Sam Cutler, the no-nonsense former tour manager for the Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones who embodied rock n’ roll’s heyday as well as any musician, died on Tuesday at age 80. His death from cancer was confirmed in a post by his family.
“Our father was first diagnosed with cancer nearly a decade ago, and it is with gratitude that Sam’s family thank the wonderful doctors, nurses, hospital staff and administrators in ALL hospitals that our father received treatment within,” Sam’s sons Bodhi and Chesley Cutler wrote on Facebook. “Many people from across our big beautiful world crossed paths with Sam in his life, and many more formed timeless memories with him that are each beautiful encapsulations of the man that he was. Sam would want nothing more for his friends to continue to form timeless memories with whomever they meet, and to share those memories with him in the next life.”
Born on March 10th, 1943 in Hertfordshire, England, Cutler’s music career began in the 1960s working for Blackhill Enterprises as a stage manager throughout England. Coming up alongside Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, and other luminaries of the British rock scene, Cutler served as master of ceremonies at the Rolling Stones’ free concert at London’s Hyde Park on July 5th, 1969. Following the now-legendary show, the Stones brought Cutler on board as road manager for the band’s infamous 1969 U.S. tour.
Cutler’s tenure with the Rolling Stones came to an effective end following the Altamont Free Concert in California on December 6th, 1969, where 18-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death in front of the stage during the Stones’ set. While the Stones went back to the U.K., Cutler stuck around the U.S. to deal with the Altamont fall-out, during which time he befriended the Grateful Dead (who backed out of their Altamont set at the last second in a prescient decision).
“I have always been infamous for telling people exactly what I thought,” Cutler told Live For Live Music in 2017. “They might not always want to hear it, but at least they got it straight from me between the eyes. ‘This is what I think’ and ‘This is what you should do.’ They don’t like it but too f–king bad. At least they get good advice.”
Cutler became the Grateful Dead’s tour manager in 1970, shepherding the band through landmark appearances on the traveling Festival Express, the record-setting Summer Jam with the Dead, Allman Brothers Band, and The Band that hosted 700,000 people at Watkins Glen International, and the band’s landmark Europe ’72 tour. Cutler left the Grateful Dead organization in 1974 prior to the band’s one-year touring hiatus in 1975.
“At the end of working with the Grateful Dead, I was talking to myself like: ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ I certainly didn’t want to help other people realize their fantasies yet again,” Cutler said. “I’d had enough of all that.”
After the Grateful Dead, Cutler walked away from the music industry. Instead, he realized his own fantasies, traveling the world, practicing Buddhism, and moving to Australia where he lived on a bus for decades. He wrote two books, including the acclaimed You Can’t Always Get What You Want: My Life With the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and Other Wonderful Reprobates in 2011. In 2006, he collaborated with Australian electronic rock band Black Cab on “Valiant”, a seven-minute spoken word track of Cutler reflecting on his time with the Grateful Dead and giving advice to the next generation.
“For young people today, to go for what is real, to stick with what is real,” he says. “What is in your heart. To go for what you love. What you really care about it, regardless of what your parents say, your school says, anybody says. Look at your own heart, and your own spirit. Go with that.”
Black Cab – “Valiant” (ft. Sam Cutler)
In recent years, Cutler appeared in the 2017 Grateful Dead documentary Long Strange Trip and contributed to the Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast. He is survived by his sons Bodhi and Chelsea, who stated that—in accordance with their father’s wishes—”his ashes will be scattered in the foundations of a newly constructed Buddhist temple at the Chenrezig Institute, due to be completed in 2025.” Anyone with memories of Sam they’d like to share can send an email to email@example.com.
“No one is more important to me than anyone else,” Cutler said in 2017. “I am just as happy to meet you as I am to meet someone who is famous. I don’t give a f–k about fame. Fame is the illusionary b–hit trip that kills people. … Fame has to do with illusionary stuff. I am a Buddhist. I can’t pretend to be the world’s best Buddhist, but I’ve been one for many years so, of course, I just see fame as a little bit more of the nonsense. I don’t go for it.”