It’s Just A Shot Away (Dog N Cat DAC-099)
Altamont Speedway, Livermore, CA – December 6th, 1969
Disc 1 (77:29): Opening announcement by Sam Cutler. Santana: Savor / Jingo. Jefferson Airplane: The Other Side Of This Life, 3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds, Greasy Heart, White Rabbit, Come Back Baby, Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil. The Flying Burrito Brothers: Six Days On The Road, High Fashion Queen, Cody Cody, Lazy Days. Crosby Stills Nash & Young: Black Queen, Pre-Road Downs, Long Time Gone, Down By The River. The Rolling Stones: Sam Cutler Introduction, Jumping Jack Flash, Carol
Disc 2 (77:58): Sympathy For The Devil 1, Sympathy For The Devil 2, The Sun Is Shining, Stray Cat Blues, Love In Vain, Under My Thumb 1, Under My Thumb 2, Brown Sugar, Midnight Rambler, Live With Me, Gimme Shelter, Little Queenie, Satisfaction, Honky Tonk Women, Street Fighting Man
Altamont is one of the cultural signifier of the boomer generation that is oftentimes blown all out of proportion. “Altamont became, whether fairly or not, a symbol for the death of the Woodstock Nation.” Rock music critic Robert Christgau wrote in 1972 that “Writers focus on Altamont not because it brought on the end of an era but because it provided such a complex metaphor for the way an era ended”.
This festival has been called the “end of the hippie era,” “the end of the innocence embodied by Woodstock,” “the de facto end of the 1960’s,” and “death of the Woodstock nation.” With poor planning, last minute schedule changes, and the hiring of the Hells Angels as security all blunders, this event is infamous for the murder of Meredith Hunter during “Under My Thumb.” Although his death is tragic, it begs the question of what was he doing pointing a gun towards the stage in the first place?
Parts of the show are included in the film Gimme Shelter and, in the absence of an official soundtrack, many releases copy that including Gimme Shelter (Save The Earth STE 004) and Gimme Shelter – Millennium Edition (The Millennium Edition).
In addition to the movie, several sources are also in circulation. A French broadcast surfaced and was released several years ago on Altamont (Dog N Cat DAC-019). It has good sound but is woefully incomplete. A very short fragment from a soundboard recording, with only one and a half songs, also is in circulation and was also pressed a bonus tracks on It’s Just A Kiss Away (Dog N Cat DAC-101).
The most common, often released tape is a complete audience recording in very good quality and has been used for several vinyl releases including thirteen tracks on the vinyl Altamont (recorded in Altamont “Nightmare” Speedway) on one LP and fifteen tracks on Altamont ’69 (Alt Records) on two LPs and Altamont (M3A/B).
On compact disc it can be found on Hell’s Angels And Murder At Altamont aka Altamont Speedway (Shaved Disc TSD 003) which is poor quality and incomplete, There’s No Angel Born In Hell (TSP-CD-028) has “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Under My Thumb,” and “Gimme Shelter,” The End Of Innocence – Live At Altamont (Phoenix Records) incomplete with “Stray Cat Blues,” “Love In Vain,” and “Satisfaction” missing.
Other CD releases include Altamont Speedway (Shaved Disc TSD 003) which is incomplete and in poor quality, Altaming The Rolling Stones In Concert (Idol Mind Alta 69-1/2) has the complete audience recording as does Gimme Shelter (Golden Hit Records GHR 001-2), Altamont 1969 Full Show (Why Are We Fighting And What For?) (Hanging Dog 044) and “Altamont 1969″ The Killer Festival (Vinyl Gang VGP 113). The two most recent releases of this recording can be found on Altamont Speedway Free Festival (TARKL TCD-001 1/2) and Gimme Shelter (Godfather GR378/379).
Another audience tape surfaced containing the Stones’ set and much of the other acts as well. It also is very clear and very close to the stage. And much like the other audience tape it is very top heavy, but there is more definition in the bass. It was issued on Altamont Free Concert 1969(Idol Mind IMP-N-030-1, 2, 3). Idol Mind edited the one-and-a-half song soundboard tape into the show and include also the French broadcast as bonus tracks.
It’s Just A Shot Away contains only the second tape source, cuts, warts and all. There are many cuts, drop outs and audience comments, but it is still a wonderfully enjoyable document of the event.
The tape opens up with Sam Cutler making a pre-festival announcement, thanking everyone who helped get the show together and happy since they are actually beginning early. He promises “this could be the greatest party of 1969” before introducing Santana. Only “Savor” and “Jingo” survived on the tape. An announcer can be heard referring to a man who takes off all clothes during the song. The photographer Bill Owens recalled that “A fat Mexican guy took off all his clothes and tried unsuccessfully to climb up on the stage. Two Hells Angels with pool cues jumped off the stage and beat him to the ground.”
The Jefferson Airplane’s set cuts in rather abruptly. They are interrupted in the very first song “The Other Side Of This Life.” Paul Kanter complains about the Hells Angels busting Marty Balin in his head and Grace Slick asks the Angels to stop “fucking up.”
It seems the rest of the set goes on without problems (none are heard on the tape). “Come Back Baby” cuts out after ninety seconds, but a complete ten minute epic rendition of “Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” is captured and is the best performance of the afternoon so far.
The Flying Burrito Brothers’ set lasts for four songs and is the happiest, tightest and most enjoyable songs of the afternoon so far. Three of the songs, “High Fashion Queen,” “Cody Cody” and “Lazy Days” come from the as-yet-released second LP Burrito Deluxe. “Six Days On The Road” is a cover of the Dave Dudley hit.
Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s short set is a highlight. They are the only band besides the Stones who try to build up a rapport with the crowd (at least what is audible on the tape). “Long Time Gone” is the best of the set. It’s a song that is often plagued in live performance with sloppy harmonies, but sounds very tight at Altamont. Neil Young’s “Down By The River” cuts out after just over two minutes eliminating the rest of the song and the rest of the set (if there was more).
Sam Cutler finally comes back out, tells everyone to calm down and introduces the Stones. The set list is similar to the rest of the 1969 US tour except that the two song acoustic set, “Prodigal Son” and “You Gotta Move,” were dropped for both this show and the previous date at the Miami Pop Festival in Miami on November 30th.
“Jumping Jack Flash” gets off to a slow start with the band sounding rusty after a week’s break. “There’s so many of you. Just be cool in front and don’t push around. Just keep still (laughs)” Jagger says before the band play “Carol.”
One minute after starting “Sympathy For The Devil” there is a commotion in the crowd and the band stopped playing.
People by the recorder are audible saying, “be cool, be cool” and others say they are hurt and try to leave the area in front of the stage. During the interim Jagger says, “Hey people, brothers and sisters, c’mon now. That means everybody just cool out. Just cool out everybody. Everybody be cool now. How are we doing over there? Can we still make it out in front?…I hope you’re alright. Let give ourselves half a minute…is there anybody hurt? Something always funny happens when we start that number.” There is a cut in the tape where Jagger is saying, “who is fighting and what for? Who’s fighting and what for?”
“Who do you think?” someone shouts. “Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting? We don’t want to fight. Every other scene has been cool, we gotta stop right now or else there is no point. Jagger can be heard off mike threatening to stop playing if a particular guy doesn’t stop fighting. “I just want him to stop pushing people around.”
One of the Hell’s Angels comes on and threatens, “Hey if you don’t cool it you ain’t gonna more music, Do you want to all go home or what?” “You’re the one who started it” some girl shouts.
“The doctor is coming through in a green jumper and he’s just here. Can you let the doctor get through please and let him get to the person who is hurt. We also lost in the front here a little girl who is five years old.” “Blame the angels” a guy by the taper shouts.
After “Sympathy” the band get into a mellow cover of Jimmy Reed’s “The Sun Is Shining,” maybe to help calm things down. Although the Stones used to play this song in 1962 and 1963, this is the only extant recording of them playing the song.
After “Love In Vain” Mick says, “I think there is one good idea that came out of that number is that the only way you’re gonna keep yourself cool is to sit down.” Things break down again forty seconds into “Under My Thumb.” There is a small cut in the tape where Jagger tells everybody to get to the side of the stage except for the Stones.
“Every time we get to a number something happens. I don’t know what’s going on and who is doing what. All I can ask you, San Francisco, this could be the most beautiful night we’ve had this winter..so let’s get it together” and he begs everybody to keep cool. “Sam we need an ambulance. We need a doctor by that scaffold there…I don’t know what the fuck we’re doing….let’s get into a groove.”
Afterwards they premier the newly written “Brown Sugar,” “We’re gonna do one for you that we just a…you’ve never heard it before because we’ve just written it. I don’t know how good this is gonna be. This is the first time we’ve played it. The very first time we’ve played it.”
Before “Honky Tonk Women” Jagger makes an understatement saying they had a “few hang-ups.” An epic “Street Fighting Man” closes the festival and the Stones’ tour of the US in 1969. It’s Just A Shot Awayis an excellent release by Dog N Cat. Even though it is the third release with Altamont material on it, it’s the best and most complete one worth having.
Altamont, it even has a certain menace in the name. I have both this and the GF release and both are broadly similar for the RS concert in terms of sound quality, but this has the edge featuring oher artists too. ”Gimme Shelter’ remains my favourite rockumentary and I’ve probably watched it more than any other music DVD I own. Utterly compelling.
I have the TARKL release, which is simialr to this release, and have to say the recording quality of this show has been underrated in the past by other reviewers and have to agree with GS it is an incredible listen of the events of that fateful day. If you have it I highly suggest watching the excellent Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter” before listening to this show as it gives you some amazing visuals to think about as you listen. Really adds substance to the whole event..great expereince with headphones if you have the time to sit back and just listen with the theater of the mind….