Do you remember the San Francisco concert promoter, Bill Graham? If you were anywhere near the Bay Area in the 60’s throughout 1991 you knew about Bill. Or if you were lucky like me, you knew Bill.
While I had seen him at plenty of rock music events in my teens and early twenties, I had the chance to interview Bill right after I started my music magazine, BAM. One of the questions I asked him was, “Why are you famous?” To me, that was an important question because none of the other concert promoters around the country used their own names as the name of their company… his was Bill Graham Presents. Plus, almost every night he would come on stage sometime during the show to talk to the audience about shows coming up. All of his colleagues would send up some young kid to read off the list of up-coming shows. Bill even had his own publicist on his payroll, Zohn Artman.
So it seemed like an appropriate question. And when I asked it, his eyes lit up! He said no one had ever asked him that before and immediately went into one of his stories. He started telling me about his early years working in hotels in the Catskill Mountains of New York while going to college. The guy he worked for was constantly getting in the local newspapers about one thing or another. Bill asked him why he did it. His boss explained that he made sure he was famous in his area of the Catskills. He told Bill that because he was famous deals would come to him that maybe no one else would get. He explained that the hotel they were in at that moment had been offered to him to buy without going out for competitive bids, because the person who wanted to sell it knew he would be able to buy it quickly.
He told Bill that the best thing he did was become famous. “You don’t need to be President of the United States, just famous around town.” And then, to Bill’s amazement, the hotel owner said to him, “Get Famous!” At that moment Bill wondered if he would ever need to.
Of course, once Bill moved to San Francisco and got involved in the budding music scene he started to make sure he got famous. And he did a good job of it! The culmination was when the Rolling Stones decided they were going to have only one promoter for their entire American tour. They chose Bill Graham over all the concert promoters in the country. When asked why they chose him their answer was, “Everybody knows Bill Graham.” He then went on to promote the Stones’ European Tour of 1982 which proves that being famous gets you the opportunity, but you still have to be really good to get the follow up business!
After he finished telling me about his reason for getting famous and his various other stories that were always facinating to listen to he pointed at me and said, “So now I’m telling you, Get Famous!”