Sam Cutler, a young man from London, was the tour manager for the Rolling Stones on their infamous 1969 U.S. tour, which ended at Altamont, after which he remained in the U.S. for years, taking over the same role for the Grateful Dead. After establishing the Dead as an ongoing touring concern, he walked away from the rock ‘n’ roll industry and followed his muse wherever it led him—to Ibiza and India and place between and beyond. Adam Ganderson caught up with the 79-year-old Sam Cutler via video call from his home in Brisbane, Australia. Sam held little back in this wide-ranging conversation.
As far back as the sepia-toned 1800s, back when sound systems were all-acoustic, immigrant settlers wanted to move toward some kind of golden land out west. They packed up their animals and went across the Great Plains, Texas and New Mexico, with the idea of owning a piece of paradise. Most didn’t make it past the Rocky Mountains or through the Llano Estacado. They got lost, starved, or were killed by roaming bands of natives. But at the end of the 1800s, the West opened for business when the last of the truly free people, the Comanche, moved onto reservations, were killed by either disease or else the six-shooters of the U.S. military.
It’s historical irony that the same military will be unintentionally responsible for a reverse inward/mental expansion for a not un-large part of the Western world. This populace will discover that even though they live in a free country, where everything is for sale, they might not be as free as they thought. Maybe those Native Americans were on to something!
It all sort of detonates around 1964-65 when former missile scientist and U.S. Air Force jet propulsion specialist Owsley Stanley is in Berkeley, California producing the first American-made LSD. Owsley will become known as “Bear” to friends. His product will be delivered up and down the West Coast by Hells Angels and will give the band Blue Cheer their name. He will provide the Beatles with LSD. For the Grateful Dead he invents one of the most elaborate and powerful live PA systems in history, The Wall of Sound. His totem of a dancing bear will one day appear on countless keychains, hats, coffee mugs, and T-shirts owned by clueless college kids. But in 1965, Owsley is supplying acid to Ken Kesey.
Kesey is already famous for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and is hosting Acid Tests in La Honda, Calif., with his pals the Merry Pranksters. Neal Cassady among them. The house band is the Grateful Dead. Kesey’s parties are the incubator for an expanded psychedelic movement in the United States. For people from back east, some from as far back east as England, the idea of the mountains, deserts, hills, beaches and sunshine of the West still hold that elusive abstract sense of freedom. Recently freed jail bird Chuck Berry even has a hit single with “Promised Land” about a kid who makes it cross country to California. Geologically there is no further American destination than the Pacific until Kesey and the Pranksters discover, through chemistry, a new trail toward Westward Mind Expansion.
Sam Cutler, born just outside London in 1943 is raised by adoptive parents and extended friends/family in a devoutly Socialist upbringing where he learns useful precepts like: “Observe and think in order to discover the truth. Do not believe what is contrary to reason, and never deceive yourself and others.” By July 1969, Cutler is twenty years old and working as a stage manager for the Stones In The Park festival which is attended by close to half a million people. It is the Rolling Stones first concert following the death of recently fired Brian Jones. The concert is a success, despite the dead butterflies Mick Jagger tries to release over the crowd, and Cutler is offered a job as manager for the Stones’ upcoming U.S. Tour. This will be their first tour in three years and anticipation is huge. Around this time, Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully visits London and talks with Cutler/Stones about a possible double bill free show in San Francisco.
The 1969 American Stones trek is ultimately the highest-grossing rock tour of its time; but looking at it through Cutler’s lens, things seem pretty lawless. He even finds himself in a good ol’ fashioned dust up! In Oakland he witnesses promoter Bill Graham slap a female Stones fan who Graham thinks is getting too cozy with the stage. Cutler responds by punching Graham, and then the two go at it right there in front of the sold-out crowd.
But more nefarious activity is afoot. Through a combination of naivety and insouciance the band is infiltrated by uniquely American type corruption. This is manifested in a person calling himself John Jaymes. He simply shows up at the band’s U.S. rehearsal stage in Burbank claiming to be from the Chrysler Corporation. Turns out Jaymes doesn’t have much to do with cars but somehow does have resources to put together a crew of “off duty cops” who are actually low-level Mafia. These guys are not there to protect the band from overenthusiastic fans or even potential violence at concerts (they are nowhere to seen later at Altamont) but to insulate the Stones from potential drug busts by local police while allowing a steady supply of Peruvian flake to find its way up hungry nostrils.
Soon, another strange figure appears on the scene, a carrot-topped one-handed man with a briefcase known as “Goldfinger.” This guy, a dealer to the stars, is well liked by the Stones (by Keith in particular) but not so much by Jaymes. Goldfinger represents a competing form of illicit substance supply. It is also Goldfinger who will eventually reveal to Sam Cutler the true identity of John Jaymes and his “off-duty cops.” In spite of Cutler’s repeated questions and warnings to an uninterested Mick Jagger, wheels are in motion and by December, after two suitable venues fall through, John Jaymes and the Stones’ publicity hound lawyer Melvin Belli are part of a team that names the totally unsuitable Altamont Speedway as the location for a free show on the final night.
There is a scene in Gimme Shelter, David and Albert Maysles’ documentary about the 1969 Rolling Stones tour, where Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are sitting in an editing studio watching some footage. There are the Madison Square Garden shows where Sam Cutler is heard doing his famous intro: “The greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world, The Rolling Stones!” These are the shows recorded for Get Yer Ya-Yas Out. There is the press conference where a reporter asks Jagger if he feels “satisfied” (so clever!). Then we see the Jagger who is watching cringe at his own (now famous) response. There’s the band at Muscle Shoals recording songs for Sticky Fingers. There is Keith’s snakeskin boots and tooth decay. Up close!
There is Altamont. What a bad scene. What a debacle. The bikers, the reds, the horror, etcetera and so forth. Accusations fly to this day. But now the ultimate culprit has finally been revealed. It is the whole unfortunate history of human violence and misunderstanding going back to the beginning of recorded time, examples of which will, weirdly, be referenced in song lyrics played by the Rolling Stones on that very night. In the Maysles footage, Sam Cutler is trying to keep things cool and get people off the stage who aren’t supposed to be there. There’s a tableau: perspective on the crowd from behind and above Charlie Watts. Keith Richards, Sam Cutler, Jagger, and various crew are trying to restore order in the foreground. A few feet beyond them, a row of Hells Angels jackets. In front of those and just below, more Angels beating the shit out of kids in the audience. This ain’t the Garden of Eden. It ain’t even Hyde Park. The captured-on-film stabbing of Meredith Hunter. The pool cues and beatdowns. Not seen is the entire Stones performance where, even with that night’s mythic bummers now enshrined in lore, they allegedly perform a kickass fifteen-song set of hits which includes the debut of “Brown Sugar.” Also not seen is the Grateful Dead, because they decided not to play.
In the ensuing aftermath, the Stones fly back to Europe and Cutler stays behind with just $300 in his pocket. He sneaks out down the hotel fire escape to a rental car. He now embarks on his own bizarro version of the California rock ‘n’ roll dream which will take up roughly the next four years. He drives out to the ranch of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and holes up in the barn. Hells Angel Sweet William finds Cutler there and tells him, in a not so sweet way, that Sam’s presence is requested at a meeting with the Hells Angels. So, on the lamb but not a sheep, Cutler goes to the meeting which is in a San Francisco basement full of real bad dudes and a deal is brokered. It involves getting a copy of the Maysles film footage to the Angels and in return he, Mick Jagger, and the Maysles will be spared any potentially painful biker-inflicted wedgies. Cutler leaves unharmed. It turns out later that David Maysles is assaulted by some Angels anyway after screening the footage for them. Mick Jagger, as of this writing, is doing pretty good.
One day, not long after, Jerry Garcia shows up at Mickey Hart’s ranch to talk with Cutler. He invites him to move out of the barn and stay at his place. This is the start of a collaboration in which Cutler (who some will make false offhand accusations re: somehow being responsible for the behavior of the Angels) now becomes the tour manager (eventual co-manager) of the Grateful Dead, who happen to be a band the Angels really dig. Coming from the more practical, stoic English music scene, Cutler understands a top-down way of operation. In the case of the Stones, it’s a system where most financial decisions are made by Jagger. This knowledge is useful as part of an almost total restructuring of Dead finances, or lack thereof.
Cutler introduces the idea that since the studio albums are not bringing in the dough, touring is necessary for the Dead to make a Living. They’d have to take their Owsley-saturated monster-size-scale brand of Haight Ashbury acid test weirdness on the road. Also, the shows and touring would now be organized by the band members and managers instead of a committee of extended family. He helps to convince some stoned age people that to make it to the next stage of evolution they’d have to operate their musical instruments on a lot more actual stages. They’d also have to learn how to count. And even though he really could not give two shits about money these days, Cutler writes in his book that it is in fact possible to count money while high on acid.
Cutler’s book came out in 2011 and is called You Can’t Always Get What You Want: My Life With the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and Other Wonderful Reprobates. You should read it. It’s a good book, written by someone who’s been at some major intersections in the history of rock ’n’ roll. Also, against the tradition of most famous-person memoirs, he wrote it all by himself. Sam Cutler is a pretty good writer. He also knows how to operate modern technology, which he proved by speaking over a video call from his home in Brisbane, Australia.
PKM: In your book, you talk about being proud of never owning a house or property. Is that still the case?
Sam Cutler: I don’t own a house. I live in a dome. Here it is (points to his head) I’ve never owned property. I’ve had shitloads of money and gone through it. I always spent money on other things: drugs, women, motorcycles, cars. But I’ve never owned a house, it just never came up. It’s never been something that fitted my lifestyle. My mother was an Irish Gypsy and I think somehow that’s genetic in me. I’ve never wanted the association of: if you buy a property that’s where you are for the rest of your life. I’ve never really liked that feeling. I like being able to get up and go and leave a place. God knows I’ve left millions of places. So still footloose and fancy-free, although I live in a government apartment now, which is nice, but I’ve got a motorcycle. As soon as I finish talking to you, I’m off out the door. It’s blue, the sky is gorgeous. So I’m ready to rock and roll. Although here we’ve had terrible floods fourteen meters deep. That’s like 40 feet. Not where I live, I’m up on higher ground. But in the low-lying areas it’s been very serious.
PKM: You traveled around Australia for a long time in an RV camper.
Sam Cutler: Yeah, I lived in a converted bus. It was perfect. Then I got very ill. I’ve had cancer for the last eight years. The medical people said: “Oh man, you can’t live in a bus. You’ve got to live near a hospital.” Australia is huge. You just can’t be in the middle of nowhere and expect to get medical assistance. It doesn’t happen. You’ve got to be near one of the major towns. So yeah, I raised my kids in Brisbane. Brisbane’s a lovely place. So here we are.
PKM: The traveling lifestyle goes with your career as a tour manager.
Sam Cutler: Yeah, well my career as a tour manager, as it were, didn’t last that long. I was involved for maybe ten, fifteen years. Then I got sick to death of it, man…You know what I mean? It’s not that far out. If somebody wants to be a musician, okay, great. But at the end of working with the Grateful Dead, I was talking to myself like: ”Well, what do you want to do?” I certainly didn’t want to help other people realize their fantasies yet again. I’d had enough of all that. So I went off to India and contemplated my navel and tried to work out what I wanted to do. And what I always wanted to be was a writer, if anything. I’m the world’s laziest writer. I enjoy it when the sun shines and I can go for a ride on my bike. That’s about the extent of my needs. I was very lucky. I sold a guitar. I got a shitload of money for the guitar, so I managed to buy a three-wheeler bike. (Update: This is a bike which was bought from the sale of a guitar left to Sam by Jerry Garcia. Not long after this interview Sam survived an accident where he was hit by a truck while riding. He has since sold the bike and is now planning to return to living on a bus.)
PKM: You writing anything now?
Sam Cutler: When the feeling grabs me. I’ve never been one of those writers that goes: “Okay, I must write two thousand words today.” I just wait for the writing bird to come over and shit on my shoulder and off I go. I’ve done about seventeen chapters of a book on Ibiza. But books are like wars: easy to start and hard to finish. I got a bunch of books that need finishing. We’ll get there; or not. It’s never been my intention to be a famous writer or even particularly known as a writer. I write because it makes me feel good and I enjoy doing it, not because there’s any kind of Hollywood desire to be recognized as such.
PKM: Do you think you were disillusioned with the music industry after working with the Dead?
Sam Cutler: I don’t know about “disillusioned.” I’d just gone as far as I wanted to go. I’d gone down as many roads as I wanted to explore. The Grateful Dead were far out, of course, but they weren’t so far out that I wanted to live with them for the rest of my life. We’re brothers. They’re wonderful people. I did what I did with them, and then I fucked off. The Grateful Dead have got Machiavellian politics going on just like any other band. They did it their way, which is great. I introduced them to, perhaps, a slightly better way of doing it. Hopefully. We had a lot of fun together, but I didn’t want to be a tour manager for the rest of my life. No way.
PKM: Well, you introduced them to touring as a sustainable way to earn money. Which became the way they operated for the next 30 years or whatever.
Sam Cutler: Yeah, that’s right. Well, you know, that might show a singular lack of imagination on their part.
PKM: Yeah, maybe so.
Sam Cutler: What did they do with it? They did fuck all. They exhausted Jerry and turned him into a junkie. So that wasn’t that far out, was it? If you’re a rock and roll band, or a jazz band that plays rock and roll, as Miles Davis described the Grateful Dead, which was a lovely description, then it’s very difficult to reinvent yourself. They just kind of played these boring shows where everybody was bored with it. They should have given it up. They never managed to reinvent the way they toured other than the way in which I showed them how to do it. I’m not sure whether I should be pleased with myself about that or not. As I said in Long Strange Trip (the Martin Scorsese-produced Amazon series), before I met them, I don’t think they had a clue. Everybody was too stoned. Just gettin high, gettin by, and stayin dry; just kind of hippie survivalists. I don’t know that there was any kind of real desire to particularly do anything with it, other than make enough money for everyone to survive. Other than that, I don’t think they really had many ideas.
PKM: They probably became more famous with the touring than they would have otherwise.
Sam Cutler: Yeah, sure. And they hated it. Or said they did. They liked the money. But I don’t think they were very happy. Jerry certainly wasn’t. Jerry found it all a bit fucking shallow. Of course, it is shallow. Come on. The Americans give far too much significance to their musicians. It’s just a band playing music. It’s great. It’s lovely. Nothing wrong with it, you know, but it’s not going to lead you to the promised land.
PKM: There are certain jazz musicians who can get out of shallow. Maybe rock ‘n’ roll is meant to be shallow by nature. I don’t know.
Sam Cutler: Yeah, the Grateful Dead at their finest weren’t shallow. But, personally, I think that lasted for maybe six or seven years of their existence. Just depends on how you view things. Some people view the Grateful Dead as sacred and every single thing that they ever did as being perfect. I find that slightly difficult to accept. But we choose our poisons, we take our choice, and if people like the Grateful Dead, well great. I mean, at least it’s not loving something that’s destructive and negative. In cultural terms they had a very positive influence.
PKM: Like you said, you were in the music business for a relatively short time, but that time was pretty eventful.
Sam Cutler: Well, I was very lucky. I got to work with the number one rock ‘n’ roll band in the Rolling Stones and I got to work with the number one jazz band that was playing rock ‘n’ roll in the Grateful Dead. But I always work with people rather than for people. And I didn’t want to work with junkies. No way. I’ve always viewed heroin as a negative – the enemy. So it was time to do something else. I’ve never been afraid of being broke. I’m not somebody who’s ever thought about life as: get out there and make millions. Or get out there and be a huge success. All those stereotypical American Hollywood fantasies don’t apply to me. I’m just a wanderer. I wander through it all and do the best I can to survive and not hurt anybody. I’m very lucky. I’ve got two grown sons. One’s a journalist. The other one’s studying philosophy. They’re very kind to me. They live in the same city, so I get to see them pretty regularly. Life is cool. I ride my bike and stay out of trouble. I’m 79. I look forward to 80. And when I get to 80, well maybe I’ll reassess things and decide to do something else. Who knows? My mother always used to say: “You should buy a house. You should do this. You should do that. What about when you’re old?” And I just said, “I don’t even know about tomorrow. I don’t care about all that.” Now I’m old and it’s all good. Australia is very good with their old people compared to other countries. You don’t wanna be old and poor in America, that’s for sure.
PKM: I might move to Australia.
Sam Cutler: Yeah man. I mean it’s not perfect. Nowhere is. But, to be frank, it’s a lot better than America in terms of social services and how people are cared for. And there’s no guns.
PKM: America is insane with guns. But to go back to that time in the late ‘60s. You landed just at a special time for music that was all tied in with a certain evolution of drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Sam Cutler: The thing about rock ‘n’ roll is the same about life. It’s all down to timing. Being able to recognize when you’re standing on a significant crossroads and if there’s a part for you to play. We make decisions all the time. Every day we’re making decisions. And depending upon providence or your karma, however you want to view it, sometimes the decisions that you make are fatal and far-reaching and quite strange in the depth of their effect, and sometimes they’re kind of minor. It just depends. I loved working for the Stones. That was great. The Grateful Dead were very kind to me after the Stones when I went to work with them. It was a wonderful five years. But, if you want to stay young, you don’t commit to things for the rest of your life. There’s a million different things you can do out there. Why stick to one thing?
PKM: In some way you were there when there was still a kind of innocence in America and in California, or the West. Everyone talks about Altamont as symbolic of when things started to come apart. Altamont wasn’t the only factor, but things did start to go downhill. In the U.S., especially, things got more violent and different kinds of hard drugs came into the picture.
Sam Cutler: I think the hippie dream, if you call it that, was an invention anyway. The hippies themselves proclaimed the “death of hippie” in 1968. Most of the bands that were fundamental to the San Francisco scene got out of San Francisco. I call it the hippie diaspora. Hippies went everywhere, man. They went: “Where is land cheap?” Land was cheap in Oregon. They moved out of the cities which were becoming increasingly violent, as you said, and which were already violent in any case. They went for a much more kind of rural ideal. “Let’s all live together in the country.” So that was a big move. Also many of the bands, the Grateful Dead included, were the result of hippies sitting around going: “Well, what we gonna do? How we gonna make some money? How we gonna survive? Well, we all like playing instruments. Let’s start a band!” There was that great creative thing in England and America and Australia: “Let’s start a band. That’s a good way to survive. A nice way to live.” And then the dreaded reality of starting a band came into being: you needed to know something about it. Not just about music, but how to live and how to do accounts and how to keep the tax man off your back and how not to get busted and what’s good equipment and what’s shit equipment and all these different things associated with being in a band. So there was a kind of realism sandwich that everybody had to eat. Many of the bands that were founded in the end of the ‘60s just fell by the wayside because they didn’t know what to do. I was happily around at the very moment when the Grateful Dead didn’t know what to do, didn’t have a clue. Their manager just ripped them off for 350 grand, the Reverend Lenny Hart. The Grateful Dead were that stupid that a Christian minister with a Bible under his arm persuaded them that he should be their manager.
PKM: They were kids.
Sam Cutler: Yeah, The Innocents Abroad, bless ‘em.
PKM: It’s a pretty broad subject to talk about LSD. It obviously had a huge influence in England with bands like Hawkwind and people you worked with, like Pink Floyd.
Sam Cutler: Of course. You could make the wild generalization that American culture, prior to the middle of the ‘60s was an alcohol-based culture. Alcohol and tobacco were the drugs of choice. And then it changed. Young people could see the limits of that and there was plenty of LSD around. So it went from alcohol and tobacco to LSD and marijuana and music. And so we can now look back on that “better living through chemistry” kind of period and assess what has happened. Was it beneficial? Well, it seems to have been. I mean, nobody murders people when they smoke a joint. Or goes: “I’m going to rob a bank.” Or: “I’m going to go burgle someone’s house because I need money to buy more marijuana.” So, the huge change that has come about is that the majority of Americans in many states see marijuana for what it is: essentially benign. LSD’s a different thing. I’m not somebody who’s ever said that people should take LSD. It’s an individual choice and I’m sure there are plenty of people who should never touch the stuff. It was always a wonderful experience for me. I took acid with the band for almost five years. But what we did would now be called micro dosing. That’s what I did anyway, because I had to count money and goodness knows what else. I didn’t take acid in order to meet God, although, you know, I had that experience many times. I took acid because it was part of the sacrament, if you like, of getting high with the band and with the music. It was something that has remained with me for my whole life and changed my life for the better.
PKM: It goes back to the Acid Tests. It has been suggested by at least one writer that Ken Kesey somehow tamed the Hells Angels with LSD at the acid tests.
Sam Cutler: That’s Hollywood, man. It’s just not true. Kesey introduced the Angels to acid. The Angels are people like everybody else. They like to have a good time. They’re not afraid of exploring. My take on it would be that Kesey helped the Angels with exploring, rather than “tamed them” with LSD.
PKM: The close relation between the Grateful Dead and the Hells Angels might be hard for people to grasp today since the Dead are thought of as a kind of hippie peace thing who wouldn’t seem to be affiliated with a club like the Angels.
Sam Cutler: The Grateful Dead’s attitude was they played music for all people. Black, white, green, blue, Hells Angels. That’s what Jerry’s whole attitude was. We used to have arguments with Bill Graham about it. ‘Hey, Hells Angels are people. They like music. What the fuck? They liked our music. So what? They liked a lot of other bands as well.’ It wasn’t that the Hells Angels just liked the Grateful Dead. Various members of the Angels were very close to people in the Grateful Dead, for sure. As friends. The Grateful Dead also knew people who were in the military. But you don’t say: “Oh the Grateful Dead, they had close connections with the Green Berets.” There were plenty of veterans and military people who loved the Grateful Dead. Who, in fact, were in the military, took LSD, listened to the Grateful Dead, and got out of the military as fast as they fucking could. The relationship with the Hells Angels and the Grateful Dead was simple: it was a relationship based on the music and a measure of mutual respect. The Hells Angels didn’t tell the Grateful Dead how to organize their lives. And the Grateful Dead certainly weren’t that fucking stupid to even attempt to tell Hells Angels how they should behave. There was a lot of mutual respect. I think the Grateful Dead made their life choices, in order to become a kind of a collective. They respected the Hells Angels: they too made choices about how to live as a collective, as a brotherhood. So I think there was a deep unwritten mutuality of choices that were made. You know man, various hippies became drug dealers. Various hippies became bikers. Various hippies became musicians. Others went to Oregon and made farms. Others became painters and writers. Others just collapsed and never could get it together. I see it as a generational thing. The generation of that time set out on the path to adulthood. Part of adulthood is: “How am I going to survive? How am I going to live? Where am I going to live? What am I going to do to make a living?” I was never very good at it, actually. I’ve just been a bum for the last 50 years, quite happily. I don’t subscribe to the value system that the world subscribes to. I don’t care about money. Lots of things are going on in the world that I think are completely fucked up, not least of which is the drug situation. The drug situation has gotten completely out of hand. They could have legalized drugs a long time ago and saved everybody the hassle. Instead of which there’s a bunch of Christian cunts that have been going on and on about drugs for the last fucking 50 years. With Reagan, Nixon and people like that leading the charge in a War on Drugs, which is nothing other than a war on people. Fuck off. You don’t make a war on fucking tobacco. You don’t make a war on alcohol, both of which are insidious drugs. Just make a war on those drugs that you decide that you don’t like.
PKM: The ones that might expand people’s minds.
Sam Cutler: Oh they’re frightened of them.
PKM: It’s like there is no one single type of person. It’s not like there are hippies over here and then the bikers over there. Those lines can be blurred. But maybe there is a kind of counterculture versus the squares?
Sam Cutler: Look man, the road to hell is paved with distinctions. We’re either all people, or we’re not. We are all people. And according to the Constitution of the United States, if you’re an American, you have the inalienable right to pursue happiness.
PKM: We’re supposed to be equal.
Sam Cutler: Indeed. What’s the difference between a Congressman and a Hells Angel? What’s the difference between a musician and a Senator? Nothing. I’ve never understood the distortion of those value systems. But America’s starting to learn how to chill out.
Sam Cutler: Oh, it’s going to take generations man.
PKM: Did you know Terry the Tramp very well?
Sam Cutler: No, I didn’t. I met him a couple of times. He was an impressive, scary guy. But he looked after Owsley’s acid. Made sure it got to where it went. And it went everywhere.
PKM: What about Gut Turk?
Sam Cutler: I didn’t really know him. He was a good friend of Jerry’s. But Gut was a Hells Angel who was also a guy who designed posters.
PKM: He was an artist.
Sam Cutler: That’s what I’m talking about. The public image of Hells Angels has not much to do with how Hells Angels are as people, in my limited knowledge. They’re all people. They’ve got old ladies. They’ve got children. They’ve got jobs. You can’t generalize about these things. Just don’t fuck with them. If you do, get ready. It’s simple. Show Hells Angels respect, honor their choices, which I’ve always done, then there’s no problem. If you want to fuck around or disrespect their choices, then yeah, you’re gonna have problems. But as far as I can tell, they’re the same as everyone else. They shit, piss, got families, and they got their collective thing in the club. They just want to get by and stay alive like the rest of us. But they ain’t afraid of living. A lot of people in this world are afraid to live, man. They don’t take anything but the most timid steps.
PKM: There could be something to the idea of living each day like it’s the last.
Sam Cutler: Do it man. Do it with what you got. Fuck, as far as we know, this is it. You ain’t coming back. So you better fucking get on with it. Do what you gotta do.
PKM: Was Ken Kesey around much beyond your initial meeting with him in California during the lead up to Altamont?
Sam Cutler: He used to come to gigs and sometimes he’d hang out. Kesey wasn’t the most social of people. He was a writer. Writers like being on their own, even when surrounded by shitloads of people. He’d come out and party, sure. He also needed his space where he could go and write. He loved the Grateful Dead. So I hung out with him a bit. Very solid. A wrestler.
PKM: It almost seemed like the Stones stranded you in California to clean up the mess after Altamont while they went back to Europe. But, actually, Mick tried to convince you to leave with them and you volunteered to stay behind.
Sam Cutler: I thought somebody should. Running away don’t deal with anything, does it?
It was organized by the Grateful Dead out of their fucking office. Garcia personally invited every one of the bands other than the Flying Burrito Brothers. Jerry persuaded them all to come and play.
PKM: It could have been great if it wasn’t for certain factors.
Sam Cutler: It could’ve been great, but it was in the wrong place, the wrong time, with the wrong people. Most of the people involved in the so-called organization of it were off their tits on drugs or had some strange kind of ideas about the Rolling Stones. So it turned into a real horrible day. You can’t win ‘em all. As a tour manager you have to deal with things that fuck up just as much as you do with the things that go wonderfully.
PKM: You can’t control everything.
Sam Cutler: Exactly. But you can do some things. We learned some valuable lessons, not least of which is: provide a stage that’s the right fucking height so people can’t get on it. That’s the major lesson of Altamont.
PKM: Were you angry at all when The Stones weren’t returning your calls afterwards?
Sam Cutler: No, I didn’t give a fuck about that. I moved on. We’re friends. I signed on with the Stones to do the North American tour. That was it. The tour was finished. They went back to England. I was happy to stay in America. I wanted to stay in America. America was a lot more fun to me than England. I’d done England. So I stayed in America for a few years then I left.
PKM: When The Stones played in Oakland (November 9, 1969), Keith Richards’ amps malfunctioned at the end of the band’s first set and some equipment guys from the Grateful Dead brought over Garcia’s equipment for Keith. Was this event where you first encountered Owsley Stanley?
Sam Cutler: I think I first met the Bear at the rehearsal hall that the Dead had out in Novato. There was a helicopter pad there where you could get a helicopter from San Francisco airport out to Marin County. This was immediately prior to Altamont. At first we didn’t have much interaction. He (seemed like) just another eccentric hippie. We got to know one another better later on.
PKM: He was an incredible sound man in addition to being a chemist.
Sam Cutler: He affected things in all kinds of ways. He was a sound man, of course, and it was his wish for the Grateful Dead to sound as far out as possible. But his effect was wider than that. He was a great believer in what he used to describe as “making things as boss as they possibly could be.” Making them really far out, to stretch the parameters and go that extra mile to make things really amazing: be it music, life, sound. He was a very high person and had a major influence on the Grateful Dead. He also used to drive people crazy, because he was one of those guys who only focused on what was right in front of him, with such intensity that nothing else mattered. So he was pretty hopeless when it came down to getting things done on time. He just didn’t subscribe to the idea of time. We had lots of arguments about that when he first wanted to come on the road with the Grateful Dead. I remember having a big argument with him about consensual reality, which he claimed there was no such thing. I just pointed to my watch and I said: “Look man. That, the tour manager’s watch, is consensual reality. If it says be there at eleven o’clock, then eleven o’clock is established on that fucking timepiece.” He didn’t even have a watch. But his benefits far outweighed his negatives as it were. He was an amazing man. We became good brothers but it took a long time. It wasn’t a matter of instantaneous brotherhood. It was more like a wary dance for a while and then slowly getting to appreciate one another’s qualities.
PKM: Wasn’t he one of the few band-related people to stick around and not flee Altamont when it got heavy? He stayed to do the sound for the Stones?
Sam Cutler: Well, the crew that was there, stayed there. Crew members know things can go wrong and have this “the show must go on” thing. They don’t walk away from a show just because things go pear-shaped. That makes their participation that much more important. But yeah, (Dan) Healy and Bear did the sound.
PKM: Just to go back to the show at Oakland Coliseum, the one where Keith borrowed The Dead’s gear. Wasn’t there a group of people smoking DMT behind the amps which included Owsley?
Sam Cutler: Yeah, that was Bear. Keith was complaining that the DMT was making his amplifier go all weird.
PKM: Maybe it was.
Sam Cutler: Yeah, who knows? Years later it was kind of proven that could happen. DMT. A very strange chemical. It’s fucking overpoweringly heavy.
PKM: Was it at this same Oakland show that you punched Bill Graham?
Sam Cutler: Yeah, we had a fight onstage during halftime, between the two shows.
PKM: You weren’t the biggest fan of Bill Graham.
Sam Cutler: I thought he was an asshole and he used to rob bands. He did wonderful shows and everyone says lovely things about him, but he was a rogue. But then, musicians don’t seem to think that that’s very important sometimes. I don’t know. That’s why they have tour managers. Tour managers care about that shit.
PKM: What exactly were you up to after tour management? You went to India?
Sam Cutler: I went to Ibiza first, then went on to India, then went back to Ibiza. I’ve just been wandering. A wandering writer. Not doing much. Just staying high and happy. I made a decision many years ago, man: if you accept being poor, everything’s cool. All the problems in life come from wanting a fucking Ferrari or a Mercedes and all that shit. I’ve got plenty of books, but I’ve never had a big material thing going on. I don’t care about it. So that makes life pretty easy. There’s a whole range of things you don’t have to worry about.
PKM: Do you worry about the state of the world?
Sam Cutler: Of course. It’s appalling. I’m totally against war for any reason. I’m a great believer in non-violence. The world is fucked by greed, hatred, and delusion. This has been an ongoing process ever since the Industrial Revolution and the industrialization of agriculture for the last 200 years. Now we’re reaping what we’ve sown, which is chaotic weather systems and war. We’re in this situation because human beings have brought it about, so if people don’t change the situation is not going to change.
PKM: I guess there’s a way of thinking along the lines of: everything’s already written and maybe we should just sit back and let it unfold and not worry too much.
Sam Cutler: Everybody’s got a choice. I wouldn’t say that I worry that much. If you want to change the world, start with yourself. But I’m not very happy with the way the world is. That’s for sure.
PKM: Do you know what ever happened to the man known as Goldfinger? I think his name was Ken?
Sam Cutler: Yeah, Ken Connell. He died. I don’t know when or how or where. He faded out of my life.
PKM: He seems like a sort of unlikely hero in your story of the Stones tour. He was a drug dealer, ostensibly a “bad guy.” But he shared valuable information about the true identity of John Jaymes and the phony security team surrounding the Stones, the ones who were supposed to be the “good guys.”
Sam Cutler: He was cool. He did what he did. There were plenty of people that dealt drugs, that didn’t worry me. But yeah, of course, that’s how mad the world is, man. The bad guys are actually the good guys and the good guys are actually the bad guys. We know this. The world’s a fucked up place. I mean, the cops, they’re just another gang. I look at the Hells Angels and the cops and people like that: they’re all the same, man. They’re just gangs. Bike gangs, police gangs, police fight with criminals over who’s gonna control cities. It’s all fucked up, man.
PKM: Is there one show from that ‘69 Stones tour that you remember as being the best, the one where everything kind of came together?
Sam Cutler: Madison Square Garden was far out. But if you want to hear far out music, they played far out music at fucking Altamont. I’ve listened to the tapes from Altamont. It’s fantastic. They were playing for their fucking lives.