Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1120311598

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: HELMS; Chester Helms-25/6/2005-USA
Date: Sat, 2 Jul 2005 14:39:58 +0100

Chet Helms
(Filed: 02/07/2005)
The Daily Telegraph &

Chet Helms, who has died aged 62, was a rock 'n' roll impresario known
principally for launching the career of Janis Joplin, lead singer with the
1960s band Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Helms's career as a promoter may have been short - it was effectively over
by 1970 - but it coincided happily with a flowering of bands on America's
West Coast, particularly in San Francisco, during what became known as the
"Summer of Love" in 1967. All the big names of the era - Jefferson Airplane,
Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish among them - enjoyed his support.

As starry-eyed as the next hippie, Helms was reluctant to charge audiences
who turned up to the concerts and "be-ins" which he helped to stage at
Golden Gate Park. He was also credited with being the first man to produce
psychedelic light shows in the gigs he arranged at the Fillmore Auditorium
and the Avalon Ballroom, an old dance academy in San Francisco.

The oldest of three boys, Chester Leo Helms was born at Santa Maria,
California, on August 2 1942. When Chet was nine, his father died, and the
family moved to Texas. He dropped out of the state university, adopted the
uniform of beard and shoulder-length hair, and gained his first experience
in the music business by putting on concerts in aid of civil rights groups.

Aged 20 he was living at Austin, the Texan capital, but decided to try his
luck in San Francisco. He settled at Haight-Ashbury, a run-down district of
San Francisco which became an international "headquarters" of the hippie
movement, where he hosted jam sessions for aspiring bands, one of which was
Big Brother and the Holding Company. On one of his trips back to Texas he
persuaded Janis Joplin, whom he had heard sing on stage at the University of
Texas, to hitchhike with him to San Francisco. He later introduced Joplin to
Big Brother, who, with Helms as their manager, made their debut at the
Avalon in June 1966. A year later, at the Monterey Festival, they made a
famous appearance which established Janis Joplin as one of the leading
performers of her day.

Helms had set up his own company, called Family Dog, investing it with a
famous logo of an American Indian in a stovepipe hat with a cigarette
dangling from his lips; and in 1966 he produced three shows at the Fillmore
with the promoter Bill Graham. Graham, however, decided to go solo, and was
soon to establish the Fillmore as one of the most famous rock venues in
America. Helms, meanwhile, continued to put on shows at the Avalon until
1970 - the year that Janis Joplin died, aged 27, from a drugs overdose.

Thereafter he continued on and off as a promoter until 1980, when he opened
the Atelier Dore art gallery in San Francisco, which he continued to run
until his retirement last year. In recent years he had become increasingly
interested in digital photography.

In 2001, after an erroneous report of his death, Helms organised a mock
funeral to which he invited 200 people. He placed himself in a coffin and
was driven in a hearse to the Gold Coast restaurant in San Francisco. The
coffin opened to reveal the "dead man" in repose surrounded by flowers and
with a mobile phone on his chest. The phone then rang, and Helms rose slowly
to answer it before walking through the crowd and a host of photographers.

Chet Helms actually died on June 25, from complications following a stroke.
He is survived by his wife, Judy Davis, and a stepdaughter.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

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