Archive for The Rolling Stones

ShortRiffs — January 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the January release of ShortRiffs. Here are a few items that happened last month and early this month. I will try to make this a monthly feature. Feel free to let me know if there are things I should explore. I ALWAYS appreciate your feedback, tips and comments!

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My holiday season was Great this year. Lots of fine times, great food and I played a gig! It was awesome. A three-hour gypsy-jazz Christmas party at a very private and exclusive club. It was a fun time and we were received very well from both the staff and patrons for our gypsy music, jazz standards and holiday songs. Highlights of the night included Django Reinhardt’s Danse Norvegienne, Troublant Bolero and Douce Ambiance, a great speedy version of There Will Never Be Another You and two holiday favorites, My Favorite Things (which is in our regular rotation) and a song I brought in, The Ventures’ version of Sleigh Ride, which was also a big hit and sounded great. Totally played it like a boss and of course the other guys are just killin’. We had a clarinet player sitting in with our usual guitar presentation so the mood was even more jazzy and festive. Good Times!

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One thing that happened at the gig that wasn’t so great was that a new microphocation system I had purchased, the Audio Technica Pro 70, completely died on me. I had my suspicions that something was wrong because I went through the first battery in like an hour. Then at the end of our last song all of the sound cut out and it was just distorted noises. Some kind of short? I dunno. I had high hopes because a few bands I like use this mic and it seems to get a very dedicated acoustic sound. It was all good until it failed. I’m trying to get it replaced/repaired and see what happens. Obviously, I can’t recommend at this stage, but am holding off final judgement. If you want to hear what it should sound like, listen to the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet:

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I heard the new Rolling Stones record everyone was talking about, Blue and Lonesome. This review here is pretty typical of what people are saying about it. Personally, I didn’t hearfingers much to get excited about. I didn’t even like the song choice that much. I’ve listened to Sticky Fingers pretty regularly over the last few months. What a great record! Easily one of their best. Also some choice cuts from the ’65 years: I’m Free, I’m Movin’ On, Gotta Get Away, Doncha Bother Me and some later 70s stuff like When the Whip Comes Down, Shattered, Waiting on a Friend and Little T and A. When the Rolling Stones used to play the blues, they did it effortlessly. There was an insolence to how little they tried and/or cared. Look at the sleeve of Sticky Fingers; Mick is barely awake. That was part of the attraction. Now they’re all earnest and stuff and most reviews remark on how they still sound like they used to. Uh…they don’t, and all of the marketing and spin in the world is not going to change that. Multi-millionaires probably shouldn’t be trying to play the blues anyhow. If I was 70 and had their money, I would be on a beach 24/7/365.

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HOLY BRAZEN THIEF BATMAN! IS THAT A GUITAR IN YOUR PANTS OR ARE YOU HAPPY TO SEE ME? THIS IS GOING TO MAKE MITT ROMNEY SUPER SAD! Yes, the one liners just write themselves don’t they? Here is the video. Looks like he stashed it in the drum department first, which may be as impressive as getting it out of the store. Someone wasn’t paying attention. He must’ve really WANTED that Strat!

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Greg Lake passed away in December. That’s a shame, although by all accounts he had been battling cancer for awhile and was probably worn out. He was a prog rock legend given his associations with the awesome King Crimson, the very peppy and pyrotechnic, ELP, briefly in the very 80s Asia and as a solo artist. Although he was frequently a bass player, his guitar sound at times really captured the vibe of Olde English. Steve Howe and Jimmy Page also had this down. It’s almost like they could call up the sound of the Middle Ages anytime they wanted…and this was before there was such a thing as a Renaissance Fair. I very much liked his compositions From the Beginning, Still You Turn Me On, and Lucky Man. Any of those three songs was a favorite for acoustic guitar guys to play back in the 70s/early 80s and I still play From the Beginning from time to time.

Also, Butch Trucks, drummer for the Allman Brothers just passed away this week. Wow! This is a sad story. He and Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) were a drumming force to be reckoned with and had a lot to do with why the Brothers were the standard for that brand of rock for so many years.

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yoko1I found this Dick Cavett with John and Yoko DVD as a giveaway a few months ago. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to part with it. *eyeroll* Watching it (and by that I mean “skipping around alot”) was an interesting and somewhat uncomfortable experience. I remember seeing one of these interviews back in the day when I was a a young lad because I had discovered The Beatles, but I certainly did not understand the whole early 70s Lennon thing. I’m not sure anyone understands or agrees on the facts any better today, but this DVD is a good window into the attitudes, habits and opinions of a very wacky time. The fact that people used to smoke cigarettes on television talk shows is probably hard for younger generations to believe. Dick Cavett had a lot of great musical guests on his program(s), including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, George Harrison, Oscar Peterson, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar, and many others.

This 1971 interview occurred at the height of the Lennons’ post-Beatle political period. There are great moments of John Lennon wit; he was a funny, smart and interesting guy sometimes. Yoko… if you strip away the weirdness she always tries to affect, she is interesting and intelligent. They are both nervous and their relationship was probably very contentious at times as they constantly talk over each other. The persecuted artist complex thing gets old though; they did put themselves out there in some very silly situations (Bed-Ins, Bagism) and John had already seen the negative aspects fame can engender. I’m not sure if they thought everyone was going to love them for their radical and sometimes half-baked politics and if they did, why they thought that. The fact that a lot of the political/overly personal music was pretty jyterrible didn’t endear fans or critics to the new John Lennon either. For all of their revolutionary proclamations at this time, by the late-70s the couple would transition to what would become button-down 1980s Yuppie culture. Though elements of this culture are prevalent in modern American society, the whole shebang can be a bit like Beetlejuice too. I can’t help but think of Delia Deetz and Otho whenever Yoko talks about her “work“. As I discovered while researching for the post on Pete Townshend and The Who, both Pete and Yoko were influenced by Gustav Metzger and his concept of auto-destructive art. Pete destroyed guitars and Yoko made this noise on the while jamming with Chuck Berry.

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I’m not a John and Yoko hater and don’t put any stock in those “tell-all” books that were written by people who supposedly knew the details of their relationship. Once their relationship became the thing, everything else came second. I don’t know who is to blame for that, if anyone. I don’t really care about musicians’ personal lives… and never have. I could read about the recording sessions, equipment, touring or composition all day long, but how John and Yoko or whoever else related to each other is a big <a href="https://www.youtubeIt's like reality television or supermarket tabloids. So overall I didn't find this that interesting, but it was free and there were some funny moments.

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Finally, here is something fun and scientific. The legendary Bobby McFerrin shows the power of expectations and the Pentatonic scale. Isn’t this great? This short clip is part of a much longer presentation, Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus This is an interesting talk and is related in a way to things I’ve discussed with the This Is Your Brain on Guitar posts, here and here. A great primer to start the new year for all aspiring musicians and improvisers out there!

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Coming very soon — Christmas music and GuitarSong #6 — Django Reinhardt’s version of Night and Day.

LED ZEPPELIN in Guitar World 1993

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2014 by theguitarcave
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Iwas looking for something in my closet the other day and came across this magazine. Always loved the cover art. Brilliant! It’s hard to believe this almost 21 years old already (it was the 12/93 issue). How time flies. But the Song Remains the Same doesn’t it? The mystique, magic and music of Led Zeppelin continues to hold up to the present day. A quick glance at the other names on the cover yields some nods of recognition and maybe even a few “oh yeahs”, but it’s not like the legacy of Smashing Pumpkins or White Zombie is setting the world on fire. I guess people still buy magazines (do they?). I’m so out of touch since I found this here internet thing. Like much of the print world, I do believe most printed publications are also available to be viewed online or people just don’t bother anymore since there are exactly zero musicians in the western hemisphere who can’t be found online in some form or another. The other attraction, at least back in 1993, was that songs were tabbed out with painstaking detail, which, in the case of a song like Zep’s Ten Years Gone, was a bit of an undertaking best left to the professionals. However, even this feature, along with gear and music reviews has been usurped by advances in computer applications and the mighty online community. It is a nice little reminder of what used to be and inside were other reminders of things that used to be.

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Can you believe this image? Have you ever seen anything like that? No, not Robert Plant playing guitar, although I don’t think there are many pics of him out there playing an axe at what looks to be a LZ session (maybe the “outdoor” recording of Black Country Woman). (Both pics are courtesy of Eddie Kramer) I mean the very crappy text/image spacing between Robert’s picture and the text at left. I didn’t manipulate, that’s how it is in the magazine. What’s really funny is a guy named Michael Chatham is given a “typography” credit at the beginning of the article. There’s something you don’t see very often, but maybe it wasn’t his fault. Blame the temp who was doing paste-up or whatever. Anyhow, this interview with Andy Johns and Eddie Kramer details recording the band at various times during their career; Kramer on II and then Johns taking over for III and IV before Kramer came back for Houses of the Holy. Interestingly enough, according to Kramer, III started out at Electric Ladyland in New York but a roadie affiliated with the band spilled Indian food on one of the studio carpets and refused to clean it up. This led to a row between Kramer, who had a major role with Jimi Hendrix in planning and getting Electric Lady built and the band who backed the roadie. So long-story-short, they told each other to piss off for a few years. Another interesting tidbit involving Kramer and Page is that the middle section of Whole Lotta Love was mixed basically the same way as the “sound paintings” (1983) on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland record. “…we just flayed, around the console twiddling every knob we could. While the Altec console might have limited our options, especially the panning effects, we somehow managed to stretch our limitations and create a very effective mix.” (The Altec console used to mix Whole Lotta Love had exactly 2, count ’em, 2 pan pots. Wow!) Both engineers gave Page high marks as a producer and as a band, Zeppelin were very quick in the studio once the arrangement was set and the tricky bits of timing had been worked out. Neither Bonham on the basic tracks or Plant on the vocals took more than a few takes to get what everyone hears and has heard over the past 40+ years. Jones and Page would overdub as much as was necessary to fill the song out and because the band, especially Bonham were so easy to record, the mixing was almost never a laborious process either. Johns recollections of IV include Stairway coming in as a finished piece, placing mics on a stairway landing and then adding heavy compression and a bit of reverb to the drums for the very awesome When the Levee Breaks, which Bonham was very happy about and not getting Four Sticks right even after 3-4 tries at the mix. Although they found something they could live with, he blamed too much initial compression during the recording and this was the one regret of an otherwise perfect set of sessions.

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In one way I think I’m the typical Zep head when it comes to their albums — I through Physical Graffiti are as close to perfect as a band can get. Presence is ok, In Through the Out Door was less than ok and a harbinger of THE END. Overall, my favorite album is probably Houses of the Holy, not so much because of the songs, even though they are all good and several are fantastic. No it’s that shimmering brightness combined with CRUNCH that wasn’t really captured as well on any other album. Houses of the Holy was recorded at Mick Jagger’s mansion, Stargroves, in the English countryside and maybe it was the mood the locale created or maybe because it was the band approaching the pinnacle of their career or the sounds they were able to get from the rooms that were used. While Kramer didn’t have much to say in this issue about the recording of Houses of the Holy, he recalled in the infamous book Hammer of the Gods that all four members of the group were dancing in a line on the lawn as they listened to the Dancing Days playback. As others have said, “the album sounds orange” (a reflection of the color of the cover art) and I agree. Those who go more for the Zeppelin blooze riff-fests don’t like this record as much and I like those albums too, but sometimes the sound, especially on Physical Graffiti has a very muddy quality to it. Some of the tracks for Graffiti had been recorded at the Houses of the Holy sessions which is why they sound a bit different, but the tracks recorded specifically for the record (Kashmir!) suffer from a lack of clarity. Just my opinion.

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The final interesting bits of the magazine’s profile of LZ are thus: An interview with Robert Plant that sounds like it could have been done yesterday, or in 1984 and some quick musical tabs of some of Jimmy’s best riffs. At the time it was great to see the latter. I literally smacked myself on the side of the head when I realized how overcomplicated I had been trying to make the outro to What is and What Should Never Be. It really is dead easy and any of the footage now available shows how completely simple it is. The Albert Hall 1970 is a good place to start. The interview with Robert is funny in that he pokes a bit of fun at Jimmy Page and the idea of “going to prison to go around the world playing Black Dog”. Of course around the time he was giving this interview plans were being made for the big Page/Plant reunion that would commence recording during the following year. The project was acoustic and very different than a straight-up reunion, including a limited long-term commitment, which was probably part of the attraction. Plant says as far back as 1993, “I don’t think of myself as a rock singer anymore”, and part of the reason is he can’t. All of the wild screaming that many associate with Zeppelin (from hearing the records, especially the early ones) is no longer doable. The guy is closing in on 70, so he deserves some slack. In the 20 plus years since this interview he has been a very successful solo artist and collaborator and has earned much respect outside of the Led Zeppelin milieu. While there is definitely some attraction to playing great music with top-notch musicians like Page, Jones and Jason Bonham, he’s a guy who can pretty much call anyone he wants to a session, so the avoidance of a big reunion (then or now) is completely understandable, even though it’s still a hot topic.

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One of the strangest most far-out rumors that dogged Led Zeppelin throughout their career was the one that alleged they (minus John Paul Jones) had made a pact with Satan, dark master of all things heavy. This surfaced in the mainstream in books like Hammer of the Gods and most people, including the band, wrote this off as silly legende right out of the realms of Anton LaVey and the Manson Family. When I wrote about Gimme Shelter I explored some of the very strange connections between famous rock stars and people who maybe felt a little too comfortable on the dark side of the street. These “satanic” rumors also dogged the Stones for years and having a very popular song titled Sympathy For the Devil can lead to a whole lot of misunderstandings. Some (referencing Hammer of the Gods again) believe that by Presence and specifically Nobody’s Fault but Mine, Robert was looking for a way out from what he saw as the intensely negative vibe that was starting to surround the band and his life. Statements he made after the 1977 tour (notable for it’s junkie overindulgence, sub-par performances and ultra-violence) and the death of his son Karac hint that these feelings had only increased. Childhood friend John Bonham’s death was supposedly the final nail and ever since then Led Zeppelin as it was has ceased to exist for Robert Plant. Or so the story goes. Personally, I don’t believe that Robert and the rest of the band signed anything in blood to Satan, but maybe there is a case for a more nuanced reading of “dark forces”. I found out a couple days ago that during the period Peter Grant was negotiating Robert’s first solo record deal in the early 1980s, Robert sold all of his rights to the first 10 Led Zeppelin albums away to an unknown buyer. He retains creative control and the whole issue of what he gets from reissues and new product like the 2003 DVD is not so clear, but think about that! You want to talk about cutting the cord! Was it a financial decision? Was it about wanting to make it completely on his own post 1980? I dunno, maybe. The figure he got for his rights (and you can read an informative thread on the official Led Zeppelin forum) was $7 million. Obviously he would’ve made much more than that had he hung on to them; this was before compact discs came into existence. But Robert is quite wealthy and has succeeded in his quest to be a respected bona-fide artist outside of the realms of Led Zeppelin. Perhaps that was his only consideration. Perhaps, he wasn’t (and isn’t) entirely comfortable with Led Zeppelin’s legacy, especially outside the music. Let’s go back to the Eddie Kramer/Indian food incident mentioned above. While the Zeppelin Devil Pact is silly and unsubstantiated, the band’s image as egocentric, intoxicated barbarians was earned and well-deserved. Some of it was all it good fun and one would be hard-pressed to find a band in the 70s that didn’t indulge in mindless hooliganism from time to time. But since the better half of Robert has always cultivated an intelligent and spiritual vibe, it is possible that he made a decision in the early 80s to close the door, let go and move on…permanently, as in “I’m not that guy anymore”. If nothing else, there was probably an intense desire to not let those crazy days be the complete Robert Plant legacy and he has certainly spent the last 30+ years ensuring that Led Zeppelin would not be his whole story. But it will forever be a huge part of his history and legend and as he says in the following clip, The Song Remains the Same!

Keith Richards — Part II —The 70s

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by theguitarcave

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The late 1960s and early 1970s saw Keith Richards coming into his own as a bona fide guitar hero and entertainment personality, albeit a very notorious personality. If you missed the first part of this expose, you can find it HERE, and the most popular post I’ve ever done, Gimme Shelter, is also chock-full of Keith or, “Keef” goodies. Following the release of Let It Bleed and the infamous 1969 American tour, Keith and The Stones would tour Europe and release two more powerhouse albums before returning to the States for an even more infamous tour in 1972. The albums, Sticky Fingers (parts of which were recorded on the ’69 tour in Muscle Shoals, Alabama) and the genre-defining Exile on Main Street, which was basic-tracked in Keith’s rented house in the south of France with the help of the new Rolling Stones Mobile (recording) Unit, would cement the band’s reputation as the swaggering high priests of outlaw rock and roll. These two records also completed the HOLY 5 (Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya Yas Out, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street) run of Stones albums that is pinnacle of their career. All of these albums are very much driven by the guitar style Keith mashed together from all of his favorite blues, country and early rock and roll influences to recreate an updated form of rock and roll that is distinctly American. In that way, this period is very reflective of Keith’s artistic sensibilities and long-standing fascination with American culture in a way that nothing after 1972 would, not even his solo records.

During this time another British band was making their own indelible mark on rock music and as the 70s progressed they would eclipse the Stones in sales, popularity and sheer awesomeness. This, of course, was Led Zeppelin. The two bands had quite a bit in common, especially in the early 70s, the use of the mobile unit to record their groundbreaking records out of the confines of urban recording studios, for instance. There are many interviews with Keith and Jimmy Page that illustrate how much of the sound of these seminal recordings (the Stones 5 and Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti) owe as much to the ambiance of their recording settings as they do the songs, players and instruments. Tales of the Stones recording Exile while dinner was being cooked upstairs or Keith ducking out of a session to put his son to bed (and not reappearing for 5 hours) align with Led Zep lore of the sound of John Bonham’s drum sound on When the Levee Breaks, captured in a Headley Grange hallway or all 4 members of the band dancing on the lawn after hearing first playbacks of Dancing Days. Recording these albums in this fashion allowed for greater artistic isolation because both groups were removed from urban environments, and was reminiscent of the old days when blues/country artists recorded in hotel rooms, kitchens, or on street corners. I believe this allowed both bands to bring a level of authenticity that approached high art to these recordings. Another similarity, one that Led Zeppelin embraced from the very beginning of their career, was that neither band had to be concerned with having a hot single out every two or three months and both had reached the superstar status level that afforded them the luxury of having to answer to no one, as long as the kids kept buying records and concert tickets. The Stones and Led Zeppelin had their own record labels by the mid-70s and this was a very big step (and one that isn’t talked about very often in the current file sharing discussions) of wrestling control away from record company executives and putting it firmly in the hands of the artists who were making the music. Not only was the music written and played in a very sympathetic environment, using all of the latest technology available, but the band (and a very willing engineer or two) recorded and produced the music as they saw fit. Personally, I think this has a whole lot to do with why these albums still rank as some of the best ever made and are very hard to beat for the sound of the BLUUZE excitement that jumps off of them when they are played.

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This record was covered in Part I, but as an added bonus here is Street Fighting Man when it was Did Everyone Pay Their Dues? The video is from a trip Mick, Keith, Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenberg took to South America in 1968. This trip would influence at least one song from Let It Bleed.

LET IT BLEED

A very menacing record – the sound, the lyrics, the subject matter, the way Keith has developed his slashing chord jabs and the relentless, insistent pulse of the rhythm section. 1968-1969 were bloody years and the Stones had their finger square on the pulse of what was happening. Let It Bleed was released in the USA immediately after Altamont and it’s so evil that it might as well have been the soundtrack. John Lennon seemed to believe that “Let It Bleed” referred the last Beatles album and it probably did. Mick Jagger had always been jealous and competitive of The Beatles and their success and with this record he finally came out on top. While Let It Be is a half-assed collection of songs and jams from an aborted pre-Abbey Road movie idea, Let It Bleed is a tightly-focused statement on the state of the world as the Stones saw it at the time. While soon-to-be jettisoned Stone Brian Jones and soon-to-be Stone Mick Taylor both appear on the record, it’s pretty much a total Keith show.

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Gimme Shelter kicks off the record with it’s dramatic, almost cinematic, building intro. Keith’s playing in open-E tuning and the treble chords in the intro set the listener up for the main body of the song because once the descending riff (a variation on Under My Thumb) kicks in he is beating you over the head with it. Charlie Watts is locked in on Keith once the song kicks in and never strays. On top of this rhythmic heaviness, there is some slide guitar, a short Keith solo, a bluesy harp and apocalyptic lyrics provided by Mick, and a female vocal break provide by Merry Clayton that is so intense it was blamed for the miscarriage she suffered after the session. It’s 4 1/2 minutes of mayhem and this is the first song on the record! It’s evil twin brother kicks off side 2. Midnight Rambler, a song that sketches the Boston Strangler, is even more intense than Gimme Shelter. Keith has described it as a blues opera and he and Mick wrote all of the various parts together while vacationing in Italy. Played in an E position with a capo on the 7th fret, the song is a perfect example of how much power Keith gets out of a very basic and compact approach to guitar. Thousands of blues-influenced songs use this E position on the first fret, but putting it up at the 7th fret and swapping in a “D” chord and progression instead of the standard 12-bar B-turnaround, turns the whole form inside out without diverging too far away from it. You can hear it’s the blues, but it’s also much more than the blues. I find the tone of the studio version of this song to be really amazing… it burps, kind of… and staggers along like a pervert in a dirty raincoat clutching a long knife. Keith used the same guitar on Gimme Shelter and Midnight Rambler and he recalled in 2002:

That was done on a full-bodied, Australian electric-acoustic, f-hole guitar. It kind of looked like an Australian copy of the Gibson model that Chuck Berry used. I played it on Gimmie Shelter too… It had all been revarnished and painted out, but it sounded great. It made a great record… (I got it f)rom some guy who stayed at my pad. He crashed out for a couple of days and suddenly left in a hurry, leaving that guitar behind. You know, Take care of this for me. I certainly did! But it served me well through the album. http://www.timeisonourside.com/SOMidnight.html

Monkey Man and Live With Me are two more nasty songs from this very nasty album. The first finds Keith locked in on one of his prototypical riffs; a hard-knuckled adaptation from Chuck Berry that sounds as if it might be in open tuning, but it is in standard C#/E major. This is the kind of hammer-time guitar thing that has made Keith a guitar hero and he probably spent days playing it over and over until it was exactly right. The slide part that happens as a break before the final “I’m a MONKEY!!” is probably open-E. Really nice layering of guitars and a tinkling piano above Charlie’s insistent drums. Monkey Man is a silly song lyrically, but a great music track. Live With Me is a swaggering ode to sleaze that features Mick Taylor on guitar and Keith on bass, which he likes to do from time to time. In concert, the propulsive bass line would be doubled on guitar with those slashing standard-tuned guitar chords played against the rhythm. Saxman Bobby Keyes makes his first appearance with the Stones on this track. On the softer side of things is a very bluesy adaptation of Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain that features Keith on acoustic picking and electric slide and Ry Cooder on mandolin. I believe the acoustic is in standard tuning and has a capo on the 3rd fret and Keith uses really cool finger-picking patterns to bring the desolation and loneliness of this song to life. Extra chords were added to the Robert Johnson version so it is a bit more complex than a 3 chord blues. You can hear shades of this same progression in I Got the Blues from Sticky Fingers. Country Honk is the original version of Honky Tonk Women (although the electric single version was released first) and was supposedly inspired by the gaucho cowboys Mick and Keith saw on their trip to South America (see how I tied that together?). Keith was always fascinated with the cowboy lifestyle from an early age and for sure the band is channeling a little bit of Hank Williams and white boy honky tonk music on this one. For this song you can leave it in standard or tune it to open-G and merge with parts Keith plays on the electric version which is definitely in open-G. You Got the Silver is Keith’s lead vocal debut and he plays acoustic and electric slide guitar in open-E/D, with a capo on the 1st or 3rd fret so the song is in the key of F. (Whether you tune to D or E is a personal preference). The atmosphere of this song is simply 60s beautiful and is easily one of the best songs the band ever did. Originally Mick also sang on the track and there are alternate versions out there with him on vocals, but Keith’s vibe is really cool and that makes the album version definitive. Let It Bleed and You Can’t Always Get What You Want round out the album and on both Keith is playing various acoustics and electric/slide guitars. When I saw the Stones on the 1981 tour they played Let it Bleed, which was great because it had never been a concert song before. You Can’t Always Get What You Want (played in open-E or D [acoustic] on the record and usually played in open-G with a capo on the 5th fret live) was a concert staple throughout the 70s.

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Let It Bleed was a critical and commercial success and really was the next big step (after Beggars Banquet) of the Stones’ new image to the world. As with the rest of the studio albums during this period, the best songs would be hits and favorites of legions of fans for decades to come and still make up a big part of any Rolling Stones set list. Musically, lyrically and artistically Let It Bleed is more than an album and is probably second only to Exile on Main Street as the best record the group ever did.

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I include this in the group of must-haves because it’s much more than a live album. A case could be made that it isn’t really a live album as there were a few overdubs done after the fact and any close listening to bootlegs from the tour or clips from the movie Gimme Shelter (like the one above) prove this. Not everything was changed and certainly all of the ingredients for a great live album were already there, but given that the band was on a creative roll and probably wanted to put their very best into their first real live album, it’s understandable they would play around with it. Another crucial component is Mick Taylor. His guitar playing gave the album a very HEAVY blues virtuoso feel in spots and it was smart to make the most of what he was now bringing to the band. He had only been involved for a few months prior to the tour but it was very clear from the beginning he was going to change the sound in a big way. The album rocks from beginning to end and some cuts like Midnight Rambler, Jumping Jack Flash, Live With Me, Street Fighting Man and Sympathy For the Devil have such a powerful sound and energy that it’s almost breathtaking. Taylor’s slide solo on Love in Vain (which he plays in standard tuning) is simply brilliant as is his solo (the 2nd one) on Sympathy. The rapid-fire negotiation of the 4 parts to Midnight Rambler come off perfectly and that song is so sizzling it is downright scary. The band would never sound like this again on a live release and that has everything to do with Mick Taylor, Keith’s good health and the band working with the realization that they have expanded their capabilities and execution and are firing on all cylinders. The maelstrom that was the late 60s probably had something to do with it as well as the fact that this was the first time the Stones had played America with powerful amps and PA systems. They rose to the challenge perfectly and this is a great transition from Let It Bleed to their next offering.

STICKY FINGERS

Sticky Fingers is a really good indication of how SMART The Rolling Stones are. They were always able to integrate whatever was going on at the time into their sonic palette and produce records that were simultaneously timely and timeless (This would also be true of Some Girls). Quite a feat when you think about it. Everything that would follow in the 70s: the debauchery, self-destruction, failed 60s ideals, tired and overplayed musical styles and the indulgences of the “ME” decade is contained in the lyrics and music of this record and really all Keith Richards and Mick Taylor did was further define the twin-guitar style that had already worked for the band for the better part of 7 years. Even though the 70s would be the era of long songs and jams, the Stones always kept it pretty tight around the blues wail/pop song format that had served them throughout the 1960s. While Brown Sugar or Bitch seem like a far cry from Satisfaction or The Last Time, musically they aren’t in terms of complication or excess. The refinement of the riffs, rhythms and parts, a much bigger sound, combined with Mick Jagger’s envelope-pushing lyrics only illustrate how the band grew over time. There are some interesting tidbits about these two songs that anchor each side of Sticky Fingers. Brown Sugar was a Mick Jagger composition right down to the rhythms and salacious subject matter. Keith turned it into a tour de force by adapting it to his open-G tuning, layering electric and acoustic guitars together and adding a very patented Chuck Berry ending to the song. Brown Sugar was recorded at Muscle Shoals during the ’69 tour and as I relate in the post on Gimme Shelter, part of the reason that the band ran into trouble on with various components of the counterculture on that tour was because of the fact that they had already moved on from the 60s (after the drug busts of 1967, the failure of Their Satanic Majesties Request, and Brian Jones’ death) and were already channeling a new decade. While many people from the hippie movement at the time thought that the Stones were an anachronism of a bygone era, the band glided effortlessly into the 1970s more successful than ever. Bitch, on the other hand, was a mess of a song that began without Keith, who showed up to record that day with a bowl of cornflakes in his hand. After listening to the band struggle with it for a few minutes he strapped on his guitar, simplified the riff and WHAMMO! Instant 70s AOR hit.

The rest of the album shows the band’s dedication to American roots music whether it be country; Dead Flowers, Wild Horses, the blues; I Got the Blues, You Gotta Move, or (what became) definitive 70s rock; Sway, Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’. Sister Morphine and the very unStonesy Moonlight Mile round out the record. Thanks to their always on-point music savvy and the addition of Mick Taylor, and a horn section, including saxman Bobby Keyes, the Stones had developed a formidable sound that greeted the 70s with sass, hipness, and their always insistent energy. Taylor’s fluid lead lines gave songs like Moonlight Mile, Sway and the Santana-esque 2nd half of Can’t You Hear (the first part is a brilliant Keith G-tuning workout) a big rock virtuosity that was perfect for the 70s. Jagger would say after Taylor’s departure that he had really enjoyed writing with the guitarist because he didn’t come from as limited a background as Keith and his more lead-based style allowed for departures from the typical Stones raunchiness. Sister Morphine featured slide guitar maestro Ry Cooder, who has long been rumored to have been the one who turned Keith on to open-G tuning and was also not the first person to be turned off by the druggie vibe that was becoming more a part of what the band (at least some of them) represented. A review I read of this record from a long time ago mentioned that there were enough overt drug references in the lyrics that one could get high simply by sniffing the record jacket. The nastiness of the lyrics combined with the very up front chugging of the band made this a very obvious and in-your-face record, much more so than any of the others of the “5 group.” The band would bury much of this on the next album and in some ways, that made all of the danger and debauchery even more bawdy and sinister.

A word about open tunings, a guitar technique Keith uses quite a bit. There are a few things to remember about using different tunings that players should keep in mind. 1) Keith was a pretty good rock and roll guitar player and had certainly come up with some genre-defining riffs before he started changing tunings, so don’t assume everything post ’68 is played in something other than standard tuning. Plenty of songs that some people think are in open-G aren’t. 2) Don’t assume that the tuning a song might have been recorded in is how it was played live (Jumping Jack Flash, You Can’t Always Get What You Want). Certain things, like that open-G, suspended chord sound one hears in the riff to Brown Sugar, are fairly obvious, but also keep in mind, that 3) it’s possible to play these songs without changing the tuning. I’ve watched Chris Spedding play Brown Sugar in standard tuning and Mick Taylor never played in open tuning as far as I know. Chris told me a story about how he played in front of Keith once and Keith mentioned that he liked the DRONE sound that playing with an open tuning gives to a song like Brown Sugar. That’s really what you miss if you play it in standard tuning — there is none of that sympathetic ringing that can give you a really big, sometimes slightly dissonant sound. Obviously that sound won’t work on everything and as a guitar player you have to use your judgment on what is best for you in various musical situations. From personal experience I can tell you I don’t favor two or more guitars in a band tuned to an open tuning. That gets really weird, especially live. I think a big part of the Stones sound during this period was that Mick Taylor remained in standard and played complimentary parts to Keith’s riffing. Even when they were doubling lines in a song like You Gotta Move, the sound is full without being disorganized because Keith plays his lines on an open-C tuned acoustic and Mick Taylor doubles on a standard-tuned electric. This is just my opinion and really only applies to roots style music. Bands like Soundgarden certainly employed various open tunings with more than one guitarist tuned out of concert tuning to great effect.

EXILE ON MAIN STREET

While some might disagree (certainly Mick Jagger always has), this record represented the pinnacle of the Rolling Stones creative vision and execution. While the band would enjoy hits, tremendously profitable tours and notoriety for the following forty years, they never topped Exile and once again, while the group and some assorted special guests were absolutely crucial to the way the record turned out, this is Keith’s album. It has everything that has been the hallmark of his style throughout his career: subtlety, the guitar as a vehicle for the song, slashing riffs, ingenious production, compact leads and a tremendous ability to recreate musical styles in a way that makes the songs sound absolutely authentic. It’s not just his guitar that’s at work here either. In some ways Keith is the equal to Page or McCartney when it came to using the studio almost as if it were another instrument and the production quality of Exile, controversial for it’s buried wall of sound mix, is exactly the same as his guitar style. He wears his influences on his sleeve and if you listen to those old records then it’s obvious he and the band got this album exactly right. He also deserves a whole lot credit for the vocals (lead and back up). In some cases they completely make the song. I don’t know how long the following song will be available (it seems to come and go from Youtube) but notice how the whole band wakes up on this version of Dead Flowers after Mick and Keith sing the first chorus. Many people have remarked on this quality of the band, especially live: when Keith wants to rock, there is no stopping the the band. His vocals are also a feature on “Exile” songs like Rocks Off, Casino Boogie, Soul Survivor, Torn and Frayed, Sweet Black Angel, Tumbling Dice and Sweet Virginia. While many rock and rollers don’t know this, gospel music is a big influence on the Stones’ sound. Keith is a HUGE fan and while many people would not see how church music could work with dirty rock and roll songs about nasty habits listen to Sweet Virginia, Tumbling Dice or Torn and Frayed again. What has kept Keith in the music business for over fifty years is the fact that he was always more than a guitar player into one style of music. Also, take it from someone who was there, Mick and Keith sharing a mic was one of the most ubiquitous and iconic photo images from the early/mid 70s.

Much has been made of the recording conditions in France for some of the basic tracks. Andy Johns, who was the engineer for the sessions gives a nice rundown on how it all worked HERE. The environment was hot and steamy, guitars went in and out of tune (you can hear this on the intro to All Down the Line), but in some ways it didn’t matter because the band was dialing in their cosmic blues infused slop rock where problems like wiggy tuning only added to the ambiance. Because the band (like Zeppelin and more after them) had been forced to flee Britain as a result of high taxes, there was an extreme sense of dislocation among members of the band and their entourage. This more than likely added to some of the jittery, nervous energy that can be found on parts of the record.

If there is one song that encapsulates the Keith Richards’ style during this period, Tumbling Dice is it. The “hit” that Exile on Main Street produced is an awesome open-G tuned, capo on the 4th fret (key of B) exploration of lead/rhythm ambiance. Except for a brief solo before the final verse the song is a perfect example of what Keith calls “guitar weaving,” two guitars playing sympathetic parts with enough restraint that a listener will have a hard time detecting which guitarist is doing what. What’s interesting is Mick Jagger is playing rhythm guitar on the recorded track and Mick Taylor is playing bass. The Exile sessions revolved around Keith’s “schedule,” or lack thereof, and whoever was around when he felt like playing/recording ended up on the track. Keith’s vocal track on the record, Happy, is another example of a song in the same Tumbling Dice tuning and an altered line-up, with producer Jimmy Miller filling in for Charlie Watts on drums. Hip Shake, as shown above, is another great example of Taylor and Richards weaving their guitar parts together. Ventilator Blues is the only song Mick Taylor received a songwriting credit for as it is his swampy guitar riff that drives the whole song. Bobby Keyes was actually the brains behind the rhythm of the song as Charlie Watts recalled later. Other highlights include the very emotional, gospel inspired Let it Loose with the guitars through a Leslie speaker and a gospel choir, recalling Al Green or Otis Redding perhaps. Robert Johnson’s Stop Breaking Down is given a loud, jamming performance featuring Mick Taylor’s slide and Mick Jagger’s harp. Rip This Joint is the fastest song the band has ever done and sounds like Little Richard on steroids. All of the instruments, including gospel choir arrangements were layered in to give the songs on the album a complete sound. No instruments or players really stick out as even a lot of the vocals are buried. While some, including Mick Jagger write this off to heavy drug use, I think this is the way Keith hears this music. His first solo album, released some 25 years later sounded similar. The rhythm section, guitars, saxes, harmonica, piano, vocals, percussion all kind of swirl together creating a sound tsunami that carries the listener away. This makes for a very dense and murky audio experience but I think it sounds very close to Phil Spector, Memphis or Chess Records. When the album mixes are BIG ROCK, It’s Only Rock and Roll and Dirty Work, the blues-inspired songs sound generic, flat and innocuous to me. The manner in which Exile was recorded and mixed is so important to not only how Keith wrote and played music, but also to the sonic concept of authenticity. The second part of the recording process took place in Los Angeles and various thing were cleaned up and added or overdubbed. But the basement feel and sound permeates the record and closes the book on the Stones’ glory days.

Plugging a Les Paul or a Telecaster into a Fender Twin or an Ampeg SVT with a little bit of delay or reverb and a nice healthy dose of volume and you have pretty much what you need for the Keith Richards Exile on Main Street sound. (The Dan Armstrong plexiglass guitar that he was playing on the ’69 tour was stolen in France during the making of the album). He was never much of an effects guy although there is a phaser used on Rocks Off and Keith would continue to employ slow phase on ballad songs (Comin’ Down Again) throughout the decade. The 1972 Americas tour was the debut of the prodigious use of Fender Telecasters, some of which were tuned to the open G (GDGBD) with the low E string removed. All Down the Line, Soul Survivor, Rip This Joint, Happy and the amazing Tumbling Dice are all very obvious open-G songs, most, if not all of them played with a Telecaster probably. This contrasted nicely with Mick Taylor’s Les Paul sound, especially when Mick’s slide guitar came into the equation, like on the following clip. There are quite a few great clips from the ’72 tour and they all ROCK!

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Following the release of Exile, the ’72 tour of the Americas and the ’73 tour of Europe were grand affairs. Not only did the denim-clad rowdies turn out in droves, but celebrities and the jet-set crowd were in attendance thanks to Mick Jagger’s marriage to Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias and his hobnobbing at all of the hottest spots the early 70s had to offer. Of course, these habits didn’t sit well with his guitar playing partner whose habits put him with a completely different class of people, described by others in and around the band as “the dregs of the earth.” This division, which had begun in France between those who took a lot of drugs (Richards, Taylor, Keyes, producer Jimmy Miller) and those who were much more restrained (Jagger, Watts and Wyman) became more pronounced. This led to sub-par material and acrimony between Keith and Mick Jagger. Mick was bored with rock and roll and was already making his views on this known as Exile was being released. His lifestyle and ambitions did not include being stoned to the point of incapacitation. Post-1972 he would be a lot more opinionated and forceful in his musical ideas for the group, whether that would him at odds with Keith or not. This happens and usually the result is the end of the band. That was certainly true with The Beatles. The Rolling Stones would carry on, but it would be different. While they would enjoy success and failures for another 40+ years they wouldn’t be the same important BAND anymore. They would gradually become an institution and much of that is simply a byproduct of longevity and the fact that there was a time, especially between 1968-1972 when there was no one playing and recording better music.

THE 70s & BEYOND

Even though nothing after Exile would be as much of a complete statement, there were some bright spots in the 70s and early 80s. I was a huge fan of the band growing up and heard all of the following as they were released so I’ll give a brief review of each.

Goat’s Head Soup — A very boring album. The band sounds tired even though Mick Taylor plays some ripping guitar in spots. He more than likely co-authored Winter, which is a really good song, way better than Angie in my opinion. A big rift between Mick Taylor and Keith also starts to emerge during this time and will culminate with Taylor’s departure after the next album. Keith is not down with the big soloing thing that has taken over rock circles (remember this is 1973…the biggest band on the planet is doing half hour versions of Dazed and Confused). But Taylor is completely down with being a LEAD player and is capable of bringing that to the music. On Exile Keith still had it together enough to bring in good stuff and force the guitar weaving style he enjoys so much. But starting with this album, the material isn’t as good or is just flat out derivative. They get it back on the next album a little bit, but Mick Taylor will begin to lose interest and feel constrained by the limitations of Keith’s vision of the band.

It’s Only Rock and Roll — Very underrated in my opinion. The title track is great, Dance Little Sister is awesome and has a great Taylor doing Keith solo on it. Keith channels his rhythm skills into a great reggae feel on Luxury, which I think is the best reggae-influenced thing the band ever did. The jazzy Latin-esque Time Waits for No One features a great groove, great lyrics and a very progressive style guitar solo from Mick Taylor. Perhaps his best moments as a Stone. Fingerprint File is flat-out amazing! Mick is doing an Isaac Hayes impersonation, but it doesn’t have the feel of bored parody…yet. He would definitely get there later in the decade. He plays the phased rhythm guitar, Keith plays the wah-wah guitar and Mick Taylor plays bass and it’s a great performance from all three. My favorite on a very good album. If You Can’t Rock Me, Short and Curlies, Til The Next Time and If You Really Want to Be My Friend are all solid songs and are played with great 70s feel and enthusiasm. This is the first record by Mick and Keith as The Glimmer Twins and Ron Wood, who was in the band shortly after the release, had a lot to do with the title track. This would be the last appearance of Mick Taylor until some of the songs worked on during his tenure are brought back for Tattoo You. Ron Wood will join the band for the 1975 tour of the USA.

Black and Blue — Even though Fool to Cry and Hot Stuff were popular, this album sucks and many people said the same thing at the time. I’m not of the opinion that the Stones did 70s dance music very well or that they ever should’ve tried. Miss You was a great tune and a smash hit, but this album isn’t and by his own admission Keith was so strung out at this point he was pretty much useless.

Love You Live — An abomination when compared with Ya Yas. The whole band sounds bored and remember what I said about Mick’s parody of Isaac Hayes? It’s in full effect on this record.

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Some Girls — The last GREAT Stones album. Keith is clean, Ron Wood brings a whole lot of new energy and punk rock/new wave and disco have helped give the band a new lease on life. This is Mick Jagger’s album and not only did he write some great songs and lyrics, he also plays so much guitar that several songs have a patented Lynyrd Skynyrd 3-guitar sound. (The two bands had played together in England in 1976…coincidence?). The disco-influenced Miss You was a huge hit and the rockers like Lies, When the Whip Comes Down, Respectable and Shattered are fast, furious, smart and nasty. Just what you would expect from the Rolling Stones. Faraway Eyes is funny and has a nice chorus and pedal steel from Woody. Just My Imagination I could’ve done without. The real musical gems of the record are Beast of Burden and Before They Make Me Run. Both of these songs are primarily Keith’s and were written during the period he was facing a possible lengthy prison term for a heroin bust. His riffing is smart and original on this record and he and Woody work together very well. Wood’s tenure in the Stones has certainly had some very low points, but up through ’83 he played his ass off. While he never had Mick Taylor’s chops and big sound, Woody certainly had a great touch and a few tricks up his sleeve. He really makes Some Girls come alive and this was a great soundtrack for the late 70s.You didn’t have to be a “rock guy” to like it.

Emotional_Rescue — I remember hearing this record a lot at the time, but I can’t remember why now.

Tattoo You — The last solid album (still a step down from Some Girls), culled from recordings in the vaults going back to Mick Taylor’s time in the band. The record has enough rockers, Start Me Up, Little T & A, Slave, paired with some really good ballads, including Worried About You and Waiting On a Friend to offer a really good balance of songs and they managed to make it all sound current and right for a live setting. As I said earlier, I saw the Stones on this tour and they really delivered well — long sets with a lot of surprise numbers — and the new stuff sounded really good. It was a total party!

The Rest
Tattoo You was pretty much the end though because everything released after ’81 sounded a bit too formulaic for me. I checked out Dirty Work and Undercover and saw them live a couple more times, but for me the late 60s and early 70s were the peak and there was and is a whole lot of other music to listen to. But Mick, Mick, Ron and KEITH gave me a whole lot of great rock and roll and GUITAR BRILLIANCE over the years and for that I am very thankful. I learned so much about music and rock and roll from listening to and playing the Rolling Stones music and any player can find oodles of goodies contained within any one of a number of tunes that will definitely be of use the next time a chance to ROCK OUT comes along.

One final thing… I really enjoyed the Chuck Berry Hail Hail movie (on Youtube in its entirety). Great cast of characters (Chuck, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, The Everly Brothers, Robert Cray, Bo Diddley, Bobby Keyes and a whole lot of Keith!). Oh and Little Richard! Any movie with Little Richard is going to be AWESOME because he is one crazy dude!

LIFE by Keith Richards

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Wish I could give this a rave review, but unfortunately, I can’t. I didn’t have high hopes for Keith’s autobiography because I am very familiar with the publishing formula that goes into the production of these memoirs. As a genre, or whatever, these books generally suck and are geared for people who don’t know much about the subject or just have to own everything that pertains to said subject. I know I’m jaded — I was reading interviews with Keith in CREEM magazine back in 1975!! Up until the late 80s I consumed every guitar mag interview he ever did. I’ve forgotten more than most people will ever know and much of what Life details, especially the drug use, was covered by others a long time ago. So if you, kind reader, don’t have that perspective then you’ll probably enjoy this…maybe. My copy was given to me and the person who gave me the book and two others I who know read it did a whole lot of skimming. The early chapters on Keith’s childhood and family are interesting and there were a few spots where he really plumbed his own depths, which resulted in a transcendence or at least an awareness of the meaning of (his) life. But the book is too long and unfocused and the editing/ghostwriting is horrible. It reads like Keith’s solo records sound and I’m not one of those people who think his solo records are that good. Sorry. What made the Keith and the Stones great was the team effort that honed and tightened everything for maximum impact. That’s how this book should’ve read and that would have been a significant improvement. The other problem is there is just not enough about the music and that is what Keith is, a musician. He isn’t a pirate, an outlaw or nonfiction writer. Why, at this point in his life he would want so much of his story to be about his involvement with substances I can’t imagine unless that was the marketing strategy to recoup a seven figure advance on information that has long been in the public domain anyway.

Pete Townshend and The Who

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2012 by theguitarcave

I often see conversations online from people who wish they could journey back in time to New York City circa 1977 and the beginnings of punk rock. That could be cool, but if I could jump into a time machine I would dial in the late 60s Fillmore East: Jimi Hendrix, early Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Miles Davis, early Allman Brothers and The Who with Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey and nutcase extraordinaire Pete Townshend, the true Godfather of Punk; decked out in his boiler suit, big boots and slinging a cherry red Gibson SG. While The Who was never my favorite band and I did see them in the 80s, in the late 60s/early 70s, with Keith Moon still alive, they were easily one of the most kinetic and explosive concert acts in the world. Youtube clips from the 1970 “Tanglewood” show have the band at the top of their game:

When I say the band was never my favorite, it’s mostly because I always found a lot of their songs really hard to relate to, especially growing up. The early single hits were easy enough and the band always rocked, but some of their best moments were really off the wall. Take A Quick One, the mini opera that completely kills at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The performance is so good that they completely own the Stones, but the whole thing is just so weird to listen to that it’s hard to imagine a testosterone-charged teen looking to rock would want to throw it on when the urge struck. But the clip shows what The Who always had — smart arrangements and writing and an absolutely blistering live execution of their material…and they are funny. You can’t watch a clip with Keith Moon in it and not be entertained…that is flat-out impossible. This isn’t the best visual quality clip, but get The Kids are Alright or The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus DVD to enjoy a spectacular performance.

Keith Richards once said about Keith Moon…that (paraphrase) “he didn’t know a tin pot from a paradiddle, but he could play with Townshend.” This fact appears in many places in rock literature — Keith Moon was the Chico Marx of rock drumming; an amazingly instinctive player who never practiced, didn’t know what he was doing half the time and played in a manner with certain techniques (like his double-kick) that defy convention and common sense. As the band evolved it’s interesting to wonder what kind of effect Moon had on Pete’s guitar style, because it’s not like you could be in a group with a guy like Moon and not be affected somehow.

Since I’ve been doing a lot of coding and trying to think of things in a mathematical/scientific manner (LOL) consider the graphic above. If you compare Townshend to Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page with the extreme left representing the player’s rhythm to lead ratio and the extreme right representing the player’s lead to rhythm ratio, Pete and Jimi are squarely in the middle. Both players integrated chords and fills into their playing much more than Page, who played more single-string riffs and long solos, or Richards (at the opposite end) who played more chord based riffs. This isn’t to suggest that Richards never played lead or Page never played rhythm — Page began using more chord-based riffs as Led Zeppelin’s career progressed and Hendrix started to change his style as his “songs” developed into “jams” later in his career. But Townshend’s style as we know it, is a complete integration of lead and rhythm guitar; he segues from a chord, to a few notes, to some more chords, to a feedback squeal to a loud BOMM on the low E string all in a few measures. He became the master of the rhythm slash and power chord, augmented and accentuated by these “bits” of counter-melodies or noise played on the high strings or single strings. One reason why Pete (and Jimi to a certain extent) differ is that he didn’t come from a blues-based approach growing up, but loved the RnB style of Booker T and the MGs and guitarist Steve Cropper. (Before he hit it big Hendrix put in a fair amount of time on America’s Chittlin’ Circuit playing in RnB bands). In the early days, The Who were known for their MAXIMUM RnB, which meant less solos and more fills, but Towshend’s highly charged, aggressive live approach to guitar and having Moon as the drummer put all of the dance rhythms of RnB on steroids. This is the main reason I think he is the Godfather of Punk as a lot of players in that genre were obviously heavily influenced by him and by the band’s approach to a group sound that minimized individual soloing. This is Keith Richard’s point in the quote above — Townshend and Moon were perfectly suited to playing with each other just as Hendrix/Mitchell, Page/Bonham, Richards/Watts were good combinations. Try to imagine changing those dual combos around and whether that would even work.Townshend/Watts? Richards/Bonham? Kind of hard to imagine. Then factor in how John Entwistle’s bass lines worked within what Townshend and Moon were doing. Together they produced a very busy and explosive sound and that sound defines The Who, at least through the late 1970s.

While some of Pete’s aggression can be written off to his style and personality, part of his artistic background included being influenced by Gustav Metzger, artist and political activist who “pioneered” the concept of creative destruction and auto-destruction in the early 1960s. Metzger would influence other artists and musicians including Cream and Yoko Ono. In the early days The Who were very Pop Art and Townshend certainly was conscious of all of the various things happening in the art world at the time. Yoko Ono has taken a lot of heat over the years as a “singer”, but if one considers what she is doing or some of what she is doing in the same vein, the whole point is not to sing in the standard or beautiful way. Here, let’s look at the following equation:

{\Begin AutoDestruction}
Yoko singing (sometimes) = Pete smashing guitar
{End AutoDestruction/}

See how it all begins to make sense? At the (Yoko) link above Townshend describes being aware of Ono because of his association with Metzger, and describes what she was doing as “insane” but in an admiring way, so I’m not just trying to be funny with the above equation. Townshend was never just a ROCK AND ROLL DUDE!! kind of guy and he didn’t just break things. He was using feedback before Jimi Hendrix came on the scene, combined slashing chords, single note runs, picked arpeggios and extreme volume to bring the sound of violence and destruction to the musical form. Of course, for the actual violence he had a very willing partner in Keith Moon, who absolutely loved breaking things and blowing them up. While some of this was showbiz and some of it was lunacy, the ideas behind it descended from a bona-fide and controversial art movement in the same way that Jim Morrison (and later Iggy Pop (perhaps)) used influences like New York City’s The Living Theater to perform in a way that shocked and moved an audience out of its complacency. It has long been alleged that this is what Morrison (who had been incorporating similar ideas in his performance from the beginning) was trying to pull of in Miami 1969 when he was arrested for indecent exposure and inciting a riot. Below is the entire clip from The Smothers Brothers Show in 1967 when The Who brought auto-destruct to prime-time television. Unbeknownst to anyone else Moon had loaded his bass drum with serious pyrotechnics. Townshend has long maintained his problems with Tinnitus began in the wake of this explosion.

Pete expanded on A Quick One in 1969 with the first full-blown rock opera, Tommy, which was quite an ambitious undertaking at the time. While it has attained legendary status over the years, it certainly wasn’t embraced by everyone when it was first released. Given the nature of the story and some of the themes that appear (infidelity, murder, child abuse, sexual abuse) it really isn’t any wonder that some found it excessively vulgar, exploitative, and casual in its approach to such heavy subjects (boy gets sexually abused by his uncle, plays pinball). But Townshend had a history of bringing taboo subjects into the popular music form (I’m a Boy, Pictures of Lily, My Generation, A Quick One) all done with a British style of humor and eccentricity and Tommy represented a supreme coalescing statement of everything the band had done up to that point and certainly qualifies as a real artistic achievement. What really makes it work is how much of opera revolves around Townshend’s guitar work in a very rhythmic sense. There was no departure from what he and the band were already doing and many of the songs (Pinball Wizard, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Acid Queen, Christmas, We’re Not Gonna Take It and I’m Free) stand on their own as great guitar-driven rock songs. This period of the band, which included performances at Woodstock and Isle of Wight saw them getting the solid recognition they had been working for throughout the 60s and this ranks as my favorite period of their career. Their rave up of Young Man’s Blues from Isle of Wight is as good as rock and roll gets and illustrates perfectly everything I’ve tried to describe about Pete’s guitar style.

The Kids are Alright

While The Who started to lose me a bit around the Quadrophenia years, there were still some good songs on the record and throughout the rest of the 70s, at least until Keith Moon passed away. After that they were a completely different band in the same way that LED ZEPPELIN ended with John Bonham’s death. Pete has had a pretty successful solo career in addition to continuing on with Who projects over the years and he is one of the most influential guitarists in rock music. His use of acoustic guitars over the years has really piqued my interest lately — he definitely uses acoustics like Richards/Page to 1) layer nice textures onto a track, 2) provide nice contrasting parts within the song, 3) fill out what is an otherwise “electric” song with an acoustic mixed low to beef up the sound and, 4) in some cases using all acoustics to give the song a really huge, percussive sound. A really close listen of Tommy demonstrates all four of these methods and Pete (like Jimmy Page and Keith Richards) was always a master writer/producer as much as he was a great guitar player. With this in mind I’ll end this with a great solo version of Drowned from The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1979. Notice that Pete’s technique is the same whether he is playing acoustic or electric. Like many other great guitar players (Django, Stevie Ray, Jimi etc, etc) he has always played guitar as if his very existence depends on it and that is an attitude and mental state every guitarist should aim for every time the instrument is picked up. The real beauty with all of these players, Pete included, is how they are able to channel the energy, need to play and aggression into something that is stylish and ultimately…artistic!

The Kids are Alright, Isle of Wight and The Rock and Roll Circus are all really great. 4 stars! They are must-have’s in any serious rocker or guitarist library!

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.