Sam Cutler was about as in the thick of the 60s as you could be, working for the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. He was with the Stones for their infamous 1969 Altamont gig, where a man was stabbed to death by a Hell’s Angel. Sam’s taken a lot of shit for that over the years. Now he’s setting the record straight…
What did you think of the 60s?
The 60s were a wonderful, golden land of opportunities, you know what I mean. People were open to stuff. Everyone was aching for change, man. That’s partly the 60s and partly the fact that that’s what young people want. They want fucking change.
How did you get the Stones job?
Bit of luck, the magic of the 60s. I was somebody that worked really hard man. A lot of people in the 60s worked real hard at having a lot of fun but didn’t work too hard, if you know what I mean. It’s like they say isn’t it, “art is five per cent inspiration and 95 per cent perspiration”. I was the perspiration department.
You took the Stones to America. Was the scene different there?
In the 60s, man, people took acid. Everyday was different. So going to a new country was a lovely challenge. It wasn’t something to be frightened of.
Do you feel vindicated, telling your side of what happened at Altamont at last?
Yeah absolutely. I always intended to do it. I just thought this was the right time. This year is the 40th anniversary of Altamont. Having put up with the shit for 40 years I thought it was my time to say what I wanted to say. So we’ll see how the world takes it.
How bad was it?
We were stuck in between a rock and a hard place. It was just fucking awful. The core issue man is this. In life you can have great successes and you can also have great failures. It’s like love affairs, you have to deal with the successes and failures with the same spirit. You can’t just run away. The Rolling Stones didn’t have any idea how to handle it, except to fucking run away basically and try and ignore it. But the Rolling Stones are in for a rude shock because all they’re gonna get asked this year is questions about Altamont.
You were deserted and left to clear up the mess, including with the Hell’s Angels. You don’t seem bitter though?
People are people, man. They’re not fucking gods are they? I’m certainly not perfect so it’s just absurd to think that other people somehow are paragons of virtue. The Rolling Stones are normal, ordinary human beings, albeit wonderful artists. I don’t judge them.
Do you still follow the music industry?
I’m always excited to hear somebody that’s really good. The old tingle returns. I just heard a girl last night, she was fucking unbelievable. It was such a turn on to still be surprised, to hear something new and fresh and amazing and full of fucking, you know, vinegar. I loved it. I’ve still got that sort of attitude, you don’t lose that, man.
Do you think the industry’s too commercial nowadays?
Now selling music is just the same as selling sugar or rice or bread or whatever, it’s just a commodity isn’t it. Of course that’s very sad, but that doesn’t mean to say that the music business is stuck with that. New forms are constantly emerging because there’s new people constantly emerging. Each generation of young people decides, “well fuck this, we’re not having that”. That’s what’s so wonderful about the arts in general.
You live in Melbourne now?
I’ve been here eight years, but I constantly travel. I’m a gypsy. Melbourne is definitely very interesting and kind of an inspiring place to hang out.