It’s safe to say that the Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones were living in two separate worlds during their shared heights at the end of the 1960s. It wasn’t just the physical distance between London and San Francisco that kept them separated – it was the lifestyles and attitudes towards music that seemed to be lightyears apart. But the truth was that the Dead and the Stones had more connections than it might have appeared.
Both had their roots in blues, while both bands decided that an electric rock and roll approach better suited their sound. Both had initial leaders that eventually lost their influence on the respective bands they founded and died at the age of 27: Brian Jones for the Stones and Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan for the Dead. On a direct level, the Dead and the Stones also had a prominent managerial connection – road manager Sam Cutler.
By the end of the 1960s, both the Dead and the Stones were major concert draws, but widespread rock touring was still in its infancy. For much of the 1960s, package tours ruled the scene, and sound systems were rarely equipped to play rock music. Larger performance venues were starting to open up to accommodate the major draw of live rock music, but the lawlessness that surrounded life on the road was still a major X-factor standing between bands and their ability to play music to the largest amount of people possible.
Enter Cutler, who had an uncanny ability to keep major tours organised and get his clients paid the proper amount, two skills that proved to be invaluable. Cutler had been working with Blackhill Enterprises, who helped put on shows for acts like Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd, when he was enlisted to help organise the Stones’ 1969 Hyde Park concert, their first since Jones’ death two days before. With that show being a success, Cutler was retained as the band’s road manager for their tour of America that year, which ultimately culminated in the infamous Altamont Free Concert.
Even though they helped organise the event, the Dead didn’t actually end up playing at Altamont due to the violence that surrounded the event, largely centred around the presence of Hell’s Angels. The motorcycle club had acted as a sort-of makeshift security team at concerts by the Dead and Jefferson Airplane without incident prior to Altamont, and Cutler was instrumental in bringing in the group to protect some of the equipment. The mood of the festival quickly turned sour, leading to the death of teenager Meredith Hunter during the Stones’ set.
Despite the disastrous results, the Dead grew fond of Cutler and appreciated his hard-nosed tactics, something that was decidedly lacking in the Dead family. Although they had grown into San Francisco’s biggest act, the Dead had yet to see any real money out of it and had major difficulties booking gigs outside of California. Cutler provided the wherewithal to play gigs not just across America but in Europe as well. As a result, Cutler signed on with the Dead and remained their tour manager up to their legendary Eurpoe ’72 tour, after which he departed due to the unwieldy group ethos that often stalled business dealings within the band.
Before he left, however, Cutler managed to get his voice on one of the Dead’s most iconic tracks, ‘Ripple’. The acoustic cut from American Beauty ends with a lively choir repeating the song’s wordless melody, and one of the members of the makeshift choir was Cutler. When paired with his single contribution to the Stones’ recorded out, playing the car horn on Let It Bleed‘s ‘Country Honk’, that makes Sam Cutler the one musician to official appear on both a Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones studio album.
Check out both of Culter’s contributions down below.