Give the people what they want

imgres-3It was 1966.  In San Francisco, there was an event called the Trips Festival, where the burgeoning hippie movement conducted informal “acid tests” (LSD) while area bands played in a haphazard, rather chaotic setting.  Jerry Garcia, guitarist and spiritual leader of The Grateful Dead, remembers his first encounter that day with “this guy running around with a clipboard, trying to impose order in the midst of total insanity.”

The band was due to perform, but when Garcia reached the stage, he found his guitar had been knocked over and irreparably damaged.  “I’m holding it like a baby, cradling it,” he said, “and I look up at this guy with the clipboard, who says, ‘Are you The Grateful Dead?  You’re supposed to be playing now.’  I say, ‘It broke.  It’s broken, you dig?’  And immediately, without saying a word, this guy drops to his knees and starts picking up the pieces, trying to fix it for me.  Everybody’s stoned, nobody really cared whether I played or not, but here’s this guy who doesn’t know anything about guitars, and he’s trying to fix mine for me.  It was the most touching thing I’d ever seen.  No matter how much he screams or what kind of tantrums he throws, with me, he’s never been able to shake that first impression of ‘Here is this helpful stranger.'”

That man, of course, was the late great Bill Graham, the legendary impresario/promoter who blazed trails and pioneered the rock and roll concert as we know it.  He was a curious character with a keen business sense and a mercurial temper and, under it all, a heart of gold and a passionate desire to keep artists and audiences happy.

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I just want a hit record, yeah

imgres-4I was recently listening to a CD mix I put together several years ago.  It’s comprised of songs by bands that never quite hit the big time but, in my opinion, deserved to be bigger than they were.  And it got me thinking.  Why do some truly talented singers/musicians/songwriters never achieve the success they struggled so hard for? What prevented them from earning the attention, critical praise and/or chart success that other artists did?

From rock and roll’s beginnings to the present day, there are hundreds of examples of artists who never achieved the fame and fortune many people think they should have. (There are also scores of examples of groups who inexplicably garnered attention and Top Five albums/singles that were wholly unwarranted, but that’s another essay for another day.)

Like many discussions of rock music, this is a very subjective area.  If I were to say, for example, that Humble Pie wasn’t as big as they should have been, there are those who might say, “Humble Pie?!  They sucked!”  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and so forth. But we all have our favorite under-the-radar artists who we believe should have made it big.  “I LOVE this band, why doesn’t everybody else??”

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