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Gimme Shelter

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The girlfriend and I caught the Maysles’ documentary Gimme Shelter on IFC the other night. It’s about the disastrous Rolling Stones show at Altamont in 1969 and it’s very good as those things go. There’s a lovely bit of moral catatonia from the Grateful Dead, who show up late and are informed that there have already been a few scuffles and that Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin, trying to break up a fight, has managed to get himself knocked unconscious. “Oh, bummer,” Jerry Garcia says. “Beating people up like that… that just doesn’t seem right,” Bob Weir adds

But the most interesting part has to do with Meredith Hunter. You all remember Meredith Hunter, right? He’s the 18-year-old teenager who was set upon and stabbed to death by a bloodthirsty mob of Hell’s Angels, high on bad acid and the $500 worth of beer they were paid to provide security for the show. Hunter, the 60s martyr whose death marked the beginning of the end of Flower Power. Except that’s not what happened at all. In the movie Mick Jagger watches the crucial footage in slo-mo, and it is clear that Hunter rushes the stage and pulls a gun before any Hell’s Angel lays a hand on him. He may also fire a shot. There is a brief orange flash in the film but it is inconclusive, and eyewitness reports differ. What is absolutely clear is that Hunter started it; whether he should have been stabbed five times is of course another question. Yet to this day many accounts of Altamont, like this one or this one, don’t even mention the gun. Others claim Hunter pulled it in self-defense, which the movie clearly contradicts, or not at all. I confess that neither the girlfriend nor I knew the gun even existed, and I doubt we were the last two in the dark.

This description from Dick Carter, owner of the Altamont Speedway, jibes in every particular with what you see in Gimme Shelter:

Most of the books and articles about Altamont are filled with bull. Like the Hell’s Angels were the only security, and they were hired for $500 worth of beer. We had every off-duty police officer available and every security guard in Northern California there. There were about 17 Angels who came to the concert because they were in Oakland for a convention. Sam Cutler, the Stones’ manager, asked if the Angels would escort the Stones through the crowd on motorcycle and then sit around the stage during the show to protect the band. We had purchased $500 worth of beer for the bands, and Cutler told the Angels they could have some.

The Angels were blamed for the death of Meredith Hunter. But that kid was waving a gun and screaming that he was going to shoot Mick Jagger. One of the Angels jumped his back, after Hunter fired a shot at the stage, and stabbed him with a knife several times. The audience was going to tear Hunter limb from limb, but the Angels formed a circle around him and got him out of the crowd and into a bread truck where he could be moved to get medical attention. He died in the racetrack office, but the Angels tried to save him.

A few days later, the district attorney of Alameda called me and said that I was going to be blamed for the murder of Hunter, along with the Hell’s Angels and the Rolling Stones. I said, ‘For crying out loud, the kid had a gun, it was self-defense! You can see the gun on the film from the concert!’ The DA told me I needed to produce the gun. So I tracked down Sonny Barger [a prominent Angel] by calling every lawyer in the phone book. He said he would make some calls, that one of three Angels might still have the pistol. Later that day he called me and said, ‘We have the gun.’ So I called the attorney, Melvin Belli, who told me to bring it to him in a shoebox. The charges were dropped after that.

The three people besides Hunter who died at Altamont were not violent, merely stupid. Two were run over while sleeping, and one drowned in an irrigation ditch.

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About Aaron Haspel

  • Peter Silver

    I am trying to trace Sam Cutler – I was at Cambridge (UK) with his in 1964.
    Any suggestions?

  • Eric Olsen

    Check out Ron Schneider here.

  • Jules Makk

    Sam Cutler

    Sam Cutler lives in Brisbane Queensland Australia with his Australian Wife ….

    I run a songwriters night … Sam Has taken on the management of a young singer songwriter .. Ben Stewart…
    I was chasing up some info . trying to see some pictures.. of the stones .. etc.

    cheers , Jules Makk

  • Hubert Rivey

    Je suis toujours l’ami de Sam s’il passe par internet qu’il me le fasse savoir
    Hubert , Michele et Alice et Paul

  • Ai Zhen Tatelman

    I knew Sam in England and would like to get in touch. Please forward email address to mine. Thanks!

  • charlie

    Hi my names charlie and was a friend of Sam, Scott and Hoss in the sixties and he got me a job for the day at hyde park in 69 AT Stones concert.Iwas a roadi at the time.Be good to hear from him.
    Lots of Charlies,remind him of Blythe Road.Sheperds Bush Charlie and Scotts buddy.

  • sam cutler

    I am Sam Cutler [Personal contact info deleted] for those who wish to know


    aaron haspel if you wrote this bullshit about meredith hunter you need to be hogtied and beaten to a pulp, those filthy assholes that are known as hell’s angels killed that kid for no reason, and they got away with it if he had been related to me i would have hunted them all down and made them pay

  • bobby

    wouldn’t you fire a shot to get those assholes off of you, they killed him because he was there with a white girl, it is ironic that these fools were running around beating up people and when they kill this 18 year old black kid it was all the kids fault, bullshit and may those sorry filthy bastards burn in hell barger already has throat cncer i hope he suffers hard and long, before he dies.

  • bunchy carter

    I think its easy to put the blame on Meredith Hunte because he was seen pulling a gun out. The film shows that there were fights in front of the stage way before Hunte pulled out a gun but we don’t see why he pulled the gun out. It’s obvious he did not want to get beat up like the rest of the teens that got their heads broken and the driving factor that drove the Greatful Dead from perfoming that night. Meredith Hunte the lone Black teen in crowd full of terbulance didn’t start a fight nor did he shoot his gun. If it had been a white person that had been stabbed then there would have been a huge man hunt on all Hells Angels. But the reality is that a Black man’s murder cought on celluloid made the film Gimme Shelter into a huge sensation and gave the Rollimg Stones a “bad boy” image more real.

  • Guy

    I wasn’t going to add anything to this discussion until I read the last three racial apoligists. I watched the crucial scene multiple times and it’s clear that Meredith had a pistol… period. The Angels had every right to defend themselves and eliminate the threat once a pistol was pulled by Meredith. Using a firearm in the middle of a scuffle or fistfight usually brings a manslaughter charge at the very least in this country. Meredith may have been able to argue that he was in fear of immediate death, but the film would have convicted him since it showed not a hand had been laid on him before he employed it. Here’s an 18 year old kid carrying a damn pistol at a rock concert in 1969. I think it’s safe to assume that someone else’s life down the line was saved because this kid had a short one. Harsh, but reality… whether this guy was black, white, yellow, or green.

  • Pretty Fly

    This is rubbish. Hunter was also shown earlier in the film just enjoying the music (unlike most of the Hells Angels present) – he wasn’t there to start any trouble. The Angels were out of control beating people up – Meredith pulled a gun but he probably pulled it in self defense. Tragic.

  • Sean Smith

    There were plenty of other blacks there. You can see them throughout the movie. Prior to the stabbing, the Hells Angels are seen beating up only white people. WHAT shred of evidence is there that they stabbed him for being with a white girl? He pulled the gun out; then he got stabbed. If Meredith Hunter had been white, I doubt any of you would even remember his name. It was NOT murder. What’s seen clearly on the video tape was the he pulled a gun, THEN he got stabbed. And the opinion of a jury confirms what’s obvious on the tape. Only half-wits and racial demagogues would say otherwise. The Hells Angels are not good guys, but in this case they sure as hell aren’t murderers.

  • Hey – we are a non for profit entity called ‘The Realm Collective Inc’ – we are holding a special screening of Gimme Shelter with a Q & A with none other than the legendary Sam Cutler in Melbourne at Cinema Nova on Oct 5th and in Castlemaine, Victoria on Oct 6th. If ya want more info on these sessions or if you wanna attend – let us know and I will forward info to purchase tickets!

  • Ivan Coates

    The simple fact of the matter is Aaron Haspel purports to know what the truth is, when he cannot have reason to be as certain as he claims, and Dick Carter’s account is just one (perhaps selective) version of events. Other accounts emphasise elements Carter does not mention and hence create a different picture – thus, why select his as “the truth” when you can’t know this with any authority. Even if Hunter did rush the stage Aaron Haspel cannot pretend to know why he did it and cannot assume he “started it” on the basis of the film’s footage. Even if he DID “start it” (start WHAT exactly anyway?) can this justify murder? Hunter’s actions may well have arisen out of a complex array of factors which starting “it” doesn’t cover. Perhaps the language of the playground fight is too reductive to do justice to events.

  • scott

    another dead black troublemaker….thanks Angels

  • James

    The kid was stabbed 18 times and kicked to death. American Justice. Would make any Islamic jihadist, south Korean death squad very proud. Way to go Angels!!! You make me proud to be an American!

  • amelia

    As a lawyer I can state that self defense only last as long as the threat. Once they took the gun away they should have taken him to jail. I would like to hear the version of the events by his girlfrind

  • Kathy

    I was reading an article from an old newspaper ad from when this happened… and it seems like he was stabbed before he pulled the gun out. one of the angels walked by and appears to have “BUMPED” his arm and he made a face and the camera showed he had an icey glaze on his face, then there was a scuffle the angels were surrounding him, his girlfriend tried to grab him and then he appeared to be trying for his gun, i don’t believe at this time she knew he had been stabbed. the film (THE ACTUAL FOOTAGE) not the movie shoes he was stabbed 2 times after that yet hte autopsy shows 5 stabbings, meaning he was stabbed 3 times when it looked like he was “BUMPED”. so i think someone was thinking the could casually walk by him and stab him and get away with it.

  • scozz

    O.K fights often occur around the front of the stage at rock concerts, folk are crammed up tight as sardines usually with a few drinks and other substances inside them someone jostles someone and tempers flair. Pulling a gun in a crowd like this is a definite no-no, any sane person would retreat further back and steer clear of the trouble. Let us assume the HA had not been there, they are an organized force and collectively took meredith hunter out, imagine the consequences if Hunter had emptied his gun indiscriminately into the crowd? 6, 7 or maybe even 8 people dead.

  • Jack

    With all the drug and alcohol abuse present at Altamont I am surprised many, many other people were not killed.
    Do such substances make EVERYONE present behave STUPIDLY?
    I think so.
    Eliminate the dope and booze and it may have been a peaceful concert.

  • Anon

    Wow, it is great to see how ignorant some of you people are. It has been stated numerous times that no one really knows the full story. The promoters, the Stone’s Manger, and the Hell’s Angels were all trying to cover their asses after they found out they would be charged with murder. Hey, produce that gun you took away from the kid after you beat and stabbed him to death. No one knows if he was going to shoot Mick or other people in the crowd. I agree it was stupid to take a pistol into the concert with him, but this was the 60s it wasn’t a time of peace and racial harmony. All of America was messed up. Just look at groups formed duirng this time, such as the Mason Family, The Black Panthers, The Hell’s Angels (formed in th 40s but more violent in the 60s), and the Weather Underground. There is no excuse for this kid to have been beaten and kicked to death. After he was on the ground and disarmed that was enough. If there really were off duty police there they would and should have known how to handle the situation a lot better then a biker gang known for violence. I mean come on pool sticks as defense weapons and the fact that one of their members attacked the guitar player from Jefferson Airplane. Even the Grateful Dead left the concert because of the violence that the Hell’s Angel’s presented. I mean the guy who was arrested and charged with Hunter’s murder ended up dead face down in a ditch with $10,000 in his pocket. He met a deadly and violent end just like Hunter, which proves he was no saint and the Hell’s Angels were really no angels. Also it shows a lot of fights breaking out and Hunter pulling the pistol with his girlfriend trying to hold him back (her statment to Rolling Stone, even though the Police were quick to silence her and no one else involved in the altercation) there is no footage of Hunter firing a shot or aiming the pistol specifically at Mick. It is almost quite obvious this story of Hunter saying he was going to kill Mick or him pointing the gun at Mick is just a way for the Stones to have their egos stroked and their bad boy image personified. Richard (Rolling Stone gutarist) stated that this would never happen in England’s Hyde Park because Brits know how to act, but he forgot to mention Woodstock. This was obiviously a showdown between pig-headed macho wannabes. Hunter did not deserve to die and he didn’t “ask for it”. No one asks to be stabbed and beaten to death. It is easy to blame Hunter are say he was asking for it, especially when he is not alive to defend himself and his girlfriend basically dropped off the face of the planet. I can only think it might be because of the fear of being murdered for testifying or talking out against a Hell’s Angel. Even the makers of Gimme Shelter were terrified of releasing the footage because they had death threats and still to this day have not released the names of the cammermen who shot the footage of Hunter’s death. And for those idiots justifing his murder it saddens me for the future of America.

  • Anon

    Lead singer Marty Balin for Jefferson Airplane was the one knocked out the the Hell’s Angel member. I wonder how all the people saying Hunter “asked for it” would feel if it was their child who was stabbed and beaten. I doubt there would be such a dismissal of the event then.

  • hahahahahahahaha holy shit thats awesome. i ahve the same name as the dude that wrote this book. and the rolling stones are awesomeeeeeeeee

  • John MacNeil

    One correction to the opening: It was Phil Lesh, not Bob Weir, who said “Beating people up like that…that just doesn’t seem right” in “Gimme Shelter”. Just watched it last night

  • Amazing stuff. Hi to Sam Cutler. We met once or twice in London when both working with Stuart Lyon. Perhaps a Nina Simone gig at Hammersmith was one? I remember you took me to some rather irregular club in East End with all sorts in there. Oxbridge kiddies living dangerously with Krays extended family. That kind of thing. Stuart had me staying on some houseboat (Chelsea Arts Club annex?) but stayed in your spare room instead. I think you disappeared for a while about then? Nina’s xylophone man was asking after you in Manchester …

    Just been blogging something about our major UK charm prisoner Charlie Manson (who is in an art show in Brick Lane) and thought I’d google Sam Cutler …

  • Jim Burnham

    I worked for Sam at Manor Downs outside of Austin in ’76 and he was not all that easy to work for. Mellow and easy going one day, ranting and screaming at us physical workers in 100+ F temperatures, the very next day. Frances Carr was nicer. Loved the good food, wonder where those co-workers wound up. Well, from what I see, Sam’s put that nasty streak behind him. Now, what do I do about mine?

  • John

    The issue and this discussion reminds me of the lines from the Dylan song….

    Who killed Davie Moore?
    Why and what’s the reason for?

  • alex

    Mr Haspel. You call ‘Give me shelter’ a good film? It has survived only because it reduces someone’s life to the moment of their death, like JFK without the presidency, or, more topically, Benazir Bhutto without any of her previous life, just the filmed/videoed death release and nothing else. So are snuff movies ‘good as these things go’? I doubt that very much.

  • toddy

    39 years later? I guess it only proves controversy can sometimes be controversial. Yes it was tragic. But also yes, the lad brought it on himself. Look, set aside the nefarious title of “Hells Angel” and what’s left? Motorcycle enthusiasts. Now throw in a bunch of drugs and a few folks who think they are tough but are mostly afraid of motorcycles and the sometimes road weary riders and what’s left? “SURPRISE” trouble (it also snows in Buffalo New York in the winter). Funny thing is, most “bikers” never start trouble but are more than happy to finish it… insert anecdote here…

  • Sam is a friend of mine in Australia–we had coffee together almost every day until I recently moved to Hanoi. I listened to his stories everyday. Everybody talking above knows not of what they speak.

    Incidently, Hubert, Sam wrote very kindly of the times he spent with you in the early drafts of the book–I hope those parts make it to the final edit. He thinks the world of you!

    He has just written his own book, which will expose what went on in the background of all these events. It’s out in October. What really happened is going to shock the hell out of everyone. Pre-order the book at your favorite retailer so you’re not the last to be hip to the truth.

    “You Can’t Always Get What you Want: My Life With The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead” (Book)

    Sam Cutler
    Release Date: 01 Oct 2008
    Format: Book
    ISBN: 9781741666090

    The racists need to cool it.

    I’ve seen Sam at work. He a “get the job done” kind of guy. He is cool and mellow but works harder than anyone around him to get the job done. If you’re not part of the solution, get the hell out of the way. You can’t put together rock shows attended by a 1/4 million people by being cool and laidback 100% of the time.

    Sam was the first to do this, at Hyde Park and Altamont, and nobody has really ever pulled it off without a hitch since. Today it’s all semi-trucks and unions and cranes and sponsors.

    Back in Sam’s day it was vans, pickup trucks and some volunteers from the audience that set up these shows.

    Buy the book. Get the full story. Like the song says:

    “Please don’t dominate the rap Jack, if you’ve got nothin new to say”. (New Speedway Boogie)

  • Ankur

    I do not know if it sound weird or may be for me it is just a kinda day when i woke up sleepy and then went to work..Everything was going the usual and was hoping that this day would be over soon. I work at an internet cafe and till this very moment i did not knew who Sam cutler was. He came into our store once in the morning and then again in the afternoon. We had a nice little chat about India as i am from India and he has been there and he was telling his experiences and i was not sure of who he actually was. In the afternoon he came again and needed some help with Skype which i promptly helped and then again the usual little chit chat. When he was leaving the store, as i have been friendly and cheerful, he told me that he was writing a book ” You cant always get what you want” and just instinctively i asked for his AUTOGRAPH, thinking that he was some author, which he gave politely and adressing it to me and India..

    I mean i cant really come to my senses as after it i searched for his name and whatevr he said was indeed true, that he was rolling stone’s manager and stuff..i mean is it my lucky day?

  • Katey

    I met sam today, so random too. On the bus to The Gap in brissy he just sat down next to me and starting talking, about his book, then he said he was the manager of the rolling stones well shit i was gobsmacked!!! haha

  • Pat

    Why did Hunter bring a gun to a concert in 1969? This is supposed to be the peace and love decade. It’s after this concert that journalists proclaim the end of it. This is behavior of the rap generation not the 60’s. You know, “pop a cap in his ass” from the bloods and crips that we have now. The gangs of today make this look like a walk in the park. MS 13 for example. There were many blacks at that concert but only Hunter pulled one. The reason for the earlier fights were that people were jumping on the Hell Angels bikes and that made them pissed off. People were stoned and drunk and there were many of them that day. Some got aggressive and tried to trash the bikes. You don’t do that with a motorcycle club’s bikes. If you watch the film close you can hear people talk about the bikes. The big criticism I have is why the stones do not call for an intermission and talk with the angels about why this was happening and then plan a change to prevent the ongoing problem. Easy for me to say in hindsight. The blame as the film makers say today can be assigned to any number of people not just one.

  • Steve C

    How amazing reading the comment from Katy how she met Sam on a bus on the way to the Gap in Brisbane. My wife’s sister who lives at the Gap in Brisbane visited me in Houston Texas for my birthday last month. My present was Sam Cutlers book. I read have read it and find it a great book. The revelations contained therein as to the cause and reason for the violence makes a lot of sense to me.
    A very well written book and a good read.

  • Sylvia


    You got his book did he mentioned a woman named Sylvia when he lived in London in the book?

  • Sylvia

    So more I think about it, I feel like I should commend, Sam always organized and did his job I was there when the tour was planned; who would have ever known that he would not come back to London? Yes, no one wanted this, no one ever wanted to squander a live. We did a bunch of concerts (I was always just there with him) but I know people loved the concerts and all these big English bands like Pink Floyd and Yes and so on………….

  • sally

    Hey Sylvia – Sam lived in London 1988-1989 then Oxford until 2000 when we emigrated to Australia. he is currently in London.

  • Sylvia

    Wow, Australia would have had warmer days right now.

  • Dave

    Hi Sally
    This is Sam’s friend Dave, the other ex pat music biz person who used to live in New Farm.
    Just thought I’d say “hi”.
    I hope you have cured the damp after the storm.
    Sam told me his en suite was getting a bit close!!!

  • Billy Jack

    I don’t care who you are, if you pull a gun in public, I hope someone is brave enough to jump you and take you out!

  • Dull Day

    The film was edited, repeat-edited. We cannot even know if the thing is in proper sequence. The only peron’s side we will never know is Meredith Hunter’s. We can assume that 12 men and women did see enough evidence to conclude that there was more than enough reasonable doubt that murder was NOT commited. All we have is what the film allows us to have. Mededith Hunter had a gun. He was stabbed to death by Alan Passaro.

    Who asked the Hells Angels to come and under what pretext is irrelevant. 40 years of attempting to manage history are long enough. Alan Passaro killed Meredith Hunter.

    Sam Cutler did not, Mick Jagger did not. Mederith Hunter is no less dead.

  • John

    He F***** with the 81 and got what he deserved.