He was a man way ahead of his time. A visionary. Tough and difficult but compassionate, always demanding but often generous, he was the ultimate master of melding performance with audience, and created the penultimate concert experience for both band and concertgoer most notably centered around his legendary  concert venues on both coasts including the Fillmore East and West, and the one and only Winterland.

And…he shared his name with Mozart.

Bill Graham, who died in a 1991 helicopter crash at the age of 60 after, poetically, leaving a rock concert, was born Wolfgang Grajonca in 1931. He escaped Nazi Germany in Berlin and changed his name after moving to the Bronx to live with a foster family. He moved from New York to San Francisco in the 1960’s, and it was then and there that he began his incredible unparalleled career as a maverick concert promoter. Today, he is regarded as the greatest of all time, and a phenomenal website appropriately called Wolfgang’s Vault (www.wolfgangsvault.com) dedicated to his legacy is a place that once you visit it, you will return time and time again. The owners of the site purchased the many treasures of Bill Graham Presents, Graham’s company, and they are truly delicious fruits of his legacy, voluminously presented on this site. And not only are there priceless rock and roll treasures available for purchase, items like photographs, backstage passes, ticket stubs and phenomenal posters and artwork that reflect his vision and scope and that of the artists that played at his shows….

…but the site also holds a treasure trove of world class concerts he promoted and had recorded that you can call up easily and listen to, enabling you to fall back in time and hear some of the greatest performances in rock and roll history. This element of the site is not without controversy: several bands including Led Zeppelin have tried to stop the posting of their concerts here, citing copyright infringement, all with varied success. But for now, concerts from most of rock’s true legends remain available for your listening pleasure, most in crystal clear quality.

I had my own very cool Bill Graham-related experience about 15 years ago when thanks to an old friend, I was lucky enough to attend the launch party for Robert Greenfield’s amazing book, “Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out” at a downtown New York City bookstore. Standing in the store sipping a Heineken (yeah they actually had hors d’ouevres and bottled beer & wine in the store for the party), I began to see a parade of rock and roll related celebs waft in through the door, including Woodstock co-promoter Michael Lang, Allman Brothers/session keyboardist Chuck Leavell, Graham confidant/friend-to-many-rockers Jerry Pompili, and many others. But the one who blew me away the most sauntered in carrying a glass mug of dark beer. “Just where did he get a glass mug of dark beer to walk in with? Only bottles are being offered at the party”, I thought to myself. Well it is HIM, after all. I recognized him right away, and slowly raised my camera to take his picture, just as he was taking a sip of his beer…

Rolling Stones (and former Faces) guitarist Ron Wood noticed me take his picture, slowly lowered his glass, and gave me a little smirk. I immediately walked over to him, introduced myself, gushed a little, and asked for his autograph. He was very amicable despite the photographic invasion, and simply signed, “Ron Wood, Stones.” It was a huge moment for this major rock and roll fan.

I ended up at a restaurant later that night dining at the same table with author Robert Greenfield and others, drinking a bit too much vodka on the rocks, eating a great NYC bistro dinner, and hearing all the incredible stories of how he got so many legendary rock music luminaries to contribute to the book, which is all told in first person accounts, including Graham’s, who worked closely with Greenfield on the book right up to his tragic death. Graham’s personal accounts end jarringly after the crash, and I remember actually missing him when he suddenly ‘dissapeared’ from the book.

“It wasn’t hard getting all those incredible people to contribute,” I remember Greenfield saying at dinner. “After all, it WAS Bill Graham.”  The lighters are up for you, Wolfgang.



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