“Get off the seat, schmuck! Yes, you. The schmuck I’m pointing at. Why would you stand on my seats? I don’t come to your house and stand on your mother. Get down or I’m gonna find out where you live and jump up and down on your mother’s chest like a gorilla, I swear to God. You stand on my seats? How DARE you! After all that Bill Graham does for the community, for the fans, for this rock and roll music that we all love so much, you stand on my seats?
“Better. Okay, we got some announcements before the J. Geils Band comes on. They’re just great, very high-energy, fantastic look, you’re gonna love ’em. Tee-shirts are available in the lobby. Next week we’ll be featuring Iron Butterfly, and maybe they’ll be better than last time. Nice guys, terrible band. Boom boom boom, who gives a shit? Music to take ‘ludes to. We put on the acts the kids want, so they’ll play here, but they’re just snooze time for me, y’know?
“Now, Chuck Berry? That’s the other end of the spectrum. Musically? The best, no peer, you can’t touch him. He’s Chuck Berry, y’know? Without him, you’re still playing jazz. In my opinion? The King. Forget Elvis, that pinky-dicked hillbilly. You got Little Richard, and you got Jerry Lee, but above all of them is Chuck. Top of the pyramid.
“And the biggest pain in the ass you’re ever gonna meet. We’ve presented him a number of times, starting back in ’67. I always asked the acts, ‘Who do you wanna see?’ and they always said the same thing. ‘Naked girls.’ And then I would say, ‘No, putz. Musically! Musically!’ And always the same answer: Chuck Berry. Fine, so I’m gonna book Chuck Berry.
“No manager. No agent, booking guy, whatever. You gotta call Chuck direct. I get his number.
“‘Chuck, this is Bill Graham. I’m a promoter in San Francisco blah blah blah.’ I give him the whole sales pitch and he says,
“I tell him $600. This is ’67. That’s good money for a show.
“I say ‘$700.’
“Nothing. Don’t even hear him breathing.
“I say ‘$800’ and Chuck says,
“I tell him the night, and he goes,
“‘I need a band, a Cadillac, and three white women.’ and hangs up the phone.
“Shit, I can do that. First, I need a band to back up the great Chuck Berry. I was gonna call the Dead, but they didn’t even know their own songs at that point, and I was pretty sure they would scare the shit out of Chuck. I booked them to open, anyway. Then, I called the Jefferson Airplane but I got in a screaming match with Paul Kantner and I told him to go fuck himself. I tried the Flaming Groovies, but they were booked that night.
“Finally, I called up Stevie Miller. He was always around, and he would work cheap. I gave him the whole shpiel, what an honor it was to back up Chuck, rock and roll legend, yadda yadda. Pretty little putz bought it hook, line, and sinker. Got a band for $20 and a couple cases of beer. They’re gonna learn all the songs, wonderful.
“Afternoon of the show, I send the white women to the airport in Chuck’s Cadillac. Couple hours go by. No Chuck. I call the airline. Plane landed, no problem. But no Chuck. I’m shvitzing here.
“‘Play longer,’ I tell the Dead. They were fine with that. Instead of playing the songs for twenty minutes, they played them for a half-hour. They’re real pros.
“Finally–finally!–here comes Chuck up Post Street in the Cadillac with the three white women, two of whom are dead.
“Chuck! Did you kill the white women?’ I yelled at him.
“Chuck gets out of the Cadillac, he’s carrying his guitar case. No luggage, nothing. Just him and his guitar and a Cadillac and three white women, two of whom are dead. Says nothing, just holds out his hand. I give him the check. Chuck looks at the check, back at me, at the check. Opens up his hand and the check drops to the ground. Gets back in the Cadillac, stares straight ahead. Says one word.
“It’s ten o’clock at night in a bad neighborhood in 1967. Where am I gonna get a thousand dollars from? I run back into Winterland. I gotta go by the stage, and Phil Lesh yells at me as I pass that they’re running out of material. I make a mental note to scream at him in Yiddish later, but first I gotta get a thousand bucks in cash.
“I got two hundred, something like that, so I shake down everyone who works for me. I give ’em IOU’s. Forty bucks from him, twelve dollars from her, whatever. It’s not enough! What am I gonna do? Fuck it: I go into the crowd and start looking for people I know.
“‘Hey, yourself,’ I tell ’em. ‘Gimme all your cash; I’ll pay you back.’
“Bill Graham invented crowdfunding!”
“It takes an hour, but I get the money. At this point, the Dead are completely out of material, and have been playing a 12-bar blues for 25 minutes. I go outside and Chuck is still sitting there in the Cadillac staring straight ahead. All of the white women are now dead. I count out the money into Chuck’s hand, every dollar. When I get to a thousand, Chuck lights up. Biggest shit-eating grin you’ve ever seen.
“‘Let’s do this, Bill,’ he says.
“We go inside, he doesn’t even say hi to the Stevie Miller Band, just tells them the key of the first song and boom right into it. The kids went nuts, y’know? Chuck Berry. That’s rock and roll right there, no matter the hassle. We disposed of the three dead white women and cleaned out the Cadillac, and next time Chuck played our venue, we made sure that there was cash on hand.
“Interesting post-script: the Dead dosed Chuck around a dozen times, and the cops found him naked on Embarcadero at dawn.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the J. Geils Band.”