‘Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever’ Book Available Now from Journalist/Photographer Frank Mastropolo

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Rock Cellar Magazine

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of Fillmore East, promoter Bill Graham’s rock mecca in New York’s East Village. An all-star show on June 27, 1971 headlined by the Allman Brothers Band, the J. Geils Band and blues legend Albert King marked the end of the venue’s brief three-year run.

Graham, the mercurial impresario who also ran Fillmore West in San Francisco, presented the cream of rock royalty. Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, The Who, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, the Kinks, the Moody Blues, Jefferson Airplane, Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Elton John and many other stars performed.

Rock Cellar contributing writer Frank Mastropolo attended and photographed many of the shows at Fillmore East, including opening night with Big Brother & the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin. Over the last decade, Mastropolo interviewed more than 90 of Fillmore East’s musicians and crewmembers to write Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, which was recently published and is available now.

Fillmore East exterior (Photo © Jeff Rothstein)

Fillmore East exterior (Photo © Jeff Rothstein)

Jack Casady, Dave Davies, Jorma Kaukonen, Robert Lamm, John Lodge, Nils Lofgren, Dave Mason, Roger McGuinn and Steve Miller are among the 19 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees who contributed their memories of the hall. The coffee-table-sized oral history is packed with more than 200 performance photos, posters, letters, buttons, contracts, and memorabilia, many never before published. 

“As a music fan, writing the book was a tremendous opportunity to talk with artists whose music I’ve enjoyed for more than 50 years,” says Mastropolo, who writes Rock Cellar’s I’m Still Standing and Top 11 columns. “All were generous with their time and tales and many shared stories that will surprise even hardcore rock fans.”

And it wasn’t just rock. Graham revolutionized the live concert industry with shows that featured the giants of jazz, blues, soul, R&B and folk music. Backed by a state-of-the-art sound system and the psychedelic imagery of the Joshua Light Show, performers at Fillmore East electrified fans and recorded many of the best-loved live albums in rock history. And ticket prices never topped $5.50.

Mastropolo spoke by phone with Steve Miller as he crossed the Australian Outback during his 2013 Australian tour with Santana. “Graham had learned so much in San Francisco,” Miller recalls in the book. “When you sit down and look at the lineups that played at the Fillmore East or the Fillmore West, that was probably the greatest melting pot of music in the history of civilization.”

Miller says his first time headlining Fillmore East “was real important to me. It was a big deal. So I get to New York, I’m very excited. I’ve worked my way up. I did the show with Miles Davis, I did the show with Neil Young. And now I’m finally getting to headline my show with Mungo Jerry.

“These are the guys who’ve got ‘In the Summertime,’ that little tune, you know? That hit single? And I get to town and I go by the Fillmore East and the billboard says, ‘Miller Mungo.’

“And I liked Mungo Jerry, I thought they were kind of funny. I liked the tune, but I was very upset, right? And we go and play the gig and as soon as they finish their set, they throw out about 500 kazoos into the crowd and leave the stage. So you could imagine coming out with 500 people with kazoos.”

Bill Graham outside Fillmore East (Photo: Dr. Arlene Q. Allen)

Bill Graham outside Fillmore East (Photo: Dr. Arlene Q. Allen)

Nils Lofgren, guitarist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, was a young fan and aspiring musician who would sneak backstage. Lofgren describes the night he joined a jam with Eric Burdon and the Animals. “I still remember this guy grinning at me, and he hands me the guitar, he said, ‘Why don’t you play?’ And I’m like, oh my God, great, ‘cause Eric was singin’ great with this female singer. 

“But then I’m like, oh shit, I don’t have a thumb pick. What am I gonna do? I can’t not play. So I ripped off a bottle cap of a beer, which I was uncomfortable with, but I played. And Eric Burdon was singing great blues with this fabulous African American female, just wailin’ on the blues. 

“And he stayed down in it with the girl and it was beautiful. It was just a Holy Grail moment for me, getting into the Fillmore, and all of sudden, I’m playing with the Animals.” 

Janis Joplin (Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

Janis Joplin (Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

“Bill Graham was such a difficult, unpleasant guy to deal with,” Miller recalls. “He was always in a foul mood, very belligerent, and the way I dealt with him was I would just go, ‘Hey, you know what? Fuck you. If you’re going to act like that, I’m not playing.’ That was the only way I knew how to deal with him. 

“In San Francisco, the Fillmore ran six days a week,” Miller explains. “So when Graham had the two Fillmores going on, he really had a creative melting pot going on that was fantastic. And when Graham took it and moved it to New York City, the Fillmore East was Bill Graham. He had this big ego. He was the most important promoter in the world, he would tell you that every minute of the day, and he generated that kind of juice and that kind of excitement. And then he delivered it in a really big way. Of course, it was wonderful.

“The time was right, the formula was completely worked out, everybody had played the Fillmore West and everybody wanted to play the Fillmore East. It didn’t matter who you were, you wanted to do that show at least once or twice. It was a big deal.”

Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever is published by Edgar Street Books and is available now on Amazon

Read more cool stories from Frank Mastropolo at Rock Cellar:  HERE

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