In 1969, the notorious Hells Angels motorcycle club, whose members rode Harley Davidson bikes, was hired for security management at the Altamont Free Concert. Hells Angels was considered as an organised crime syndicate by the US government, but they had provided security before and were therefore hired by the organisers.
The Rolling Stones were the concert's final act. By the time they came on the stage, several fights had erupted between members of the Hells Angels and people in the audience. While the band was performing, an 18-year-old African American man approached the stage and was beaten and chased off by Hells Angels men. The man, Meredith Hunter, came back, this time with a gun. He was tackled by a member of the Hells Angels who stabbed him five times, and was stomped upon by other members. Hunter, who also had methamphetamine in his system, died in the arena.
Looking back, Sam Cutler, who was the road manager to The Rolling Stones then, describes it as "a sickening day, full of violence and hatred, that no amount of music could have saved from itself."
Cutler has been a producer and stage manager for events that included artistes such as Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, and is currently in India to talk about his new book, You Can't Always Get What You Want, at the Mumbai Lit Fest. The book covers some of his high times with the Grateful Dead. He spoke to HuffPost India over email about his life on the road, Bob Dylan, and the current music scene.
Cutler was also the tour manager of The Rolling Stones during their 1969 tour of America. "The band was appalled, as was I," he says about the Altamont Concert. Asked if there was anything that he could have done differently, he says, "That's an absurd position to try and take. In answer to that question, I would be forced to answer -- 'I would have been born as a gorilla' and not bothered with anything but bananas and missed the whole event."
Sam Cutler is known as the man who first referred to The Rolling Stones as the greatest rock and roll band in the world, a claim that has stood the test of time. "I can think of no other band more deserving of the title," he says.
"We were 'poorer' then (just after WW2) and there wasn't the ubiquitous influence of second rate music. One was forced to go out and discover the 'real deal'. Nowadays kids are more 'spoon fed' in their tastes, they seem to be into the 'lowest common denominator' in their stylistic concerns, less willing to go out on a limb and chose what might prove to be unpopular with their peers," Cutler says, explaining how the life and times of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and their peers had shaped their music. "It requires an extraordinary dedication to an instrument -- one has to spend an inordinate amount of time playing an instrument before one gets any good at it, and then, one has to have 'talent'. It also helps if one is a little mad," he adds.
Cutler is a Buddhist and has been to India many times. He has listened to Alla Rakha, Ravi Shankar and Ghulam Ali all his life and believes that there is no band in the American music scene right now he would like to manage. "I have no wish to do anything but write," he says.
His book, You Can't Always Get What You Want, has intimate portraits of artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Band, The Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton, along with his times with the Grateful Dead. "Every time the Grateful Dead played I was convinced it was the most perfect musical expression available. They were an amazing band and I loved being there with their music," he says, talking about his time with the band. "I have wanted to be a writer since I was a teenager and somehow 'life' got in the way. I got side-tracked by the music business into wanting to be some Napoleonic figure that raised himself above the boring trivia of existence by working with the major artists of his time. Now, I rather prefer the trivia of existence to the 'madness of rock' but I look back on those days with fond memories."
Asked if there will be other greats like The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, Cutler replies, "Better a false hope than an unendurable reality!" Speaking of unendurable reality, Cutler says he is pleased that Dylan is treating the Nobel Prize with contempt. "It is a prize for literature (and Peace etc) founded by a man whose explosives have killed and maimed millions -- hardly suitable for the man who wrote 'Masters of War'. Dylan's silence is eloquent in the extreme and I salute him, plus he doesn't need the money or the recognition, why on earth should he chose to validate the prize? It's certainly not validating him!"
Cutler parts with an important and revealing piece of advice for young, struggling artists: "Be prepared for a very hard life, full of rich rewards for the very few."