On Nov. 1, the 50th anniversary of the epochal Rolling Stones Let It Bleed will be celebrated and ABKCO Records is releasing a new edition 2 LP/2 HybridSuper Audio CD set remastered in both stereo and mono. You can stream the album here.
You can pre-order the reissue here.
“Gimme Shelter” from the songwriting team of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards will be getting plenty of airplay on FM and satellite radio stations along with streaming services.
Mick Jagger, during a Sept. 10, 1970 interview on Danish radio, ruminated about the creation of the tune.
‘“Gimme Shelter’ is just about the fact that it doesn’t matter how safe you are or think you are safe, something could always happen to you at that very minute or that minute later that could either destroy you or change you in some way. So it means that just because you are safe and secure in your house doesn’t mean that you really are safe.”
Before vocalist Merry Clayton’s spine-tingling haunting vocals were added to those of Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter,” Merry had already shared a microphone with Bobby Darin, Pearl Bailey, and was a member of both the Blossoms and Ray Charles’ Raelettes. During her studio career, she has sung backup on records with Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Phil Ochs, Burt Bacharach and Carole King. Clayton also starred in director Morgan Neville’s Academy Award-winning Best Documentary Feature 20 Feet From Stardom released in 2013.
By October 1969, the Stones had already prepared the basic rhythm track for “Gimme Shelter” with record producer Jimmy Miller and engineer Glyn Johns in England at Olympic Studios.
Jagger, Richards, Miller and Johns in late October relocated to Elektra Studios in Los Angeles with engineer Bruce Botnick who had previously worked on albums with Love and The Doors.
“First of all, Glyn Johns did all of the recording,” Botnick volunteered to me in a 2009 interview. “I facilitated and worked as a second engineer to get him through the night. Glyn did a great job. And he was under a lot of pressure with them.
“The first playback of ‘Gimme Shelter’ was incredible…On the Let It Bleed album, I made suggestions and brought in the country music fiddle player Byron Berline for ‘Country Honk.’”
“Gimme Shelter” songwriters Mick and Keith, and Miller along with longtime associate multi-instrumentalist Jack Nitzsche huddled during their Oct. 18-27 Southern California studio visit just before the Stones embarked on their US tour in November ’69.
Nitzsche was an omnipresent figure and key Stones collaborator on over a half dozen of their previous LPs. He was a major contributor to Aftermath and Between the Buttons albums. His keyboard and percussion efforts are evident on “Satisfaction,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Yesterday’s Papers,” and “Sister Morphine.”
“I met the Stones in 1964,” recalled Nitzsche during a 2000 home interview. “Their manager and record producer Andrew Loog Oldham called me up. It was at RCA Studios in Hollywood and I was working with Edna Wright, Darlene Love’s sister. A little later, the Stones started working at RCA and it had a big impact on me, a whole new way of approaching records. I was used to a three-hour record date, and they were block booking 24 hours a day for two weeks and doing what they wanted. I took the band to see Etta James at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles.
“I got them into The T.A.M.I. Show. I put the band together and did all the arrangements. I was the musical director. I had told the producer, Bill Sargent, the Stones were going to be big. I felt the Stones could close the show (following The Beach Boys and James Brown). Bill said ‘James Brown is going to close the show.’ We all stood at the side of the stage watching James Brown do his act. People were standing and screaming for James. Then the Stones came out and all the girls started crying. It was a whole new emotion!”
“Coming to L.A. and Hollywood in 1964 and the wonderful reality of when Sonny Bono did pick us up at the LAX airport,” enthused Andrew Loog Oldham over lunch this century at a West Hollywood eatery. “He was a funny, engaging guy. Sonny took us to a hotel. But when you walked into RCA there was sunshine.
“I was looking for a home to produce the band. We were actually visiting Studio B where the Brian Stone and Charlie Greene 45rpm for Atlantic was being cut in the best Bobby B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans fashion, including Bobby Sheen. And there was Jack Nitzsche, Gracia Nitzsche, Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, and Cher. I have a total recollection of Cher. Not unlike the Vashti Bunyan vibe. The waif. Total ‘young girls are coming to the canyon.’ And there it is, Jack Nitzsche and the backing vocalists.
“When you walk into a situation like RCA, suddenly you have the physicality of it. And the physicality of it is so overwhelming that I can actually see it in front of me now. Then I got taken into Studio A, which was huge. I went, ‘This is it. We have our home.’ I met engineer Dave Hassinger in there doing a session. Dave Hassinger looked like Los Angeles.”
“Hollywood and L.A. were very important during 1964-1972,” bassist Bill Wyman re-confirmed in a 2002 interview. “RCA was our first studio that had four tracks. We were on two and three tracks before that.”
“One of the great things about recording in Hollywood at RCA was after a session you’d walk into the carport and literally on the other side of the building was [jazz club] Shelly’s Manne-Hole,” smiled Charlie Watts at a 2016 Stones’ Coachella Desert Trip tour rehearsal at Third Encore Studios in Burbank, California.
“I went to Shelly’s Manne-Hole twice—once to see Charles Lloyd, Albert Stinson [with Gabor Szabo and Pete LaRoca], and the Bill Evans Trio with Paul Motian on drums [and Chuck Israels]. I saw Shelly at his club.”
“I always thought…as long as me and Charlie could get it together, then the rest of the band could do what they’d like and it worked,” verified Wyman. “And that’s what happened in the studio, and that’s what happened live.
“Me and Charlie were really always on the ball, always straight, always together and had it down. If we had our shit together we got it right. What he was doing and what I was doing, standing next to him and watching his bass drum, and all that, which a lot of bass players don’t do, stupidly, once we got our thing going, and the group was there, then anything could happen. That’s all there was. There was simplicity. It wasn’t how many notes you played, it’s where you left nice holes and I learned that from Duck Dunn and people like that.”
“Later I was in London doing the music for Performance,” added Nitzsche. “I thought ‘Memo From Turner’ had a clever lyric. I felt Mick was going in another direction from the band. The apartment they got me was right around the corner where Keith was living with Anita (Pallenberg). Then they began Let It Bleed. I arranged the choir on ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Nitzsche and engineer Andy Johns worked with Jimmy Miller, the gifted percussionist/ producer.
“Jimmy was an extremely talented man. His main gift I think was his ability to get grooves, which for a band like the Stones is very important,” summarized Johns. “He was quite influential then and came up with all sorts of lovely ideas for them. In fact, that’s him playing the cowbell at the beginning of ‘Honky Tonk Woman.’ He sets it up.
“Nicky Hopkins added so much to the band. He was extremely rhythmic. When people think of Nicky they think of his right hand. But he would make the groove happen sometimes.”
Initially, Mick, Keith, Jimmy and Jack had intended to utilize Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney & Bonnie for the role Clayton filled, but she wasn’t available, possibly due to illness or alleged reports that Bramlett's husband, Delaney, refused to let her work with the Stones. He had met them in 1965 on the set of the television series Shindig!
Nitzsche then suggested Clayton to augment the hypnotic and weaving guitar efforts of Keith, who sang on the recording as well, along with the propulsive drum work of Charlie Watts, pianist Nicky Hopkins, Bill Wyman on bass, percussionist Miller, and Jagger’s harmonica playing.
Sadly, the now unreliable Brian Jones wasn’t on “Gimme Shelter” but had been in attendance when the initial “Gimme Shelter’ session was done in England at Olympic. Jones does appear on “Midnight Rambler” on percussion and played autoharp on “You Got the Silver” for Let It Bleed.
“Jack phoned me at home from the studio in the Los Angeles area one night where I lived with my husband, Curtis Amy,” remembered Merry Clayton in a 2008 telephone interview we did. (Amy was a legendary jazz musician himself, known for his classic album with Dupree Bolton, Katanga!).
“Jack called and Curtis told him I was just about ready to go to sleep. See, I was pregnant,” disclosed Merry, “but Jack insisted that he had to talk to me about this Stones’ session immediately as I was about to go to sleep. Curtis then woke me up. Jack was on the line. ‘Merry, I really need you to do this part. There is no other singer who can do this. Please.’
“I always loved Jack, like Lou Adler, he always took a chance on me. I worked with Jack on the Performance soundtrack he did and I had worked with Jack earlier on a record he did with Neil Young in 1968 or ‘69. ‘OK…’ I was really tired that night, but I got up, put on my coat, got in the car with Curtis and we drove up La Cienega Blvd. to Hollywood later that evening where the studio was located.”
Arriving with her hair in curlers, Clayton was warmly greeted by Keith Richards and then checked out Mick Jagger in the flesh. “‘Man, I thought you was a man, but you nothing but a skinny little boy!’
“They played me the song and asked if I could put a little somethin’ on it…I said, ‘Stop the song and tell me what all this stuff meant’ before I went any further. ‘It’s just a shout or shot away’ was something in the lyrics. I said, ‘I’m gonna put my vocal on it and I’m gonna leave. ‘Cause this is a real high part and I will be wettin’ myself if I sing any higher!’ ‘Cause my stomach was a little bit heavy…”
Just before her vocals were added on the track, Merry, no rookie in the music business, had politely voiced concerns about payment procedure and credits.
“So, we went in and did it. Matter of fact, I did it three times. I didn’t do an overdub. Mick’s vocal was already on it when I heard it and I recall he did a bit of touching up after I left. But they got what they wanted,” reinforced Merry.
“‘It was so nice meeting you guys.’ ‘Oh Merry you sound incredible. We just love you. We’re gonna work with you…’ I was walkin’ out the door as they were talkin’. ‘OK. ‘Love you guys, too! See you some other time…’
“And I got in the car with my husband who took me right home and I went right upstairs to bed. And that was the ‘Gimme Shelter’ session.
Very swiftly the Stones’ legal team generated an agreement requesting her signature. “Next thing I knew, lawyers had talked and everything was cool. And, it was a go on the record.”
Partially owing to physical strain exerted on “Gimme Shelter,” Clayton suffered a miscarriage shortly after returning home.
“Then I immediately heard it on the radio in Los Angeles. It’s a powerful track,” admitted Merry, who was credited as Marry Clayton on the initial Let It Bleed LP pressings.
“My dad was a Bishop at church,” reinforced Clayton, “and he heard it and said, ‘Merry, what is this line in the song about rape and the murder?’ ‘Well dad, that’s part of the song.’ And he laughed. ‘Boy, they’re really singing them different these days.’ I call him Reverend Doctor Daddy. ‘You know they’re singing them different these days and that’s what it is.’
‘“Well you know, just remember one thing,’” he replied, 'remember as you go out there on the road and travel on the road with the Rollin’ Cockers,' ‘cause I worked with Joe Cocker, too, so he could never get the names together, ‘Just remember when you are out there with the Rollin’ Cockers, daddy is prayin’ for you.’ ‘Oh daddy, I need that so bad. Thank you so much.’ And he added, ‘Do it while you’re young ‘cause when you get older you’re not going to run up and down the road.’
“My father always encouraged me to do things with class, dignity and integrity,” reinforced Clayton, a graduate of Jefferson High School’s music department in Los Angeles under renowned instructor Sam Browne.
I remember when KMET-FM in Los Angeles first spun “Gimme Shelter” from an acetate dub they acquired just before Let it Bleed shipped to retail outlets. I discovered Merry Clayton’s voice coupled with Jagger’s lead. I was stunned. Clayton is both sonic witness and participant in this dark doomsday audio warning.
“In a way, maybe when you write songs without even knowing it, you’re kinda saying, ‘Can I do this live?’ And so in a way you add that in,” Keith Richards stressed to me in a 1997 interview around a Rolling Stones’ concert in San Diego, California.
“You don’t know if it’s gonna work, but I guess what you keep in the back of your mind is, ‘We’re making a record here; what happens if they all like it and we gotta play it live?’ So, in a way, maybe in the back of the mind that sets up the song to be playable on stage,” underlined Keith.
“It’s another thing. Once you’re on the stage it’s just some floorboards in spite of it. And you’re not really aware of everything you are seeing. But what really keeps tours going and alive for the band and therefore for the audience I think is to change it and to play the smaller joints indoors. And the small stage with the show. It’s necessary to change the scale sometimes. Otherwise, you can really get used to the large thing. And you realize when you’re playing a small gig that you get dynamics back and you can re-translate that back to the big stage.”
“Gimme Shelter” was debuted on the Rolling Stones ’69 United States tour. I then really heard the number performed at their two November Southern California concerts in Inglewood at the Fabulous Forum that I attended as a teenager which made an indelible impression. And still does. The first show started on Nov. 8 at 11:45 pm and the second one spilled into Nov. 9 ending at 5:15 am.
Over the last 50 years the “Gimme Shelter” master tape has been licensed by ABKCO for broadcast in many feature films: Adventures in Babysitting, GoodFellas, Casino and 20 Feet From Stardom. It’s been utilized in television: The Simpsons, Dexter, Nip/Tuck and The Vietnam War. It’s was also incorporated as a trailer for the Discovery Channel’s When We Left Earth, which documented the NASA space missions. The tune has been covered by Ruth Copeland, Grand Funk Railroad, The Sisters of Mercy and Merry Clayton herself.
During a 2015 Jazz Foundation annual benefit concert, A Great Night In Harlem, held at the Apollo Theater in New York, Keith Richards and members of his X-Pensive Winos band, Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler, along with Sarah Dash, paid tribute to Clayton who was severely injured in a near-fatal car accident in 2014 losing both her legs at the knees. Richards and company performed “Gimme Shelter” at the venue. Clayton, who was unable to attend the tribute, accepted the Clark and Gwen Terry Award for Courage via a pre-recorded message.
Merry Clayton is currently recording a gospel album with producer Lou Adler.
The 1970 documentary film, Gimme Shelter that was directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, which chronicled the Stones’ ’69 American tour derived its name from the song. A live version played as an end title theme over the credits.
Two of America's foremost non-fiction filmmakers, Albert Maysles (1926-2015) and his brother David (1932-1987) are recognized as pioneers of "direct cinema," the distinctly American version of French "cinema verité." It is a method in documentary where events are recorded that couple naturalistic techniques without pre-planned set-ups or agenda.
The Maysles team was the first to capture the Beatles first US visit chronicling the remarkable two weeks in February 1964 that began America's still-enduring love affair with the group in their film, Here’s what’s happening baby—The Beatles!
The Maysles 1964 footage is incorporated into a retail DVD, The Beatles The First US Visit.
Albert was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 1965. His next three films became cult classics. Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970) is the dazzling portrait of the Rolling Stones on their American November 1969 US tour and the notorious concert at Altamont Raceway Park.
The Rolling Stones tested the waters themselves before doing the free concert gesture at Altamont with a successful July concert in London’s Hyde Park. Coming to America that fall, they played to arenas, but the idea of a free concert pervaded the tour, and it was decided to mount one in San Francisco.
When the city refused permits, and a site near Sonoma fell through at the last minute, the concert was hastily moved—only 36 hours before its scheduled start—to Altamont, a remote, largely derelict motor speedway southwest of San Francisco.
The proceedings had a negative vibe from the start. The Grateful Dead didn’t play, who were slated to share the stage with the Stones, along with Jefferson Airplane, Santana, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and CSNY. There were immediate problems owing to venue management, assorted crowd members were in a narcotic and/or alcohol haze, as well as the hired security who injured Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin.
History has pretty much blamed the Rolling Stones for the Altamont debacle. It certainly wasn’t entirely their fault. Bay area fixtures like promoter Bill Graham and Ralph J. Gleason, the music critic of The San Francisco Chronicle, were especially publically preoccupied with the price of admission entry for the Stones’ ’69 tour, and are partially responsible for the madness that engulfed Altamont from the hurried planning to the concept’s aftermath. “There are no specific guilty parties for Altamont. We were all guilty, myself included” admitted Gleason.
“It was very obvious from the very beginning that this was gonna be fucked,” Graham Nash told me in a 2007 interview.
“First of all getting in there, there was no way we could get into Altamont. It was insane. So my friend Leo Mokota, who was our tour manager, hot-wired a car. He and us, and the lawyer, Melvin Belli, made it into Altamont. But it was fucked from the start.
“First of all, the music that they played between acts was electronic music. The Grateful Dead didn’t play. And we were only there for Jerry [Garcia]. ‘Cause it was Jerry that called Crosby and said, ‘Hey man, we’re gonna do this Woodstock West, man, you gotta be a part of it. We’ll all be there, man.’ We played and not even sure how well we played. Maybe 45 minutes or something and we got the fuck out.
“We did a UCLA gig at Pauley Pavilion that evening. At which Stephen collapsed. But I think the Pauley Pavilion show was really pretty good.”
“Listen,” Chris Hillman mentioned to me in a 2007 interview, “in 1969 I’m walking on stage at Altamont with the Burrito Brothers and David Crosby is walking off after a set with CSN&Y, and we’re looking at each other and going ‘what’s going on here? And he said, ‘It’s not good.’”
Dr. James Cushing of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo English and Literature Department, who hosts a weekly Friday radio program on KEBF (97.3-FM) on The Rock in Morro Bay in Central Coast California, theorized in 2019 about Altamont, which followed the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival and the Woodstock Music and Art Fair Festival in 1969.
“1968 was a heavy political year—King and Kennedy being killed, the Democratic party collapsing in Chicago, Nixon winning the election, the war dragging on and on and on, and the sense that the counterculture was failing in its attempt to build a new America.
“1969 was Nixon’s first full year as President and the ugliness at Altamont expressed hopelessness that seems now connected with Nixon’s cynical self-serving narcissism.
“The ancient ritual of Dionysus involved the ritual stabbing of a goat, who was understood to function as a stand-in for the God (who must die to be reborn) and an offering to him. Rock festivals are already Dionysian events, but Altamont got a little too authentically ancient for the modern conscience: an actual African-American man named Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death, in front of a Dionysian band whose rise to fame had involved loving attention to and respectful appropriation of the music of African-American men. It’s an awful irony.”
In 2009 I interviewed Albert Maysles:
Q: Let’s talk about your Gimme Shelter film.
A: We got a phone call one day from Haskell Wexler who said the Rolling Stones were in town in Los Angeles and they were about to go on a nationwide tour. And they were going to be in New York the next day at the Plaza Hotel. “Maybe you should look them up.” Again, in this particular case, neither one of us knew their music. But we trusted Haskell. “These guys must be interesting.” So we knocked on their door at the Plaza Hotel and we started talking to them. “Well, we’re going to be performing the next evening in Baltimore. You are most welcome to attend.” We went to the show. “Yeah. These guys are good.” And we followed it up by making a deal with them. And we then filmed them at Madison Square Garden. They paid us a small amount to get going. I think it was $14,000.00.
We did have several cameras. I think there were four of us. That was different. The camera people were people we knew already. They knew my style so everything was consistent from one camera to another. And that worked out beautifully.
I don’t know how to put it into words to describe Jagger on stage. You just have to see the footage.
Regarding their live show. It’s interesting. You put the camera in the hands of one person and it’s so cold. And another person, it’s hot. You get the hot cells from what you see on the screen. What is so startling to me is that so many reviewers think that the camera work is just great. When it is so cold that I would dismiss it. But the lighting is right and the angles are right. This that and the other.
We joined after the tour began and a moment in American history. Mick Jagger was very invested during the process of the movie without in any way trying to control it. That was important. He never said, “Oh, you need to get this. And you need to get that. Do this.” And we had a lot more cameras at Altamont. That was unusual.
Q: Talk to me about being at Altamont and filming it.
A: It was interesting the way the press handled it. There was a very good reviewer in The New York Times, Vincent Canby, in the middle of his review he said “The Maysles must have said, ‘A-ha!’ when they saw that they had captured the killing on film in the editing room. But the title of his piece, which the editor ascribed to it was “Making Murder Pay.”
In fact, I mean it was wrong at both ways. We weren’t doing it just to make the money. Secondly, it wasn’t a murder. No one was able to prove the motivation, whatever that was behind. I was on the stage just behind the Stones for most of the filming. I could see them and the immediate audience. A side view, where my brother with another cameraman was luckily on a truck to the side of the stage out of my view, and maybe out of the view of the Stones, but in view of the killing.
It interesting, very early on, just before the concert began I had myself placed just down below filming the audience in exactly the same spot where the killing took place. So I’m there and I’m filming and the guy just below me with his child gets up and he says, “If you don’t leave this place right here, right now, I’ll kill you.” He may have thought that I was gonna drop the camera on his son. I don’t know what his explanation was. Fortunately, my brother was at the right place and I was at the best place to get the Stones themselves.
Q: After principal filming and you are in the editing stages, the movie sort of becomes a documentary about a documentary, or at least moments where band Jagger and Charlie Watts are commenting about a work in progress.
A: The odd thing is, when we were filming them. Mick said at one point, “At some point after the film was shot they’d like to take a look at it.” It was their idea. And then when Charlotte (Zwerin) was editing it, she said, “let’s call them up on that and let’s film them watching. It would be just great.” It was their idea and her idea and it worked beautifully of course. For example, when I was shooting the Stones listening to the playback of “Wild Horses,” my brother whispered in my ear, “Take a look at his Keith’s boots” and I shot the clothing.
And then when we showed Mick the film he didn’t say, ‘Eliminate this.” But he was taken by the horror of the events and he couldn’t give us the release. So we waited six months. We never talked it over with Mick. But my brother happened to meet the producer and director of Performance, Donald Cammell on one occasion. And David told him that we had some problems in getting a release. So Donald said, “Let me take a look at it.” So he saw the film and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” And that’s it. That is how we got the OK.
Q: Did the 1970 premiere and the first screenings of Gimme Shelter support or help your subsequent long-form documentary work? You and your brother were acclaimed filmmakers before Gimme Shelter.
A: We’d already triumphed with the theatrical showing of Salesman. And this wasn’t a brand new experience. But to see Gimme Shelter on that big screen with full audiences is also equal to the actual moments you spend in filming it. In fact, when I see a film of mine, even from 20, 30 or 40 years ago and I’m watching and still in the process of shooting it. (laughs).
Q: I’ve always wondered why, just after the success and ground-breaking efforts of Gimme Shelter you didn’t do a whole slew of music documentaries or a study of one musician. Did studios approach you? Did you have meetings with musicians or bands that respected your work?
A: That’s a good question. There was somebody that I met at a party, and said, “Oh my God. This guy is so interesting and he is so talented. I’ve gotta make a film.” And then I heard his music. I practically begged him. And he wasn’t turned off by me but he just felt uncomfortable about being filmed. Ornette Coleman.”
There would be no story about the Rolling Stones’ 1969 US trek without Ronnie Schneider who solely managed their tour finances during 1966-1969. An ABKCO veteran and the nephew of entertainment accountant Allen Klein, Schneider graduated with a Business Administration degree from the University of Miami.
Ronnie Schnieder had a very intimate, appreciated and important role with the band 1965-1970. He established new business models regarding performance fees, merchandising and ancillary rights that were copied by a plethora of acts setting the stage for larger arena and stadium show box office revenues.
It was Schneider acting on behalf of the Rolling Stones in 1969 who hired the Maysles brothers to film the Stones working out the deal with Madison Square Garden officials so they could document their November New York dates. He is executive producer of Gimme Shelter and the author of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Me.
We talked in 2018.
Q: Tell me about the Stones’ earlier 1965 and 1966 tours.
A: I liked them all. Bill liked women and always wanted to get laid. There was always Mick and Keith. It was a group dynamic. Brian would want something. He was a sweet little guy and a very sensitive artist but he was dangerous. Charlie liked to watch and analyze what was happening and what I was doing. A typical English stiff upper lip guy and I liked him a lot. He was always talking to his wife Shirley, a devoted husband.
Mick always wanted to know everything. I knew very early on that Mick was running the band. Brian early on, that was the battle, but Mick and Keith were the leaders. They would always be in hotel rooms working together and writing songs. They would work closely together. And, Keith didn’t care about money.
Keith liked to go horse-back riding. Keith saw how I operated. He trusted me and liked hanging out. He’s a good guy and doesn’t take any bull shit. Keith was cool to begin with. He’d always want a portable record player with a turntable in two Samsonite cases in his room. I’d give him petty cash and he would buy stacks of 45 RPM records. I went to Wallichs Music City in Hollywood with the band. Keith would sit in his room listening to music all the time.
I loved Ian Stewart. I like people that are hard workers that aren’t bull shit and don’t cause drama.
We were basically the same age and in the trenches together. I had their backs and the band members appreciated it. And, unlike most people, I never wanted anything from them. I wasn’t trying to use them and they knew that.
I knew even in 1965 the Stones were very special. And I noticed each member in the band had fans clubs that really loved them. There were all sorts of Brian, Bill, Keith and Charlie Watts’ fans. They were coming to see the Rolling Stones not just Mick Jagger.
Also know when it came to energy, we worked 24 hours a day basically. We had a shared work ethic and it got very intense. And Jagger would be up there. He was all over the stage. In 1965 the shows were only 30 minutes long. It still is amazing. Even though I’m handling money, negotiations, petty cash, receipts and most of the time I was in the box office at their live shows.
I was at some recording sessions. I’m in the chorus of voices and sounds on “2000 Light years from Home.” I attended the Rock and Roll Circus, and scouted a location in Rome for a potential Stones’ show, on the road, in airplanes, dealing with administration, even more on the band’s 1969 tour of America. I had trust with the group.
Q: Let’s discuss their ’69 US tour.
A: The Stones dictated everything. They wanted the art seen. It was the perfect storm. They got a guaranteed 65 percent of what I got out of the gate from gross box office as opposed to a flat fee. It was a percentage deal with a 50 per cent advance.
They were at the peak of their powers. And, I could watch every part of the show and it was great. During the 1969 tour I could catch Ike & Tina Turner with the Ikettes. I loved them. I had tons of interactions. Tina Turner was always funny. Tina was a flirt. (laughs). She would roll her eyes and wore a see-thru top.
I liked Ike Turner a lot. He was incredible. There was a big potential money shakedown scene that might have gone down at the Oakland Coliseum 1969 show. And Ike said if there was a problem with me handling and delivering the money he’d take care of it. And showed me he was packing a big fuckin’ Colt 45 gun.
I loved B.B. King. I chatted with him on the 1969 tour and he was so appreciative of the slot he had on the Stones’ tour.
Even when I left ABKCO in 1969, Mick Jagger, who I now saw taking over the finances and the money, called and asked me to do their 1970 European tour. I didn’t say yes immediately until it was discussed with my uncle Allen. I did the tour. And the rule that I set for the European tour were no people backstage.
The Rolling Stones debuted “Brown Sugar” live on that stage for the first time at Altamont.
Contrary to popular belief, many people who were at Altamont that afternoon and evening had a good time and left with a sense of wonder and delight.
Take into consideration my dear friend actor/poet wordsmith Harry E. Northup, who was at this infamous event.
Northup has made a living as an actor for over 40 years, appearing in 37 films, including Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Over the Edge (starring role), and The Silence of the Lambs. Northup is that rare American actor who is also an accomplished poet with 10 books of poetry including When Bodies Again Recline, published by Cahuenga Press, who in 2019 just celebrated their 30th anniversary.
"I was working as a waiter at the Old World Restaurant on the Sunset Strip,” Northup emailed me in 2010. “My first wife, Rita, & I had arrived in Los Angeles, from New York City on March 5, 1968. That day we got an apartment in Santa Monica & that night, I got a job as a waiter at the Old World. I came to L.A. to work in the movies. I worked at night & auditioned for movie & TV roles in the day. We hung out at the beach & went to every rock 'n roll concert that we could at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Hollywood Palladium & Venice Beach.
"Rita & I and our 10-month-old son, Dylan, drove to San Francisco, CA, on the 5th day of December 1969, in our blue & white Volkswagon van. It had a bed in the back. We slept in it in the Haight. The morning of the 6th, we ate at Brother Juniper's—I remember seeing a black man, sitting next to us, with a cross-cut into the top of his head—and then we drove to Altamont. It was slow going when we got near the Speedway. We parked on the side of the road & walked a long way. We took turns carrying Dylan.
"At the concert, we met 5 long-haired surfer guys & 3 girls we knew from Santa Monica. It was a gray day. It seemed like half a million people were there. We had driven up Pacific Coast Highway many times from Santa Monica to see the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, & the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, among others, in Golden Gate Park and other venues, but had never been at a gathering this large.
"Most of the time, we stayed on the perimeter & danced. My wife loved the Stones. She pranced & pointed & sang like Mick. She had seen the Beatles at Shea Stadium years before. (Harvey Keitel, who was my fellow student in Frank Corsaro's Method acting class in Manhattan, had introduced her to me at the one party that I had given in New York City in the five years that I lived there, from 1963-1968. He also introduced me to Martin Scorsese, who hired me to play The rapist in his first feature, Who's That Knocking At My Door in 1968. Marty hired me to act in his first six features & first TV show. Bette Midler, by the way, sang Bob Dylan's ‘A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall’ at that same party.)
"We shared joints, people gave us food: fruit, juices, sandwiches. Our surfer friends danced, held Dylan. Once, I snaked my way down to the left side of the stage just as the Stones sang, ‘Jumpin' Jack Flash.’ It was electric. I saw a young woman, who kept trying to climb up onto the stage, & at each attempt, a Hells Angel, who wore a wolf's head kicked her in the face. She must have been a masochist because she kept going back for more. I headed back to our group. We danced & had a wonderful time. The Stones & Santana were tremendous. We felt renewed.
"It was a long slow journey back to our VW. It wasn't until we were driving south on the 5 Freeway that we heard, on the radio, about the killing at Altamont.
"In 1970, I saw Gimme Shelter by the Maysles Brothers, which showed the violence in all its vividness. In 1968, I had seen the Maysles Brothers' film, Salesman.
"'To most audiences, the film reflected an American consciousness and lifestyle more of the 1950s than of the Summer of Love, hippies, LSD, radical politics, and headlines and buttons proclaiming 'God is Dead,' wrote the film scholar, Vincent Lo Brutto. Salesman was about "selling Bibles door to door"—quite the opposite of Gimme Shelter.
"In 1973, I played the Vietnam vet who destroys his own homecoming in Scorsese's first masterpiece, Mean Streets. Scorsese utilized ‘Jumpin' Jack Flash’ on the soundtrack for Johnny Boy's (De Niro) entrance into the bar."
Harvey Kubernik is an award-winning author of 15 books. His literary music anthology Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection Vol. 1, was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Other World Cottage Industries in February 2018.
Kubernik’s The Doors: Summer's Gone has been nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.
During November 2018, Sterling/Barnes and Noble published Kubernik’s The Story of The Band From Big Pink to the Last Waltz.
Harvey Kubernik’s 1995 interview, Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown is in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader edited by David Brackett published in 2019 by Oxford University Press.
This century Kubernik penned the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century.
In November 2006, Kubernik was a featured speaker discussing audiotape preservation and archiving at special hearings called by The Library of Congress and held in Hollywood, California).