The Rolling Stones Disaster At Altamont: Let It Bleed

With four dead and a mess at Altamont, Rolling Stone tries to get to the bottom of what really happened at the festival.

January 21, 1970
Rolling Stones Altamont Keith Richards Mick Jagger Hells Angels
Rolling Stones at Altamont
Photo by Michael Maggia

I didn't know his name or anything, but he was standing along side of me. You know, we were both watching Mick Jagger, and a Hell's Angel, the fat one. I don't know his name or anything, he reached over — he didn't like us being so close or something, you know, we were seeing Mick Jagger too well, or something. He was just being uptight. He reached over and grabbed the guy beside me by the ear and hair, and yanked on it, thinking it was funny, you know, kind of laughing. And so, this guy shook loose; he yanked away from him.

Now this guy that you're talking about, is this the black guy that got killed?
Yeah, right. He shook loose, and the Hell's Angel hit him in the mouth and he fell back into the crowd and he jumped off stage and jumped at him. And he tried to scramble, you know, through the crowd, to run from the Hell's Angel, and four other Hell's Angels jumped on him. They started mugging him and.

This is when they claim he had the gun?
No, no, he didn't pull out the gun yet. See, and they started, they were mugging him, and then he started running . . . and he was running straight into the crowd, you know, pushing people away, you know, to run from the Hell's Angels.

What was this guy's condition? Had he been smoking, had he been drinking, or do you know?
He was really straight, he was really . . . Feeling really weird about being pushed around and stuff, but he was really pretty straight.

When the cat started grabbing him, what did he say? What did this black guy say?
He just gave him a weird look, kind of a mean look, and yanked away. He didn't give him any verbal provocation or anything. So they're chasing through the crowd. And they hitting him and one Hell's Angel pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the back.

What kind of knife?
I couldn't tell. I just saw the flash of the blade. Everything was happening too fast. And he hit him in the back and he pulled out a gun and held it up in the air you know . . . like that was kind of his last resort, you know . . . and . . .

Could you tell what kind of a gun?
It was a long . . . long barrel, really long. Looked like a six shooter or something . . . I've never seen . . . it was really . . . like the barrel was about six inches or so . . .

Like a service revolver or something?
Yeah . . . it was really a fancy gun . . . really shiny . . . He had it in the air, and he was still running, and people were telling him — I remember this chick screaming "Don't shoot anyone." And he was too scared to shoot because he could have shot anyone in the crowd or anything. So he didn't shoot. And one of the Hell's Angels grabbed the gun from him . . . and then stabbed him again in the back.

They grabbed the gun from him, and then stabbed him again in the back?
Yeah, yeah.

What did the cat who stabbed him look like?
I think there was two people that stabbed him. One had his hair straight. It was straight and thick, and it was straight back, combed straight back. The front of his . . . you know . . . he combed it back so much that the front of his head was kind of bald . . . getting thin. I know what he looks like but, I can't describe him.

But you'd know him if you saw him, right?
Yeah, yeah. I've seen him before.

Would you be willing to testify?
No. I don't want to get killed.

They hit him . . . I couldn't tell whether it was a knife or not . . . but on the side of the head. And then he kind of stumbled and he fell down on his knees. He came running toward me. I grabbed onto the scaffold, held onto the scaffold, you know, and then he came running kind of toward me and then he fell down on his knees, and then the Hell's Angel, the same one I was talking about, grabbed onto both of his shoulders and started kicking him in the face about five times or so and then he fell down on his face, you know. He let go and he fell down on his face. And then one of them kicked him on the side and he rolled over, and he muttered some words. He said "I wasn't going to shoot you." That was the last words he muttered.

How close were you to all of this?
About three feet away.

You kept right up with them. You could have gotten hurt.
I just stayed as close . . . like, I wanted to jump into it but I couldn't so I stayed close so that as soon as they were done mugging him I could help him.

That's a real question there: why 300,000 – well 299,900 – people would allow themselves to be dominated by a hundred Angels?
Yeah, well I couldn't see it either. If some other people had jumped in I would have jumped in. But nobody jumped in and after he said "I wasn't going to shoot you," one of the Hell's Angels said, "Why did you have a gun?" He didn't give him time to say anything. He grabbed one of those garbage cans, you know, one of those cardboard garbage cans with the metal rimming, and he smashed him over the head with it, and then he kicked the garbage can out of the way and started kicking his head in. Five of them started kicking his head in. Kicked him all over the place. And then the guy that started the whole thing, the fat guy, stood on his head for a minute or so and then walked off. And then the ones I was talking about, described to you, he wouldn't let us touch him for about two or three minutes. Like, "Don't touch him, he's going to die anyway, let him die, he's going to die."

So what did everybody do? Did anybody say anything?
Chicks were just screaming. It was all confusion. I jumped down anyway to grab him and some other dude jumped down and grabbed him, and then the Hell's Angel just stood over him for a little bit and then walked away. We turned him over and ripped off his shirt.

You turned him over so he was face up?
No, so he was face down.

So you could see his back?
We rubbed his back up and down to get the blood off so we could see, and there was a big hole on his spine and a big hole on the side and there was a big hole in his temple. A big open slice. You could see all the way in. You could see inside. You could see at least an inch down and stuff, you know. And then there was a big hole right where there's no ribs on his back...and then the side of his head was just sliced open . . . you couldn't see so far in . . . it was bleeding quite heavy . . . but his back wasn't bleeding too heavy after that . . . there . . . all of us were drenched in blood.

Did you stick with him after that?
Yeah. I picked up his legs and someone else . . . this guy said he was a doctor or something . . . I don't know who he was . . . he picked up his arms and he said, "Got to get him some help because he's going to die. We've got 15 or 20 minutes, if we can get him some help . . ." And so we tried to carry him on the stage. Tell Mick Jagger to stop playing so we could get him on the stage and get some attention for him.

Who told Jagger that?
No one told Jagger that, but someone was trying to tell him to stop and he kept leaning over and looking out at the crowd like he was paying attention and trying to figure out what was happening.

This is while he's singing?
Yeah. He kept leaning over with his ear trying to hear what somebody was telling him, but he couldn't hear. So they kept on playing and the Hell's Angels wouldn't let us through . . . get on the stage . . . They kept blocking us saying go around . . . go through some other way. They wouldn't let us through. They knew he was going to die in a matter of minutes. They wanted him to die probably so he wouldn't talk or something, you know. And so we carried . . . we turned around and went the other way. It took about 15 minutes to get him behind the stage. We went around that whole thing and got behind where there was a Red Cross truck . . . something like that. And someone brought out a metal stretcher and laid him on that. Well first we laid him on the ground. And then we felt his pulse and it was just barely doing it . . .

Real slow or real fast or what?
Real slow and real weak. His whole mouth and stuff is bashed up into his nose and stuff and he couldn't breathe out of his nose. He was trying to breathe out of his mouth. There really wasn't anything you could do. We carried him over to some station wagon and then whoever owned the car hopped in and some other people hopped in and I stayed there. I went over and they had this thing of coffee and I had it . . . poured it all over to wipe off all the blood.

Hot coffee?
Yeah, because there was nothing else. Then I walked away feeling, wanting to do something, wanting to tell somebody what happened so they could get the Hell's Angels. It scared me so much I couldn't do anything . . . it really put me on such a big bummer . . . really, for days. For the last couple of days I've been really brought down about it.

Do you intend to go to any more of these mass concerts?
If there's no Hell's Angels there. No violence. I don't know, I enjoyed it until that happened. I did get bummed out . . . I got a little depressed about . . . the way I was feeling from being pushed around and stuff by the crowd. But the Hell's Angels were responsible. They're really the whole thing.

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