Moby Grape’s ‘Worst Night’: Excerpt from New Fillmore East Book

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Moby Grape in 1967

A new book, Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, written by Frank Mastropolo, is now available from Edgar Street Books. (Scroll down to the bottom to order the book. For more information about the book, go here.)

In this exclusive excerpt, Jerry Miller, one of the guitarists of the great San Francisco band Moby Grape, offers his recollection of Bill Graham, who started and ran both the Fillmore East in New York and the Fillmores in San Francisco.

Jerry Miller: “Bill Graham was the bottom line, the man. He just knew how to put things together, he was there at the right time, and he ran the show. He made sure everything happened on time. Bill ran a tight ship, man, and he got everything right.

“Bill was fair. He had a kind of personality; you didn’t want to mess up with him. Because he would snap at you. He would have made a good foreman or something. You’d have got the job done.

“One of the main things I remember was Bill out in front of the Fillmore and it was a night you had the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape playing two sets each, and this guy [an audience member] is out in front bitching and moaning that three dollars is too much. And Bill is saying, ‘That’s a fair price!’ They’re out there ready to roll out the knuckle drill. And they’re arguing back and forth and I’m laughing.

Bill Graham (in foreground) in front of the Fillmore East’s opening night marquee (Photo: Linda Eastman)

“One night we played, we went out there, it was the last time we played there, of course, because we had this idea we were going to go out and sit down and play. And Bill Graham said, ‘All right, all you guys need is coffins.’ I said, ‘Oh, man.’

“We always had these goofy ideas. But I didn’t think it was such a great idea. We were doing new stuff, kind of alternative stuff, trying something, and it was deader than McKinley’s prick, let me say that. But it was just different. The alternative guys, the ones that were just comin’ in, they were playing anti-music. They thought we were the heroes of all time. Because we were half in tune. It wasn’t our best night, I’ll admit that.

“That night was something else. I had friends out there and they were laughin’. We finally got up and kicked some ass. But we started off sitting down.

“That night, too, the Grape were late comin’ in from Boston. I was there on time, way on time, like I always was. They came in a little bit late. Bill Graham was not pleased about that. He didn’t like that at all.

Watch a live Moby Grape performance (not from Fillmore East) from 1967

“We finally got out there on time, but on time isn’t good enough. Bill wanted you there early. They [the other band members] came in right at the last minute and you can’t blame them too much because they drove through a snowstorm. We were comin’ down from Augusta, Maine, and then it was a blizzard when we got to Boston.

“Skippy [co-founder Skip Spence] and the boys were in a different car and Skippy came flyin’ by us at about 80 in the ice and snow. He was drivin’. I was glad I wasn’t in that car. But somehow, they probably stopped for dinner or something. I was sittin’ there and Bill was saying, ‘Where are they?’ He says, ‘I’m gonna sue you sons of bitches.’ ‘OK,’ I said, ‘but Bill, goldang it, I’m here.’ He says, ‘Yeah, Jerry, I know it’s not your goddamn fault.’ I say, ‘Yeah, it’s my fault for sometimes puttin’ up with this monkey business.’

“And then, when we went on stage and sat down, he ’bout had a shit fit. [Bassist Bob] Mosley was havin’ an attitude. Mosley, sometimes he’d get an attitude. And he’d start playin’ in a different key than we were. And you know, this sounds a little bit sour. He had a pretty good set of ears on him. I said, ‘What the hell is that?’

Related: The strange, sad saga of Moby Grape

“Bill liked me but he hated the Grape. He thought that was the biggest batch of adult delinquents he had ever seen. It was just not our best night. Matter of fact, it was probably our worst night.

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. Da Mick
    #1 Da Mick 9 October, 2021, 16:27

    Probably an excellent insight into why Moby Grape, a band that’s always held up as one of the best “musicians’ bands” had nothing but “bad luck,” and never went very far. From what I’ve read about the band’s members, Graham was pretty on the money. Still that line about delinquents cracked me up when I read it.

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