Archive for The Grateful Dead

GuitarSong #3

Posted in Education, Guitar Songs, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The third installment of the new GuitarSong series profiles Dickey Betts and the Allman Brothers Band’s iconic and genre-defining instrumental Jessica from the 1973 album, Brothers and Sisters. This was the album where Dickey really stepped up to drive the ABB to new heights of success with this tune and the smash hit Rambling Man. But he had been a great guitarist and creative force in the band from the very beginning and, of course would continue on as a Brother until (almost) the official end of the band. The ABB were easily one of America’s best bands and the whole package: the playing, the tunes, the drink, the drugs and the highs and lows are so much a part of the story. They lived every song they ever created.

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The Allman Brothers Band were one of the most original and promising new bands to emerge from the late 1960s. A talented band of 7 road warriors they fused elements of blues, jazz, swing and rock and roll to create a whole new sound and style. Not only are they usually credited with inventing Southern Rock, they also (along with the Grateful Dead) were the prototype for every jam band that has existed since the early 1970s. The band was successful and flying high when tragedy brought down both Duane Allman and stellar bassist Berry Oakley in the space of a little over a year. By the end of 1972 the band was desperate to get back to work and prove that they could carry on in the face of this loss. The Brothers and Sisters album would be a commercial and critical triumph and would launch the band to fame and fortune. During the recording of this album Forrest Richard (Dickey) Betts, the second guitarist in the band, picked up the reins and became the new leader of the group. Duane was gone and Greg was not in great shape at the time. Dickie was not only a great picker, but he had also already contributed tunes that became early ABB standards: Revival, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Blue Sky, and Les Brers in A Minor. He wrote four of the seven songs from the album and in the process, expanded the sound and direction of the band.

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What made the Allman Brothers different is that they were not a straight ahead rock and roll band, nor were they strictly blues-based players. Duane had mentioned the influence of Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue was on the instrumental vision of his soloing and the band’s aesthetic. Dickey was a fan of country, western swing and jazz legend Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt’s love of diminished arpeggios seem to influence Betts’ composition “Elizabeth Reed” and Jessica was written as a bonafide homage to Django; a song that could be played with two fingers. The bouncy, jazzy A-major melody was also influenced by Betts’ young daughter, Jessica, who was crawling around the floor as Betts was trying to write the melody. There was some help from guitarist Les Dudek and other members of the band, including new keyboard player Chuck Leavell on banging a bridge and the rest of the structure of the song into shape and later this would be a bone of contention among the principals as far as songwriting credits go, but it is undeniable that the source and vision of this 7 and a half minute piece of goodness was Dickey Betts. His contributions to the Brothers and Sisters album cover all bases in hot guitar playing; blazing country rock (Ramblin’ Man), stinging slide guitar (Wasted Words), the soulful bluesy guitar (Come and Go Blues, Jelly, Jelly) rock and roll (Southbound) and delicate dobro (Pony Boy). Jessica, however, was the album’s centerpiece, not only in terms of execution, but also the sophistication of the construction, something Dickey related to … architecture!

The instrumentals are very studied,” says Betts. “It’s called architecture, and for a good reason. It’s much like somebody designing a building. It’s meticulously constructed, and every aspect has its place. Writing a good one is very fulfilling, because you’ve transcended language and spoken to someone with a melody. My instrumentals try to create some of the basic feelings of human interaction, like anger and joy and love.”

Dickey Betts

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The song has the structure of a jazz standard; after an intro kicked off by Les Dudek on acoustic guitar, the melody line is stated by Dickey with Chuck Leavell playing the top harmony line of a Fender Rhodes piano and Gregg Allman playing the bottom harmony on Hammond organ. After two “A” parts the song navigates to the harmonized bridge “B” and then back to the third “A” before the solos start. This is a common AABA jazz standard structure. The harmony chords are a simple A-D-G vamp style for the main theme and modulate to G for the bridge. The harmony is the same for the keyboard solo and then, after an ascending line modulate to the key of D for Dickey’s solo. The band returns to the bridge after the intense harmonized descending lines that end his solo and then does the theme again before the song ends. The feel of the song is bouncy and rollicking and the almost bagpipe nature of the guitar solo gives it an element of a pagan Celtic dance. Speaking of which, here’s a interview with Dickey where he talks about many things, including “the pipes”. It’s interesting how he believes that “you can trace country or American music back to the bagpipes” because there are is a lot of that sound in his playing, especially in country type songs like Ramblin’ Man and Jessica. Dickey’s clean, lyrical guitar with the easy vibrato and ringing against another string bending results in a sound that approximates the sound of pipes, or the reel of a violin when he’s playing those major hexatonic fiddle-type lines. Interesting viewpoint especially since the original inspiration for this song, Django Reinhardt, played for many years with the great violinist/fiddler Stephane Grappelli. Reinhardt and Grappelli were a huge influence on American Western Swing bands and Dickey is also a fan of that music.

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There are many links to lessons on how to play Jessica, including one with Dickey himself here. Also, here, here, here and here. For people who prefer to read tab, try songsterr. The tabs there seem pretty accurate and having a midi player track through all of the changes as they happen can help you work through the song accurately. If you’re a member I think you can slow down the tempo.

Here is a good primer of Dickey’s style complete with review of some of his pentatonic and hexatonic patterns courtesy of Guitar World.

Here is the video companion to the above Guitar World lesson with Andy Aledort.

Here’s a great primer on getting that Dickey guitar tone.

Here’s an interesting discussion with Dickey on his 1961 SG.

There are many great ABB concerts on YouTube, including this one from 1979. This was an interesting period for the band. I always like the late Dan Toler’s playing and he is here along with the legendary Bonnie Bramlett and a guest appearance by John Belushi. Dickey and the band are on fire at this show!

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Late last winter, on one of the first days that spring weather beckoned, I made my way to the local park. It was late morning and as I sat on a bench sipping a beverage in the 40 degree temps a guy on a bike with a huge boombox rolled up to an opposite bench. A couple minutes later the first strains of Jessica were heard and the volume was then cranked. The change that came over the park and everyone there was magical. The song has the power to turn any location into one of those groovy, warm and beautiful mega-festivals from so many years ago. I felt like I had ingested magic mushrooms and almost wished I had some at that moment. The song had turned me into one of the many sunbeams now glowing over neighborhood in the first days of Spring. Even though I have heard the song literally five hundred times I heard it for the first time again that day. That a forty year old rock song would have the power to put young, old, rich, poor, drunk and Sunday sober people into a instantaneous good mood is pretty amazing and a testament to the power of music and of an absolutely stellar guitar tune.

Not To Touch the Earth

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2014 by theguitarcave

Taking The Doors music one step further (remember, this all started with Johnny Ramone or wait, was it Jimmy Page?) let’s talk about Robby Krieger. He’s never been thought of as one of the powerhouses of electric guitar (he’s rated #76 on Rolling Stone‘s Greatest Guitarists list). Yet, he was/is quite the capable guy and unlike most of his peers from that period, or ever, played fingerstyle instead of using a pick, or plectrum if you will. Originally trained on flamenco guitar, he moved on to learning bottleneck, folk, rock and even a bit of jazz, with Wes Montgomery and Larry Carlton named as big influences. In the process he helped The Doors become one of the most popular bands in America and to this day they are considered one of the best American bands ever. Though he wasn’t a virtuoso he played many an interesting guitar part and wrote music that had a huge impact on the popular musical landscape (his song Light My Fire has been covered 974,322 times or something). The LMF solo is a great example of a guitar in the DORIAN mode although that’s only 1 way to imagine it. I wonder what Robbie was thinking. It has a very 60s sound (in a good way). Obviously the above clip of Spanish Caravan, which incorporates musical ideas from Asturias (Leyenda), written by Isaac Albéniz, highlights Robbie’s flamenco abilities and when combined with Jim Morrison’s lyrics and the band’s penchant for drama, a very exotically beautiful song emerges. Below is a classical interpretation of Asturias (Leyenda). (Sharon Isben is pretty impressive, isn’t she?)

I think of Robbie and The Doors as playing primarily textured music with an ever present theatrical edge and very jazzy tinge. Since Ray Manzarek functioned as a keys/organ/piano/bassist instead of the standard bass player this was (and is) evocative of Wes Montgomery and others from the jazz age with a guitar/organ/drum lineup. Musically anyway. None of those trios had Jim Morrison for a singer, but the interesting thing is, Jim was a crooner (ala Frank Sinatra) so maybe The Doors were the second best (after various Miles’s lineups) jazz band of the 60s? (haha) I’m not seriously suggesting that any more than I was serious that Led Zeppelin was the best jazz band of the 70s, but obviously The Doors, along with Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers (and The Dead) did a whole lot of listening to and a whole lot of incorporating of various jazz elements into their ostensibly ROCK sound. The Doors sound was cold and weird and sometimes (when the organ was the dominant riff of the song) they evoked the nightmarish possibilities of a Clive Barker/Stephen King horror psychotic carnival band. Having an eye for theatrical presentation (Jim Morrison was a film student and heavily influenced by The Living Theatre) helped turn many of the band’s performances from the earliest days into a very strange trip on the dark road at the end of the night. But even without those elements, when the band sat for televised, no-audience sessions (because their performances had become a little too extreme, at least in the eyes of the authorities) they constructed a uniquely dynamic sound with what was already an established type of band line-up. The line-up is still popular in jazz and is especially suited to more intimate surroundings as shown in the following clip.

A few years ago I explored the history of one song, The World is Waiting for the Sunrise and tried to illustrate its evolution as “name” players performed it over a span of almost 60 years. I thought it would interesting to do the same thing with one of the prettiest (if slightly insane) songs The Doors ever recorded, The Crystal Ship, which was one of the songs the band mimed on American Bandstand, the America’s Got Talent of yesteryear.

Obviously a HUGE part of the band’s appeal was Jim Morrison’s presence vocal delivery. Keep in mind this clip is 47 years old — this isn’t some shoegaze band from the early 90s. The Doors, put out a whole lot of emotion and feeling in this song and no one has ever completely matched their brand of seductive danger and weirdness. How might one try to capture some of that feeling in a solo guitar piece? Well…this first example recalls Robby Krieger’s flamenco influences or, possibly one can almost hear some José Feliciano or Django Reinhardt in it, something like Django’s song Tears perhaps.

The point is not to focus so much on the playing, although I think it is very well done. While it is not as fiery nor does it have the virtuosity of most of Django’s work, the song (like the harmonic structure in Tears) is very satisfying to play and listen to and more or less arranges itself. A very accessible structure, a haunting melody, supported by various harmonic elements that are reminiscent of either Morrison’s voice or Manzarek’s keyboard and variations throughout that can be improvised or not depending on the mood of the player. It doesn’t have to be played the same way every time. Yet the tone of the guitar and some of the harmonic inventions make this much more than a verbatim cover. Here is another version done a bit more simply, but just as well in a more traditional fingerpicking type of way. Notice that this player’s interpretation doesn’t take as many liberties but throws in a couple of nice moves. I love the Fmaj9-Fmaj thing. Artistic license but done in a way that completely fits with the arrangement he has put together. Very cool. Also note that none of these players are famous, but that is the beauty of Youtube and world-wide connectivity.

If you would like to learn to play either of these arrangements, both players have been kind enough to either put the music as is the case with the first version here, or a part by part walk-through for the second starting here. Finally, here is a third version that is a very stylin’ jazz archtop thing. Notice the rhythm change and all of the melodic and harmonic inventiveness not found in the other versions. Great stuff! But also notice it is no longer very haunting — the song has lost all of its quiet insanity. The tune is peppy and has the same bounce as Girl From Ipanema maybe. But, as with the other performances, it IS the same tune and the limit of where it’s going depends only on the arrangement and the player.

I have been listening to more music from the 60s and 70s lately (hence the recent posts), but as you can see, I am interested in how people today interpreting this music. I have been messing around with my own interpretations of various things and there is something about music from this period that lends itself to this type of experimentation. Perhaps the same could be said for any period of music, but there was so much experimentation and blurring of styles during this era that sometimes the songs just naturally fall into whatever mood you want to make them. Try it for yourself maybe…You might find that thinking like an arranger and arranging your own versions of material can make you a better all-around musician in the process. It also makes for a nice break between technique-type practicing.

Jimmy Jazz

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2014 by theguitarcave
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By now you know I’m a total Zep head and it occurred to me the other that Led Zeppelin was, at the height of their career, the world’s best JAZZ band! As I will illustrate this isn’t an unheard of concept and Led Zeppelin was not the first, but they are definitely the most legendary and successful out of all who attempted this cross-over. Of course the concept began began with, and revolved around, Jimmy Page. Onstage he was the lead soloist of a combo that would sometimes do 30-minute versions of Zeppelin studio material/cover songs. In the studio, whether as a guitarist or producer, he constructed Zep’s body of work with the precision and care of Mozart or Wagner, layering instruments and tracks into sonic artworks of beauty, power, mystique and awesomeness. Everybody knows all that already, but approaching it from the angle that they weren’t really a rock band means you might hear something different the next time you encounter a Zeppelin tune. I’ve been listening to them since the 1970s and believe it or not, this happened to me recently. So let’s have a go! (as they say in the (UK)

As the Yardbirds were dissolving in 1968, Jimmy Page and Peter Grant came up with a strategy for the group that would become Led Zeppelin based on what they had seen in the USA on the Yardbirds’ final tour – music that was outside the milieu of the radio-friendly singles market. Both Grant and Page thought that the group that would be Zeppelin could take on American heavies like Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly and do way better with the same formula. Interestingly enough, as related in Hammer of the Gods, Page had been considering a group in the Pentangle mode, because of his love and respect for artists like Bert Jansch, in particular, and acoustic music in general. Page is quoted as saying, “At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that LP, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.” However, once Page heard and saw John Bonham play he quickly scotched the acoustic idea (at least full-time) and heard everything Zeppelin would become. From the beginning, Zeppelin focused on albums in the studio and explored a wide range of improvisations live. Many of these improvs were blues-based but because of Page’s wide range of influences and the outstanding abilities of Jones and Bonham, the music careened into many different directions with dynamics, including acoustic-based music, that would eventually be known as Zeppelin’s Light and Shade. Robert Plant would also help take the band into interesting directions as he became a more confident frontman and writer. As the group was in the process of launching their career, the world’s first supergroup, Cream, was calling it quits. Not only was Cream lauded by fans in the same way that Zeppelin would be soon (for their ability to just play), they were also taken to task by critics for their “excesses”, which would become a major point of attack by critics against Page and Zeppelin as the 60s gave way to the 70s. In Cream’s farewell movie, both the narrator and Jack Bruce talk about the concept of rock players as “jazzmen” at least as far as what happens during live performances.

Led Zeppelin has never said their approach had more to do with jazz than pop music, which was still the only alternative at the time. CLASSIC ROCK didn’t exist and even though The Beatles had been successful releasing a 7 minute single (Hey Jude), they were The Beatles and had earned the right to do that. Conventional wisdom at the time dictated that music be produced in the conventional format and many bands like The Yardbirds and Cream, were constantly pressured by management that valued hit singles over a sound or a good album that would’ve sold in the newly emerging markets. Led Zeppelin didn’t have to worry about this because their manager, Peter Grant, never pressured the band for music and took anyone who did to task. He was savvy enough to see where the money was in the coming decade and left Jimmy and company alone to do what they wanted. While there are some to this day who view Grant as a gangster and bully because of his tactics, he was the first manager who ensured that the artists he represented got a huge percentage of the credit and compensation for their music and performances. Page insisted on complete creative control as a bargaining chip for Zeppelin’s record deal and Grant made sure he got it. He was the fifth member of Led Zeppelin and was a major factor in their success and has been recognized as a major game-changer in the history of popular music. With his help the band racked up album and concert sales that blew away everyone’s expectations. Not only was the writing and playing good enough to swing multiple generations of fans into Led Zeppelin’s corner, the band took their improvisation ethic to new heights and their live shows became an ever-changing exercise in a variation on a theme. This isn’t what most people think of when JAZZ is discussed, and heavy rockers and serious jazz artists would be equally offended by the term, but the basic drive and aspirations of Miles Davis and Jimmy Page or any of a number of ALT artists, which Zeppelin definitely were at the time, are primarily the same. It matters little what ends up on the disc. So much of that genre classification is all about selling units to consumers. Interestingly enough, when Miles Davis performed at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 with his funky, very rock-influenced fusion band, he responded to a query of what the music was called by saying, “Call it anything.” I highly recommend watching the entire Isle of Wight performance and comparing it to Dazed and Confused (below). There are more similarities than one might think. (Both styles of music do originate in the blues after all). A Led Zeppelin concert from the early days always had “songs”, but the highlights of the show were long improvised workouts on certain studio recordings — How Many More Times, Dazed and Confused, Trampled Underfoot, No Quarter, Whole Lotta Love,Moby Dick and whatever Jimmy picked as his “solo” spot (White Summer/Black Mountainside). As time went on the band was able to create long pieces that didn’t contain the same amount of improvisation but were arranged and conceptualized extended pieces of art: Stairway to Heaven, The Song Remains the Same/The Rain Song, Kashmir, Ten Years Gone, In My Time of Dying, Achilles Last Stand. None of this stuff is really ROCK music even if it sounds like ROCK music. It’s played with rock instruments and played at high volumes but the combination of instrumental prowess and artistic vision in the writing and live interplay produced something more than what most bands, even of that era, were capable of. It really does compare favorably to the best jazz and how the best jazz bands functioned without sacrificing any of the heaviness or youth signals (lyrics, stage theater, drama) that fans responded to.

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Before I got into and started playing jazz music I always thought the version of Dazed and Confused (from The Song Remains the Same movie) was a bit too long and went through one too many “movements”. If it had been up to me, I thought there were two that could have been cut without losing anything from the performance (and this still might be true…improvisers are always in the process of editing and perfection is completely relative). Watching it recently, I thought the band’s performance was and is completely phenomenal. I’ve never liked the “fantasy” sequences in this movie because the band’s ability to take an audience through a half hour of music, power, drama and performance is totally cool and would certainly have been enough even in 1976. Is some of the drama silly? Of course, but the band didn’t take themselves as seriously as everyone else did and the limits of what could be done in a live performance were still expanding. Throughout the song Jimmy Page employs power chord thud, blues and country fills, dramatic wah-wah arpeggios and harmonics, slashing funk chords, avant-garde bowing and noise ripples and plenty of ripping riffs and zipping lines. When he was at his best Jimmy, like all of the great guitar improvisers, was a great synthesizer of all his influences and whatever was floating in his imagination at the time. By 1973 not only was the band firing on all cylinders live, their confidence level was completely off the charts. There is also maturity seen (and heard) in these shows that doesn’t exist in the early days and there is none of the dissipation and exhaustion that creeps into the band by later in the decade.

In 1973 Dazed and Confused was still a major centerpiece of Zeppelin shows. Typically, it occupied the 10th slot of the set, preceding Stairway to Heaven. In 1997 artist and Led Zeppelin bootleg expert extraordinaire Luis Rey analyzed Dazed and Confused in his book Led Zeppelin Live: An Illustrated Exploration of Underground Tapes. He split the song (1975 live version, which ran even longer than 1973) into 12 basic sections as a means of identifying the changing parts and progression of the piece. You can check the Wiki link for the actual sections and I think they’re pretty close in general to this version, at least the overall substance. Obviously some of this was rehearsed prior to the tour and Zeppelin played the set they rehearsed pretty much at all shows on a tour with only the encores varying from show to show. BUT…as was said at the time and what is obvious if you listen to enough copies of shows from their tour, within the general framework, there was plenty of room for improvisation and spontaneity, especially as far as Page is concerned and yes boys and girls, he certainly took advantage of that freedom.

Dazed and Confused was originally “picked up” by The Yardbirds after seeing Jake Holmes perform it in New York City when he opened for the band in summer of 1967. The title, bassline and general vibe of the song were lifted intact, but the lyrics were rewritten and even before Led Zeppelin came into fruition it served as an instrumental vehicle for all of Page’s guitar wizardry. (In 2010 Holmes filed a copyright infringement suit and is credited with inspiration and no doubt got a bunch of cash as the writing credit remains with Page). Zeppelin started playing Dazed at its first rehearsal and did a brisk 6+ minute version on their first album. But the song was in a constant state of evolution and serves as a very good barometer of how the bad grew over five years. As the song begins the confidence level I was talking about is evident in the dramatic intro and sung verses. Nothing is rushed and Bonham’s drum punctuations keep the song from being a dirge. Notice how Page varies the main riff every time he plays it, either with different phrasing, bends or playing the harmony notes of Jones’ bass riff at one point. At about the 4 minute mark the band is off!! and the camera starts to focus on Bonham and then Jones and Bonham as they follow and react to what Jimmy is doing. Along with all of his many other talents, John Bonham was easily one of the most reactive drummers that ever rock and rolled and Jones is also amazing. The fact that all of his brilliant lines are finger-picked also adds a layer of fluidity and depth to the song. Notice how Jimmy breaks his first set of riffing with some funky slash chords, setting up his next high-register solo. That’s improvised composition in action. As the song comes to it’s first breakdown the camera catches Bonham and Jones trying to puzzle out where Jimmy is going (5:38). Even though the band has been playing this song for 5 years at this point, but there is obviously no formula employed here. It’s called spontaneity and there was never a band as heavy as Zeppelin who pulled off this type of spontaneity so well. I love the interaction between Jones and Bonham at the 6 minute mark — it shows the essence of what I’m talking about so well. As guitar players we are usually told to “sing” our lines to make better improvisation. Notice how Bonham seems to sometimes “sing” his hits (6:19-6:25). You can hear snatches of the 3-years in the future riff for Achilles Last Stand in the arpeggios that set up the “San Francisco” bit. Excellent casual flamenco-esque strumming by Page on the “San Francisco” bits before bringing the wah-wah to lead to another heavy crescendo. Up and down the band goes, bringing everyone in Madison Square Garden with them. Isn’t this exciting? Robert Plant’s various vocalizations (scatting) have the same dynamic spontaneity throughout the song. He knows when to sing and then drop out and let the band play again. The “I Knows” that he brings in to accentuate the heavy part that comes in around 7:50 don’t mean anything and he isn’t really singing. His voice is just another instrument in the mix that adds another layer of excitement as the final bit of CRUSH and the segue before the song devolves into complete and total weirdness (and I mean that in a good way). Same with the “Aahs” and “Oohs” as the bass and drums are dropping out. The band leaves as Jimmy takes over on bow at about 9:00. So far the song has been paced beautifully highlighting the band’s talents for improvisation and live drama. Ethereal swoops and echo feedback replace the power of the band and it becomes a completely sonic “event”. The “song” has been left far behind. At 10:20 the Tolkien theater or Mars the Bringer of War (whichever you prefer) is in full effect with bow smacks on an echo-driven guitar with accompany send-outs to the audience. While I’m sure this was the inspiration behind Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel” violin solo“, it doesn’t look as silly in hindsight as it was made out to be. Sure, it’s not a 4 minute rock song, but John Cage and others outside the mainstream were doing stuff like this for years and Led Zeppelin’s fans, while maybe not classical music aficionados, ate it up. You don’t hear anyone screaming or heckling or any audience noise at all until Page does the dramatic slaps… and there is much rejoicing!! As Page continues bowing [the fantasy takes over and] Plant joins him with vocal accents as they fill the Garden with horror movie sounds that I’m sure were pretty awesome to an audience looking for a trip to another world (and under the influence of whatever they could get their hands on before the concert). See the internet and smart phones didn’t exist then kids. The rest of the band joins in with ambient noise effects before they return with the crunch and the blast at around the 16 minute mark. Once again the segue, helped by those little touches of Jones’ and Bonhams’ ambiance and impeccable timing, is perfect. There is another shot of John Bonham as the song kicks into the familiar riff that leads into the guitar/vocal interplay between Plant and Page. Bonham looks like such a serious (and sober) drummer on this performance doesn’t he? Very attentive to what Page and Jones are doing. A whole bunch of awesome, rapid-fire Page soloing follows on the same rhythm gallop. Back in the 70s this is what earned Page universal acclaim as the best guitarist of the era and it’s pretty impressive even today. The song breaks down into a funky rhythm that employs a prominent Hendrix-y 9th chord as it’s anchor. Jimmy has been playing guitar for almost twenty continuous minutes and has yet to repeat himself. Another dramatic major, happy sounding break leads into a different interaction with Plant (along with a bit more theater that totally pleases the audience). And once again Page is off with an Over, Under, Sideways Down-style riff and Jones and Bonham follow him until the song breaks again for another interaction with Plant in a higher register. The scene with the longhair is puzzling and says to me “we don’t have the film of that part of the performance.” Why that bit is chosen or what it’s supposed to represent I’ve never been able to puzzle out. At about 23 minutes the song breaks down again and goes into something that sounds vaguely like Black Sabbath before climaxing into chaotic noise and spiraling to earth and the final familiar strains of Dazed and Confused as you know it from the record are heard again. On the familiar outro figure Page once again takes off with screaming obbligatos and fleet-fingered wah chording and Jones and Bonham turn the rhythmic vibe into something that gets them smiling at each other (26:35-26:50) before a final burst of feedback and Plant’s echoes signal the ending chord slam and Bonham drum thrashing that finishes the song. While there was probably some post-production employed to really tighten the song up, other versions from the tour are extremely close and sound almost as good. Silly or dated as this might seem to some there is literally no one else in the history of rock who pulled this off as well, then or now.

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Given the nature of the above song and performance, Led Zeppelin has a lot in common with other “jamming” bands like The Grateful Dead, Cream and The Allman Brothers, much more than most “headbangers” would give them credit for. It’s interesting that many of the heavy bands that Zeppelin influenced picked up on the heaviness and the occasional acoustic ballad, but were not adept at either live improvisation or long orchestral-like pieces of music. All of that more or less faded out with the 70s. Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and everyone who followed into the 80s did not play 30 minute songs and did very little improvisation, except for their feature solos. That whole approach to writing and performance became strictly the domain of “jam bands” most of whom descend from the California sound of the 60s and 70s. Coincidentally, there is a lot of that to Zeppelin as well — Robert Plant in particular was a huge fan of San Francisco bands and it definitely shows in his Zeppelin lyrics and his solo material. This is probably why Page and the rest of the band take umbrage of the title Heavy Metal to describe their music, because they weren’t, especially when compared with what came along in the 80s and beyond. (Notice that most of the time Page isn’t using that much distortion live compared to heavy guitarists of later years). The heaviness that Zeppelin brought was always balanced with nuance and other elements, which is very clear by analyzing Dazed and Confused, always one of their heaviest songs. Guitarists of the next generation would by and large take the obvious and simplest elements of Zep’s heavy music and make it louder, heavier, faster and, in some cases, more intricate and in the process lose the elements that gave Zeppelin’s music it’s timeless depth, dynamics and (live) spontaneity.

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Of course, I was and am a big fan of the later heavy music and have seen many of those bands and played more than a few of those longs in my own bands. However, there is something slightly intense and magical about the ability of a group of musicians being able to improvise or approach music with the type of dynamics and movement inherent in the Led Zeppelin catalog. That is one reason I enjoy Gypsy Jazz, especially players like Gonzalo Bergara, Stephane Wrembel (who is a huge prog-rock fan), Robin Nolan (who covers The Rain Song on his latest album) and a completely awesome group by the name of les doigts de l’homme, who I’m going to profile shortly. A duo I wrote about early on, Rodrigo y Gabriela, made their bones (as the wiseguys say) covering rock classics like Stairway to Heaven. Even though the music I just listed is acoustic (hey all us original Zep fans ARE older now) acoustic music can be extremely HEAVY if played the right way. While these guitarists may or may not list Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin as a major influence, their music and approach to live performance does involve many of the elements that Zeppelin established and continue to entertain and inspire even today. Call it rock, call it jazz, call it what you like, there comes a point when the quality of the music or performance renders all description and classification useless because there ain’t enough adjectives to really convey what goes on!

Gimme Shelter

Posted in Music Business, Players, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by theguitarcave

Easily one of the best concert movies of all time, Gimme Shelter gives its audience a front row seat for The Rolling Stones on their 1969 tour of the United States, and ends with the notorious free concert at Altamont. Directed and edited by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, the film is much more than a concert or the story of a tour. It could be called a “documentary,” however the decision to frame it as such was made once it became apparent that Meredith Hunter’s death had been captured on film. Because the concert and Hunter’s death was a pivotal moment in rock history and was also a severe blow to the counterculture, Gimme Shelter became the story of a concert gone wrong. Had Altamont turned out to be all the planners hoped, the film would’ve probably looked more like Woodstock and the free concert would have been the crowning touch on what was already a very successful tour. The Maysles brothers were from the Direct Cinema movement, which encouraged filmmakers to let the story tell itself by capturing it as it happens. Think of it as “fly on the wall” film-making. This can be an effective way to tell a story, but it has limitations if information crucial to the action is omitted. There is an incredible amount of back story to how and why the concert turned out like it did, but because this information isn’t in the movie one is left, especially with the ending, that it was easier just to let the surface realities speak for themselves and not pull on any strings that might lead to even more confusion. There are no post-concert interviews with any of the organizers in the movie itself, but they do appear in the DVD bonus section. There are excerpts from these radio calls in the movie from tour manager Sam Cutler and Hells Angel Sonny Barger. What makes Gimme Shelter all the more surreal is that the film makers, The Stones and the audience all watch the film being put together after all of the events have unfolded and were captured on film, so it is almost an Orson Welles movie within a movie presentation. This also allows the film to constantly play around with the timeline of events, which can lead to deceptions that may or may not matter. The cinematography is awesome, whether it is at the rock and roll party of Madison Square Garden, or later on, capturing the absolute desolate nothingness that was the location of the Altamont Speedway. There were 20 camera operators, including future cinema star George Lucas, filming the concerts, the business negotiations leading to Altamont and The Rolling Stones, who were just hitting the peak years of their career. 1969 was a very turbulent time in The United States and everyone in the country was in the throes of craziness and strange days. There is something about this movie that says so much about EVERYTHING and it continues to be a very important piece of cinema 42 years later. While the Stones would play on for decades, they never sounded quite the same after this tour and there are some close to the band who say that Altamont changed them forever.

While the Altamont concert was a bitter pill for the hippie culture of San Francisco to swallow because of the high levels of physical violence that occurred, violence has always been a part of rock and roll music and the blues and country music that it is based on. I’m not excusing or condoning it, this is simply a fact. As I wrote back in this POST, blues music has always contained a whole lot of pain, blood, and death. Way back in 1955 when Rock and Roll was first put into movies like The Blackboard Jungle, screenings sometimes led to violence and vandalism by raucous teenagers who were getting their first taste of the energy rush created by this new music. During the first Rolling Stones tours in the early to mid 1960s there were full-scale riots at some shows and by 1969 the band had seen their share of violence perpetuated by fans and security people. The New York Times published an article by sensationalist writer Albert Goldman during the 1969 tour that compared their November 8th show at the LA Forum to the Nuremberg Rallies of 1930s Nazi Germany. During the Honky Tonk Women segment of Gimme Shelter there are people, mostly young women, rushing the stage and they have to be restrained and carried off; vestiges of the band’s teeny-bopper stardom days. This does have something to do with the decisions made before the Altamont concert to have some kind of “security” in attendance. There were also concerns about what some call, “the nut factor.” The span of time the Stones were in America for the ’69 tour (late October through early December) roughly parallels the time of the arrests of Manson Family members for the Tate and LaBianca murders that had been committed in August (right before Woodstock). One of the former members of The Manson circle, Squeaky Fromme, who later attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, tried to “contact” Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page on the group’s 1975 tour. I’m not insinuating that Manson was after the Stones, but sometimes people have this idea that 1969 was quaint and groovy and it certainly was not.

While Woodstock has long been held as the pinnacle moment, the great coming together of The Age of Aquarius, 4 months later it all fell apart, so the story goes. This is discussed in the radio broadcasts that happened after the concert on KSAN, San Fransisco’s rock radio. Callers and studio guests who had been at both Altamont and Woodstock observed that many at Altamont were very driven to have their own “Woodstock Moment” and if there was a spirit of “brotherhood,” it was, “the hell with you brother.” No one who was commenting on it knew what to make of this shift and the total lack of cooperation or care for other people displayed by many of the concertgoers. Emmett Grogan, a fascinating character and one of the original Diggers, is also interviewed. He was one of the people approached by The Stones to set up the concert and he details how what became the Altamont Free Concert was supposed to have been more like a San Francisco party, something he had helped organize many times. The party was all about a multitude of things going on, many stages, many acts and no single FOCUS. Of course, all of these gatherings (even Woodstock) ran into numerous hassles with local authorities when it came to getting permits and support to put these events together. No one wanted huge crowds of people gathering, not only because of the reputation of these events, but also because of the sheer logistics of dealing with so many people. There was even less incentive to undertake such an operation if there was no chance of making any money on the deal. I decided to do a little internet investigation of Grogan to see where that might lead concerning Altamont and Gimme Shelter.

Charlie’s good tonight isn’t he?

emmett

THE DIGGERS were a very influential group in the 1960s and even though very few people know about them today, they were responsible for making San Francisco and Haight Ashbury one of the cultural epicenters of the 1960s. Their legacy and aims of creating a free and just society live on in present-day organizations like Occupy Wall Street. Emmett Grogan was one of the founders of The Diggers and would probably have mainstream legendary status had he not died back in 1978. Not only did The Diggers bring their vision of a free society to fruition in San Francisco (at least for a short time), they coined phrases like “Do Your Own Thing” that became part of the lexicon of the whole country. HERE and HERE are some really good sites to read up on this whole period. They provide a very vivid account of the 1960s San Fransisco and the cast of characters is right out of a Jack Kerouac/Hunter S. Thompson novel…mostly because they are. It’s really all the same scene. Throw in a little Ken Kesey and The Electric Kool-Aid acid tests and The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin and you have a real party going on. This site, Manhood in the Age of Aquarius is especially awesome! Here’s a short story about Grogan and Bill Fritsch…

In late June 1967, Berg, Grogan, Fritsch, and Murcott decided to travel to Denton, Michigan to attend—and disrupt—a meeting of the Students for a Democratic Society. They rented a car using a stolen credit card. On the way, they stopped in a bar in Kalamazoo for food. The bar’s exterior fooled them: once inside, they unexpectedly found themselves surrounded by a hundred burly steelworkers celebrating the end of the work-week. The room fell silent when the four Diggers crossed the room to the bar. As the longhairs ordered food and drinks, the steelworkers began to stir and whisper; comments about “beatniks and hippies” hung in the air, although, according to Grogan, “never loud enough to become a challenge.” The situation seemed manageable: the hippies’ disciplined silence and avoidance of eye contact with all but the bartender (to whom Grogan had flashed a twenty-dollar bill, signaling that payment was certain) had kept the simmering workers from erupting. Then, Berg, “for some singular, absurd, irrational reason of his own,” took a pool cue from a rack and returned to his barstool. The working-class Grogan, who had spent time in bars and prisons, glowered at his companion, worried that the steelworkers would interpret this as a defensive posture. Many of the workers simply saw it as absurd: a roar of laughter swept through the room. But Grogan noticed that some were not laughing—and one, a bit drunk—approached “to see whether [Berg] wanted to play out the move he’d just made.”

Before Berg could respond to the man’s slurred challenge, Grogan slipped in front of his brother, and politely announced that he, not the diminutive Berg, was going to play a game. The drunken man, liking his odds less when faced with a more formidable opponent, sauntered back to his chair. Luckily for the group, a younger, nonbelligerent man accepted Grogan’s challenge. Grogan took care to rack the balls “using only his forearms and hands to shape them together,” signaling to his audience that he “knew what to do with a pool table.” Shooting first, he sank several shots quickly to establish his skill; then, he deliberately missed an easy shot, allowing the other man to take over and win the game on his home turf. Grogan shook the man’s hand, paid his lost bet, bought the victor a drink, and rejoined his companions at the bar. His deference to the locals paid off: the four Diggers emerged from the bar unscathed.

Even though he had a reputation for sometimes being hot-headed, confrontational and outrageous, I think the above story gives an insight into how Grogan handled himself and was able to mix with many different San Francisco communities. On the Gimme Shelter DVD he relates how he spoke with Mick Jagger weeks before Altamont about the possibility of putting on a concert. Originally, the idea was to play the Chino Prison, but that was out, according to Grogan, because of the Stones drug busts. As I said above, Grogan tried to get a San Francisco party going but the city officials and the Stones New York office were unable to make it happen, so the “party” began to morph into a “concert.” As late as when the event was supposed to be at Sears Point Raceway, the “party” meme was still happening, and Grogan had already enlisted many different San Francisco communities into the project and they had already begun putting their acts together. The Black Panthers were going to do their thing (I can’t make out what he says “their thing” is on the DVD), Chinatown’s Red Guard were going to have a fireworks display, the Hells Angels were going to give away beer ($1,000 worth!) and the Stones would have been just one of the bands playing simultaneously. But the owners of Sears Point suddenly decided they needed a quarter million dollar deposit and wanted all rights to recordings and films made at the site and if none were being made, they were going to make and distribute them. Grogan calls it “an extortion” and the fact that the concert was literally a couple of days away made it even more of a shady move. Depending on their respective relationships with their record labels, it’s unlikely The Stones and other bands like Jefferson Airplane would’ve been able to enter into negotiations of this nature because they were under contract with other entertainment labels who usually want a say in how or when their artists will appear in media put out by another label or management company. It was a deal that obviously a band like the Stones would have to walk away from. Some took the view that it was all about money and control (on the band’s part) but the nature of it, as described by Grogan, makes it sound like a complete shakedown, and he does not fault the band for bailing out. The stage, the lighting, toilets and concessions had already been set up at Sears Point and it all had to be torn down and moved to the Altamont Speedway the day before the concert. This shot the whole idea of a city-wide party and many people’s expectations of the event. From the 50 minute mark in the movie there are numerous scenes of the final organization for the start of the event. Michael Lang, one of the organizers of Woodstock, tries to help Rolling Stones tour manager Sam Cutler deal with the chaos that is already developing.

Emmett Grogan was also the guy or one of the guys who put the Stones in touch with some of the Hells Angels. Sam Cutler was introduced to some of the Angels, including Pete Knell, vice-president(?) of the San Francisco chapter, who is also a caller into KSAN. Although it’s very clear there was never a formal arrangement for Hells Angels to provide security, it was obviously understood that in exchange for $500.00 worth of beer, they were to make sure nothing happened to the Stones and keep people away from the stage. According to Grogan, who was at Altamont, the Angels did give a lot of beer away to people who were around “the bus” that some of the Angels took to the site. (You can see shots of the bus early in the “Altamont” part of the movie). This wasn’t the first time the Angels had been this kind of “presence” on the scene. They were a formidable part of the community, attended some of The Acid Tests and concerts at Golden Gate Park and their presence alone was enough to keep some of the rowdier aspects of those events at bay. This was sometimes necessary in a community that existed outside the borders of conventional society and attracted its share of alienated people, some of whom were also doing copious amounts of drugs. Grace Slick says basically the same thing from the stage during Jefferson Airplane’s performance when things start getting out of hand: “People get weird so you need people like the Angels to keep people in line but the Angels also, you don’t bust people in the head for nothing…” (5:22 of the clip below). A similar sentiment is found in this interview with Peter Coyote, another Diggers founder and a guy who has done everything from act as Director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe to narrate the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics. In an interview here he is asked:

Coymoon: Lenore Kandel and Sweet William (Bill Fritsch) had the potential of being among the “best and brightest” of their generation. Yet, rather than becoming a beacon, they succumbed to lives “tipped into darkness” as you put it. It’s difficult for us common folk to understand anyone’s attraction to the Hell’s Angels. Can you explain it?

Peter: Lenore still is among the best and brightest of her generation, just unknown and in chronic pain. Bill is another story. I think the Hell’s Angels represent courage, independence, the willingness to throw oneself away for one’s beliefs. The fact that those beliefs may not always be enlightened or inspired is beside the point. One still challenges oneself, “Well, if an outlaw can do this, will I defend my own beliefs and aspirations as totally?” They were a challenging example, and all I can say is that when they came around, ALL the bullshit stopped.

Notice that Bill Fritsch is mentioned again (he appears up in the Emmett Grogan story). Also, from The Diggers oral history:

Somewhere along the line, Billy Fritsch, who has a left-wing, longshoreman, Communist Party, good Jewish boy, Jewish progressive radical from Brooklyn, background…

and

…They thought 1% Free meant we were the mafia. We’d beat them up if they didn’t give it to us. [Laughter.] And being around Billy Fritsch would give you that impression. Billy or Emmett. Both of them could perform “I’m going to kill you.” Fritsch performed that on Bill Graham once with marvelous results. Graham was writing checks like mad, and gave us the Fillmore theater one night to perform a Digger event. He was scared to death of Fritsch — thought Fritsch was going to kill him. And Billy never said anything like that. He just wore this black leather and lurched. Sort of a trick he did. Yeah, if you looked at it from the outside, you’d say, “He’s threatening Graham.” But I knew Billy, and Billy would’ve acted like that anyway. He liked to act like that. He liked to be menacing. [Chuckles.]

Bill Fritsch appears at so many different intersecting points in the period of 1966-1970, I’d be surprised if he slept more than 3 hours in those 5 years. A street-poet who was romantically linked and later married to poet Lenore Kandel, (author of The Love Book) the two cut a very dashing profile in San Francisco street culture and became an integral part of the Digger community. Fritsch, in addition to appearing in stories like the ones above, was perceived as the only other person with as much energy and attitude as Emmett Grogan. When he joined the group in 1966:

…he grew steadily in stature by becoming a reliable participant in the free-food operation, a task requiring long hours of labor and early-morning appearances at the wholesale produce markets. Similarly, Fritsch devoted many hours to the tedious, behind-the-scenes effort required to make the first free store a reality. His reputation for integrity became such that the group entrusted him with its cash and a very loose accounting system called the Free Bank book.

Both Grogan and Fritsch were the antithesis of what later became accepted as the hippie stereotype. Fritsch also has the distinction of being accepted into the ranks of the Hells Angels. (This is important to remember for later on) By all accounts he is in the Angels by 1967 and at that point, because there had been some mutual networking between some members of The Diggers and The Hells Angels, they were known to each other in ways that outsiders don’t get to know people like the Hells Angels, or maybe The Diggers for that matter. A story I saw a long time ago related how Beatle George Harrison was in the Haight Ashbury district, allegedly stoned off his head on LSD in 1967 and proceeded to invite some of the California Hells Angels to London and when they showed up (much to many people’s surprise and chagrin) in 1968, Bill Fritsch, also going by the name of Sweet William Tumbleweed, was with them. HERE is a partial account of the visit: Miss O’ Dell, who lived with the Harrisons, watched The Beatles record The White Album, and was an employee at Apple, recalls going for a motorcycle ride with Bill Fritsch high on acid one snowy London night. Fritsch also appeared in Invocation of My Demon Brother, an 11-minute film directed by Kenneth Anger. The film also starred Anton LaVey, Lenore Kandel and Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil, who appeared as Lucifer. The music for the film was composed by Mick Jagger(!!) on a Moog synthesizer. Fritsch was also good friends with Janis Joplin and you can read a great story about the two of them HERE.

You can see Fritsch all through the Gimme Shelter movie and he was probably known by every San Fransisco band that played that day, most of the organizers and the Stones. (Remember he was a Digger before he was an Angel). At the end of the above clip that is Fritsch “talking” with Paul Kantner. I believe this clip has been edited because I’ve seen accounts online from people who were there and there was a “discussion” of sorts that went on between the two for a few minutes that wasn’t as inarticulate as the one in the movie seems to be. Whether you have just watched Gimme Shelter for the first time or the fifteenth, not knowing any of this background information can lead you to believe that Fritsch and all of the other Hells Angels were as the movie portrays them and many others (including writer Stanley Booth) describe them…basically as an “invading army”. But they were invited to serve in a “loose”, “official” capacity and some of their high-profile people were well-acquainted with the organizers and the performers. Obviously there was a big disagreement between the Airplane and the Angels that resulted in Marty Balin being “knocked out for a few minutes.” In the wake of the concert drummer Spencer Dryden left the Airplane, or was fired, supposedly, in part, because of the Altamont experience, saying “it did not look like a bunch of happy hippies in streaming colors. It looked more like sepia-toned Hieronymus Bosch.” In the following clip, after Sonny Barger gives his thoughts on the day (this call is also heavily condensed compared to whats on the DVD) I’m pretty sure that when drummer Charlie Watts is reminiscing about a “couple of those guys” being really nice, Fritsch is one of the “guys” he is talking about. Speaking of Sonny Barger, he was also a known guy in the community even though politically he was coming from a very different place than most of the counterculture. A long-time friend of the Grateful Dead, especially Jerry Garcia, and acquaintance of many others, Sonny was obviously not a person to be trifled with, but also not as unreasonable as he is sometimes portrayed:

Back in ’66 or ’67, we took the bus up to Berkeley for Vietnam Day. The day before the big rally, the Hell’s Angels said they were going to protest Vietnam Day by pounding the shit out of the protesters, and they were serious. Since we kind of knew the Angels, we went over to Oakland, to Sonny Barger’s house. [Allen] Ginsberg went with us, right into the lion’s mouth with his little cymbals. Ching, ching, ching. And he just kept talking and being his usual absorbing self. Finally they said, “OK, OK. We’re not going to beat up the protesters.” When he left, one of the Angels, Terry the Tramp, says, “That queer little kike ought to ride a bike.” From then on, he had a pass around the Angels. They had let all the other Angels know, “He’s a dude worth helping out.” They were absolutely impressed by him and his courage.

There were a few different Hells Angels chapters at Altamont and some have speculated that this is part of the reason why there was violence in the early part of the day, much of it handed out by Prospects, those looking to join up with the Angels. In the Jefferson Airplane clip most of the guys dispensing the ultra-violence don’t appear to be wearing the full Angel colors so maybe this is true. Another big problem is that, as Sam Cutler says on his KSAN radio call, there was no time to erect fences around the stage or secure the backstage and heliport areas. This put Angels and fans in constant direct contact with each other. (This is lack of backstage security is obvious when the Stones arrive at the site. Jagger is hit by a “fan”). During Cutler’s call there is also talk about a lot of people at the concert under the influence of bad LSD. Had the concert been held in Golden Gate Park or at Sears Point, with a higher stage and more secure backstage area, the Angels probably wouldn’t have had much to do. But the movie shows that even as Cutler is trying to accomplish the finishing touches on the stage he is having problems with people who are interfering. Even though the film tracks the Airplane playing after the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Airplane had the second slot on the bill. At the beginning of the song on the DVD, (not shown in this Youtube clip) Cutler tries to get some of the over 200 people who were on the stage and didn’t belong there, off. Also in the clip, notice the big African-American guy in the purple shirt onstage trying to stop some of the violence. He is also in the Honky Tonk Women clip hauling fans offstage. Later you’ll see him again when the Stones play. This is Tony Funches, a Vietnam vet who was part of the Stones security for the tour and was also a bodyguard for Jim Morrison. I believe this is Tony sitting behind Jimmy Johnson in the clip below. Incidentally, The Stones were at Muscle Shoals recording with Jimmy BEFORE going to Altamont although the film transitions from the Garden performance of Street Fighting Man to Altamont. This is another instance of creative “time-lining” in the film. Speaking of Muscle Shoals, HERE is an interview with Jimmy Johnson, who is the engineer for the Stones as they record and listen to playbacks of the songs they recorded right before Altamont. He has some interesting recollections on equipment and recording techniques.

The 1969 tour was the Rolling Stones first tour of the United States in three years and many things had changed in that time. The equipment was better, the audience had changed and rock music had moved beyond the confines of trivial pop and/or dance music. People listened to the music and the improvements in PA systems, amplifiers, lighting rigs, and staging made for the type of show that people would today recognize as a primitive version of the modern rock spectacle. The Rolling Stones have always pushed the envelope on the possibilities for their live performances and 1969 was the first tour where they (especially Mick) took over creative control on how it would all happen. The band had changed too. Driven by their American music roots, Keith Richards’ interest in open-tunings and the blues revival that swept the music world during the 60s, the band entered what would be the most successful phase of their career. The addition of 20-year old Mick Taylor to take the place of the recently-departed Brian Jones gave the band a bigger sound and a degree of virtuosity that hadn’t existed before because he was (and is) such a fluid guitar player. Of course, as the movie demonstrates, Mick Jagger was the preeminent frontman of his time and the cameras focus on him every scene he appears in. It’s obvious watching the clips of the band in concert playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Satisfaction, Honky Tonk Women, Love In Vain and Street Fighting Man that the group was firing on all cylinders and could lay claim to being “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.” Clips of them recording songs like Brown Sugar, Wild Horses and You Gotta Move at Muscle Shoals show what would be the beginnings of the 1971 album Sticky Fingers and this is an interesting peek into a new decade, which is something to remember for later on in this post. The Stones were at the top of their game and they knew it, but there is a possibility that they let it go to their heads. Not only were there complaints about ticket prices ($5.50), there were many accounts of the band making the audience wait a long time before going on at all of their shows because they wanted the crowd hopped-up and anxious. Mick apologizes for this at the beginning of the above Honky Tonk Women clip although he doesn’t sound very sincere. Sonny Barger, in his essay that accompanies the Gimme Shelter DVD accuses the band of doing the same thing at Altamont, although the Stones have always maintained that they were waiting for bass player Bill Wyman to get to the site and the transportation to and from was chaotic and behind schedule.

To this day, any Stones set has a huge amount of material from the 1968-1972 period and the sets for the 1969 tour drew heavily on material from Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and blues/Chuck Berry covers. Here is the setlist from the concert at Altamont: Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Carol, Sympathy For the Devil, The Sun Is Shining, Stray Cat Blues, Love in Vain, Under My Thumb, Brown Sugar, Midnight Rambler, Live With Me, Gimme Shelter, Little Queenie, Satisfaction, Honky Tonk Women and Street Fighting Man. Compared to the pop-star period of the band’s mid-60s successes, this is a very dark, blues-driven set with a whole lot of violent imagery, which expanded on the the bad reputation and notorious image the band had been cultivating since the early days. Many of the songs in the set have the patented Stones combination of debauchery, sex and blood perfectly suited for the American landscape of 1969 and especially Altamont. But as the song Street Fighting Man informs, the band is projecting all of these voodoo-driven topics…from a distance. London in the late 1960s did not have all of the turmoil that was going on in the United States, mainly because there hadn’t been political assassinations, race hostilities, or a draft that was sending young men to go fight in a war halfway around the world. While Jagger, Richards and Brian Jones had all been the victims of drug busts and Mick had been in the middle of demonstrations in Paris, London-town was as he says in Street Fighting Man, SLEEPY. I think this led to several misunderstandings on the tour; the arrogant nature of the band’s image combined with this inability to understand why the youth in this country were not “sleepy” was noticed in the rock press of the day and is also evident at Altamont when Mick realizes he is losing control of the crowd. This is another one of those things that make the film so interesting; that line between performance and reality. For the band and Mick especially, it was about putting on a great show, but in America many people, especially young people, were taking messages in rock music literally because they were caught up in all of the turmoil that was going on at the time. At Altamont the distance that the band had always been able to maintain eroded and they were face to face with all of the demons contained in their very heavy music. There are moments during the film where Mick Jagger (the performer) has to come out of character and try and keep the violence at bay. He would never again let himself be put in this position and from the standpoint of his persona as a front-man/writer, this is understandable. “Distance” is what made the band great in the first place and it has also made Mick one of the best rock and roll lyricists ever: his ability bring a subject to song while maintaining a distance from it allows a depth that isn’t present in lyrics written by those who are up close and emotionally invested in their song topics. He would probably think of himself as a kind of medium (shaman?) with everything flowing through to the audience from somewhere else. But the audiences in 1969 wanted all of that personified and wanted to know where people stood. Keith Richards has said that the audiences on the 1969 tour wanted to “suck you out.” The Stones had that level of celebrity going for them, which certainly wasn’t true of other bands on the bill or most of the bands that had appeared at Woodstock. The only people who could’ve commanded more attention at the time were The Beatles and Bob Dylan. This allure, combined with a low stage and a huge amount of people was a very dangerous combination and is another factor that is discussed on the KSAN radio calls. Speaking of Keith — this tour, Altamont and Gimme Shelter is his coming out party from being “the guitar player” in the band to a full-blown outlaw rock star personality.

Prior to the Stones appearance at the concert, Santana (not in the film), Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers (with Graham Parsons) and Crosby, Stills Nash & Young (not in the film) all played sets that had a varied amount of fun and chaos. HERE is a nice pictorial overview of some of the performers including Carlos Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young backstage and onstage at the show. The Grateful Dead were supposed to play and they can be seen in the above vid and in the movie trying to get to and arriving at the show. When they learned of all the difficulties, related in the movie by Santana drummer Mike Shrieve, they pulled the plug on their performance. It’s interesting to note that both Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh of the Dead are surprised to learn that the Angels are “beating musicians” and I think this has something to do with the band’s past relationship with the Angels in the context of The Merry Pranksters and the mid-60s Acid Tests. As I have said about Grogan, The Diggers, The Grateful Dead and the Hells Angels, there was a “relationship” of at least tolerance or there would’ve never been any consideration given to the idea of approaching the Angels in the first place. While the film does show scenes of violence during the Airplane and Burrito Brothers sets, it’s hard to discern just how much there is. Some kid who is obviously on a bad trip and writhing through the crowd appears in both clips, until he obviously runs into trouble with the Angels at the end of The Burrito Brothers clip and is taken off by way of the stage. Of course there had to have been time in between the two sets so the film of this incident is layered over two different sets, which doubles the amount of trouble from this one incident. I know the film is trying to give the impression of violence, but obviously this can be minimized or exaggerated if events don’t track to what is actually happening as it happened. After the conversation between Garcia, Lesh and Shrieve there are shots of an increasingly aggravated crowd and then a column of motorcycles arriving as the crowd parts to let them through. Sonny Barger is the lead biker and he stops at one point to drink from a bottle that is offered to him. This is the Oakland Angels leadership arriving, from what I can gather from the film and Sonny’s commentary call to the radio station afterwards. At previous shows the Angels agreement included the ability to park their bikes in front of the stage and Sonny claims that this was what he was told to do at Altamont. He was told that “if he parked his bike in front and sat on the stage so that no one could climb over him, he could drink beer until the show was over.” In the earlier clips of the film, when the Airplane is onstage, it doesn’t look like there are bikes in front and supposedly Cutler asked to have them moved before the show started. Many of the fans who had camped out from the night before, trying to secure good spots, probably didn’t like the idea of the Angels showing up late in the afternoon and telling them to move so bikes could be parked there and Sonny confirms there were blow-ups. This is another breakdown in communication between the organizers and the Angels that helped to increase the animosity between everyone that was there. As the band takes the stage, Jagger is in a good mood and cautions people in the front not to push around. Since the band didn’t go on until sometime around 5, the crowd had already had a long day of partying, boredom and craziness and some were probably losing their patience with the whole thing.

In the film, once the scene of the Angels making their way through the crowd is shown, the Stones take the stage. According to Sonny Barger there was a long delay from when he got there to the time the Stones took the stage and it was pissing him off. He says in the essay that the crowd was getting antsy and aggravated waiting and when the band is shown climbing onto the stage it is completely dark. This is immediately before when the above video begins. I don’t know if the film is clipped between Jagger’s introduction and the beginning of Sympathy for the Devil or if he tells everyone to cool out right before the song begins. Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Carol have already been played and it’s obvious by then that the crowd has pushed forward again (as any crowd does once a performance starts) and is now right in front of the stage. The problem is, the bikes that the Angels parked in front of the stage are still there. You can see some people seem to be climbing up on something as Sympathy progresses and I would assume that what they are climbing on are the bikes that are still parked there. At about the one minute mark you can see Angels start to push people out of the way and this leads to a really big scuffle between the audience and the Angels to the point where the Angels push some of the audience way back (1:20 mark). Tony Funches appears onstage, now with his right arm in a cast, allegedly from a fight with one of the Angels. Before all of this happens there is smoke emanating from right in front of the stage and Sonny Barger says on his call that because a fan (or two) was kneeling on a bike in the front, the battery shorted out and led to the engine catching fire and he is the first person into the crowd to try and get people off the bike, but people were unwilling to move. Other Angels followed and pushed the crowd back, which led to a shoving match and bottles being thrown, which led to even more violence from the Angels. Mick tries to stop everything even though Keith doesn’t want to quit playing. It’s at this point where it appears Mick knows he doesn’t have control over the situation. His rap and tone of voice are completely different from the introduction. The film cuts to Mick watching this in the editing room. As he is talking to the crowd Keith comes to the mic and says, “A bike blew up man” and Jagger says “I know, I’m here,” so Sonny Barger’s account is validated by the band from the stage. Instead of moving on, the Stones start Sympathy up again as the crowd drifts back to the front of the stage. At 3:58 a legendary moment as a large German Shepherd ambles across the stage in front of the band. This leads directly into another famous shot of San Francisco chapter president Bob Roberts staring at Jagger (who is almost out of focus in this shot—the only such scene in the movie) in the middle of the song. I think this was layered in from somewhere else in the performance because while Jagger is obviously singing in the music behind this clip, in the video he doesn’t appear to be. Much has been made of the stare-down but I don’t think it was a case of the “clash of cultures” or “look at that sissy boy” thing that many people think it was. Roberts had certainly seen more than his share of outrageous stuff over the years. It’s possible that for a guy like him or Barger a song like Sympathy for the Devil had a completely different meaning than what Jagger intended (he supposedly wrote the song after reading The Master and the Magarita) and to them there is no difference between performance and reality. Perhaps the Angels were not amused that at times Mick seemed to be taunting what was an already edgy crowd. It was made known to the Stones people in early negotiations that the Angels could not be “hired to police the event.” Sonny says this on his call into KSAN: “…I ain’t no cop. I ain’t never gonna pretend to be no cop,” and another Angel, Pete, who is probably Pete Knell, confirms that they only agreed to make sure nothing happened to the band and the stage, but said, “if we say we’re going to do something, we do it, no matter how far we gotta go.” Of course, they are not going to be happy if the band appears to be trying to get the audience riled, which may lead to the audience trying to get to the Stones and then have the band complain that the Angels are being violent if the Angels do what they were asked to do. This is probably what soured everyone’s time throughout the whole day; the Angels were put in the very weird and unenviable position of being AUTHORITY FIGURES for bands and fans of bands who were very anti-authoritarian minded (the Angels are anti-authoritarian themselves). What’s obvious though is that EVERYONE involved is behaving naturally: this is how the Stones put on a show, this is how the audience responds, this is how the Angels react to people who give them trouble. The fact that the song being performed is an acknowledgement and a “sympathy” for conflicting elements and can be viewed as the Stones heads is tails philosophy—“just as every cop is a criminal…” makes the whole scene completely surreal. While Sonny’s call into the radio station may be interpreted as a loaded, self-serving rant (which is how those at the station interpreted it) the sometimes frenzied tone he takes may reveal that the Angels were genuinely worried about trying to handle such a huge group of people and what would’ve happened if hundreds decided to rush the stage. If they were over the top at times it’s likely that it wasn’t done just for the Stones safety but perhaps their own as well.

The song continues in it’s blazing frenzy without problems until about the 5:30 mark when a very wasted, topless, overweight woman starts trying to claw her way through the crowd to the stage. Keith Richards reacts to this and gets some Angels to get her out of the way. According to Stanley Booth in his essay that accompanies the DVD, this actually happened during Live With Me, which was much later in the set. It does look like it has been lifted because on the soundtrack Keith is playing while the film shows him with his hands off his guitar. Sonny Barger also talks about this incident on his radio call. As the guitar solo starts Mick begins mugging until a big mountain-man of an Angel comes up and whispers something in his ear. (Would love to know what the content of that conversation was). Mick looks a little bit shaken when it’s over. He does a little bit of dancing and then comes stage right and is looking out over the crowd. There are people in the front who have their back to him and then turn around and notice he is there. The man is shaking his head but the woman seems embarrassed(?). I can’t figure out what she was looking at or what Mick is trying to see. The guy looks unhappy but it’s hard to tell if it’s the Angels or the crowd that might be misbehaving. Notice that Bill Fritsch is seen siting at Mick’s shoulder looking at him. Mick, unable to even know what is going on, dances to stage left and begins mugging to the crowd as Keith’s solo comes to a close. At 8:14 is another iconic moment of the film — the shot of the young lady who has tears in her eyes as Jagger tries to cool everyone with the final lyrics to the song.

As Sympathy shudders to a close, there are close-ups of some guy being handed through the crowd to Angels, presumably to be taken for medical attention. Whether from a fight, an overdose or general system failure, it’s hard to know, but Bill Fritsch is once again in the movie (at 1:17:19) helping get the guy off. The Angels handle this person gently and he is carted off stage left. While this is going on Jagger asks the crowd, “who is fighting and what for?” Keith starts to get into the act by actually pointing out people in the crowd (presumably Hells Angels) who are misbehaving. “Either those cats cool man it or we don’t play.” Keith’s stage presence on this tour is pretty incredible. Not only did he play really well, but his attitude at Altamont solidified his reputation as a guy who has no fear, even though it’s obvious he would’ve gotten his ass handed to him had it come to a fight. An announcement is made by I don’t know who (it isn’t the Stones or Cutler) that says “…if you don’t cool you ain’t gonna hear no music do you wanna all go home or what?” Mick is seen having a genial conversation with an Angel with a large animal pelt for a hat and Ian Stewart, “the sixth stone” enters the frame and is seen talking with Richards. In his book, Life, Keith says the conversation went something like: “Getting a bit hairy Keith.” “We’ve got to brass it out Stu.” Stewart then goes to the mic and asks for doctors to come down to the front. According to writer Stanley Booth, who was there with the Stones, this all happens at the end of Sympathy. The band played 3 songs in between Sympathy and Under My Thumb, the next song shown in the film. The Sun is Shining and Love In Vain were mellow but some violence flared up during the intervening Stray Cat Blues. Supposedly, at some point during this sequence of songs, Sonny Barger alleges he put a gun in Keith’s side and told him to play if he valued his life, but I think this is probably some of the post-concert slinging that went back and forth in the wake of what happened. It’s not shown in the movie and unless Sonny has the sequence of tunes wrong, his threat didn’t work because Keith threatens to pull the plug again after Hunter is killed, which is after he had Barger’s gun in his ribs. It seems from Sonny’s radio call to KSAN is that he didn’t know the Stones well enough (at least at the time) to discern Mick from Keith because he attributes what Keith says in the film from the stage to “Mick Jagger.” At 1:18 in the movie, as Jagger is trying to get everyone to chill out, Meredith Hunter appears twice close to the front on the left side of the stage. He’s hard to miss as he is wearing a lime-green suit and his tongue lolls out of his mouth twice. He either has some bad dry-mouth or is tweaking on something. Jagger instructs everyone to keep down and stay down before Under My Thumb starts and asks the crowd to “show we’re all one.”

The movie picks up where the above clip starts (the stuff in the middle in not on Youtube). Notice at the 22 second mark the nod of approval Keith Richards gets from Bob Roberts, who is still stationed stage right, on his mighty riffing. At the 28 second mark you can see Bob tapping his toes to the beat. At the 35 second mark an Angel (who was standing directly behind Hunter in the scene I just mentioned) can be seen calmly threading his way through the crowd to right another upended bike (1:15). He talks to people on either side and no violence occurs. Jagger stops singing the verse and the camera shifts to a guy onstage behind Roberts in the midst of what is probably a heavy acid experience. Both he and Roberts are in the frame through another Keith guitar solo and it’s obvious the guy is not doing well. As Mick comes back to the mic, one of the people standing behind Roberts, who are probably Angels or with them, taps him on the shoulder and gets him to turn around and talk. As Jagger starts singing again, the guy on the bad trip has taken off his coat and his head drops onto Roberts’ shoulder. Robert smiles for a second, probably because he thinks it’s the same person who had just tapped him. At the 2:40 mark he turns and does a double-take at who had actually just hit him and says something, obviously realizing the guy has no business being onstage. By the 2:53 mark Roberts gets him offstage in a fairly efficient manner. Although another Angel comes over to help, Roberts is able to lower the guy to the ground without shoving him off into the crowd. Before the end of the song there is another shot of Bill Fritsch sitting on one of the stage monitors. The crowd seems to have chilled out, the Angels have chilled out and then the crowd on the left side of the stage parts and Meredith Hunter is seen in the clearing. Hells Angel Alan Passaro moves from the center of the stage and with his arm up holding a knife, disables Hunters shooting arm, stabs Hunter in the back and drives him left out of the frame. Keith announces that the band is splitting until he is told that “a guy has a gun out there and he is shooting at the stage.” The film shows medical people talking to the police and Hunter’s body being helicoptered off the sight as his girlfriend breaks down. Mick requests a Zapruder-style roll-back on the film from the editing room that confirms the presence of the knife and gun. The film then cuts back to the Stones playing Street Fighting Man with a few of the Angels throwing roses out into the crowd (Mick is seen doing this at the Garden show). The band, Cutler and some other people with the Stones climb aboard a helicopter in a frenzied state and take off. There is a ghostly shot of people leaving(?) the Altamont site in darkness almost as if it’s the surface of the moon. Mick views the final scene in the editing room and the movie ends with the song Gimme Shelter to shots of people arriving at Altamont.

Except that isn’t really how it played out. The film had to end as it did because Hunter was killed. What really happened is that the Stones played Under My Thumb twice, the first time stopping somewhere because Hunter was killed and then replayed it and did 8 more songs (1+ hour of music and the debut of Brown Sugar) and then everybody went home. Sam Cutler was on KSAN the next asking for volunteers to come out to the site to help clean up and take down the stage and towers because immediately after, everyone, including the Stones split. Stanley Booth writes in his essay for the DVD is “…We didn’t know if Hunter had been killed, wounded or what, but the mood seemed to change; it was if the atmosphere had been purged.” The rest of the show went off without any trouble except for the above-mentioned large lady trying to get onstage. No one knows for sure what prompted Meredith Hunter to pull a gun or who he was aiming for. Some people have said he was helping with getting people off the speaker boxes when he got into an argument with six or seven Hells Angels, was pushed back and then rushed forward with a gun in his hand firing once before he was stabbed a total of six times and beaten while on the ground. In an interview that appeared in the Sunday Times seven years ago, Hunter’s girlfriend at the time, Patti Bredahoff (the woman in the crocheted dress) had this recollection of the event:

Patti can see herself at the concert, even now. White blouse, suede wraparound miniskirt, the crocheted top her mum made. She is 52 and doesn’t look the way she once did. She says she hasn’t made much of her life, but she dated Murdock then, for just a few weeks. He took her to see the Temptations, the original line-up, at a San Francisco club. He then took her to Altamont. She and two friends got bored and sat in the car, which was parked on the verge of the freeway, the I580. Murdock came back. He said, come on, Patti, let’s go see the Stones. He went to the boot and Patti saw him put the gun in his waistband. They had seen the fighting with the Angels by the stage earlier. The atmosphere had been tense, unpleasant. Murdock was packing now, just in case.
He stood by the stage and Patti saw him climb onto one of the boxes — monitor speakers — at the front. An Angel pushed him away. The Angel maybe punched him and jumped down and they began scuffling, then Murdock was trying to get away and Patti could see he had the gun in his hand. She was screaming now and other Angels jumped him — she never saw a knife, could not identify Passaro — then he was under the scaffolding on the ground and they were kicking and stomping him and she was sure he would be beaten to death. Nobody came to help, not at first. Then the Angels stepped back and others came forward. Other witnesses would say they tried to help but were kept back by the Angels. Let him die, they were told, he deserves to die, he wanted to shoot Mick Jagger, look, he had a gun.
No witness could testify to seeing a second stabber. One witness thought there were two, but couldn’t be sure. He said he heard Murdock say: “I wasn’t going to shoot you.” But from what most people describe, Murdock was pretty quickly rendered incapable of saying anything. He must have died more or less straight away. Sam Cutler helped carry him and went home with Murdock’s blood on his jacket. Patti remembers sitting in the ambulance looking at Murdock’s ripped shirt and thinking how upset he would be when he woke up, that they had ruined his lovely shirt.

There are a few interesting facts about this account: If Patti wasn’t at some or most of the show because she was bored and doesn’t mention anything about being hassled by the Angels personally, I think this puts to rest the longstanding rumor that Meredith Hunter was prompted to pull his gun because he and Patti were being taunted by the Angels for being an interracial couple. In the shot before the Stones start Under My Thumb Meredith can be seen in the front of the stage, but Patti is not there (and was trying to keep him away from the stage). Since it was dark and there was so much else going on, it’s likely that the Angels weren’t even conscious that the two of them were together (or would have cared). Her story of Hunter pulling the gun from the trunk of the car and putting in his waistband and the reasons for it are troubling. I have no idea where their car was in relation to the front of the stage, but it seems that more than anyone else in their group, Meredith Hunter was highly motivated to be right in front of the stage. Given that they had seen trouble earlier, thinking that having a gun was somehow going to prevent anything was obviously not a good move. Patti and Meredith didn’t know each other that well and had only been dating for a few weeks, so it’s not like she can say that she knew what his true motivations were. Her account differs from the film because when Meredith pulls the gun he is now behind her and further stage left. He doesn’t look like he’s trying to “get away” from anyone, but is moving forward and she and other people are trying to stop him. Almost everyone in the audience (in the frame of the movie) are now looking in Meredith’s direction. You can hear Patti scream and you can see Alan Passaro also sees all of this, sees the gun, and takes him out of the frame. In the essays that come with the DVD, Stanley Booth relates that “Mick had only sung the first line when there was sudden movement in the crowd at stage left. A tall black man wearing a black hat, black shirt, and iridescent green suit was waving a nickel-plated revolver. The gun waved in the lights for a second, two and then he was hit, so hard, by so many Angels that I didn’t see the first one as he jumped.” So if this is correct then, probably the footage of Under My Thumb in the movie is the complete 2nd take (at the end Mick is already singing “I pray that it’s alright”). After the song ends and the “grafted” shots of Hunter appear with the Angels responding, Keith immediately goes to the mic and announces that “we’re splitting.” As he is talking about leaving an Angel comes up and says “a guy’s gotta a gun out there and is shooting at the stage,” so it’s obvious that Angels felt that at least one shot had been fired long before there was any idea that the whole thing had been captured on film or any accusations of blame would be thrown around. Sonny Barger would later say that an Angel had been hit with a minor wound that was treated without medical attention because the person in question was a fugitive. If you watch the end of the Under My Thumb clip again, when Hunter comes into the frame keep your eyes on the people in front of him (bottom of the frame). They all scatter and several seem to fall or are pushed over. Bill Fristch ducks behind a stage monitor and then stands up as other Angels run into the crowd. It would be interesting to know why no cameras picked up the initial scuffle between Hunter and the Angels. It obviously began before Hunter pulled his gun and there were plenty of people who saw him trying to get onstage. There was also a camera focused on him and that side of the stage before the song starts. From wikipedia:

Some of the Hells Angels got into a scuffle with Meredith Hunter, when he attempted to get onstage with other fans. One of the Hells Angels grabbed Hunter’s head, punched him, and chased him back into the crowd. At that point, Hunter returned to the stage where, according to Gimme Shelter producer Porter Bibb, Hunter’s girlfriend Patty Bredahoff found him and tearfully begged him to calm down and move further back in the crowd with her; but he was reportedly enraged, irrational and so high he could barely walk. Rock Scully, who could see the audience clearly from the top of a truck by the stage, said of Hunter, “I saw what he was looking at, that he was crazy, he was on drugs, and that he had murderous intent. There was no doubt in my mind that he intended to do terrible harm to Mick or somebody in the Rolling Stones, or somebody on that stage.”

Earlier I wrote that Stanley Booth said that between Sympathy and Under My Thumb, the violence mellowed, except for a brief dust-up during Stray Cat Blues. This must’ve been when Hunter and others tried to get onstage and were pushed off or knocked around by the Angels if the above account is correct and Booth is correct that Hunter pulled his gun at the beginning of the first run through of Under My Thumb. It couldn’t have all happened during Under My Thumb if Hunter is already pulling his gun out before the first verse is sung. Love in Vain was played in between the two songs and this would allow for Patty to try and calm Hunter down and for him to return to the front of the stage. Her account makes it seem like it all happened at once. Given the nature of the day (and what people remembered or saw afterwards) it’s not completely out of the realm of possibilities that no cameras picked up the initial scuffle; the cameraman who filmed Hunter being stabbed didn’t even know he had that part of the fight on film. While additional footage of the Stones at Madison Square Garden has appeared over the years, I have never seen anything else that was captured at Altamont. It’s ironic that on the 2nd version of Under My Thumb cameras pick up Roberts getting someone off the stage in a very calm and professional manner, while the same type of disagreement led to Hunter’s death. The coroner found methamphetamine in Hunter’s system and needle tracks on his arms, so his behavior, if captured on film, could have led to a completely different view of how and why he was killed. Keith Richards, (in his book Life) writes that Hunter was “…foaming at the mouth too. He was as nuts as the rest.” He doesn’t say whether he actually saw this or heard it from others, but his allusion to speed or methamphetamine, which is often overlooked, not only at Altamont, but also, in the San Francisco community in general, may have been another cause for the bad day and Hunter’s death. One of the first anti-drug messages ever coined, Speed Kills, was in response to large numbers of people using the drug post-1967. People wired on crank or bad acid are not going to be full of love vibes and a huge gathering of people with violence and only the bare minimum of toilets and concessions would aid the general atmosphere of frenzy and paranoia. Of course, film of the initial scuffle could have also shown Angels on that side of the stage going overboard trying trying to deal with Hunter. It’s hard to know, because that important initial scuffle is missing from the film. The way Booth describes it above is basically what the movie shows; Meredith Hunter was suddenly waving his gun in the air. The fly-on-the-wall seems to have missed some of the most important moments of the concert. Because he was from a poor family, for many years Meredith Hunter was interned in an unmarked grave. In 2006 a documentary by Sam Green called Lot 63, grave c explored Meredith Hunter’s short life. As of 2008, funds had been raised to provide a headstone for Hunter’s grave. Alan Passaro was found not guilty of murder by a jury in 1970. After serving time in prison for a few years, Passaro died under “mysterious circumstances” in 1985.

The concert and the subsequent film had a big impact not only on the world of rock and roll, but also on the San Francisco / 60s community that had been very positive about the possibilities of new beginnings and a new society. Even Mick Jagger said before the concert the intent was to create a “microcosm of society.” In an article that was written by noted San Francisco scribe Ralph J. Gleason after the event and preserved HERE some interesting quotes appear: Bill Thompson, the Airplane’s manager, remarked that “a lot of personal relationships were burned behind Altamont.” The event challenged the basic “do-your-own-thing” ethic on which the whole of San Francisco music and hip culture had been based. “It wasn’t just the Angels. It was everybody,” one young lady said later. “There was no love, no joy. In twenty-four hours we created all the problem of our society in one place: congestion, violence, dehumanization. Is this what we want?” Mick Jagger is also quoted as saying, “I know San Francisco by reputation. It was supposed to be lovely here — not uptight. What happened? What’s gone wrong? If Jesus had been there, He would have been crucified.” Immediately after the event and for many years after, the Rolling Stones tacitly blamed San Francisco and the Hells Angels for what happened at Altamont and San Francisco, the Angels and everyone else (even Don McLean!) blamed the Stones because it was felt that the band had brought evil to the positive revolution with their cynicism, dark music and aloof star-tripping. It was inevitable that even before the concert and forever after, Altamont would be compared to Woodstock and how the darkness in California signaled the end of the hippie era. 25 days after Altamont the 1960s ended and what is very clear in Gimme Shelter, with the live performances and recordings that would show up on Sticky Fingers 2 years later, the Rolling Stones had already said goodbye to the 1960s (probably in late 1967). Even though there were people who showed up for the tour to say goodbye to the band because it was felt at the time they were an anachronism compared to all of the new music that was the soundtrack for the counterculture’s future, it was the Rolling Stones who kept right on rolling through the next four decades. In The Rolling Stones: The First 25 Years, an essay by Dave Dalton quotes Mick as saying, “Of course, some people want to say that Alamont was the end of an era…People like that are fashion writers. Perhaps it was the end of their era, the end of the naivete. I would have thought that it would have ended long before Altamont.” His point is worth noting and I’d like to add that if all it took was one bad concert to sink the hippie era, there couldn’t have been a whole lot to it. A whole lot has changed since 1969 — it’s interesting how the punk and metal scenes of the 1970s and 1980s borrowed quite a bit from the “dark side” of Altamont — the leather, chains, beer, violence and philosophies that attempted to be virulently “anti-hippie.” It’s possible that rather than ending one era, the concert was the bridge to what followed. I would imagine that for the generations of people who have grown up since, there is much more of an awareness and maybe even indifference toward violence in general than was true in 1969 and plenty of the music that has been created in the intervening decades reflects this change.

This has been an interesting exploration for me and I feel that I’ve learned a whole lot of background on Gimme Shelter and the story of Altamont. I hope whoever reads this enjoys the post as well. The research I was able to do turned up quite a few interesting characters and sub-plots. I’ve tried to avoid drawing any conclusions because I wasn’t there and don’t know anyone who was. What always struck me about the movie echoes the quote I referenced from Spencer Dryden above. While there were definitely some happy party people in attendance, there were also something off about the whole thing. Perhaps it was the bad drugs, the bad vibes, or the insane desperation of the times. At the same time, there are plenty of instances in the movie where the audience IS cool and the Hells Angels DO perform the tasks they were asked to do very efficiently, even though they said from the beginning they were not trained to be security operatives. While it is obvious on the KSAN radio broadcasts (I place a fair amount of importance on these calls because they occurred right after the concert) that some people thought the Angels were too heavy-handed, no one remarked on an incident at Woodstock when Pete Townshend of The Who knocked Abbie Hoffman off the stage when he attempted to interrupt their performance. Pete wasn’t gentle about it, the audience applauded after Hoffman was knocked or fell off the stage and it doesn’t seem that Pete was ever seriously taken to task for how he went about it. Most of the violence in Gimme Shelter occurs because of the same dynamic in action. In the wake of guitarist Dimebag Darrell’s onstage murder in 2004 by a mentally ill person, his family sued the club where the incident took place because it was alleged that security had allowed the gunman backdoor access to the club. One statement of interest in the suit is that, “One of the security guards said that he didn’t want to mess with him [Gale] because he was a big dude.” Say what you want about the Angels and Alan Passaro, they didn’t hesitate to step up and do what they were supposed to do even when that included dealing with a guy who was waving (and firing?) a gun. There are very few people in this world who would take on such a task when beer is the only compensation. I think this might be what Sonny Barger means on his radio call when he says that “the Angels were used for dupes.” I’m sure from their perspective there was plenty of regret not only for what happened at the concert (both Sonny and Pete Knell say this) but also maybe for signing on in the first place. As I’ve detailed above, as the party morphed into a concert and changed locations right up until the last minute before showtime, the Angels’ role changed in the process. The concert was completely off the grid because those in the establishment who had the chance to help put on the event declined to do so. Who would’ve stepped up had the Angels also declined to be involved? I don’t know, I’ve never seen that anyone offered any alternatives (at the time or after). Perhaps the whole idea should’ve been shelved, but many events that happened in this period were borderline disasters, even Woodstock. In an early clip of the movie, before there is any music, Cutler, Tony Funches and some others are standing around talking and they acknowledge that everything is already totally wrong. One man (I don’t know who he is) says basically “…We’ll wing it, if only for experimental purposes.” This was a big part of what made the 1960s interesting; people experimented with many things, individually and as members of this “new” culture. Mick Jagger once bristled at the notion that he was one of the leaders of all of the social changes that occurred during the decade — “We just all went along together, didn’t we?” That was what everyone hoped for and tried to make happen at Altamont, but unfortunately, experiments sometimes go wrong and “winging it” can be dangerous. Certainly the 60s had many casualties from too much experimentation. Violence has continued to be a part of rock and roll in the years since Altamont and even under the best, tightly-controlled situations, problems can arise. Anyone reading this post can certainly call to mind trouble at an event, maybe even on they attended. The ending to Gimme Shelter has puzzled many over the years and maybe still does: The song Gimme Shelter plays as people are shown arriving at the concert. A quick dissection of the lyrics, especially “War children, it’s just a shot away” or “Love sister, it’s just a kiss away” perhaps explain the movie better than any article or discussion. The line between violence/trouble and having a good time can sometimes be a very thin one indeed and there is always an opportunity for people or groups of people to respect that line and not let their good time get out of hand. This is something everyone should consider as they arrive at each new destination. I don’t know if that is what the film makers intended, but I think it serves as a good ending to a very complicated and important event in rock and roll history.