Getting a Job isn’t easy in this Business
Coming of age in the 1960s, I could only dream of being part of the big music scenes that were happening in places like New York City and especially San Francisco. It was a new era of music, with brand-new acts all around, blowing people’s minds.
I’d watched the Beatles and other groups play on the Ed Sullivan Show. In addition to listening to the radio all day, every day, my brother and I would read all the music magazines, like Circus, 16 Magazine, and later, Creem, Crawdaddy, TeenSet, Melody Maker from England, and Rolling Stone. The music and cultural revolution in San Francisco and London made its way to us out in the Midwest by way of magazines like these, and we read them whenever we could get our hands on them.
The newest albums and concerts only became more important to me as I got older and they started consuming more and more of my life. The Chicago concert scene really bit into me during my high school years. I made friends with a guy named Greg Nelson who worked at the Flip Side, the local record store on Foster Avenue. Greg liked me and would help get me the good concert tickets we all needed so badly, starting with an English band we both loved called King Crimson. Their album art was almost as good as their record!
By the time I graduated from Maine East High School in 1972, I was ready to kiss Chicago good-bye and make the big move to the Bay Area. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother, Santana—these artists had energized music and influenced attitudes, and the world was changing around them. I needed to go there, even if I was a little late. In retrospect, they were really just starting out!
These artists captivated me with their music, but I was also intrigued by the people behind the scenes. One name in particular kept coming up: Bill Graham. You’d read about this impresario again and again in magazine articles and hear about him on the radio. Before I was able to get to San Francisco, he had opened and closed the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West, two famous concert halls that had entertained music lovers from New York City and San Francisco, respectively, from 1968 to 1971. Those venues were as instrumental in breaking new bands as was the Ed Sullivan Show or any radio station. He became the best-known music promoter ever, a living legend. Even though he didn’t sing or play guitar, he was connected to everything in the music world. He was—the music man.
I had to get in with him—get to know him, work with him.
This was a man who was in on the ground floor, who would break new bands onto the national stage simply by inviting them to play at his venues. If San Francisco was the music city, Bill Graham was its spiritual mayor. Every trail led back to him and his hand- picked staff of music freaks, who enabled him to be free to do what he did as he could not have done it without them. They are the heroes who made it all possible with Bill’s direction and power: Mick Brigden, Dave Furano, Arnie Pustilnik, Danny Scher, Jerry Pompili, Rita Gentry, Annuska Nemeth, Bonnie Simmons, Peter Barsotti, Gregg Perloff, Sherry Wasserman, Kevin Chisholm, Willie John Cashman, Geof Wills, Brian Auger and Michael Bailey were-and still are-wonderful to me, Bob Barsotti was always my main guy, and I have enjoyed a lifelong professional and personal friendship with him and his wife, Suzy.
Jimmy did a bike trip to California with some buddies in ’69, right at the time when Easy Rider came out. Little did I know, I would become best friends with Dennis Hopper some years later, the director, star and inspiration for the 60s counter culture, as Billy, in the iconic movie. When they got back from their trip, they were different. I had to go to the City by the Bay. It was calling. And I really hated Chicago’s brutal winters.
My parents thought my plan to move to the Bay Area was a pipe dream, but I was out to prove them wrong. This was where I wanted to be—needed to be—and nothing was going to keep me from doing it. Sure, I’d been talking about the move for years, but they didn’t think I’d follow through. But I did.
I moved to Berkeley in 1972 with my friends Alan Lake and Jeff “Moge” Cohn, right out of high school at the age of seventeen. Alan and I are still best friends to this day, bound by our love for food, music, and girls—not necessarily in that order. Sadly, Moge moved on to the other side. I know he is there, patiently waiting! My new high school friends that I met in 1968 like Larry Kopald, Stephen Sayadian, Michael Kretske, the Cohn brothers (Otis and Moge), Elliott Marx, and Pat Leonard shared their affection for the best things in life, including the great hot dog from Paul’s Umbrella at Touhy and California, famous for a chunk of provolone added to the presentation with relish, mustard, onions and celery salt on a steamed bun, chased with a Kayo chocolate drink. They have long ago now closed, sadly, along with Henry’s the competition for many years when McDonald’s first came around. Then there was Al’s Italian Beef and Superdawg, don’t get me started. For dessert a White Castle! To this day, I don’t feel like I have visited Chicago properly if I leave one of these big three off of my route. Not for the faint of heart or stomach, but I love them all.
I started going to shows as soon as I got to Berkeley, in July of 1972. I found that Bill Graham had his hand in everything all across the Bay Area, and in all kinds of venues, including the Berkeley Community Theater (BCT), which I could walk to from the place on Dwight Way I shared with Moge. My parents hadn’t hooked me up with money or a car, which meant lots of walking and going to shows at the BCT, courtesy of a guy in my apartment building, Jerry Cummings, who worked there as an usher.
The first show I saw there was the Allman Brothers who were playing the day after I arrived. This wasn’t long after Duane Allman had died, and emotions were running high. It was a Bill Graham show, of course, and I was hoping to somehow get to see him and maybe hustle up a job for myself. Doing what, I didn’t know. And what was I going to say? I had no idea how to break into this business, but I wasn’t to be denied, so I just showed up and tried to meet people.
One of the people I met at that Allman Brothers gig was Twiggs Lyndon, who turned out to be the Brothers’ road manager. I found him sitting by the sound desk in the middle of the house, so I sat my seventeen-year-old ass behind him, and we became friends within less than a minute. I didn’t know it at the time, but Twiggs was a truly hard-core dude—he’d spent some time in jail for killing a guy who wouldn’t pay his band one night after a show.
Twiggs didn’t suffer fools easily, but as I soon learned, he was a pussycat. He took to me right away. He introduced me to the band before the show, and I managed not to blow it; I was designated their new brother and friend for the evening.
Twiggs gave me some great career advice that night: Show up when the trucks pull up in the morning to unload the band’s gear for a show and start helping out. “Act like you belong,” he said, “like you should be there, man!”
Good thing I took his advice, or I might never have broken into this business at all.
Twiggs was truly a piece of work. We first met in 1972, but I didn’t see him again till ’77, when I was booking a club called Dooley’s in Tempe, Arizona. Twiggs was travelling with a great new band called the Dixie Dregs, who were on their What If tour. I greeted Twiggs and reminded him who I was—that kid in Berkeley. And now here I was, about five years later, promoting a band he was working for! He was excited to see that he’d made such an impact on me, and we had a great night. You can see his picture on the back of a Dixie Dregs album, looking at his watch while the band jumps out of a plane. Sadly, he would later pass away skydiving—his parachute didn’t open.
The day following the incredible evening with the Allman Brothers and Twiggs, Bill Graham Presents (BGP) put on another show at the theater, this time with Yes, one of my all-time favorite English bands. The Edgar Winter Group was opening for them, and they’d just dropped their album They Only Come Out at Night, which contained the instrumental hit “Frankenstein.” This was a huge track at the time, and the show was a great bill. My plan was to show up early and start working, just as Twiggs had suggested. I got there early, and as soon as the truck pulled up to the theater, I hopped on the back and started humping gear with everyone else. I made like I was just another roadie or tech and moved that stuff as fast as I could. I even faked an English accent. And you know what? No one questioned my presence. The Yes people thought I was with Bill Graham, and Bill’s people thought I was with the band. It was perfect.
It was a busy day, moving all that heavy stuff and acting like I knew what I was doing, and, of course, I was too broke to eat. This was when I discovered “show catering”—the three full meals they serve to a bunch of hungry roadies over the course of a long day.
Bill Graham showed up for dinner just as I was sitting down to eat. He did his rounds, said his hellos, shook hands, and all that. He was a friendly guy. But when he came around to me, he didn’t shake my hand or pat me on the back. He just grabbed me by the scruff of the neck.
“Who’s this fucking kid?”
“That’s Cisco,” said Bob Barsotti, the high school rep for BCT.
“He’s with Yes.” (“Cisco” was an old nickname I sometimes used.) “No, he’s not,” said one of the guys with Yes. “We thought he was with you.”
Well, I’d been caught. It was time to see if Twiggs’s advice was worth a damn or not.
Bill looked at me.
“Kid, you’ve got a lot of chutzpah to be sitting here. Did you really do that?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, you put in a good day’s work and you didn’t get in anybody’s way, and that’s half the battle. So go on and eat your food. Mazel tov.”
I was in, sort of. I was hanging in the same room with Bill, of course, and Yes, and Edgar Winter and his guys. Edgar’s older brother Johnny, a huge star in his own right, was rumored to be coming to the show—fresh out of rehab. When Johnny arrived out back in a station wagon during Edgar’s set, Bill brought me out to the alley to meet him. I grabbed his Gibson Flying V for him and we walked inside.
The show was amazing. The Edgar Winter Group took the stage and killed it. Johnny joined them for their encore, his first live appearance in a long time. They tore the roof off that place.
Then Yes took the stage with their new drummer, Alan White (who had replaced the original drummer, Bill Bruford—another of my drum idols—who had left to join King Crimson). Alan White is still with the band today, and it still feels like I was part of history, getting to hear him play one of his first shows with the legendary Yes. This kind of stuff was why I’d moved out there.
After the concert I wrote a letter to Bill Graham, trying to get myself a job. He wrote back, saying they didn’t have any positions open but that I should keep in touch. Although it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I was happy to get an answer at all.
Still, I was running out of money quickly. I kept going to shows and getting nowhere. Before long, I was totally broke and couldn’t even get a job washing dishes at IHOP for $1.15 an hour.
I moved back to Chicago over Labor Day weekend, happy to have had the experience. Upon my return, my dad got me a job at a neighbor’s undercoating garage, driving new cars back and forth to the dealers for the service, which was spraying the undercarriage of the car with a sealant. Temporary but educational, it was my first job after high school. The Kramer brothers, Chuck and Lou, who owned and operated the Jefferson Park Garage, were total characters, right out of a movie. Because of my long hair, they liked to call me “Susie.” They taught me how to take some abuse! But I was getting restless.
Just a few months later, in the winter of ’73, I announced I was going to move to Phoenix and go to community college—but in reality, I was going to try my luck in the music business there. I hated the winters in Chicago. As much as I liked driving new cars in a mechanic’s outfit, this was beginning to look like a preview of the rest of my life which was not for me.
I had visited Phoenix for the first time in April of ’72, during my spring break from high school. I had never been on a plane before. The only place doing shows in Phoenix was the Celebrity Theatre, a 2,650-seat venue with a stage that rotated. On that trip I met the guy who promoted these shows, Doug Clark, and found him very unimpressive. Looking back, he did a good job—on paper, anyway. Chicago was a tough place to get a break. This area felt better, not to mention Camelback Mountain!
Bill Graham, 1980s famous image of him
Bob Barsotti on holiday underneath the Golden Gate Bridge 2016
The Bulls! Back row (left to right): Steven Sayadian, Michael Kretske, Pat Leonard, and Alan Lake. Front row (left to right): Jeff Cohn, me, and Otis Cohn.
Twiggs Lyndon, Legendary road manager for the Allman Bros. and the Dixie Dregs
Johnny and Edgar Winter 1970s.