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Opening night at the Fillmore was a big occasion. A lot of the industry heavyweights came out for the show such as Jac Holzman, head honcho at Elektra records. The place was packed to the rafters. The critics came out in force to see this new rock venue. The early show went off smoothly. As the first house left and the place was cleaned up for the late show, the military police turned up and arrested Albert King's drummer who was AWOL from the army. Kip Cohen, the house manager, later said the atmosphere that night was intense, with a unique and tremendous rapport between stage and audience. It started high and got higher.
Reviews were complimentary, talking as much about the quality of the venue as the music. This was a new development in rock n roll. A theatre show for what had previously been music only played in clubs and civic halls. Everyone knew it was the start of something new and big and Variety magazine raved at how this new place was going to upgrade New York's rock n roll scene. Joshua White's oil-based light show also attracted much praise from the East Coast critics, unfamiliar with this essentially west coast phenomenon that had grown out of the Trips Festivals at Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco, in '66.
It all boded well for the future. But this was 1968 and there was a whiff of revolution in the air. Despite the positive response on opening night, the venue ran at a loss for months with owner Bill Graham pumping in money from the Fillmore West to keep it going.
Despite a run of shows in April and May with headliners such as The Doors, The Who, Traffic, Jefferson Airplane and, on 20th May, Jimi Hendrix's first appearance, the Fillmore East was still haemorrhaging money and they found it difficult to book acts because of the long lead time required.
Then Martin Luther King was assassinated on 4th April. People stopped wanting to go out at night, especially not down to the racially mixed Village. There was a bad vibe everywhere as people feared conflict between whites and blacks. The Who were booked to play on the 5th April. Townshend discussed pulling the show with the Fillmore management. He was concerned by the violence in America, and fearing that his destruction of amps and guitars was somehow part of it or encouraging it. He vowed not to smash any more gear up but they went ahead with the shows and Pete, wrapped up in the music and torment of the times beat the living crap out of the amps and guitars anyway. The Who were to be one of the Fillmore's defining bands; their appearances becoming the stuff of legend. Indeed, they were one of Bill Graham's personal favourites, who loved the intelligence and power of Townshend's music.
Later Pete was to say how respected the band had always felt at the Fillmore, how it was pleasure to be treated like artists rather than fodder for the masses.
The summer of '68 came and went. By July the place was hardly even open, putting on just two shows featuring Jefferson Airplane as headliner, supported by excellent, if obscure psyche band H.P. Lovecraft. August featured just two shows by Big Brother - supported for the first time by future Fillmore favourites Ten Years After and two by Joan Baez.
But Bill wasn't easily put off once he had got into a project and with the Fillmore West in a new building and making money, he got the east coast operation through the bad times and by the fall business was picking up. He'd also started to introduce new performers and groups on Tuesdays nights. It was only $1.50 to get in. This was part of his policy of not filling a bill with what he called 'mashed potatoes - cheap support acts to pad out a show. By putting new bands on Tuesdays at low cost, he facilitated the development of new music while not compromising the bigger ticket shows. It was a typical mix of good business sense and altruism.
This being 1968, there were self styled anarchist and revolutionary collectives in the Village. One of whom was The Motherfuckers; a group of people who thought music should be free. They were actually Bill's tenants, living above the theatre. Ever the pragmatist, Bill handed the theatre over to them for free music nights. They responded by trashing the place and pissing on the floors. There was a prolonged stand off after a few months of this behaviour with Bill, not unreasonably saying, if we didn't make a profit on the other nights, you couldn't have your free nights. Eventually Wavy Gravy - the king of alternative living and a leading light of legendary Hog Farm collective persuaded the Motherfuckers to leave the Fillmore to the capitalists and move to New Mexico, as you do.
It was a typical battle of the times as the new business of rock n roll was being given birth to. Profit was a dirty word to the new revolutionaries but no-one had come up with a viable alternative. The lack of an ideal to follow that was in anyway practical or that could be delivered was to quickly lead to the disintegration of the political side of hippie/yippie culture from being of national or global ambition into a revolution of the politics of the personal as the 60s turned into the introspective 70s.
As 1968 moved to a close, the Fillmore was busy every weekend. What is so striking is the sheer variety of music; from rock and blues of Steppenwolf, Jeff Beck, John Mayall and Fleetwood Mac, to the folk of Scottish stoners, The Incredible String Band, through the psychedelics of Country Joe & The Fish and The Airplane, the soul of Sam & Dave and even the jazz of Duke Ellington, there really was something on for all tastes. Eclecticism was the zeitgeist of the times as the new music revolution burgeoned and grew exponentially.
Deep Purple Mark 1 made their first appearance in December supporting Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Purps had been riding high with Joe South's Hush, a top five single that summer and their first two albums - Shades Of Deep Purple reaching 24 in September and The Book Of Taliesyn making 54 in October.
The New Year was brought in by the funk and soul of The Chambers Brothers who had a hit single early in the year with the classic, Time Has Come Today.
As the final year of the 60s dawned, the Fillmore was established as the primo rock venue in New York and it was about to rise to its legendary status in the history of rock by virtue of a long string of shows by the great and the greater of rock music. The Who would debut Tommy and Bill would help put the Woodstock Festival on. Rock and roll was starting to be big business. But right at the moment when the Fillmore was at the centre of the rock revolution, Bill was already becoming disillusioned...and the seeds for the end of this golden era where already being sown as you can read about it Live At The Fillmore part 3