Why Grace Slick didn’t want to be a “prude” in front of Mick Jagger

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Mick Jagger and Grace Slick have both garnered some stellar rock and roll reputations over 60 years of music. Jagger built his legacy as the world-conquering frontman of The Rolling Stones, picking up drugs, women, and danger throughout his six decades of rockstar debauchery. Slick, meanwhile, was the first designated ‘Acid Queen’ thanks to her zonked-out time as the lead singer of San Francisco psychedelic titans the Jefferson Airplane.

The British rock scene of the late 1960s rarely rubbed elbows with the emerging hippie scene in the Bay Area. George Harrison visited San Francisco during the Summer of Love in 1967, but left feeling disenchanted by the experience. The one time that the Brits and the Americans truly rubbed elbows turned out to be the most infamous concert of the 1960s: the Altamont Free Concert.

Headlined by The Rolling Stones and featuring San Francisco stalwarts like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana, Altamont was supposed to be a West Coast answer to Woodstock. Instead, poor planning and the overly violent presence of Hell’s Angels led to chaos, bodily injury, and the death of a young concert patron named Meridith Hunter.

Before the event turned into a violent quagmire, it first had to be organised. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2014, Slick recalled that she and fellow Airplane leader Paul Kantner were dispatched to England in order to talk to Jagger about the concert. Slick had never met Jagger before, and his reputation led her to assume the worst.

“Paul Kantner and I went to England to talk to Mick Jagger about Altamont,” Slick recalled. “I was scared because I’d never met Mick before. I thought, ‘Oh, God, there’s going to be some kind of orgy there, and I don’t do orgies, and they’re going to think I’m a big prude, and it’s going to be a party with heroin, and all this weird shit I don’t do.’”

Heroin had only just infiltrated the Stones’ world, but Slick had the wrong band member: it was Keith Richards who was starting to dabble in the dangerous drug. Sex was still fast and loose in the Stones’ orbit, but when Jagger greeted the pair at his flat in London, it wasn’t exactly the dungeon of sin that Slick initially thought it was going to be.

“I walked into Mick’s flat, and it looked like my parents’ home: Oriental rugs, Edwardian furniture, well kept,” Slick said. “I was perfectly at home — it really was like visiting my parents. He was in a three-piece suit and served us tea, and we talked about how to put this thing on. When he does business, he does business. He doesn’t screw around. He knows how to separate having orgies from doing business.”

It was agreed that the Stones would headline the concert, with planning being handed off to the band’s road manager, Sam Cutler. Jagger committed the first egregious sin of Altamont by announcing a free concert at the conclusion of the Stones’ 1969 American tour, causing the show to be in flux until only a few hours before. After the concert devolved into violence, Cutler jumped ship over to the Dead, and the Stones wouldn’t play America again until 1972.

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