Album Cover Hall of Fame Exhibition Tour – Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution (July 16 thru November 12, 2017 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, IL)
By Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
Now that I live in a city that has a long history of design innovation, it’s a challenge not to be pulled in a million different directions when I hear about exhibitions being staged at the various venues found here. To manage that, I have several alerts set that inform me of anything album art-related that might be on display, but I have to admit that I came to learn about the local staging of a travelling show that’s been drawing crowds for the past two years a bit late (i.e., just a few days before its launch) and it was only due to the attentiveness of the venue’s media person that I was able to learn more and then tour the show right after its launch late last month. People before computers, I always say…
While I’ve been telling you about this show as it has made its way from its launch (in May, 2015 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles) and its stops along the way in San Francisco, Philadelphia (see my May, 2015 and October, 2016 News Summaries), my reporting was all second-hand. Each time I read a press release on what was going to be on display during the shows, I became more despondent not being able to attend myself because, as some of you know, I have a great love and admiration of the eye-popping psychedelic artwork of that era (the interviews I’ve done with a number of the purveyors of that art – John Van Hamersveld, Lee Conklin, Karl Ferris, Martin Sharp, Stanley Mouse and others – are some of my favorite memories). Of course, psychedelic artwork would not have had a chance to blossom without a great patron or two, and the work Bill Graham provided artists hired to create posters and such for his Fillmore and Winterland venues and, later, for the many concerts and festivals he produced, helped establish many of these talented people as “the best” in their craft in the eyes of the many millions of people who attended those events and who’d buy (or steal) their products. All of those aforementioned artists, plus many others – Wes Wilson, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, David Singer, David Byrd, Greg Irons and Graham’s wife and creative partner Bonnie MacLean – would go on to successful careers in design while influencing future generations of artists as well.
In addition to all the great design that grew out of Bill Graham productions, the coverage of these events served to launch the careers of the many photographers who either were hired to cover the events or were crafty enough to smuggle a camera into them (remember, you couldn’t easily hide your camera in your pocket in 1967). These shooters were on hand to catch the earliest glimpses of the huge array of musical talent that emerged at the time, with folks like Herb Greene, Elliott Landy, Jim Marshall, Ken Regan, Baron Wolman and others there to deliver the memorable images of Janis, Hendrix, The Dead, Santana, Jefferson Airplane and so many others that still move us 50 years later. With all of this trend-setting talent on display, along with a priceless cache of memorabilia from Graham’s personal collection and that of other collectors, the opportunity to tour this recently-opened (July 16th) show and share images of some of the things I’d see was truly one I couldn’t miss out on. The fact that the venue – the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, IL – was only 10 minutes from where I now live made it impossible to stay away…
As I was a comparative religion major in college and had been raised in a Jewish household, I’d been exposed to a lot of information about the Holocaust over the years and, during that time, I’ve visited several of the museums and memorials dedicated to the topic (in Washington, DC, New York City and Portland, OR). In fact, I also co-authored a paper while in college that sought to prove the contention that there was an active effort in the secular press in the US in WWII to avoid reporting on what was transpiring in Europe (Hitler’s “ultimate solution”), so I bring some serious knowledge and emotional baggage to any visit to these institutions. While this was not the primary reason for my visit to this museum, I was happy when my escort to the exhibition – Amanda Berrios, the Associate Manager of Communications – treated me to a somewhat-fast-paced tour through the whole of the museum prior to dropping me off at the special exhibition area dedicated to the Bill Graham show. While the treatment of the subject material was quite moving, with visitors beginning their tour on the “dark side” of the museum and learning about life under Nazi rule before, during and after the war, we all end up on the “light side” of the building, learning how survivors bravely went on to re-start their lives all over the world, including here on Chicago’s North Shore, where a large contingent of Jews settled beginning in the mid-1950s and who went on to establish the many synagogues, schools and community centers now found here, as well as the foundation out of which the Illinois Holocaust Museum was organized and funded.
Bill Graham came to the U.S. in 1942 as Wulf Wolodia Grajonca, an 11-year-old German refugee who fled the Nazis, and it was this experience that sparked his internal passions for social justice and doing good for others. Raised by a foster family in the Bronx, New York and earning a degree in business from City College there, Graham then served in the military during the Korean War, after which he returned to work at various jobs in the NY area before moving in the early 1960s to San Francisco. After attending a concert there, he was introduced to a local radical mime troupe and, after befriending them, went on to organize a fund-raiser to help them pay the legal expenses incurred fighting an obscenity charge. This would be the first of many such events he’d organize over the years, using rock music and the camaraderie of its fans to help promote fund-raising and awareness for many humanitarian causes.
Ultimately realizing that he’d need venues of his own in which to stage his events, Graham and his team took over the Fillmore Auditorium and, for the next several years, produced events that would introduce the world to the leading purveyors of rock music from all over the world. After opening a similar space in NYC (interestingly, a circa-1920s building that originally housed a Yiddish theater), closing both in the early 1970s and then re-opening a venue in San Francisco known as Winterland (as well as producing shows in many other venues), Graham’s production group – Bill Graham Presents – set its sights on staging bigger events at race tracks and outdoor stadiums and, in 1975, produced what many consider to be the first large-scale fund-raising concert, “San Francisco Snack”, enlisting many of his better-known friends (Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Santana, the Doobie Brothers and a host of celebrities from the big screen and television) to help raise money for Bay-Area after-school programs after those programs had been defunded. Going forward, millions of dollars and consciences were raised via the huge audiences that both attended events such as the US Festival (1982), Live Aid (1985), A Conspiracy of Hope (1986) and Human RIghts Now! in 1988. Also, in a move that would ultimately serve to allow musical acts to add revenues from merchandising to their bottom lines, Graham launched a merchandising company called Winterland Productions that produced band-branded t-shirts, with the acts receiving a cut from the sales of those products.
Not all of his efforts were met with universal support, as evidenced in the 1985 fire-bombing of Graham’s offices in San Francisco, done while Graham was in Europe organizing Live Aid by people who were more than upset by the full-page ads Bill ran in major papers inviting people to protest against then-President Reagan’s trip to a German cemetery in Bitburg where a number of prominent Waffen SS troops were buried (Bitburg’s main synagogue was destroyed during the infamous anti-Jewish mass-hysteria that took place there and in other German cities on November 9-10, 1938, known there forward as “Kristallnacht”). 15 rooms of memorabilia from Graham’s archives were destroyed and swastikas were spray-painted on the walls left standing after the blaze, with some of these melted and scorched artifacts included in this display.
There are many highlights in the 300+ items included in the display – memorabilia from the Fillmore, original artwork and sketches for posters and stage designs, costumes worn by and musical instruments played by many of the top acts that appeared during Graham-produced show, lots of concert and interview footage and, what I came there for, an eye-popping array of posters, photos and album covers by the best-known practitioners of the art at the time (there’s even a custom-designed Joshua Light Show display sure to “blow your mind”).
What follows are some of the pictures I took during my visit to the show, along with anecdotes for each (click the images to enlarge them):
Entrance to the show from the main downstairs lobby area
A selection of Fillmore posters by poster greats Wes Wilson and Randy Tuten, along with the one in the center by Lee Conklin.
Santana fans will immediately notice the trick-of-the-eye “Lion” image that would also be re-created to appear on the cover of the band’s debut record in 1969.
Top image – a 1967 Bob Seidemann photo of A.R.T. poster artists (L to R) Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson and Stanley Mouse. The impact on album graphics made by both the men in the photo and the man taking this picture is almost immeasurable, with each responsible for memorable works such as Aoxomoxoa, Terrapin Station and Workingman’s Dead for the Grateful Dead, Journey’s Captured and Evolution, Head Hunters for Herbie Hancock, Steve Miller’s Children Of The Future, Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Quicksilver Messenger Service, Live At The Fillmore 1968 for Santana, Blind Faith’s Blind Faith; Supertramp – Even In The Quietest Moments and Neil Young’s On The Beach, just to name a few. The image below of Rick Griffin working on his iconic “Flying Eye” image was taken in 1968 by photographer Gene Anthony.
Another example of team Mouse & Kelley’s work is seen on this poster promoting the last show at Graham’s Winterland venue on New Year’s Eve 1978, a concert that featured an extended set by the Grateful Dead after opening sets by the Blues Brothers and New Riders of the Purple Sage. The familiar rose motif is one Mouse & Kelley applied liberally on all the work they did for The Dead, with perhaps their best-known image being the “Skeleton & Roses” graphic they created for the band in 1966.
Graham concert regulars the Jefferson Airplane used this photo shot by Herb Greene on the cover of their hit 1967 record Surrealistic Pillow, the first record to feature new drummer Spencer Dryden and the vocal stylings of one Grace Slick. The record hit #3 on the album charts that year, powered by singles including “Somebody To Love” and Slick’s psychedelic tribute to Lewis Carroll, “White Rabbit”.
The Allman Brothers Band enjoyed a brief but impactful run at Graham’s Fillmore East venue in NYC, beginning with a series of highly-impressive shows in March of 1971 and ending just a few months later – in late June – with the band headlining the final show at the about-to-be-closed auditorium. This grouping includes two photos (top right and lower left) by Amalie Rothschild, the 1959 Gibson Les Paul that Duane Allman played at the Fillmore and the band photo by Jim Marshall (see close-up, below) that would go on to serve as the cover of one of the most-lauded live albums of all time – At Fillmore East – a double album which featured performances from the March ’71 series including “Statesboro Blues”, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and a 23-minute (all of Side 4) “Whipping Post”.
The front cover photo was shot by Marshall in the band’s home town of Macon, GA. After the road crew had lugged out all of the equipment cases, Marshall stenciled the record’s title on them and then arranged the band members in front. The back cover (not shown) was a similar scene, replacing the band with members of the road crew drinking beer. The band’s tour manager, Twigs Lyndon, was not available for the shoot as he was sitting in jail at the time waiting for his trial for murdering a tour promoter who hadn’t paid the band, so Marshall taped a photo of him to a wall instead.
Within a few months of this photo, Duane Allman was dead from injuries he suffered in a motorcycle crash.
(for an in-depth interview done in 2016 by Corbin Reiff for Rolling Stone Magazine about the band’s relationship to Graham and his organization, click on over to http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/allman-brothers-bands-legendary-1971-fillmore-east-run-an-oral-history-20160311)
One pleasant surprise during my visit was finding this photo of folk-rocker Donovan on which he inscribed a personal message in 1967 to Mr. Graham – “Bill, you are by far, the friendliest most considerate promoter I have had the pleasure to work with.” The photo is the one that was featured on the singer-songwriter’s 1967 double album A Gift From A Flower To A Garden and was taken by photographer Karl Ferris, also known for his stunning images for the first few Jimi Hendrix Experience LPs. The picture was taken using infrared film standing near the moat of 14th Century Bodiam Castle in East Sussex, England.
Another surprise was coming across this display that featured the belted costume that Peter Frampton wore in the late Richard E. Aaron’s historic cover photo for one of the best-selling records of all time, Frampton Comes Alive!, released in 1976. Interestingly, the costume was worn during a 1974 performance at NYC’s Madison Square Garden – you can read my 2007 interview about the photo with Mr. Aaron in my archives at http://rockpopgallery.typepad.com/rockpop_gallery_news/2007/04/cover_story_fra.html to get the whole story.
One act that was a staple on Bill Graham-produced concert events for many years was the Rolling Stones, who’d been featured in shows including several at the Oakland Coliseum in 1969 (during which Graham came to blows with the band’s stage manager), at Graham’s Winterland in 1972 and a spectacular U.S. concert series in 1981 that was filmed by Hal Ashby (Let’s Spend The Night Together). In the image above, you’ll spot an image of Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger done by pop artist Andy Warhol, someone who also enjoyed a long-lasting relationship with the band, having met them during their first U.S. tour in 1964 and who’d go on to do covers for them including the controversial (and very cool) cover for 1971’s Sticky Fingers and 1977’s Love You Live, which features art Warhol created in 1975 during the band’s U.S. tour that year. This particular image is one from a series of 10 portraits Warhol did in 1975 (more of which you can see in the band’s Exhibitionism tour, which I’ll report on soon in another article).
This photo of a framed section of a t-shirt bearing the logo for 1985’s Live Aid shows (signed in 1986 by a parade of BGP staffers) is included as it provides a great example of how affecting great design can be in delivering an organization’s message. Creating a logo that ties a rock music-related image (an electric guitar) with the outline of Africa (where the proceeds from the concerts and donations – $45 million that year and over $200 million since – would go) made the non-profit’s reason for being quite clear. Artist Steve Maher was commissioned to create the “Global Jukebox” promo artwork, while the artist best-known for the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album – Sir Peter Blake – would go on to produce the memorable cover art for the subsequent CD/DVD releases.
While I do hope that everyone in the immediate area takes the trip to see this show during its run here (now through November 12th) and/or to take advantage of one of the several special events scheduled in conjunction with the show (including two of particular interest to art/photo fans – Baron Wolman’s presentation and book-signing event titled “The Rolling Stone Years” on August 17th and local rock poster phenom Jay Ryan’s hands-on silkscreen poster workshop on September 24th), if you can’t make it, I’d invite you to visit the museum’s web feature on the show, which includes a video shot featuring Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins and Chicago-based producers Anry Granat and Jerry Michelson and more details of this special exhibition and the programs produced around it –
Although Graham died in a tragic accident in 1991, the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation (founded in 2008) continues to raise money and to fund music, arts, education and social programs in New York and California, with more information available on this charitable organization’s work at http://www.billgrahamfoundation.org/index.html
Once again, I’d like to thank Amanda and the staff at the museum for hosting me during my visit. I’m eager to come back and see their newest effort – called the “Take A Stand Center” and which uses advanced technologies to educate and encourage visitors to learn more about The Holocaust and other indignities and then provides guidance and materials to enable themselves to become active and vocal about the issues that most-effect them today and in to the future – after it opens in late October.
Except otherwise noted, all text Copyright 2017 Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com – All rights reserved. All exhibition-related photos used to illustrate this article were taken by Mike Goldstein and are used with the permission of the Illinois Holocaust Museum.