May 28, 2020
At the end of 1975 I got another phone call from Bill Graham, but this time he was calling for advice. He was going to put on a concert at ASU Stadium in the spring of ’76, for a remake of the classic Judy Garland picture A Star is Born. The movie was going to star Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Kris had made a huge name for himself, most notably for writing “Me and Bobby McGee,” which Janis Joplin posthumously had a career defining song with. Kris was perfect for this role.
The filmmakers wanted Bill to put a bill together that would pack a stadium so that they could take footage of Kris and Barbra to use in the film. They didn’t want a fake audience; they wanted a genuine rock concert vibe and crowd. So Bill had a list of acts to pick from that he hoped would pack a stadium in Phoenix. I was floored: here I was, working in a waterbed store, and Bill Graham was calling me for advice on which act to book for this big show.
We put together the package for the show right then. They already had Graham Central Station, Santana, and Montrose, who Bill managed. “Who should we get to headline?” Bill asked. “Here are your picks: ZZ Top, Johnny and Edgar Winter, or Peter Frampton.”
That was one hell of a spread! Those were some of the biggest names in rock at the time. I turned it over in my head before landing on Frampton, who’d just put out Frampton Comes Alive, which was on its way to becoming the biggest-selling live album of all time. That album was recorded at a Bill Graham show at Winterland in San Francisco, by the way, with Jerry Pompilli of Bill Graham Presents handling the introduction chores. I thought Peter would definitely fill the stadium, although he hadn’t played the market as a headliner yet. Johnny and Edgar Winter were stars, but maybe not big enough to pack a stadium in Phoenix. The city was still growing, and it takes huge stars to fill a stadium. ZZ Top was big, but they had just come through town not long before.
Bill was already leaning toward Frampton. He knew Frampton’s manager, Dee Anthony, who was also working with many of the biggest names in music at the time. They had a strong working relationship. My approval just sealed the deal.
Bill overheard a customer asking me what algaecides we had available to put in the waterbeds. “What are you doing?” Bill asked. “Where are you?”
I told him. I was kind of ashamed, but I wasn’t about to lie to him.
“We’ve got to get you out of there,” he said, “but good for you for doing what you gotta do. You gotta eat, right?”
And what do you know, he did get me out of there, at least for a little while. I went to work with Bill on the set of A Star Is Born; the film was in town for ten days, shooting on location, in Tempe, at Sun Devil stadium. I also got to act as Kris Kristofferson’s assistant. We hit it off and became good friends. He and his wife Lisa live down the street from our place in Hana, and we have great times together when we find ourselves there at the same time. Truly 2 remarkable people who love each other deeply. I am looking forward to our next visit there together for Taco Tuesdays. Lisa makes the best tacos!!
Anyway, we had a fabulous week and a half together, and Kris is still a pal to this day, so this show was a gift that kept on giving. The show was only $3.50 to get in, but the doors closed at 9am! Also once you were inside, you couldn’t leave and come back in, as they were filming and wanted everything to look the same. They used maybe 10 minutes of all of this stadium show magic for what amounted to 5 minutes in the movie. I get a kick out of seeing the helicopter footage with Barbra being left behind, by A Mountain, as well as Kris going off the stage with the motorcycle. I was right there for everything and it was amazing.
The show was great, all the acts were incredible. Barbra went on stage and sang a few of her biggest songs for the audience, and reduced everyone in front of the stage as well as behind in tears. There were some people saying she wouldn’t last 5 minutes with this rock audience. She KILLED them!!! She was nervous to begin with, but it all went away when she hit the stage and opened her beautiful mouth to sing.
I was thrilled some 30 years later, in 2006, when I was a part of bringing Barbra to town (Michael Cohl’s tour) on the same night I had booked Kris for a show at the Celebrity. We arranged for Kris to go to US Airways Center downtown after his show to catch Barbra at the end of hers. We are all standing on the side of the stage, when Barbra’s security guy came over and asked Kris to go with him. The next thing we knew, Kris was standing on stage, and she introduced him to the most thunderous ovation! FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 30 YEARS, HERE’S JOHN NORMAN HOWARD!
You can’t make this shit up.
The poster art for the show
Barbra giving instructions to someone who needed guidance
Barbra on stage warming up the Star is Born crowd
Bill Graham cheering everyone on
Kris enjoying some caviar at my b-day party a couple years ago in Hana
Lisa Kristofferson, Mark and Nikki Tarbell, Jessi Colter, Kris and Leslie
watching the Cubs win the World Series in 2016 at our house
With Willie and Kris at Willie’s in Paia for some afternoon delight
Kris came by to see Joan Baez at her last show here in Phoenix
In Las Vegas with the Fiona and John Prine and Lisa and Kris Kristofferson, The Pearl, 2017
After Kris got on stage in phoenix with Barbra 2006