Fillmore's Latest: A Record Label

Bill Graham's next move? Make albums

Concert promoter Bill Graham in San Francisco, 1967. Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

San Francisco — Bill Graham's Fillmore Corporation has given this city's recently-quavering rock and roll scene another shot in the amp: Executive vice-president David Rubinson has announced the formation and debut of a Fillmore record label.

The company will bow in with the release of three albums — by Elvin Bishop, Aum, and Cold Blood. Several other acts have been signed, including the locally-popular folk/jazz unit Lamb. Also ready: a distribution setup with two major record companies, a lease on a studio (Pacific Recording in San Mateo), and plans for further developing and recording "contemporary/classical" music forms — including synthesizers and symphonies — in San Francisco.

There will actually be two labels, just as Graham has two Fillmore emporiums. One, called Fillmore, will be distributed by Columbia, while the other, Fillmore East, will be distributed by Atlantic Records.

"There are two labels," Rubinson said, "because they're different kinds of companies. Columbia is the best company-owned, company-distributed company, while Atlantic is the best independent and independently-distributed company." Aum, formerly with London Records, and Elvin Bishop, ex-Butterfield guitarist, are on Fillmore; Cold Blood, a brassy rock/soul septet, are on Fillmore East.

All three albums were produced by Rubinson, known best for his production work for Moby Grape, the Chambers Brothers, Tim Rose, and Taj Mahal.

Fillmore's move into the record industry is the culmination of six months of activities on the part of Rubinson, who left Columbia Records and stepped into the corporation in early March.

While here, he set up and has been directing the company's free seminars on rock music. For the past two months, between 200 and 400 persons have been attending regular lectures covering all aspects of the recording business — artistic, legal, managerial, financial and technical — with Rubinson, Graham, engineer Ron Wickersham and rock barrister Brian Rohan among major successful speakers. The free seminars, eminently successful, will be repeated in December after completion of the current cycle of lectures and workshops.

In short, Rubinson said, "I've been making contacts with people to fit myself into San Francisco." The label, he added, will definitely maintain a locally-oriented style of operation. "It'll be not exclusively, but basically, San Francisco. All art, layout, and photography work for our product will be done in San Francisco.

"Our goal is to be involved in the stupendous growth of the creative community here, which has so far been hampered only by a lack of expertise."

San Francisco, launching pad nearly four years ago for a hard-edged, heady kind of music arguably labeled "acid rock" and "the San Francisco sound" and home base for literally hundreds of groups arguably labeled "San Francisco bands," has had record companies here before. In 1963, Autumn, owned by former KYA disc jockeys Tom Donahue and the late Bob Mitchell, put out an admirable string of hits — by such groups as the Beau Brummels, the Vejtables, Bobby Freeman, and the Mojo Men — before folding up in 1964, two years before the Haight-Ashbury.

Fantasy Records, once located in the industrial sector of town (they've since moved to Oakland) has always been an unheard-from oasis, removed from the mainstream with the exception of random hits like Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," Johnnie Taylor's "Part Time Love," and, recently, the barrage of hits from their former stock boy John Fogerty's Creedence Clearwater Revival.

During the height of activity in San Francisco, however, while Mercury, Columbia, Capitol, and a dozen other labels were grabbing up the local bands, Fantasy sat on its island. Today, in rock, the company seems little more than a distributor for Creedence.

Companies that stormed into the city signing up rock bands have displayed a singular lack of ability to handle their new properties, much less record, produce, and market them. So while San Francisco artists helped generate a lucrative new field in the music business, they haven't received a righteous share of the profits. It's been that way since the first band — the Jefferson Airplane — were signed — and it's been obvious that a solid, rock and roll-conscious, community-oriented record company, staffed by able producers and engineers, has been sorely needed.

Fillmore, at the moment, has only one main man on the creative end: Rubinson. He has been administrator and scout as well as producer of all of the company's output thus far. But, he said, "We'll be hiring producers for future LPs. We'll also hire engineers and train them if necessary."

Pacific Recording, located down the San Francisco Peninsula, is being outfitted with a new Quad 8 24-track board for Fillmore, which has a lease on primetime hours on the studio. All three Fillmore's debut albums (Aum and Bishop will be out this month; Cold Blood is due next month) were done at Pacific. And Rubinson, maintaining an independent producer's status with Columbia (on behalf of Fillmore Corporation), recently produced the Chambers Brothers' latest LP, Love Peace and Happiness, there.

Other ideas up Fillmore Records' sleeves include a sound track operation — "a whole new idea in soundtracks," according to Rubinson — where the company conceives, develops, produces records, and distributes the music. "We'll deal with the director and the stars to come up with the music; we hire the musicians and writers; and we make the label deal." Again, Rubinson said, "We'll keep it in the family, and have people in San Francisco doing the work."

Fillmore, the record company (ies), will remain entirely independent of the corporation's other wings — the Millard booking agency, a now-forming Fillmore Artists' Co-Op, and the mother Fillmores West and East.