A Memorabilia Collection That Rocks

Jimi Hendrix AP

This segment of Sunday Morning originally aired in February.

It sounds more like something from the old West than modern day San Francisco.

It was dusty. It was musty. It didn't smell real good.

This is a true story about buried treasure. Deep in the basement of a non-descript warehouse, down a maze of back alleys, Bill Sagan discovered what amounts to a goldmine.

"It was 25 feet high in height, below ground. Part of it was below ground," said Sagan. "And there were, I thought, hundreds of thousands of items that were in there. And truly there were millions of items."

It was a rock 'n' roll treasure trove — millions of original photographs, posters, documents and much more of forgotten artifacts from an unforgettable musical era.

"We've been told that there exists no other trove of rock 'n' roll history that is anywhere near the size of this anywhere else," said Sagan.

To explain where this lost treasure came from we have to travel back more than 40 years to a time when San Francisco was at the vanguard of the rock 'n' roll revolution. And leading the charge was one man, Bill Graham.

From the first concert he staged at San Francisco's legendary Fillmore auditorium in 1966, Bill Graham became one of the most influential figures in music history. Many say he literally invented the concept of the modern rock concert.

"Bill Graham did something that very few people do," said Sagan. "He started an industry. Live performance music in music halls. Rock and roll. He broke these bands. If Bill Graham hadn't been there, would Janis Joplin have been as big?"

In 1969, Joplin herself certainly appreciated him. In a 60 Minutes interview, Joplin said: "Graham really understands musicians, and that's really important to musicians. Most promoters don't care anything except 'two 45-minute sets, $6,500 dollars.' They refuse to relate in any other terms."

From 1966 to 1991, Graham's company, Bill Graham Presents, put on more than 20,000 concerts worldwide. Everyone who was anyone played for him — Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Santana, U-2. You name it. The list goes on forever.

And for nearly 30 years Graham saved everything he could get his hands on from every concert he ever put on.

"Bill Graham was a pack rat," said Sagan. "I think Bill Graham just put everything down in that storage area and was going to keep it forever."

For Graham, forever didn't last long. In 1991, on his way back from a concert, he was killed in a helicopter crash. While his memory lived on, memory of his archive began to fade. During the next decade, ownership of Graham's company changed hands several times. But no one took the time to sift through all that "junk" in the basement, until 2003, when the latest owners decided to sell yet again, and Bill Sagan bought it all.

He said: "And one day — I believe it was 25, 40-foot trucks — truckloads took the product from their building over to our building."

Sagan and his staff kept their find a secret while they catalogued every item from what they now called Wolfgang's Vault. Wolfgang Grajonca was Bill Graham's given name. Now they've opened it up to the world and put most of it up for sale on their Web site, wolfgangsvault.com.

First there are the photographs. "I thought there was maybe a half million to a million slides and negatives," said Sagan. "As it turned out, there's probably is closer to a million and a half to two million slides and negatives."

There are posters by the thousands, the psychedelic artwork that went up weekly in San Francisco in the '60s. "We have more than 500 posters that are so rare that their retail price would be in excess of $15,000," Sagan estimated. "There were drawers full of tickets from decades of concerts."

Graham seems to have kept every contract he ever signed. But he had one more big surprise in store, and only after he bought the collection and started going through boxes did Sagan discover what may be the most valuable asset.

"There are nearly 7,000 tapes of 7,000 different performances,' said Sagan. "And the reason I say nearly is because we haven't counted them all and we haven't looked at them all."

Graham didn't just save memorabilia from the concerts, he saved the concerts themselves — rare, high quality recordings of legendary concerts that haven't been seen or heard, in some cases, for 40 years.

Just to give you an idea of what Sagan discovered: The Who's last performance of their rock opera, "Tommy," before drummer Keith Moon died at age 26, and the last concert ever from the British punk-rock pioneers The Sex Pistols.

Bill Graham's cameras had captured most of all the big names through three decades of rock. The Allman Brothers, Chicago, Lenard Skynard, Peter Frampton, Bob Marley.

And more concerts were discovered on audio tapes. On the wolfgangsvault web site, fans can now listen to previously unreleased versions of some of their favorite songs.

"It's tough to do your job because it's so tempting to go down and just listen to audio or go look at video," said Sagan about opening up all the boxes. "I could spend all day doing it every day."

So remember the part about this being a goldmine? We weren't kidding. Sagan reportedly paid $5 million to $6 million for all that stuff.

"In my opinion, it's worth a significant amount more," said Sagan. "It certainly is in excess of $50 million. It's probably in excess of $100 million."

Sagan grew wealthy running a couple of healthcare and insurance companies. Now he sees himself as part businessman, part guardian of a legacy. He says he'll never sell many of the rarest, most valuable pieces, like Bill Graham's personal poster collection. "It's not for sale. It won't be for sale."

But most of the rest is up for sale, and Sagan has identified his market: people much like him, members of a nostalgic generation who have some money to spend on memories.

"Thank god for Baby Boomers who want to relive that good part of what they remember of their youth. And thank god for good music."
  • Scott Benjamin

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