SAN FRANSISCO: Chet Helms, the man who gave Janis Joplin to San Francisco, has died. The Summer of Love legend was 62. He died at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center due to complications arising as a result of a stroke.
Announcing his death, his wife Judy Davis said, “It was a beautiful death. It was a goodbye party. We all sang to him and told stories. He died as he lived — surrounded by love.” Helms was the man who introduced legendary singer Joplin, was the founder and manager of Big Brother and the Holding Company. He also organized free concerts and “Human Be-ins” at the Golden Gate Park. These became the famous backdrops for his unforgettable 1967 Summer of Love.
Chester Leo Helms was born on Aug. 2, 1942. He was the oldest of three sons of Chester and Novella Helms. He lost his father at a tender age of 9. After this event, the family migrated to Texas where their grandfather raised the boys. Mr. Helms came to San Francisco in 1961. He had dropped out of the University of Texas in the same year.
He then became fascinated by rock music after attending a Rolling Stones concert at Civic Auditorium. He then helped found the Big Brother and the Holding Company. Mr. Helms joined up with the late Bill Graham to produce three shows at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1966. In 1979, he got back into organizing concerts through the Tribal Stomp II, a music festival at Monterey County Fairgrounds.
In 1997, he tried to recreate a Council for the Summer of Love, for a 30th anniversary celebration, but the show was messily organized and the city asked him to pay up $29,407 for police overtime costs. To this Mr. Helms famously replied, “We will make every effort to pay. But I don’t have $29,000. I don’t think among us we have $29,000. You can have my jacket.”
Paying tribute to him, Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead and many other bands, said, “Chet Helms was like one of the founding fathers of music scene here. He was really the heart and soul of the music scene here in San Francisco. He was more than just a promoter. The Avalon really captured the spirit and the vibe of the era.”
Barry Melton, the lead guitarist for Country Joe & the Fish, said, “Without Chet, there would be no Grateful Dead, no Big Brother and the Holding Company, no Jefferson Airplane, no Country Joe & the Fish, no Quicksilver Messenger Service. He wasn’t just a promoter; he was a supporter of music and art. He supported people emotionally, psychologically and psychically. He made the scene what it was.”
Jerilyn Brandelius, his assistant of 30 years, said, “We were part of an epoch,. He was a mover and a shaker but in the most gentle way. He was a producer not a promoter. He had the ability to set up an environment where people could feel free to create art. He took joy in that. This is going to be a tough one. His effect on people on a daily basis was transformative.”
Mr. Helms was grappling with health problems as he was affected by hepatitis C, a viral disease that leads to permanent liver damage. He suffered a stroke last Tuesday and scans revealed that there was clot formation in his brain.
His wife, stepdaughter, Sarah Davis, brothers John Helms of San Francisco and Jim Helms of Hawaii; and three grandchildren survive Mr. Helms.