Never had Mick Jagger been at such an utter loss for words. The flamboyant frontman of The Rolling Stones had always been in total command on stage, but now he stood paralysed with shock, looking in horror at the scene just a few feet away, where the Hells Angels stood over a dying man who had been stabbed and beaten by the biker gang.
This was Altamont, the free concert that should have been the grand finale of the Stones’ 1969 US tour, but instead degenerated into a night of mayhem and murder that marked the brutal end of the hopes and dreams of the hippy era.
But now I can reveal that the Stones were far from hapless bystanders caught up in the chaos around them – for after many years investigating the nightmarish concert, I have uncovered a damning picture of the band, and particularly of Jagger, in the build-up to Altamont and in the hours and days afterwards.
Far from being consumed with grief at witnessing the murder of 18-year-old fan Meredith Hunter, the singer attempted to engineer a threesome not long after he had left the stage.
Mick Jagger stops performing at the Altamont Rock Festival at Livermore, California in 1969
And the next morning, he left the rest of the band behind – to have their breakfast of bourbon and cocaine – and flew out to Switzerland with $1.8 million in cash tour takings to deposit in a bank. But most disturbing of all is the revelation that Hunter just might possibly have survived his horrific wounds – if only doctors had been allowed to rush him to hospital in the helicopter that was instead stubbornly reserved for the band.
Jagger had ignored repeated warnings as he ploughed on with his plans for Altamont in his lust for glory and a fitting end to the money-spinning rock documentary he had commissioned.
In 1969 the Stones were broke. They had earned $17million in the previous three years but had seen only a fraction of it due to the shady dealings of American manager Allen Klein. Needing cash desperately, they announced a first US tour in three years – but there was an outcry over ticket prices.
Furious at the criticism, and stung at having missed Woodstock that summer, Jagger began to discuss the idea of a gigantic free concert, possibly in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, to restore the band’s credibility.
It would also provide the centrepiece of a film, hastily commissioned with just a week of the tour remaining, which Jagger hoped to sneak out before the big-budget Woodstock movie, stealing some of its thunder.
- 'I can't do this': Son who drowned his mother in their... Nicola Adams crowned Olympic champion for second successive... Team USA's Gwen Jorgensen wins America's first gold in the... Eileen Kelly shows off major sideboob in blue and white...
Share this article
‘Practical realities can be addressed at a later stage,’ Jagger told prominent San Francisco hippy event organiser Emmett Grogan a few weeks earlier, when Grogan queried how food, water and medical care could be provided for the hundreds of thousands of fans who would be attracted to the event. Tragically, they never were.
San Francisco band the Grateful Dead agreed to organise the concert. They had often used local Hells Angels as security. Their manager Rock Scully told the Stones they were ‘really some righteous dudes’ who ‘carry themselves with honor and dignity’.
Jagger had an aversion to police after bad experiences at shows in Europe, and from the start of negotiations for this tour, had been adamant: no uniformed police would be allowed inside any concert hall. The Angels stepped into the breach.
The arrogant Stones soon took over planning duties from the smaller local band. A mysterious character named Jon Jaymes, a small-time businessman who had taken up with the Stones but was not on their payroll, brashly announced he would negotiate directly with San Francisco’s mayor, the hippy-hating Joe Alioto. The Rolling Stones’ name, and their clumsy approach, poisoned any possibility of using Golden Gate Park.
Jagger seemed unconcerned that he didn’t have a location for the concert when he announced the free show at a press conference in New York barely a week before the proposed gig. But with Golden Gate Park out of the picture, proper police support, public transport and a functioning infrastructure had also vanished. As late as four days before the concert, when the band was still in Alabama recording songs for their next album Sticky Fingers, there was still no site, but planning for it went ahead.
Flashpoint: Hells Angel Alan Passaro stabs fan Meredith Hunter
The movie, directed by Albert and David Maysles, was the final piece of Jagger’s evolving plan for the Stones’ world domination, but it needed a cinematic finale. Without the free concert, there would be no movie.
The concert could have taken place at Sears Point in Sonoma, near San Francisco, where the large crowd could have been accommodated. There was on-site security and the stage was already in place.
But with two days to go, the site’s owners asked for a $100,000 fee and distribution rights to any film made at the concert. Jagger would not give up a nickel of the film’s profits.
Altamont Speedway was a desolate, remote location 50 miles east. A helicopter foray over the site revealed a godforsaken patch of scrubland, littered with wrecked cars, tyres, oil stains and broken glass. But the Stones were desperate and site owner Dick Carter didn’t want money – he was willing to do it for the publicity.
As a small team rushed to set up an inadequate, 4ft-high stage and a lighting system the day before the show, a toxic party began. Fans arriving ahead of the show tore down the neighbouring fences for firewood and sat around playing music, taking LSD, smoking joints and having sex.
Unknown to the complacent Stones, these were no longer the happy, innocent days of the Summer of Love. Some chemists had added the poison strychnine to their LSD recipe because it was said to extend the length of the trip. Some threw speed into the mix. Bad trips spread throughout the crowd at Altamont from the start, and many fell prey to acid-spiked drinks. The crucial detail of medical care had been put off until the last minute, leaving the site with eight doctors, four psychiatric doctors from UCSF hospital, and a Red Cross team who, mercifully, had turned up uninvited.
The Hells Angels, who were paid for their vague role as a disastrous informal security force with $500 of beer, left a bloody trail all day, riding their motorbikes through the crowd to the stage and beating men and women with pool cues.
These were not just the relatively civilised San Francisco Angels known to the Grateful Dead. As Altamont was on no one’s patch, the Angels came from an unstable mixture of chapters. Some of the bikers were frankly psychotic; many had something to prove.
A fat, naked Latino man was pummelled for dancing erratically and could later be seen covered in blood, his teeth missing. A naked woman dispensing hugs received similar treatment. The injured were littered backstage like wounded soldiers.
Angels crowded the stage, savagely knocking out singer Marty Balin of support band Jefferson Airplane while they played. One sat beside Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Stephen Stills as he performed and stabbed him in the leg with a sharpened bicycle spoke every time Stills stepped forward to sing. Streams of blood soaked his trousers.
Even for the Stones, the signs were there from the beginning that this was not the peaceful hippy gathering Jagger had naively hoped for. Moments after their arrival by helicopter, a young man stepped into Jagger’s path and punched him in the face, knocking him down. ‘F*** you, Mick Jagger,’ he screamed. ‘I hate you!’
The Grateful Dead, appalled by the violence, decided not to play. But the Stones couldn’t go on in their earlier spot because bassist Bill Wyman was shopping in San Francisco and hadn’t yet arrived. By the time Wyman turned up, and the Stones began to tune up backstage, the crowd – which had no access to food or water – were wild, stoned and rabid.
‘You better get the f*** out there before the place blows,’ an Angel told Jagger. ‘You’ve tuned up enough.’ Jagger told him they were ‘preparing’ and they would go on when they were ready.
‘I’m telling you,’ said the Angel. ‘People are going to die out there. Get out there. You’ve been told.’
Never had Mick Jagger been at such an utter loss for words
As they took to the stage, the Stones belatedly realised the situation had gone far beyond their control. Angels glowered at them from all around, and wouldn’t stop beating people in full view of the band.
Hunter, a black man with a white girlfriend, had attracted the attention of Angels all day. As the Stones went into Under My Thumb, Hunter was smashed in the face by a biker. He tried to scramble away into the audience, but four or five more Angels pounced on him.
He managed to get up and started to run away. Stumbling and out of breath, Hunter pulled a gun from his waistband.
In chilling scenes, The Maysles’ film, Gimme Shelter, captured the moment when 22-year-old Hells Angel Alan Passaro leapt through the air and plunged a hunting knife into Hunter’s neck. They tumbled to the ground together. Passaro kept stabbing the boy in the back. Several other Angels stamped on him. One stood on his head.
The attackers refused to let onlookers help the stricken Hunter. ‘Don’t touch him,’ one man was told. ‘He’s going to die anyway. Let him die. He’s going to die.’
Ignoring the Angels, two concert-goers carried Hunter to the stage, hoping to pass him to medical help backstage. They flopped his body down in front of guitarist Keith Richards, whose eyes widened in panic. Hunter was finally loaded on to a station wagon and taken to the Red Cross tent, where Dr Richard Fine took a quick look and realised he would need to be airlifted to a hospital. Hunter required immediate surgery but there were no facilities to care for him at the scene.
Dr Fine discovered that the helicopter pilot would not leave without authorisation, and nobody was willing to turn over the helicopter being saved for the Stones, even in the face of a life-or-death medical emergency. Without being airlifted to hospital, Hunter had no chance. He died waiting for the ambulance.
The terrified Stones completed their set and headed to leave. They walked past Hunter’s girlfriend Patti Bredehoft, who was in tears as a Red Cross worker tried to comfort her. They overloaded the last helicopter with 16 people, and flew back to San Francisco.
Richards strode away under the spinning blades, cursing the Hells Angels. ‘They’re sick, man,’ he said. ‘I’m never going to have anything to do with them again.’
‘I’d rather have cops,’ said Jagger.
Back at their hotel, the band sat around, stunned and traumatised, but not entirely down and out. Jagger had attracted the fancy of Michelle Phillips, from the pop group The Mamas and the Papas, and sent her ahead to his room. Meanwhile, he slipped his tongue into the mouth of a super-groupie known as Miss Pamela and suggested she join him and Michelle for a threesome, which she declined.
The next morning, Jagger and Stones assistant Jo Bergman left for an early flight to Geneva with the entire takings from the tour in cash stowed in a handbag made to look like a football. The money was deposited in a Swiss bank account, and then Jagger took a private jet to the South of France, where he was met by a girlfriend, Marsha Hunt.
After their breakfast in Richards’s suite, the rest of the party took limousines to the airport and left the country. They had their bag of money but they had rampaged across America leaving a stack of unpaid bills. Trucks, equipment and helicopters hadn’t been paid for, 15 cars were abandoned, hotel bills left unsettled. The Stones never checked out – they simply left.
Alta Mae Anderson, the mother of Hunter – one of four people who died that day at Altamont – filed a $500,000 lawsuit against the band, their associates, the Hells Angels, the Altamont Speedway and others. She eventually settled for $10,000. She never heard from the Stones.
l Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, And The Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day by Joel Selvin is published by HarperCollins, priced £18.99. Order your copy for £14.24 by August 28, 2016, at www.mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640.
But the most important one was the stabbing--the death of Meredith Hunter. The Stones started playing their third song, "Sympathy for the Devil" and Hunter pulled a gun out and aimed it at the stage. Obviously, the most directly to blame was Alan Passaro, the Hells Angel who stabbed Meredith Hunter.
It was during the Rolling Stones' set, however, that a 21-year-old Hells Angel named Alan Passaro stabbed a gun-wielding 18-year-old named Meredith Hunter to death just 20 feet in front of the stage where Mick Jagger was performing “Under My Thumb.” Unaware that someone had died, the Rolling Stones completed their set ...
The Grateful Dead had been scheduled to play between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and the Rolling Stones, but after hearing about the Balin incident from Santana drummer Michael Shrieve, they refused to play and left the venue, citing the quickly degenerating security situation.
(October 24, 1951 – December 6, 1969), was an American man who was killed at the 1969 Altamont Free Concert. During the performance by the Rolling Stones, Hunter approached the stage, and was violently driven off by members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club who had agreed to serve as security guards.
As one of the primary organizers, the Rolling Stones planned to make a come back after a long break and hired the Hells Angels as security for the festival. While there are many people to blame for the disasters that took place, the Angels having the authority to police the venue undeniably spearheaded the chaos.
On this day, there were approximately twenty or twenty-five Hells Angels present, with another few dozen prospects and hangers-on with them.