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Show Will Go on at Graham Enterprises

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Graham, the highly regarded San Francisco rock impresario who died in a helicopter crash last Friday night, would have been proud of his troops.

Despite their shock and grief over his death, the show at Bill Graham Enterprises is definitely going on, music industry executives say.

“I really don’t see this as an organization that will slip and fall,” said Brian Murphy, who as president of Los Angeles-based Avalon Attractions was Graham’s concert-promotion counterpart in the state’s southern half. “They’ve learned well from the teacher.”

Executives at Bill Graham Enterprises declined to be interviewed about the company’s future, saying they needed time to adjust to their loss. After days of private funeral services and mourning, they also are busy planning a festive, public memorial program to be held at 11 a.m. Sunday here in Golden Gate Park.

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A wreath woven with black ribbon hangs above the front door of the company’s offices, in San Francisco’s funky South of Market Street area.

But upstairs, where walls are plastered with concert posters and photos of Graham with rock stars, the offices are bustling, as 70 or so shellshocked employees go about their business, albeit not quite as usual.

Running the company will fall to a group of seasoned executives who manage 500-plus concerts and theatrical productions annually in the United States and abroad.

In recent years, Graham, 60, had withdrawn from most day-to-day details to devote himself to putting on benefits for pet causes.

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Graham was to have met Monday with Oakland officials about a benefit he was planning for victims of the Oct. 20 East Bay fire.

“Bill has built a great organization of tremendous people . . . that will stand on its own,” said Bill Silva, a San Diego concert promoter.

Nick Clainos, 45, president of Bill Graham Enterprises, will remain the top executive. A rock music lawyer educated at Princeton University and Stanford Law School, he joined the Graham operation as general counsel in 1975 and was promoted to president in 1986.

A refugee from Nazi Germany who came to the United States as a child, Graham began amassing his music empire in the mid-1960s and was instrumental in helping San Francisco’s “psychedelic rock” come of age.

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Businesses affiliated with Bill Graham Presents, his booking company, include Bill Graham Management Inc., which manages recording companies and artists; Fillmore Fingers Inc., a concessions service, and Chutzpah Advertising, which promotes Graham events. All told, the privately held businesses gross in the scores of millions of dollars, industry sources say.

In 1972, Graham also pioneered the merchandising of T-shirts and other memorabilia at concerts. He sold that business, Winterland Productions, to entertainment giant MCA Inc. in 1988.

With the brilliant elder statesman gone, some in the industry say rivals might spring up to challenge the long-held Graham lock on the Northern California market.


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