Goodbye Chet Helms

I’m sorry to announce that Chet Helms lost his battle to stay alive.

The Father of the “Summer of Love” Chet Helms Dead From Stroke at 62

Born August 2nd, 1942 Died June 25th, 2005

San Francisco—Impresario Chet Helms who was known at the “Father of the Summer of Love” and was the manager & founder of “Big Brother & the Holding Company” with Janis Joplin as well as the first to produce psychedelic light show concerts at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium then later at his own Avalon Ballrooms passed away at 12:35 AM, Saturday, June 25th at San Francisco’s Pacific Medical Center from complications due to a stroke Helms suffered on Tuesday, August 21st. Helms was surrounded by his brother John Helms and six close friends at the time of his death. Helms was born August 25th, 1942 in Santa Maria, California but lived much of his youth in Austin Texas.

A press conference will be announced Sunday, August 26th and plans for his memorial will be announced at a later date.

No discussion involving the Sixties, the source of the “San Francisco sound” or the “Summer of Love” can take place without mentioning Chet Helms, a front-line contributor to the people, ideas and events surrounding the most dynamic decade in American history.

Chet Helms and his production company, the Family Dog, turned small get-togethers of local musicians and artists into a scene that eventually produced the great, legendary gatherings of the Summer of Love. Rock promoter Bill Graham first turned to Chet Helms and his well-connected family of artists and audiences in San Francisco to build his own promotional empire, well after the local “scene” had been established and nurtured in coffee houses all over the city.

Helms was born in Santa Maria, California, in 1942, and spent most of his youth in Texas and Missouri. While attending the University of Texas in Austin, he was drawn to the civil rights movement bubbling under in the South. A stepchild from a mixed-race marriage, Helms became actively engaged in organizing benefits for non-profit civil and human rights groups, all the while learning and using the tools of the trade he would later apply to the world of rock concert promotion.

Helms moved from Austin to San Francisco for the first time in the summer of 1962. He returned to Austin briefly in 1963 to beckon then-unknown folksinger Janis Joplin to hitch-hike back with him, telling her he would help promote her career in San Francisco.

Wer’e going to miss you, Chet.

2 comments to Goodbye Chet Helms

  • emily hodges

    chester spent his adolescence in ft worth, where he and i attended polytechnic high school. we, along with two others, my girl friend and my high school sweetheart, were the class geeks – both the guys wore a pen protector. he went to austin in the fall of 1960 to the university of texas. i think he spent time in missouri, with the fundamentalist grandfather – which is where he learned to do publicity, as he did it for his grandfather’s revival meetings – inbetween california and texas. his stepfather was a korean, Rev Moon, also a strict baptist. i saw him last a year and a half ago, at which time we talked about memoirs. i’m a berkeley trained historian and thought long and hard about how i could get from chicago to sf and just sit him down and say, “talk, chester…..” my own health difficulties prevented that and it is now a matter of eternal regret that i was unable to help push this forward.

    i cannot forget all the hours we spent sitting in the evenings on my front porch, among fireflies and june bugs, debating the meaning of life, the role of organized religion in our lives (there is a serious story there, i’m not ready to tell it…), extentialist philosophers and the algebra problems i needed help with.

    i’ve other stories – don’t know yet what i will do with them, but thought you might like to know that he had a history before he hit san francisco and that you might appreciate a little clarificaton on your own writing.

    rock and roll.

    i’ve also got a high school annual with his picture sans beard if you want to use it for your tribute.

  • Vince Prygoski

    I never met Chet Helms, but I wish I had. I am very familiar with the role he played in the hippie scene, which I was born too late to have been a part of in its original era but am definitely a part of today! My condolences to Chet’s family and friends, and may we all do what we can to keep his spirit alive in the world. As more of the original beatniks and hippies pass away, it is up to the younger ones to carry on the tradition and keep the vision alive.

    Rest in peace, brother Chet…and say hello to Jerry, Janis, Allen, and all the others who have crossed over.

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