SANTA FE, N.M. — John H. Morris Jr of Santa Fe, N.M., the creator and first managing director of The Fillmore East rock and roll theatre in New York City, and the production manager of the original Woodstock Festival of Art and Music, died at his Santa Fe home Friday, November 10, after a long illness.
Born in Grammercy Park, N.Y., in 1939, 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, 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 United States with casts, including John Cleese, Cass Elliot, Peter Bellwood and Joe Maher.
In July of 1967, during “the summer of love,” 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 week-long Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead rock and roll residency at Toronto’s O’Keefe Theatre produced by Morris and fellow Carnegie Tech alum Joshua White for West Coast rock and roll empresario, Bill Graham.
In Toronto, Morris and White introduced elaborate theatrical staging to the world of rock and roll, including the first psychedelic light show projected from behind a giant screen. Their theatrical innovations in concert production have evolved into today’s elaborate staging of popular music shows and festivals.
Morris produced Jefferson Airplane’s first East Coast tour before rejoining White in December of 1967, to produce a weeklong Festival of Light and Music at the Minneola Theatre, featuring shows by Frank Zappa, Vanilla Fudge, Tim Buckley and Ravi Shankar, that formally launched the psychedelic Joshua Light Show.
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.
Eighteen days after Graham and partners, including Bob Dylan’s agent Albert Grossman, acquired Lowes lower East Side Village Theater, Morris, and a crew that included theater 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, Morris was invited to join the production team for the Woodstock Festival of Art and Music. For Woodstock, Morris booked most of the bands which would appear at Woodstock, assuring that both 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 US rock bands, Morris launched London’s first rock and roll theatre, The Rainbow, in Finsbury Park, with The Who as its opening act, November 4, 1971.
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 United Kingdom and Europe, and Cadogan Productions in the United States, mounted concerts for artists such as Stevie Ray Vaugh, David Bowie, Pink Floyd 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, 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 antiques, fine art and design shows, throughout the United States. For the next 28 years, their antiquities shows, Native American art shows and Objects of Art shows were produced in Santa Fe, N.M., New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Scottsdale and Napa, Calif.
The son of John H. Morris and Louise Morris, John’s Grammercy Park childhood in New York City was interrupted when his father returned to active duty in the US Army during the Korean War, and he attended sixth grade in three states, before the family settled in Pleasantville, N.Y., following the war.
John H. Morris Jr is survived by his partner of 33 years, Luzann Fernandez of Santa Fe; brother, Mark Morris of Sneden’s Landing, N.Y.; nephew, Eric Morris of Los Angeles; nieces, Nicole Merrick and her husband, Keil; Marie Fernandez and her husband, Guillermo Serrano Terren; and Katie Fernandez; grandnephews, Oliver and Charlie Merrick, and grandniece, Kate Merrick.
Morris 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 may be made in Morris’ memory to Assistance Dogs of the West in Santa Fe (www.assistancedogsofthewest.org/).