The legendary impresario and cult figure of Californian pop culture Bill Graham, the most important articulator of the hippy scene, would have celebrated his birthday last month if he were still alive. The man who, at one point of his life, was in charge of all the biggest rock bands from the San Francisco Bay and who brought glory to the most eminent music venues (Fillmore West, Winterland in SF, Fillmore East in NY) and organised everything for Laibach’s first US tour. He is considered one of the most charismatic, esteemed and respected figures in the history of the concert business. With him, there were no contracts, a handshake was sufficient. And after it there was no doubt that the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Santana would appear on stage. His word counted for something. When he said, following a fight in a dressing room in Oakland during the last US tour of Led Zeppelin, that this bunch of English big-heads, occult egomaniacs and ruffians would never see an American stage again, ex-wrestler manager Peter Grant shat himself with fear, because he knew that would in fact happen. Led Zep never played a US gig again, because all the tour organisers kept Bill's words in mind.
And lo and behold—a major cultural surprise for me. In 1975, Bill Graham brought Santana to Europe. That year, we were blessed with amazing music events as it was, seeing that Hala Tivoli in Ljubljana offered concerts of Return to Forever, Nazareth, Jethro Tull, John Mayall, Frank Zappa and Ike & Tina Turner, whereas Zagreb hosted Deep Purple and of course the venerable band Santana that was at one of its peaks right then. They had recorded albums that will still rock your socks off even today. Their concert coincided with the release of the album titled Borboletta.
It was Saturday, 4 October 1975, and I arrived in Zagreb by train late in the afternoon. When I entered the big arena in the evening, I could feel a certain Californian magic in the ether. In disbelief I was getting ready to stand in front of the stage and absorb into my own aura the Woodstock impulses of Carlos’s guitar and its signature style, unaware that I would receive another unexpected bonus that evening.
As I was examining my surroundings, I noticed a familiar face next to a fence at the back of the arena, checking out the situation unnoticed. Nobody was bothering him as nobody had recognised him, except of course moi, Joe the Gun from the Trbovlje Brooklyn. I almost fainted when I realised who was standing just a metre away. He became aware that I was glancing at him, so I stepped up to him and cautiously asked him: “Do you happen to be THE Bill Graham?” He answered he was. Because I probably kept on peering at him open-mouthed like a dork, he showed me a ring with the initials BG to confirm. Luckily, he was in a good mood and he probably found it amusing that somebody from Yugoslavia had recognised him and so he became chatty and talked to me as if we had known each other for ages. I asked him a bit about Jerry and the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the European tour of the Grateful Dead that had taken place three years before and whether he might bring them to our area. He said no, because that tribe was hard to handle. He asked me about life and concerts here. He was in a friendly Slavic mood, while Armando Peraza quietly hung around us in his faded brown fake-leather vest from Tarvisio. After a while Brane Rončel came by, playing swing the statue and wondering how come I had recognised Bill Graham, and then Dražen Vrdoljak also started suspiciously walking around us and listening to our conversation—it had finally dawned on him who it was—and he wanted to step in with his press card. Big Bill only gave him an angry look, offended because of the impolite intrusion into our friendly conversation, and explicitly told him to fuck off.
We chatted some more before he signed the back of my ticket, shook my hand like an old pal and said “have fun” and “see you later”, while the glamorous Earth, Wind & Fire had already begun their acrobatics on stage. When they finished with their afro gum arabic on the trapeze, the lights went dark. We heard Tom Coster's humming synth and other members from the hills of San Francisco joined him on stage: bass player David Brown, percussionist Armando Peraza, drummer Ndugu Leon Chancler, keyboard player and singer Leon Patillo and, of course, Carlos Santana.
My god, that was one hell of a concert. I stood there below the stage two metres away from Carlos whose guitar on Samba Pa Ti sounded precisely like on the album. Even today I—world-class idiot—often think about why I didn’t ask Grajonca (Bill Graham), to take me to Santana after the concert to have a courteous debate. He would have done it, no doubt, considering he was the head honcho of the caravan. And we could all have a photo taken together, Grajonca, Carlos and I.
An old and grey bull, who still gets a bit dizzy when hearing Ticket To Ride, born in the years, when rock & roll was born and when Bill Haley, together with His Comets, climbed on the first place of the Billboard charts with his most famous single, which made huge waves in the movie Blackboard jungle with the younger generations at that time. Aquarius as zodiac, who had luck to fall in love at the right time with my famous oracle named The Beatles and enjoyed the flower-power movement, which I listened to on the radio station Radio Luxemburg on a small transistor, and who heard the Chameleons for the first time on a jukebox, not to mention all of the corresponding giants between Liverpool and San Francisco, with a short stop in Trbovlje (Amebe, Eden's, Jutro, Črni bliski, Kon-Tiki). I could enjoy all of the pure vibrations of the crowds, good ones, and also other ones, like when they killed Lennon for instance, when they walked Tito to his last resting place, and after those events, changed my country and went into a new millennium along with it.