‘The Baron of Bearsville’, manager and entreprenuer Albert Grossman (b. 1926) was the Pied Piper whom many followed to the area. He created a safe haven for musicians, who wanted to be surrounded by beauty while pursuing their muse – and a good bit of pleasure too.
As the manager of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Band and other icons, his judgement was considered impeccable. He elevated the status of his clients from ‘entertainer’ to ‘artist’, while he reinvented the role of personal manager, becoming the most powerful music manager in the sixties.
Grossman was a Chicago native (and son of immigrants) who studied economics and psychology in college – a good combination for a future manager. His love of music and knack for recognising talent began at the Gate of Horn, a folk club he co-founded in Chicago in 1957. Odetta, whom he bought from San Francisco to Chicago, was one of his early clients.
Grossman relocated to New York City in 1961. There, he dreamed up a folk trio with commercial potential and artistic integrity. He put together his client Peter Yarrow, with Mary Travers and Noel (Paul) Stookey to form Peter, Paul & Mary. In 1963, they sang ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ at the March on Washington; its author Bob Dylan, had signed with Grossman in 1962. The deep Dylan-Grossman relationship was documented in the D.A. Pennebaker film, Don’t Look Back. With Grossman’s shrewd guidance of his brilliant client, Dylan became the most influencial singer-songwriter in the world.
After Grossman bought an estate on Striebel Road in Bearsville in 1963, Dylan soon followed, as did other artists in Grossman’s world, as well as activists, writers, poets and movie stars. He and his wife Sally hosted such houseguests as Allen Ginsburg, Peter Coyote, George and Pattie Harrison, Nico, and Johnny Cash and June Carter (before their marraige). Dylan, Robbie Robertston, and others occupied cottages on the property. His estate offered privacy with a sign by the driveway that stated, IF YOU HAVE NOT TELEPHONED, YOU ARE TRESPASSING.
Among the 20-plus clients Grossman managed, he developed particularly close relationships with Janis Joplin, the Band, Paul Butterfield, and Todd Rundgren. A connoisseur of fine food and antiques, he built two restaurants – the Bear (French) and The Little Bear (Chinese) – so he could eat well. He dreamed of creating an artist community, which he did via his Bearsville Studios (1969) and Bearsville Records label (1970). An acoustically perfect Bearsville Theater was planned as the jewel in the crown. Fittingly, his nickname had been “the Bear” long before he discovered the hamlet – but by his death of a sudden heart attack (aboard the Concorde) in 1986, the name Albert Grossman had become synonymous with Bearsville. He is buried on the property of the Bearsville Theater, which opened three years after his death.
“Albert was a man of unusual tastes and a different kind of insight into music. He was concerned first and foremost with authenticity. Did the music have real substance, value, and honesty? But he was also concerned with having impact and influence in the larger world… lt was a very rare combination.” Peter Yarrow