Backstage Pass: Dave Hart, protege of Bill Graham, speaks out

Since the Fillmore East days of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Dave Hart, a protégé of Bill Graham, has been promoting/producing some of the greatest artists in music history, including Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen. This summer, he is heading up Ringo Starr’s 10th All-Starr Tour.

Hart got his start by standing up to Graham while working as a lowly usher at the Fillmore East. Here, he talks about his incredible career in music.

GOLDMINE: As the story goes, you started out as an usher at the Fillmore East, and you were able to impress Bill Graham with your negotiating ability.
Dave Hart:
Well, that’s right. There was a week-long run of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And the ushers, who got paid $15 a night for doing two shows on a Saturday, two shows on a Friday, for instance, were only going to get paid $7.50 for each night. And so the ushers were all upset, because we had expenses.

And so, Bill, who was a total mensch, a guy who you could talk to, heard about the complaints and said, “Meet me in the balcony after a show.” And we went upstairs, and I was the first one to stand up and say, “We still have the same expenses to get there, to be here to work, and we’re not being paid, so we’d like to get paid a little more for these one-show deals.” And so, the next day, I got called into his office, and he said, “Congratulations, you won the fee. I’m going to raise the fee for the ushers to $10, and by the way, do you want a job?” I said, “Yes.”
I quit college, NYU Film School, and became an agent the next day, representing Janis Joplin, Santana, It’s A Beautiful Day, Cold Blood and many of the acts that were on Bill’s label, and it was just an extraordinary opportunity and experience to have that handed to me. So, I was blessed.

GM: That had to have been such a whirlwind for you. What was it like being thrust into that situation, where you’re working with all these incredible artists?

DH: Well, to be honest, I was prepared. Subconsciously, I always wanted to be in the live business. I was going to film school at the time at NYU. My teacher was Marty Scorcese. I hated it.

It took time to make films, and music concerts would deliver something right away, and you could see people onstage making that commitment to perform right in front of people. To me, it was much more fulfilling and I knew I wanted to be there.

GM: Now, Bill Graham was kind of a mentor to you.

DH: I’ve never seen anybody more committed to making the concert experience, the live experience, a great experience for both the artist and the audience. That was 1969 when that occurred.

Twenty years later, 1989, I’m promoting Santana at Merriweather Post Pavilion between Baltimore and Washington, and Bill’s there as the manager, and we spend some time together reminiscing, and I leave to go backstage while the band is on, and I check the box office, and I’m walking back down into the venue and someone grabs me around the neck, a bear hug around the neck. And Bill was a big, tough guy, and I turn around, and it’s Bill, and he said, “Dave, I always taught you, you’ve got to watch what you’re doing here.” And he turns me around forcefully and points to an overflowing garbage receptacle. He said, “That shouldn’t happen.” And he turns on his heel and walks away.

GM: He was really detail-oriented.
Yeah, he did a show with The Grateful Dead in San Francisco, where it was on New Year’s Eve and the audience was in on the trick, so to speak, and apparently, the Dead — I wasn’t there; I heard this so it might ap

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