Neil's manager Elliot Roberts, who provides some interesting logistical details on CSNY's historic stadium tour. Not withstanding Graham's attention to detail and having attended one of the tour's outdoor shows in Norfolk, Virginia, on a hot and humid August day, I recall an awesome sound system while some of the basics such as water, food and restrooms being woefully inadequate.

Neil Young fans will find the book of interest, particularly when Graham recounts the backstage maneuvering and squabbles of the first CSNY shows at the Fillmore East in New York City in the early 70's. There are many great stories throughout the book, including the night Graham slipped hundred dollar bills under CSNY's dressing room door in hopes of persuading the exhausted quartet to play one more encore. Having already completed three encores, Neil wanted to take the money and throw it out into the still cheering audience. Graham Nash remembers dissuading Neil by telling him, "This is New York! People will get killed!" So they played a fourth encore.

Not all of the backstage stories are as amusing. Led Zeppelin emerges from the book as one of the groups whose power and wealth caused vast destruction both within the group, as well as among those unfortunate enough to be backstage when the group's entourage went on a rampage.

In Bill Graham Presents:, the egos of CSN&Y are revealed in an almost hilarious - but revealing - account on how a Persian rug should be properly placed onstage prior to a concert. There is also an interesting recount of the bickering between Crosby, Stills, and Nash over which order they would play. Since no one wanted to play after Neil Young, Neil always ended up coming out last during the CSNY shows.

Bill Graham was involved - either directly or indirectly - in just about every major event in rock: Woodstock, Altamont, the Band's Last Waltz concert, Live AID, and the Amnesty International tour. After Graham died in a helicopter crash on the way home after a Huey Lewis and the News show, there was really only one way to pay tribute to the man who invented rock promoting: a giant benefit concert.

Nearly 500,000 fans came to pay their respects to Bill Graham at the memorial concert held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The concert featured many of the acts Graham had promoted and nourished over the years including Jackson Browne, Santana, CSNY, the Grateful Dead and many others. In the end, it was the song which Neil Young dedicated to Bill Graham that day that said it best for so many - "Long May You Run."

by Thrasher

December 2, 1992

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