Images by Sam Cutler
Sam Cutler literally wrote the book on touring with rock stars. Putting on shows for bands like Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead, Eric Claption's band Blind Faith, and the Rolling Stones, he became a key player in the newly emerging rock and roll era of the 60s. With modest beginnings at pub gigs, eventually 100 people grew to 500, then 5000 and then exploded in to 500,000 when The Rolling Stones played Hyde Park. Sam lived the highs and lows of touring with rock stars, most notably as tour manager when The Stones headlined the infamous Altamont Free Concert, where Meredith Hunter was stabbed metres from the band. We spoke to Sam about his life on the road and the inner workings of rock and rolls most famous bands.
VICE: You started off doing small gigs and festivals and climbed the ladder so to speak. Who were some of the now well-known bands you organised at that tipping point?
Sam Cutler: I started with shows for bands like Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd, eventually putting on Eric Clapton's band Blind Faith in Hyde Park. Which was not very good musically—they were all fucking smacked out on heroin. Nobody seemed to mind though. It was a lovely summers day, 100 odd thousand people turned up including Mick Jagger. Mick just loved it and he talked to me a lot about it at the show because nobody was drunk, nobody got arrested. Those were the days when people would go to a show, smoke a joint and everything would be peace and love. Very Beautiful—unlike America. One thing led to another and Mick asked me to organise the show. The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park was the biggest PA assembled of its kind at that time; when you look at what we've done since it's minute. There was half a million people at that show and nobody got hurt, nobody got arrested, it was wonderful.
Did you have any idea that 500,000 people would show up at Hyde Park?
Honestly, no. But when Brian Jones died a few days before we knew it would be a very significant cultural event. There was a lot of sympathy for The Stones, not only from Brian's death but because they'd been persecuted by the authorities for so long. They were always getting arrested, being raided by the cops—they became like the people's band.
Where did your job as tour manager begin and end?
Well basically I was their personal tour manager, so I looked after them individually. They wiped their own arses, brushed their own teeth, and played the music. Other than that I did everything else: helped them when they were sick, organise where we would sleep, where we would eat, make sure they got to the plane, things like that. The first thing about being on tour is that everyone needs to survive; they need to go from one end of the tour to the other. I'll say one thing about The Rolling Stones—The Rolling Stones are very professional. Everyone was committed to helping one another survive. They were all very English which is a very kind of civilized—you know, "pleases and thank yous".
It's all out of love in the end man. If I didn't love them I couldn't possibly do it, they didn't pay me enough! A tour manager can't, you have to be the last man standing. If someone decides to call you at 4am with a problem you get up and solve it. I had Jerry Garcia called me one time to tell me there was a man in his room with a gun and he was about to kill him! At that point you can't just say "Ah sorry mate, call me back at 8am". The biggest thing for a tour manager is being able to be that person that you can sit down with to talk and know that that person wouldn't tell anybody else in the world; that that confidence is respected until the day that man dies. I know shit about all The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead that's fucking terrible but I still respect it; I'll take those to my grave.
You organised The Stones to play the infamous Altamont Free Concert where a lot of shit went wrong. There's a theory that because the LSD going around was in pill form and super strong (twelve times the normal dose), that it was a government plot to end psychedelic culture. Do you believe that?
I do, I don't think there's any doubt about it frankly. The interesting fact surrounding that is all the documents and paperwork from both the CIA and the FBI were destroyed, deliberately and illegally. The government believed that the rock and roll movement and the festivals associated with it were going to be used as vehicles to raise money for extremist groups… I have no doubt in my mind that the federal government deliberately set out to destroy rock and roll festivals to stop the potential "radicalisation" of the 10s of thousands of kids that were attending.
The acid at Altamont was tainted. I know people that have made hundreds of millions of trips before it was even illegal and they all say the same thing. They would of had to been pressed using a tabbing machine that only the government would have access to. No underground chemist used machines like that; even if you had the money you can't buy one without being closely monitored. There were hundreds and hundreds of people that had bad trips at Altamont, and there had never been or has ever been one like it since that day.
There's footage from Altamont where you're seen ushering the Stones and some others into the waiting helicopter. What was it like on that ride?
There were no discussions. Everybody was terrified; everybody was just in shock. It was a very difficult thing to experience. Who was in the helicopter? Myself, the band, and various people associated with the band. It was a quiet ride back to San Francisco that's for sure.
The Stones flew straight back to England the next morning. How long after that was it until you spoke to someone from the Rolling Stones?
Years. The Rolling Stones are great "users" of people. Once they've decided what they want, if somebody has fucked up or there are legal issues and they don't want to be associated with that person anymore, they just drop them. That's been going on a long time—that's who they are. The Rolling Stones are founded on the basis of "We don't give a shit about anybody" and they still don't.
You'd worked with them for a year, obviously become quite close friends and then they just dropped you and left you to pick up the pieces. Do you hold any resentment?
Nah, they're just rock and rollers man. They're rip-offs if you want to call a spade a spade, and the reason they're rip-off's is because Allen Klein ripped them off. So their attitude since Allen treated them abominably is to treat everybody else abominably. They still haven't paid me to this day. They still use footage of me without permission but their attitude is "Fuck you, sue us". They're a tough bunch on that level but that's Mick and Keith—primarily Mick.
I write to Charlie once in a while, we remained distant friends. I retain a residual affection for the band as a band and I still love their early music of course.
It's an era synonymous with heroin, had it made an appearance on the scene by then?
I was opposed to heroin so I was never offered it and didn't really see it. In the Rolling Stones the only person into it at that time was Keith…you see it's not a very good drug for being on tour. You need a lot of energy to be a rock and roller, you need to get on stage and dance about and do all that kind of shit and heroin's no good for that. You want something that lifts you up; the Peruvian marching powder may just be that. But if I'd seen heroin I would've busted it. It's the exact opposite of being high; it's the exact opposite of any kind of elevated consciousness, so as somebody that's an old tripper I've always stayed away—I've lost too many friends from that shit.
I'll never forget I went home to see my mum once, I hadn't seen her in a long time since I'd been on the road and travelling—she was in her 70s. She was looking a bit sad and after asking her what was wrong she told me that she was at that stage in her life when all her friends were dying. I laughed! I didn't mean to but I said "Fuck, I've been at that stage in my life since I was 18-years-old!"
For more of Sam Cutler's stories from backstage you can pick up a copy of Sam's book here.
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