“This is the first country I’ve visited that’s run out of money!” said Sam Cutler, as the audience broke into laughter, after he was introduced at the Tata Lit Live in Mumbai. As the author and former tour manager made wisecracks about the music business and the secret to the longevity of The Rolling Stones – “it’s monkey gland injections” – the audience hung on to every word, journeying with him as he reminisced about the highs and lows of a bygone era.
It may have been four decades since the 73-year-old toured with iconic bands like The Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead, but his personality says otherwise, dressed as he is in top-to-bottom black, dark glasses, boots and a skull-shaped ring. And yet, he says that the music business was actually a grand mistake, in a funny way. “I was very lucky and in the right place at the right time. What I really wanted was to be a writer,” he says, as we sit down for a chat after his session with musician Karsh Kale.
In fact, it was a two-and-a-half year trip to India in the 70s that helped Cutler clear his mind after he had worked with the Grateful Dead. “I was fed up of helping other people with their fantasies. I wanted to work on my own fantasies. I really wanted to be a writer, since I was a teenager. And the beauty of India was that since many people had trodden the spiritual path, it was rich in the alternate explanations of what one should be doing with their life.”
His 2010 memoir, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, titled after the famous the Rolling Stones track, details his life on the road, particularly the infamous 1969 Altamont incident – when a black student was stabbed to death at the band’s concert during their tour of America. “That concert was a series of mistakes. There were 3,00,000 people, the stage was not too high and people didn’t know what to expect or how to behave,” he recalls. While the Rolling Stones left for the UK soon after, Cutler stayed back to deal with the situation, ending his association with the band.
He later managed the Grateful Dead’s famous Europe tour in 1972. While he says that there’s no set model when it comes to a tour manager’s duties, there was plenty preside over, including putting your foot down when it came to unreasonable behaviour. An entire chapter in his book is on how challenging it was to get the Grateful Dead on a commercial plane. “The more famous you get the less desirable it is that you should misbehave in public. And to be crazy on tour is really counter-productive. If you want to fly, you’ve got to behave. It’s that simple,” he says.
It was also a time of great hedonism, he recalls, when drugs abound in concerts and alcohol became a way of life for artistes. Janis Joplin, whom he called “radically different from any woman I know” in his book, was a close friend, who succumbed to a drug overdose in 1970, at the age of 27. “I loved her, she was a certain kind of crazy. It was quite a revolutionary thing for a woman to behave like that and be accepted by her contemporaries. She broke the mould in many ways.” Jimi Hendrix also died of a prescription drug overdose the same year. “My generation, which was young in the 60s, was the first generation to really experience the problem of drugs. Lots of people didn’t survive. They didn’t realise that self-control is an important element of staying alive,” he says.
While concerts today might seem almost sedate in comparison to that decade, Cutler attributes the change to corporate involvement. “Record companies are in the business of making profits and they want artistes to behave a certain way, promote records in a certain way, do a certain number of gigs, interviews and stuff,” he says.
Today, Cutler leads an almost-hippie like existence with his wife Jackie in Australia. While touring with bands didn’t pay much in those days, Cutler says that he still doesn’t care about money. “If there was ever a question of being poor and happy or rich and unhappy, I’m quite happy to be the former.”
From HT Brunch, December 11, 2016
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