I Was A Teenage Hippy Poster Artist part 3
Once I had done an actual Fillmore poster my relationship with Bill Graham changed. It was like a graduation of sorts. My next job for him was not a poster but a button…a badge for the return to San Francisco of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I had only heard of the band from the posters Wes did for their previous appearances. Whenever Bill uttered the name “Butterfield” it was with a quiet reverence. An air of sanctity descended when he said the name.
When Bill Graham first began promoting shows at the Fillmore, which he had a lease on, he didn’t actually know much about the local rock scene so he made a partnership with Chet Helms and John Carpenter of the Family Dog to present shows on alternate weekends. Their first big show was Butterfield and The Quicksilver Messenger Service. Helms and Carpenter worked extremely hard promoting this and got Wes Wilson to design an excellent poster. The result was a packed Fillmore for the entire weekend.
After counting the mountain of money these three made from this show and dividing it up between them, Bill then got up early the next morning and phoned Albert Grossman in New York and secured all Butterfield dates in the bay area for the next two years for himself. When Chet and John learned what their partner had done they were furious, dissolved their partnership with Graham and went off to find the Avalon Ballroom where the Family Dog would put on shows to compete with the Fillmore.
I knew none of this recent history as I sat down in Bill’s little office to take the brief for designing this badge. It had to have a mountain of information on it as it was a total of six shows over two weekends: four nights at Winterland and two afternoons at the Fillmore. As well as Butterfield he booked the Airplane and legendary bluesman Muddy Waters.
The artwork didn’t take me long to complete and I brought it in to show Bill who approved it. We sent it off to have the badges produced on a yellow background. They arrived in a brown cardboard box on a Friday afternoon. Bill and I examined them and had to admit they looked pretty good. I guess there were about a thousand badges in the box. Suddenly Bill became pensive. “We must be careful who we give these to,” he said. So he picked a few folks who wore them at the gig and by the end of the evening people were asking him for them. They quickly became a hot collector’s item and were an adjunct to the poster which Wes Wilson did.
Though I was out working in an adult world, I was still really a kid. I lived at home with my parents in North Beach and spent my leisure time crashing at friends’ houses in Mill Valley where I smoked an awful lot of weed. The people I’d hang out with at the Fillmore were all older than me and living out in the adult world. Their jargon was hip and men referred to their female partners as “their old lady.”
Bill Graham rarely used any hip jargon. At this time he was not a participant in the hippy lifestyle. In fact he had a pretty severe moral code. He had actual contempt for the drug scene in the Haight and would often argue with San Francisco Chronicle jazz columnist Ralph J Gleason saying he should call it out in his column. In the column Gleason would marvel at the fact there was no alcohol at the Fillmore or Avalon but sidestepped the issue of drug use altogether. The Haight Ashbury district had by this time become a Mecca for runaway kids from all over the country and it wasn’t long before the Chronicle was reporting daily of yet another youthful death by overdose on Haight Street.
Bill seemed to steer clear of politics but on the subject of pornography he would start ranting. Anybody connected with porn would be described by Bill as a slimeball. There was also a guy named Owsley Stanley who had been written about in front page stories in the Chronicle as a prolific producer of LSD. It wasn’t until Bill pointed it out to me that the rather loud mouthed guy who hung out with the Grateful Dead was, in fact, Owsley himself.
One peculiar event Bill staged at the Fillmore was the play The Beard by Michael McClure. Wes did a poster for this and I went along to the sparsely attended event but found it to be a bit dull. The high point was the male actor performing oral sex on the female actor.
One person I was very impressed by when he and his band turned up for the gig I’d done the poster for was Frank Zappa. With long hair and an interestingly shaped beard he and all the Mothers looked like scary hippies but Frank spoke like someone who was totally straight. I went over to the motel he was staying at on Lombard to talk to him about possible record sleeve design. It came to nothing but I really liked him and bought their first album which was very funny indeed and musically interesting.
When the Butterfield dates arrived I didn’t go over to Winterland but did attend the gig on Sunday afternoon at the Fillmore. How I got talking to Mike Bloomfield I don’t remember but I did. I think, in hindsight, I was someone who would listen to him. Also in hindsight the other band members didn’t seem eager to engage him in conversation. Mike was a motor mouth but was far from dull. One topic I do recall him telling me all about was William Gaines the legendary publisher of MAD Magazine and how he spent so much time eating in expensive restaurants. Mike clearly knew Gaines which impressed me greatly. My memory is that we began our conversation down in the foyer and then moved up into the band room where he pulled out a joint and lit it. I knew this guy was the lead guitarist with Butterfield but not that he had played lead on Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and been part of the band at the famous Newport Folk Festival where Dylan went electric. Had I known these facts I would have been full of questions for him. But as I said he was not dull and sharing a joint or two with him up in the band room was good fun. While I was taking a toke, Bill Graham appeared, doing his rounds. His eyes landed squarely on the joint in my hand. He then looked me in the eye and walked off. Had I been sharing a joint with anyone other than Mike Bloomfield I suspect that Bill would have fired me on the spot. But maybe I’m wrong about that. I do remember one morning when he told Bonnie and I that Jim Haynie had been busted and I believe he went down to the police station to help him out.
One contact that Bill made in LA was with Shelly Davis at the Whiskey A Go Go and I remember hearing him talking me up to her on the phone saying what a good poster artist I was. Such talk got me a job. They were featuring the Hollywood group Love for nine days. I had seen them at the Fillmore and been very impressed. They had a hit single with Little Red Book and I remember Alvin Lee coming out on the stage wearing these tiny little dark glasses and just staring around at the light show like he was in a state of intoxication. Whether this was him being loaded or just show business I didn’t know but when the band was ready he extended a tambourine high above his head and started banging out the rhythm to their hit song and it was a highly effective way of kicking off their set. One thing I liked about Love was their logo which had a kind of cartoon lettering and the letter O had a male and female symbol extending from it. Their support band down in LA was The Sons of Adam but they also had one night with a band I hadn’t heard of, Buffalo Springfield. I mistakenly wrote an ’S’ on the end of their name.
I decided to draw a logo for the club featuring Carrie Nation, whose long campaign against alcohol had helped bring on prohibition in the United States. However I needed a photo of her. Bill was friends with John Wasserman on the San Francisco Chronicle and phoned him up, arranging for me to go see him.
I had met Wasserman a few times when I was younger over in Mill Valley but when I visited him at the Chronicle he didn’t remember me. He did however comment that after talking to me on the phone he was expecting someone older. The photo was exactly what I wanted. Carrie Nation carrying her hatchet. Apparently she would turn up at bars and start smashing bottles. My idea was very derivative of Wes’s logo for The Family Dog and I don’t believe the Whiskey ever used it again but on the poster it had the desired impact.
Wes’s heavy schedule provided me with yet another poster for Bill. He booked British band The Yardbirds who had a few top 40 hits for one Sunday afternoon at the Fillmore. Again there was a photo of the band and I worked through the night, starting about eight. I walked up to the Chinese grocery at the top of Russian Hill and bought myself a pack of cigarettes and a Cadbury’s chocolate bar and with KFRC in the background I crafted my poster art at the kitchen table in my parents’ flat. As the sun came up I was pleased with the results and took the art work to the printer.
At the actual Yardbirds gig on the Sunday afternoon something happened which Bill enjoyed telling the story about and I must have heard it at least a few times. The support band that day was Country Joe and the Fish who were very popular with their anti-war song Fixin’ To Die Rag. The English road manager for The Yardbirds approached Bill and said: “Jeff is tired. He doesn’t want to play yet.” The ‘Jeff’ he was talking about was lead guitarist Jeff Beck. Bill said that was fine and put Country Joe on. During their set the roadie came up to him again saying: “Jeff wants to play now.” Bill explained that The Fish were only half way through their set. “Yes,” said the roadie. “But Jeff wants to play now.” Bill said nothing more and marched off to the band room upstairs. He went to each long haired man in the room saying: “Are you Jeff Beck?” “Are you Jeff Beck?” Finally he arrived at the person who answered yes and Bill put him up against the wall and explained very forcefully that he would play his sets when he, Bill Graham, told him to. Apparently no further problems were had.
In total I only did four of the Fillmore posters unlike Wes and later Bonnie MacLean who did most of them. However these posters still sell to this day but sadly I earn nothing from them. It was sadder still for poor Wes and Bonnie as Bill, at some point in the late 1960s took over the copyright on them. I remember John Goddard who ran Village Music in Mill Valley telling me in 1979 that the posters “sell much more than you would think.”
But that is another story.
I must thank a few people in researching this piece: The late Wes Wilson, the late Bonnie MacLean and Natalie Snoyman of the Mill Valley Library. Two books have also been helpful: Rage & Roll – Bill Graham and the Selling of Rock by John Glatt and Bill Graham Presents by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield.
For those researching Mill Valley history you can contact Natalie Snoyman: firstname.lastname@example.org