Gimme Shelter: From Let It Bleed

All the opening bands had finished playing, and it was time for the Stones to come out. The sun was still out and there was plenty of daylight left. The crowd had waited all day to see the Stones perform, and they were sitting in their trailers acting like prima donnas. The crowd was getting angry; there was a lot of drinking and drugging going on. It was starting to get dark. After sundown the Stones still wouldn’t come out to play. Mick and the band’s egos seemed to want the crowd agitated and frenzied. They wanted them to beg, I guess. Then their instruments were set up. It took close to another hour before the band finally agreed to come out. A cold wind was blowing through the valley.

Nobody from the Stones organization told me anything. So we just sat and drank beer, watching the crowd get more and more fucked up. When it was totally dark, the Rolling Stones ordered me and the Hell’s Angels to escort the band out to the stage. I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t like the fact that they wouldn’t come out earlier. I could no longer picture the Hell’s Angels playing the part of bodyguards for a bunch of sissy, marble-mouthed prima donnas. When they finally got out, I didn’t like the way they acted onstage either. They had accomplished what they’d set out to do. The crowd was plenty pissed off and the craziness began.

The Stones’ ego trips had turned into our problem. The people who were the most fucked up on drugs were the ones who got to Altamont first—the so-called Friday-nighters—the ones who camped a day earlier to get a good seat. They’d been exposed to the open air and hot sun for hours on end. They’d staked their territory up front. When we came in on our bikes, they wouldn’t give up their space. But . . . they moved. We made sure of that. We pushed them back about forty feet. When the Stones came out onstage, people moved back in toward the roped-in area where our bikes were parked, trying to jump up on the stage. In response, we began pushing them off the stage. Plus, they were messing with our bikes.

One Frisco Hell’s Angel named Julio had parked his bike near mine. The battery on Julio’s motorcycle was near the oil tank, with the springs of his seat right above the tank on each side of the battery posts. Some fan was kneeling on the seat, his weight causing contact between the springs and the battery, shorting out Julio’s bike. I saw smoke coming out around the battery and yelled at the guy from the stage to get off Julio’s bike. He wasn’t paying any attention at all, so I jumped off the stage and pushed him off the bike. A number of Hell’s Angels jumped down with me and pushed their way through the crowed. They didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but they were getting everybody out of the way to give me room so I could snuff out the burning motorcycle. That single incident ignited even more tension between the Hell’s Angels and the crowd. While we secured the stage, some of the people who had been hit and pushed got mad and started throwing bottles at us and really started messing with our bikes. Big mistake. That’s when we entered the crowd and grabbed some of the assholes vandalizing our bikes and beat the fuck out of them.

Now that the situation had totally spun out of control, the Stones were talking a lot of “brothers and sisters” type of hippie shit. Everybody who tried to rush the stage was thrown off. A big fat girl was trying to get up on the stage. She was topless and probably very fucked up on drugs. Some of the Angels tried to stop her, and it looked to me like they were trying to get her off the stage without hurting her. Keith Richards of the Stones leaned over to me and said, “Man, I’m sure it doesn’t take three or four great big Hell’s Angels to get that bird off the stage.” I just walked over to the edge of the stage and kicked her in the head.

“How’s that?”

I didn’t see the stabbing of Meredith Hunter but I remember him. Hunter had a loud green suit on and really stuck out from the crowd. When he rushed the stage and pulled out a huge black gun, the rest of what went down happened pretty fast. Jagger was singing “Under My Thumb” when the Hell’s Angels bravely moved quickly toward the gunman. Once we jumped off the stage, that’s when I heard the gun go off. All I know is that Hunter was up on the stage, got knocked off; a gun was flashed and fired. Then he was stabbed. He was close to the stage when we stopped him. By the time I got to Hunter he had already been stabbed. We picked him up and passed him over to the medics.

Meredith had shot a Hell’s Angel. Since the guy he shot was a fugitive at the time, we couldn’t take him to a doctor or an emergency ward. It was just a flesh wound anyway.

Excerpted from Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and The Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club by Ralph “Sonny” Barger with Keith and Kent Zimmerman, ©2000 by Sonny Barger Productions. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., William Morrow.

You have no items in your shopping cart