Raven at San Jacinto

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

John Morris

I lost my great friend John Morris on November 10th. I had texted him that morning, it went unreturned. Maybe unread, I'll never know?  I was on the road in San Francisco. You can read John's incredible obit in a number of places. Here is the New York Times. And the Los Angeles Times

And this from the Objects of Art Shows, his partnership with Kim Martindale:

John H. Morris, Jr., of Santa Fe, NM, and Malibu, CA, the creator and first managing director of the Fillmore East rock & roll theater in New York City, and the production manager of the original Woodstock Festival of Art and Music, died at his Santa Fe, New Mexico home Friday, November 10, 2023, after a long illness.

Born in Gramercy Park, New York City, in 1939, Mr. Morris studied theater at Carnegie Tech. At the age of 25, after a brief career as a lighting designer off-Broadway, on London’s West End, and at Peter Cook’s The Stroller’s Club in New York City, Mr. Morris launched his career as a theatrical producer. He acquired the rights to Peter Cook’s satirical British productions, The Establishment and Cambridge Circus, and toured the shows across the U.S. with casts including John Cleese, Cass Elliot, Peter Bellwood, and Joe Maher.

In July of 1967, during “the summer of love,” Mr. Morris produced his first rock and roll concert, a free show in Toronto, Canada’s City Hall square, featuring Jefferson Airplane, which drew a crowd of more than 50,000, second in size only to The Beatles’ Shea Stadium concert the year before. The show was to promote a weeklong Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead rock & roll residency at Toronto’s O’Keefe Theatre produced by Mr. Morris and fellow Carnegie Tech alum Joshua White, for West Coast rock & roll empresario, Bill Graham.

In Toronto, John Morris and Joshua White introduced elaborate theatrical staging to the world of rock and roll, including the first psychedelic light show projected from behind a giant screen, as a backdrop for the band. Their theatrical innovations in concert production and lighting have evolved into today’s elaborate staging of popular music shows and festivals.

Mr. Morris produced Jefferson Airplane’s first East Coast tour before rejoining Mr. White in December of 1967, to produce a weeklong Festival of Light and Music at the Minneola Theater on Long Island, featuring shows by Frank Zappa, Vanilla Fudge, Tim Buckley, and Ravi Shankar, that formally launched the psychedelic Joshua Light Show.

Mr. Morris then produced rock concerts at the Anderson Theatre on New York’s Second Avenue for Crawdaddy magazine, where, with Janis Joplin’s New York City premier, he convinced Bill Graham to open an East Coast theatrical version of his already legendary San Francisco’s psychedelic rock ballroom, The Fillmore.

Eighteen days after Graham and partners, including Bob Dylan’s agent Albert Grossman, acquired Lowes’ lower east side Village Theatre, Mr. Morris, and a crew including theatre tech students from NYU, led by Professor Chris Langhart, opened The Fillmore East with Janis Joplin, BB King, Tim Buckley, and the Joshua Light Show on the marquee.

After co-producing the first European concert tours for Jefferson Airplane and The Doors, with Doors manager Bill Siddons, Mr. Morris was invited to join the production team for the Woodstock Festival of Art and Music. Mr. Morris booked most of the bands which would appear at Woodstock, assuring that the relatively unknown Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, and Joe Cocker were on the bill. During the iconic, but weather-plagued three-day festival, where a crowd anticipated to be 100,000, grew to an estimated half a million, Morris was the principal Master of Ceremonies and is recognized as “the voice” of Woodstock, having made the now famous announcement, “It’s a free concert from now on.”

After moving to England in 1970 to organize the European Producers Association and promote touring U.S. rock bands, Mr. Morris launched London’s first rock & roll theatre, The Rainbow, in Finsbury Park, with The Who as its opening act, November 4, 1971.

Mr. Morris continued to produce rock and roll events throughout Europe and the United States until 1990, including 19 Grateful Dead concerts; the premier European tour of Paul and Linda McCartney’s post-Beatles band, Wings; and tours with Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Santana. His production companies, Jumping Jack Productions in the UK and Europe, and Cadogan Productions in the U.S., mounted concerts for artists including Stevie Ray Vaughn, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Rudolf Nureyev, and Frank Zappa. He also acted as manager for Otis Redding, the Danish band Gasolin’, and Japanese jazz musician, Stomu Yamashta, producing Yamashta’s third album, Go Too for Arista Records.

A collector and student of Native American art and artifacts since boyhood, Mr. Morris opened a Native American Antiques store in London in 1973, The Bear Creek Trading Company. In 1995, he joined with Kim R. Martindale to produce antique, fine art, and design shows throughout the U.S. For the next 28 years, their Antiquities Shows, Native American Art Shows, and Objects of Art Shows were produced in Santa Fe, NM; New York City; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle; Denver; Scottsdale; and Napa, CA.

The son of John H. Morris and Louise Morris, John’s Gramercy Park childhood in New York City, was interrupted when his father returned to active duty in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and he attended 6th grade in three states, before the family settled in Pleasantville, NY, following the war.

Morris is survived by his partner of 33 years, Luzann Fernandez of Santa Fe, NM and Malibu, CA; brother, Mark Morris of Sneden’s Landing, NY; nephew Eric Morris of Los Angeles, CA; and nieces, Nicole Merrick and her husband Keil; Marie Fernandez and her husband Guillermo Serrano Terren; Katie Fernandez; grandnephews Oliver and Charlie Merrick; and grandniece Kate Merrick.

John H. Morris, Jr. is also survived by a world of loyal and loving friends drawn to him over a lifetime on concert stages, sailing adventures, photographic safaris, dinner tables, art show floors, and pickup football games.

Plans for a Celebration of Life will be announced at a later date. The Family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Mr. Morris’s memory to Assistance Dogs of the West in Santa Fe, NM.

Very nice indeed, an amazing life. But that was not the John Morris I knew, the incredible music promoter. 

The guy I knew was a thirty year friend who was my promoter at antique shows, three a year in Santa Fe, Santa Barbara, Denver, Napa, Westworld, all over the place. The lucrative years. The classiest man you could ever meet, a diamond polisher par excellence as Bill Graham would once say about him. The only man Bill would trust to pick up Grace Slick at the airport. The consummate showman. A guy I went to battle with every chance I got, who loved me and let me stay at his home and break bread and meet his friends which included Senators and famous people and just plain old good people. From Herb Cohen to Bill Richardson. A guy who was pissed off as hell at me for two years when I went over to do shows for the competition, a business decision, and then accepted me with open arms upon my return, all my sins forgotten forgiven. A man that knew food and wine and people. A literate man who would send me books. He would regale us, after suitable prodding, with priceless stories of his life in the music business. Last time I called him he was in hospice but didn't give a damn about himself, was more worried about me and actually offered to loan me money. Which I refused. The most loyal, classy, humble, mensch of a man you could ever meet. You could never have a better friend.

hiding the cig...

Mira Nakashima

We youngsters loved to plie John and his longtime roadies David and Stan for Woodstock and Fillmore stories and they always obliged.  It got so we could repeat them from memory but they never got stale.

The day John died Warmboe gave me this book about Woodstock that I had never seen before with this story about the festival written by John. The book was published by Baron Wolman, the famous rock photographer John also introduced me to a few years ago.

I stopped by their home in June, when he first went into hospice. He was still talking about the next show and excited about his plans for the future, purposely oblivious to the rotten hand that we both knew that he had been dealt.

You were either in or you were out with John. I was lucky enough to be in. Along with Don Baughman and Lew Bobrick and Parsons and Rose and Chris and David and Stan and James and Eric and JP and Walt and Tom in England and Monique and so many others that he took care of and befriended. Luzann and John's Espanola parties will never be forgotten!

He will be forever in Leslie and my hearts. We will never stop missing him. What a privilege to know him!


Finest said...

Just to repeat, John told me, in a conversation about Melanie Safka, he had an
interesting history with the chanteuse...

He produced her show at the Albert Hall at the height of her fame and then
was called into the director's office the next day. They informed him politely
he was never to produce another show at their venue starring anyone, and he was to
leave immediately.

It seems at the end of her show Melanie invited the entire audience (1000s!) up onto the stage to sing with her.

Blue Heron said...

John saw everybody but loved the airplane. He once told me that Spencer Dryden was his favorite drummer.

John Molloy said...

Beautiful tribute, Robert. Thank You!

Julie Hardesty said...

My sincere condolences. John seems like an incredible human. You are lucky to have known such a great man and even better to know him as a friend. So sorry for your loss.

Chip said...

Very sad....a big part of our great musical generation. Sorry to hear of his passing and for you and Leslie's personal loss. R.I.P.

pete@accentbrazil.com said...

what a great guy...that John. He invited me to show my stuff at his Santa Fe shows even though my Brazilian rustic/primitives didn't exactly jive with the Native American displays. When I told him that some of the dealers were questioning my presence at "their" show...he told me to tell them to go talk to him. One of the Santa Fe shows got snowed in one year...I had my rig parked at the back of the show building...by the tracks...when it was time to pack up and leave...without telling me...he ordered a large tow truck to pull me out of the snow and on to the road. I had noidea of the history of his life until I read it here. Thanks to you.

See you down the road John.

Blue Heron said...

Thanks for posting. I remember you, Pete. What a snow that was! I was stuck in John Fillmore's driveway for two weeks. Remember hiking through the snow to McDonalds with Jan and Lane. I miss those shows...