The first show The Band ever played was at Winterland with Bill Graham presenting us. And the last show I ever played with the Band, the Last Waltz, was at the Winterland with Bill Graham presenting us. I remember the first time I met Bill. It was around 1969, and we were up in Woodstock. We hadn't toured after the first album, Music from Big Pink, because Rick Danko had been in a serious accident. As a result of not touring, this incredible mystique had developed about us, which had nothing to do with us.
So Bill came to see us, and he seemed to have this idea that he was going to have to beg us to play. His appeal was to use the voice of the people. He kept talking about how we owed it to "the people" to play. The heaviest part is when he said something like "the peoples' hearts are bleeding. You must come down out of the darkness and play for the people."
On one hand, I was completely taken by this. But on the other hand, the truth was he didn't have to convince us. We were already planning on touring after the second record anyway. So as he talked about our obligation to the people, Albert Grossman, our manager, was sitting there cracking up. But I didn't have the nerve or heart to tell him the truth. So I just said, "Bill, how do I meet these people you speak of?" And he said, "The best place would be in The Winterland, in San Francisco that's where there's the most love and then at the Fillmore East in New York."
Ironically, after all that, when it finally came time to play the Winterland, I was as sick as I've ever been in my life. And as the show got closer and closer, I got worse and worse. As a last resort, Bill and Albert Grossman came up with the idea of getting this Freud hypnotist to help me. We were desperate Bill had been talking about "the people" for so long, they were like refugees in my mind, and I wasn't about to let them down. So this hypnotist made it so I couldn't remember how badly I felt. And it worked, for a while. He stood on the side of the stage, and every time he saw me starting to fade, he would say the word grow, and somehow it got me through the show. And "the people," as it turned out, were lovely people.
© 2010 Bill Graham Memorial Foundation