In the early 1970s when Alembic was transitioning from being a PA rental company and doing live recordings, then having a recording studio into being an instrument and electronics manufacturing company, I realized that I could very easily get into sound checks at Winterland to show instruments to bands whom I thought would be interested. My strategy was simple: just walk into the back stage area carrying one or two guitar or bass cases. I instantly looked like I belonged there, and with my years of experience in doing sound, being around musicians, and being a roadie, I knew how to stay out of the way and how to identify the guitar techs, the tour manager, and the sound guys. I would pick out the guitar techs, and at an appropriate moment, say, “Hey, I have an instrument that I think your guys might like to see.” Usually that was it; that was my “in”. One unofficial duty of guitar techs is to spot interesting stuff on the road and bring it to the attention of their bosses. And generally I would be invited to stay, be given a backstage pass, etc.
But, I also knew that if Bill Graham ever figured out that I was hustling instruments in his venue, on his stage, I would get permanently banned from any BGP venue. So I stayed pretty under the radar. I knew that Bill had seen me working shows as part of Alembic’s sound and recording crew so there was a slight familiarity, and I probably registered as part of the virtual woodwork; he’d also seen my face at shows to which I’d been invited by clients; but I also knew that I was on thin ice being there and doing what I was doing.
In 1974, George Harrison’s bassist Willie Weeks invited me to the show at the Cow Palace, and I had full back stage access and all that. I was back talking to David Crosby and maybe Graham Nash, both of whom I’d done extensive guitar for, and Graham spotted me, came over and said, “Who the fuck are you? Get out!” David immediately said, “He’s with us…” End of problem.
Years later I was at Bill’s house in Mill Valley at a party attending with my friend, Mimi Farina. Bill looked at me, looked again, and said, “I know you, don’t I?”…I just said, “I’ve been around the music biz here for a long time, and yeah, you’ve seen my face.” After that he couldn’t have been nicer.
One thought on “Bill & Me…”
Good story Rick.