associated press

Flashback Friday: Altamont Concert 1969

Posted on Updated on

Grace Slick Image Three
Grace Slick
Photo Credit: Bill Owens

[Note: I originally posted this, yesterday, just before midnight. In researching the data, I stumbled across Bill Owens, a photographer that was at Altamont. He was hired by the Associated Press to cover the concert. I emailed him, reference the two photos of his I posted. I hit ‘publish’ before I found his contact page and statement about photos for sale. In my haste to get this up while it was still Friday, I jumped the gun and quickly made the post private. I asked Bill what the price would be to use two of his pictures. As a photographer myself, I understand copyright issues but, I also recognize the gray area that many a blogger operate in, in the blogosphere….Fair Use (link on that, below). Anyway, this very kind gentleman has allowed my one-time use for this 50th anniversary post. He also provided me with a copy of an interview, conducted by Tony D’Souza in April 2019, covering his Altamont experience and other questions regarding his career. I will post an excerpt and attach the full interview, below. ~Vic]

Fifty years, ago, today, a free rock concert was held at the Altamont Speedway in Tracy, California. Described as “rock and roll’s all-time worst day, […], a day when everything went perfectly wrong“, the event saw violence and four deaths, the most notable being the stabbing of Meredith Hunter.

The concert featured (in order of appearance): Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with the Rolling Stones taking the stage as the final act. The Grateful Dead were also scheduled to perform following CSNY but, declined to play shortly before their scheduled appearance due to the increasing violence at the venue.

Approximately 300,000 attended the concert, and some anticipated that it would be a “Woodstock [West Coast verson]”. Woodstock was held in Bethel, New York, in mid-August, less than four months earlier. Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles shot footage of the event and incorporated it into the 1970 documentary film titled Gimme Shelter.

[Source]

Naked Guy Image Two
The naked guy.
Photo Credit: Bill Owens

[It’s] not every day that a rock and roll band’s performance, let alone the Rolling Stones’, is accompanied by a knifing, stomping murder within a scream of the stage.

“The violence,” Keith Richard told the London Evening Standard, “just in front of the stage was incredible. Looking back, I don’t think it was a good idea to have [Hells] Angels there. But, we had them at the suggestion of the Grateful Dead. The trouble is, it’s a problem for us either way. If you don’t have them to work for you as stewards, they come, anyway and cause trouble. But, to be fair, out of the whole 300 Angels working as stewards, the vast majority did what they were supposed to do, which was to regulate the crowds as much as possible without causing any trouble. But, there were about ten or twenty who were completely out of their minds…trying to drive their motorcycles through the middle of the crowds.”

The Maysles Brothers, the film company which had shot the whole Stones’ tour, complete with its violent climax at Altamont, had gotten some remarkable footage of Hunter’s killing.

[Source]

Robert Hiatt, a medical resident at the Public Health Hospital in San Francisco, was the first doctor to reach 18-year-old Meredith Hunter after the fatal wounds. He was behind the stage and responded to Jagger’s call from the stage for a doctor. When Hiatt got to the scene, people were trying to get Hunter up on the stage, apparently in the hope that the Stones would stop playing and help could get through quicker.

The Stones & The Hells Angels Image
Stones on stage with Hells Angels.
Photo Credit: allthatsinteresting.com

Three others […] died (two in a hit-and-run accident, another by drowning) and, countless more were injured and wounded during the course of this daylong “free” concert. It was such a bad trip that it was almost perfect. All it lacked was mass rioting and the murder of one or more musicians.

All these things happened, and worse. Altamont was the product of diabolical egotism, hype, ineptitude, money manipulation and, at base, a fundamental lack of concern for humanity.

[Source]

Interview with Bill Owens:
bill@billowens.com
Bill Owens: Altamont 1969 (Amazon)
50 Years After Altamont: The End of the 60s (The New York Times April 15, 2019)

Bill Owens took iconic photos of the Hells Angels beating concertgoers with pool cue sticks at the Rolling Stones’ performance during the Altamont Speedway Free Festival four months after Woodstock on December 6, 1969. Altamont, which included violence almost all day and one stabbing death, is considered by historians as the end of the Summer of Love and the overall 1960’s youth ethos. This series of photos include panoramas of the massive, unruly crowd, Grace Slick and Carlos Santana on stage with the press of humanity so close in, they’re clearly performing under duress.

Of that day, Owens has written: “I got a call from a friend, she said the Associated Press wanted to hire me for a day to cover a rock and roll concert. I road my motorcycle to the event. I had two Nikons, three lenses, thirteen rolls of film, a sandwich, and a jar of water.”

Owens was so fearful of retribution by the Hells Angels that he published the photos under pseudonyms. Some of the negatives were later stolen…Owens believes by the Angels. He continues to have conflicted feelings about Altamont. He had no interest in violence and took no pride in photographing it.

In 1972, Owens released a book of black and white photography called Suburbia, also, now, an American icon. Irascible, stubborn, funny, grouchy, ornery and deeply rooted in small town life, Owens is built like a middleweight puncher and wears his hair as though he was a Marine. Indeed, Owens was never a hippie but, a clean-cut newspaper photographer, husband and father, who joined the Peace Corps to serve his country and “do good.” Turning 80 this September, Owens has also had noted careers as a craft beer brewer and pub owner, a magazine publisher many times over and, is now a distiller. His books include Suburbia, Working, Leisure and many others. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim and two NEAs. His work is collected in leading museums the world over, including the Smithsonian. Recent coverage of Owens includes an April retrospective in the New York Times (link above) of his Altamont photos for the event’s impending 50th anniversary. The photos are available for viewing at Owens’ website (link above and below).

I first met Owens at the defunct Rostel Gallery in remote and far northern Dunsmuir, CA, in late August or early September of 2008 (I remember because my daughter had just been born and the event was the first outing of her life), where they were showing images from Suburbia. These are images of people embarking on a new, modern way of life that they look excited by, but also confused, as though technology and the modish styles of the time were costumes they were still getting comfortable in. Owens’ photograph of a young suburban boy wearing cowboy boots, carrying a toy rifle and riding a Big Wheel, “Ritchie,” has always haunted me, though I couldn’t say precisely why.

Continue reading the interview HERE (PDF)

Set List
Death of Meredith Hunter
Reactions
Let It Bleed (Rolling Stone Magazine January 21, 1970)
Rock & Roll’s Worst Day (Rolling Stone Magazine February 7, 1970)
Altamont Rock Festival: ’60s Abruptly End (Livermore History March/April 2010)
Altamont Rock Festival of 1969: The Aftermath (Livermore History January/February 2011)
Biggest Rock Concert Ends (The Bulletin December 8, 1969)
Bill Owens Site (Associated Press Photographer at Altamont)
Ruling On Fair Use (American Photography May 3, 2019)


 

Tune Tuesday: The Beatles 1964

Posted on Updated on

The Beatles Image One
Photo Credit: moptoptours.com

Fifty-five years ago, today, the #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart was I Want to Hold Your Hand. Written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, it was recorded October 17, 1963, at EMI Studios in London.

From The Beatles Dot Com:

[…] it was the first Beatles record to be made using four-track equipment. It was also the group’s first American number one, entering the Billboard Hot 100 chart on 18 January 1964 at number forty-five and starting the British Invasion of the American music industry.

The Beatles Image Two
Photo Credit: beatlephotoblog.com

From The Beatles Bible:

“A telegram came through to Brian from Capitol Records of America. He came running in to the room saying, ‘Hey, look. You are number one in America!’ I Want To Hold Your Hand had gone to number one. Well, I can’t describe our response. We all tried to climb onto Big Mal’s back to go round the hotel suite: ‘Wey-hey!’ And that was it, we didn’t come down for a week.”

~Paul McCartney

“It was such a buzz to find that it had gone to number one. We went out to dinner that evening with Brian and George Martin. George took us to a place which was a vault, with huge barrels of wine around. It was a restaurant and its theme was… well, the bread rolls were shaped like penises, the soup was served out of chamber pots and the chocolate ice cream was like a big turd. And, the waiter came ’round and tied garters on all the girls’ legs. I’ve seen some pictures of us. There is a photograph around of Brian with the pot on his head. It was a great feeling because we were booked to go to America directly after the Paris trip, so it was handy to have a number one. We’d already been hired by Ed Sullivan so, if it had been a number two or number ten we’d have gone anyway but, it was nice to have a number one. We did have three records out in America before this one. The others were on two different labels. It was only after all the publicity and the Beatlemania in Europe that Capitol Records decided, ‘Oh, we will have them.’ They put out I Want To Hold Your Hand as our first single but, in fact, it was our fourth.

~George Harrison

The Beatles Image Three
Image/Photo Credit: beatles.ncf.ca (Ottawa Beatles Site)
Los Angeles Times Article 02-10-1964 (left)
Ed Sullivan Show Shots 02-09-1964 (right)

From the Ottawa Journal:

Will We All Become Beatle Nuts?
Here’s What the Reviewers Say…

“Anyone who is not a teenage girl obviously is unqualified to comment on the sight of The Beatles in action. Heaven knows we’ve heard them enough. It has been impossible to get a radio weather bulletin or time signal without running into “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” And now, having seen the four performers on Ed Sullivan’s show Sunday night, Beatlemania is even more of a mystery to an elderly viewer.”

~Cynthia Lowry (Associated Press)

“It is now clear why President de Gaulle has been giving England such a hard time about the Common Market. He undoubtedly saw The Beatles and decided nothing doing. As you certainly know, America saw the four-member rock’n’roll British group live on television last night. Pandemonium reigned. Vive La France.”

~Rick DuBrow (United Press International)

“”You can tell right away its The Beatles and not anyone else,” is the opinion of a 15-year-old specialist on the topic who saw them on the Ed Sullivan show. The age of 15 (or 16, or 14 or 13) is essential in Beatle experts. And, so, taking the above axiom as gospel, an attempt was made to find out just what is musically unique about the English group that is now visiting our shores.”

~Theodore Strongin (The New York Times)

“It seems The Beatles came, sang and conquered…all that is but, the TV reviewers. Most of the time, these reviewers have real troubles finding something to write about. Ask them… When Elvis Presley first appeared on the popular musical scene and made his TV début, did they praise him? No. In fact, most beat singers who come under the TV reviewer’s eagle eye rarely receive a word of praise. It seems obvious the reviewers came to bury the teenage favorites and not to praise them. Again, the teenage taste has been mocked. As long as this superior feeling is put across, the younger generation will continue to make their idols…and won’t give a darn who likes them.”

~Sandy Gardiner (Ottawa Journal)

Though this song didn’t win any awards, The Beatles did receive The Best New Artist award at the 7th Annual Grammy Awards.

Lyrics:
Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something,
I think you’ll understand,
Then I’ll say that something,
I wanna hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand.
Oh please say to me
You’ll let me be your man,
And please say to me,
You’ll let me hold your hand,
Now let me hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand.
And when I touch you
I feel happy inside,
It’s such a feeling
That my love I can’t hide,
I can’t hide, I can’t hide.
Yeah, you got that something,
I think you’ll understand,
When I feel that something,
I wanna hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand.
And when I touch you
I feel happy inside,
It’s such a feeling
That my love I can’t hide,
I can’t hide, I can’t hide.
Yeah, you got that something,
I think you’ll understand,
When I feel that something,
I wanna hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand.