Little Bits of History

June 27

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 27, 2017

1971: Fillmore East closes. Wulf Wolodia Grajonca was born in 1931 in Berlin, Germany. The family had emigrated from Russia before the rise of the Nazis and Wulf’s father died two days after his only son’s birth. Because of rising animosity toward Jews in Germany, his mother put him and one sister into an orphanage. They were able to get to France in an exchange of Christian children for Jewish children. France fell to Germany but Wulf was able to be snuck out of France and was brought to America. He was one of the One Thousand Children – mostly Jewish children who were able to escape Hitler’s European Holocaust. Wulf’s mother died at Auschwitz but four of his sisters survived. His youngest sister died during the trip to flee France and never reached the US.

Wulf was placed in a foster home in the Bronx and changed his name to Bill Graham, lost his German accent, and tried to assimilate against taunts of being a Nazi because of his German accent. He graduated from City College as an “efficiency expert”. He was drafted into the US Army and served in the Korean War, winning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. After discharge, he went to work in the Catskill Mountain resorts during their heyday. Here he learned the skills needed for his life’s career, that of rock star promoter. He left New York and moved to San Francisco and organized his first concert, a benefit to help another artist who had been arrested on obscenity charges. He was on his way to promoting ever bigger names and opening venues in which to host concerts.

He opened his venue in the west, but eventually moved back “home” to New York City. A theater at 105 Second Avenue was originally built as a Yiddish theater in 1925. It went through several iterations in the next half century. Graham took it over in 1967 when the building was in disrepair with a small marquee and façade hiding the seating capacity of nearly  2,700. He named it Fillmore East, a compliment to his existing Fillmore in San Francisco. It opened on March 8, 1968 and was quickly a hot spot, called The Church of Rock and Roll. He often had two show, triple bill concerts several nights a week with acts alternating between the two coasts.

Because the acoustics were excellent, many top acts used Fillmore East to record live albums. The Allman Brothers recorded three albums as did Miles Davis and the Jefferson Airplane, while the Grateful Dead recorded four. Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon and Yoko Ono each recorded live there once along with a host of other bands. The music industry was changing and there was large growth in the concert industry so Graham closed his East venue on this day with a stellar performance by several big names. He was one of the biggest rock promoters in the business and died in a helicopter crash, returning from a Huey Lewis and the News concert in 1991 at the age of 60. His legacy continues at part of Live Nation, run by former employees and his sons.

Rock and roll is here to stay. – Neil Young

You see, rock and roll isn’t a career or hobby – it’s a life force. It’s something very essential. – The Edge

Music, Rock and Roll music especially, is such a generational thing. Each generation must have their own music, I had my own in my generation, you have yours, everyone I know has their own generation. – Ronnie James Dio

The ’60s are gone, dope will never be as cheap, sex never as free, and the rock and roll never as great. – Abbie Hoffman

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