Tom Donahue

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b. 21 May 1928, South Bend, Indiana, USA, d. 28 April 1975, USA. Affectionately known as ‘Big Daddy’ in deference to his massive girth, Donahue played a pivotal role in the evolution of San Franciscan…
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b. 21 May 1928, South Bend, Indiana, USA, d. 28 April 1975, USA. Affectionately known as ‘Big Daddy’ in deference to his massive girth, Donahue played a pivotal role in the evolution of San Franciscan music. He arrived in the city in 1961, having already established himself as a leading disc jockey with Philadelphia’s top station WBIG. At KYA he befriended colleague Bob Mitchell, and together they began promoting concerts at the Cow Palace auditorium. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were two of the acts presented there. Donahue and Mitchell founded Autumn Records in 1964. They scored a national hit with Bobby Freeman’s ‘C’mon And Swim’, before embracing nascent American rock with the Beau Brummels. Fellow disc jockey Sylvester Stewart, aka Sly Stone, produced many of the label’s acts. The entrepreneurs also established a North Beach club, Mothers, which showcased some of the early acts synonymous with the San Franciscan sound, including the Great Society. However, they singularly failed to sign other important acts, including the Charlatans, the Grateful Dead and Dino Valenti, despite recording demos with them. This hesitancy was one of the factors contributing to Autumn’s demise. Mitchell died in 1966, but Donahue retained his influential position. He managed several artists, including Ron Nagle, Sal Valentino and the aforementioned Valenti, and revolutionized radio at station KSAN-FM by adopting a bold ‘album’ format. He masterminded an ambitious touring revue, the Medicine Ball Caravan, which later spawned a film, and Donahue remained a fixture within the city until his premature death from a heart attack in 1975.