Sep 7, 2012

London 1972: Sam Cutler Speaks

(These are two pieces from a program book printed for the London Lyceum concerts.)

Danae Brook

I know the Dead from aeons ago where I danced to their music through the purple sage of flat desert spaces and sunlit California dreams. They sing with their heads and play with their souls as all high music should be, but so often isn't. They are a massive family, who live in individual units out of town from San Francisco at Sausalito, where you see the sea from the road and the woods run down to the beach and most of the time it's warm. There's music on the street corners and flutes in Golden Gate Park where the Dead played free, and acid in the air. Listen and you'll hear their music pour through the crystal of San Francisco's iridescent light, focusing energy in a reflecting prism of new thought, new experience, change. And I know them from an Englishman who went to California with the Stones and found himself living with the Dead.
Once the Stones' roadie, Sam Cutler, went to Garcia's ranch after Altamont to hear some good old fashioned California common sense and music. It happened the band was having trouble with a manager who rumour has it ripped them off to the tune of around 180,000 pounds. They needed management and they needed work. California's a nice place to get away with not working, there's so much to take your time you don't notice it slipping through your fingers. But the Dead were broke and Sam was there, so they hired him as a tour manager and hit the road.
Now they're in London, after six concerts in New York, heading for a fast trip through Europe: England, Denmark, Germany, France, Holland, a radio show in Luxembourg on May 16th and back to London on May 26th for three more gigs.
Cutler was here in February to organise. He says he set them off on 'The shiny rock and roll bit. A way they hadn't worked before. Making money and being a box office attraction. Getting known and selling records. They either had to do that or give it up. You can't exist in debt forever.'
Survival tactics. They put their noses to the grindstone of pop music and escaped with the bones intact and some flesh to spare. Cutler hussled them. They hussled their music. The output shot up dramatically. Garcia and Hunter began to write more approachable music, which, around the time of 'Working Man's Dead' was relevant to many people. Hunter writes the words, takes them along to Garcia's ranch, stoned heads hanging out together, and flash there's another album!
Bob Hunter is a poet. 'The way he works is you have a melody and you're sort of singing it at him, and he'll listen to the way you're singing it at him and he'll try to construct his words along those lines,' Garcia explains.
The Grateful Dead now is not the band of the '65 Kool Aid Acid Tests. In their early music you can feel the influence of Warlocks and acid; free concerts in the park; the flowery head revolution of Haight Ashbury. Their music has grown up, reflected and kept pace with, the generation of freaks who discovered the wonder of the universe through L.s.d., but could not build a tangible Utopia; who tried for a new form of politics and religion which avoided rigid conformity, yet bent to nothing; who now struggle to separate fantasy from reality and stay high despite the bills, move forward instead of back.
'I think of the Grateful Dead as kinda like a sign post,' Garcia says. 'What we're pointing to is that there's a lot of universe available...but we're also pointing to danger, to difficulty; we're pointing to bummers. We're pointing to whatever there is, when we're on...when it's really happening.'
Their philosophy is that you get high with people and they're your brothers always. The brotherhood circles around the globe and immediate family is upwards of 30 people. Most members of the band have old ladies 'Because life's more comfortable that way.' And a few of them have kids, including Garcia, who has two. Although it is said they are open to meetings with 'all kinds of attractive psychedelic sexy people,' the Dead is not a band that draws the attacking groupie. They don't preen and dress to pull, they dress to walk the streets - funky blue jeans and cowboy boots. They like staying home, getting high, making music and playing baseball.
Last summer I watched them locked in combat with the Jefferson Airplane on a blazing hot baseball pitch in the small town of Fairfax, outside San Francisco. People drank wine in the grass and children ran barefoot. Papa John Creach, the old old man who plays violin with the Airplane and Hot Tuna, stood watch as umpire. The Dead vanquished the Airplane, but there was no rancour - and Bob Weir swipes a good ball for sure!
'We think of ourselves as musicians who have lots of possibilities,' says Garcia. It seems the possibilities are endless and the form is bound to change. Now they function within the music business. Tomorrow it may be without.
They have something called integrity to bring the music industry. They have a Clearsighted, correctly prioritised system of values. They do nothing to evoke the hysterical in people. They're not interested in having audiences think them the sexiest people on earth. They couldn't give a shit about that. They're most interested in having people get off listening to them. Their strength is that each person has been to a weird place that no-one else has been. If you look at the Dead as a boat with a steering wheel, you can find different people at the wheel at different times. In the Antarctic the ice specialist grabs the wheel, in the tropics the tropical specialist takes over.
'We're not, now, an anarchic community. We're a survival unit. We're into survival...emotional, financial, physical and psychic survival. Perhaps the basis of the Dead's popularity is that their struggle is the struggle of ordinary people to find pleasure in their everyday life on this planet.'
Of course that's one of the family talking, but pursuit of pleasure has long been condemned as a sin by puritans. Along with technology, ecology, sexuality and expanding consciousness, that view is changing. Music is a means both of expressing and feeling the changes. The Dead keep it moving in circles and cycles. They make music for men, and music to get people high.

* * * * *

Myles Palmer talks to Sam Cutler, the Dead's tour manager

It's his flat Jaggeresque London accent you hear at the end of that collage of intros on Get Your Ya Ya's: 'The greatest rock & roll band in the world, the Rolling Stones.' And it's his name you see behind the credit on Workingman's Dead: 'Executive Nanny: Sam Cutler.'
Cutler road manages the Grateful Dead now, since he met them around the time of the nightmare free concert which was captured so vividly in the movie Gimme Shelter. 'They didn't play, which was sad, because they were the only band who could probably have done anything about the whole trip. There were a variety of reasons. The [Dead] didn't play cos Bill Wyman and his old lady went shopping and missed the helicopter. So he was waiting at the heliport and instead of putting the Grateful Dead on the helicopter they put Bill Wyman on. Then there was a whole scene of hassling around and eventually the Grateful Dead were all there. By which time John James and Ronnie Schneider (the managers of the Stones) were saying Oh, no, no, no, the Rolling Stones will go on next.'
A two month European tour is colossally expensive, as many groups have found out. The strands of monetary myth and reality are often hard to make out. But there's reason to believe even the rock giants don't make much money doing gigs.
Cutler agrees that money is the first problem with Europe. 'The whole scale of things over here in the music business is proportionately smaller so you can't earn any real money here. The way I got the Grateful Dead to come here was a mixture of things. No. 1 was, the consciousness wasn't really here for them to come in the first place, but in the last year it's developed, and John Morris has begun a series of informal contacts with a whole bunch of European promoters in each country. Consequently there's now a framework ready to receive the Grateful Dead.
'I came over, I met all of those people, and we've worked out a tour. The problem is simple. If you're gonna be here for two months, and you're gonna bring 30 people, apart from your air fares, you need a minimum of $1000 a day to survive. That's to pay for hotels, rent a truck, rent a bus, move around and give everyone spending money. $60,000. You have to do a lot of concerts to earn $60,000. You have to work hard, so that's what we're doing. We're going to have a luxury bus which is costing a luxury fuckin' fortune, but it's worth it. We ain't flying, we're gonna bring all our kids and all our old ladies, and we'll move around and it'll be really beautiful.'
We were talking by candlelight. Suddenly the lights came back on. Sam laughed. 'That's how I felt when I met the Grateful Dead. When I met Garcia after Altamont, I was really lucky.
'John MacIntire was their road manager then. The band had no bread, and he and Rock Scully were the only guys around to even help out.
'I went along and helped, and so did David Parker, an old friend of Jerry's, and his old lady Bonnie. They were into accountancy, in a straight office riff and really unhappy behind it. They were really useful cos they were practical. I was like some working road manager kind of a guy who had been through all that rock and roll bullshit. Ain't no-one can tell me what to watch out for, cos I can see it coming all the time. I have paranoid visions of it being round the corner all the time, thanks to the Rolling Stones.
'So I was there and John was there. John is a fantastic kind of a front man. He's got a beautiful rap, a very bright cat, and he's also at times very good at being crystal clear about what the Grateful Dead need, and are, and should be doing.'
In the late sixties, of course, San Francisco was the rock capital of the world, and among its key figures was Rock Scully. 'Rock is two thirds of the San Francisco scene on his own,' says Cutler. 'He's a very beautiful guy who knows a lot about the record business. So anyway we just put our collective strengths together.
'By God they were in debt something wicked. But now it's a very successful, happening, groovy, mellow outfit. Our only worry at the moment is a little bit too much success. Which is not doing anything to our egos. If you're in the Grateful Dead you're only there cos there ain't no fuckin' other place for you to be. That sounds weird but I think it's really true. If I didn't work for the Grateful Dead I can assure you man I wouldn't work for any other band. Without the Grateful Dead, fuck the music business, it sucks the hairy root. With the Grateful Dead I personally feel an individual possibility of some kind of weird karma salvation. Cos I know that with them, I'll always struggle to pull out more than I take. I'll inject into whatever's happening more energy than I take out.'
Cutler says death is never the end of something, it's the beginning. 'At that moment everything was so cathartic in the music scene generally, I think it was the start of a newer consciousness. Altamont was the thing which told everyone exactly what Woodstock was.
'But all of us, we smiled at the whole of the Woodstock bullshit-type thing. Woodstock I, Woodstock II, all these 3rd rate albums coming out, man? A big movie, people making a fortune. The Grateful Dead weren't in the movie cos they played shitty. They were stoned out of their heads. At the time they played it was fuckin' raining and they were all getting electric shocks and having a terrible time. They had a great time when they weren't playing cos they went around and got pretty high I think.
'So they started with 'Workingman's Dead' immediately after Altamont.' Sam talked a bit about New Speedway Boogie. 'I think 'One Way Or Another This Darkness Has Gotta Give' is about Altamont. There are certain lines in it which make me feel very weird cos I wonder if they relate to me. But that was all 2 1/2 years ago.' I asked him if there was a conscious effort by the Dead to get into a more writing-singing trip and less of an acid-instrumental thing. 'Well I guess they said a lot and they started to say more because it happens that these last two years have been years to say things.
'I hesitate to talk about the Grateful Dead. I mean I talk about them a lot but my view is just my view, it ain't necessarily the true one. We've all got a different view of the trip, right? I think somewhere along the line Bob Hunter and Jerry Garcia really flash on: what is a great song? There have been some dynamite songs man. They're into that.
'The Grateful Dead doesn't give a monkey's cuss about havin' a hit single, but nonetheless deep down each one of 'em likes to flash on: what is that kinda song? I've seen some heavy songwriters, but I think that Hunter & Garcia are as heavy as any songwriter anywhere, ever. I don't care if it's the Beatles, Cole Porter, Gershwin.
'I like to view them as a body of music, seven, eight albums now comprise a very human testament to what they're trying to do. They don't wanna lead no fuckin' revolutions, cos they haven't got the wits or the brains. They're not into that scene.
'They just wanna make fine music and have a groovy life and they're fuckin' doing it.'
He says his job is being a fixer, looking after all the hassles which normally beset travelling families. 'I always say I'm the hardest-worked, most-underpaid happiest manager in the whole music business. Just because I believe in what I'm doing man. I believe in Garcia's music and in the Grateful Dead's music and I just believe in what we're saying, which is good music and good vibes, havin' fun, having' a good time. Who needs all the shit?'


  1. Well this seems to be the only account I've read that said the Dead beat the Airplane in their famous baseball /softball game(s). This is where obviously when Jerry asked Grisman to play violin on 'Ripple'. And Weir could play that good? Hope more footage gets out on the new GD movie..! I wonder if anyone has seen that (Long strange trip), ? Some trailer footage has been put on YouTube, absolutely can't wait till its widely available

  2. Here's the missing words from the "Psychedelic Signpost" piece and a minor correction.

    correctly prioritised system of VALUES.

    We're into SURVIVAL... (NOT We're into MUSICAL...)

    They make music for MEN,