Bill Graham’s Stash Yields Treasure

(CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — When Minneapolis entrepreneur Bill Sagan spent more than $5 million to buy a huge collection of artifacts saved by legendary concert promoter Bill Graham two and a half years ago, he knew it contained some incredible items. Now it appears he is the owner of one of the most important finds in rock’n’roll history.

When purchasing the collection from Clear Channel Communications Inc., neither the company nor Sagan had fully archived the materials. Upon doing so, Sagan uncovered more than 5,000 live audio and video recordings made between 1966 and 1999 by artists from the Doors to Nirvana, according to an article by the Wall Street Journal. All were made at concerts ran or promoted by Graham, most directly from the soundboard.

The 55-year-old Sagan now controls what may be the most important collection of rock recordings ever assembled.

The company running the collection of memorabilia, known as Wolfgang’s Vault – from Mr. Graham’s given name, Wolfgang Grajonca – has a staff of 14, projected sales this year of $3 million, and nearly 20 million separate items held in its San Francisco warehouse.

Sagan set up a business selling vintage rock T-shirts and concert posters on the company’s website, www.wolfgangsvault.com, and is only now turning his attention to the huge audio and video collection.

He is currently in the early stages of negotiation with the artists, their representatives, and record labels over the rights to sell the recordings on discs and as downloads. In the meantime, Sagan plans to start streaming some of the performances as Internet radio feeds on the company’s site, which only requires him to pay royalties.

The professional-quality recordings amount to an enormous, unheard history of rock music during its seminal years and beyond. The archives include performances by artists including Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, the Who, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Emmylou Harris, Aretha Franklin and Tracy Chapman, all of whom played shows put on by Graham. Videotapes include early performances by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1978 and the Sex Pistols’ last show for nearly 20 years, before their reunion in 1996.

“I don’t know if [Mr. Sagan] really knew exactly how much rich material he had,” Bill Thompson told the WSJ. Thompson was the longtime manager of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, which played Bill Graham events frequently during the San Francisco rock scene’s heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “This is a goldmine.”

Bill Graham Presents put on more than 35,000 concerts worldwide between its inception in 1966 and its sale to Clear Channel earlier this decade. Sagan bought the collection of memorabilia from Clear Channel, who had little interest in sifting through the thousands of items jammed into boxes at the company’s warehouse.

Sagan and his staff spent their first six months in business doing nothing but organizing and cataloguing the stash, much of which had been thrown haphazardly into boxes, and some of which had been damaged in a warehouse fire.

Of all of the collectibles, the recordings and videos are the most intriguing and commercially promising. Many of the videos were made for the purpose of airing on closed-circuit televisions during concerts at the restaurant Graham owned next to the Fillmore West. Others were made solely for the company’s collections.

Sagan is now hoping to figure out when, or if, the general public will ever be able to hear or see many of the recordings.

While they were all made legally – Sagan has a filing cabinet filled with documentation to prove it, according to the WSJ – selling them will require various permissions and revenue-sharing deals with the artists, their record labels at the time of the show or its corporate successor, or from the estates of deceased performers.

Sagan’s employees have already digitized more than 1,000 of the audio recordings and sent them to engineers to have the sound quality cleaned up. Now, they are in the process of seeking clearances to release the music. Sagan told the paper that he is in active discussions with two major record labels, and believes he is close to a deal for at least some of the music, but declined to name either.

“Is it easy?” he asked the WSJ. “No. But in some cases they’re excited as hell they might be able to make some money off old bands.”

Even with the clearances, much of the material is not commercially viable, such as dozens of separate concerts by acts like Eddie Money.

Mr. Thomas, the Jefferson Airplane manager, told the paper that he is in “early discussions” with Wolfgang’s Vault and Sony BMG Music Entertainment to sell the dozens of live recordings made of his clients at Graham’s various venues. In what form and when, for Jefferson Airplane and many others, remains to be seen. –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers

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