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Rockin’ the Fillmore: Part Two (1969–71)

Thursday September 22, 2022. 08:18 PM , from Sweetwater inSync
Rockin’ the Fillmore: Part Two (1969–71)
After a promising first year, Bill Graham’s Fillmore East had already changed the music industry. With appearances there generating Big Apple buzz and FM airplay that spread rapidly across the country, artists and their management clamored for bookings at New York’s must-play rock venue. Breaking new talent and creating rock legends, the Fillmore East was primed to rocket to even greater heights in 1969 and establish itself as one of the world’s premier concert halls for contemporary music.


B.B. King and Johnny Winter

1969 kicked off with an all-blues show headlined by the great B.B. King with Johnny Winter and Terry Reid, a 19-year-old British singer/guitarist, as supporting acts. This concert would be the Fillmore East debut for all three. For B.B. King, the January 10 and 11 gigs were vitally important. His new manager had started booking him in the types of venues where rock audiences would be exposed to his music. He would soon accompany the Rolling Stones on their ’69 American tour along with Terry Reid and the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. The strategy was shrewd: King’s successful career would stretch out decades into the future and earn him 15 Grammy Awards and a place of honor in the Blues Hall of Fame. But, first, he had to win over a tough New York crowd with his inimitable vocal style and guitar virtuosity. After his informal invitation to jam with Super Session a month earlier, Johnny Winter’s first official appearance wowed the Fillmore audience with his unique, high-energy brand of blues rock. He would play the Fillmore East on six more occasions — four of those as the headliner. Terry Reid would return in July, having moved up a notch to the second act.

B.B. King Performing Live(1972)

Buddy Rich and the Grass Roots

Buddy Rich took the stage on January 17 and 18 — this time as the headliner. Bill Graham was still experimenting with mixed genres for his Fillmore East shows. However, this bill would not include a hard-rock outfit like Steppenwolf. Opening for Rich was the Grass Roots, a soft-rock band whose first hit single, “Let’s Live For Today,” garnered heavy AM (and some FM) airplay during the Summer of Love and eventually sold over two million copies. Proving themselves as reliable hit makers, the Grass Roots would play several pop festivals in the fall and winter of ’68 as their single “Midnight Confessions” was peaking at number five on the Billboard Hot 100. Though still no heavy rock act, the Grass Roots had changed their sound. Featuring a slick, new contemporary sound characterized by a busy bass line, a Farfisa organ, and a horn section, “Midnight Confessions” would be their biggest charting hit. On the record, the band sang lead and backing vocals while the instruments were played by LA “Wrecking Crew” session musicians, including Carole Kaye on bass, Hal Blaine on drums, Don Randi on piano, and a brass section of three trumpets and three trombones. The third act on the bill was pop-rock group Spirit, who was riding on the coattails of their most commercially successful single, “I Got a Line on You.”

Blood, Sweat & Tears and Jethro Tull

Often considered one of the first hybrid “jazz-rock” groups, Blood, Sweat & Tears had a distinctive sound that was, essentially, blues- and soul-influenced pop rock with horns. Although structurally simpler (and less groundbreaking) than much of the jazz fusion that would come along in the ’70s, their music did incorporate extended jazz improvisation in the solo sections. English band Jethro Tull would play the Fillmore East a total of seven times — four in 1969. They would be second on the bill for their first three outings before graduating to the headliner for their December shows. Opening for BS&T on January 24 and 25, Tull would rock the Fillmore audience with their fat, full sound, perfectly mixed and blasted to the back of the balcony with shimmering clarity, courtesy of the Fillmore East’s then state-of-the-art sound system (and stacks of Marshall amps). Featuring the idiosyncratic vocal and flute stylings of front man Ian Anderson and the adroit Les Paul artistry of the band’s excellent new guitarist, Martin Barre, the thrilling performance would help build Jethro Tull’s reputation as a major progressive rock act. Tull would again open for BS&T on April 11.

Spudgun67, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Legacy of Bill Graham

As you may know, Bill Graham died tragically in a helicopter accident in 1991, but his legacy lives on. His company, Bill Graham Presents, was initially taken over by his sons before becoming absorbed into a larger media concern that eventually morphed into global entertainment giant Live Nation. In coordination with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and the city of Mountain View, California, Graham masterminded the concept for the Shoreline Amphitheatre, now the premier concert venue in Silicon Valley. In his post-Fillmore career, Graham became deeply involved in promoting benefit concerts. His uncompromising standards of excellence raised the bar for large-scale rock events like the 1985 Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! tours in 1988. Graham was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 (in the nonperformer category) and the Rock Radio Hall of Fame in 2014.

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