“The Jets selected Williams with the sixth overall pick on Tuesday, adding another dynamic piece to a stacked defensive line. Williams, a stud interior lineman with athleticism and uncommon power, is believed by many draft analysts to be the best player in his class. NFL Media’s Charles Davis compared Williams’ game to former Los Angles Rams defensive tackle and Pro Football Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen.” From Dan Hanzus.
In a story told by Pedro Martinez about Manny Ramirez, that appeared in Big League Stew, by Mike Oz, Padro had this to say:
“Manny confounded everyone on the club. That was a big part of his appeal. Everything seemed out of place unless Manny was in la-la land, keeping us guessing what he would do next. How would he wear his hair? Why did he spray me with half a bottle of his cologne? Why did he ask me, “Hey, did you know there are men on their way to the moon right now?”
Once, he came up to my locker and put on my socks and my underwear and then went over to David Ortiz’s locker and put on his undershirt. “Why are you doing that, Manny?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Do you?”
“No, I really don’t.”
“Did you know I’ve got three little midgets working on me all the time in my head? Today they needed different clothes to wear.”
|Created by||Larry David
|Directed by||Art Wolff
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||9|
|No. of episodes||180 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||George Shapiro
Larry David (1990–98)
Jerry Seinfeld (1991–98)
Alec Berg (1997–98)
Jeff Schaffer (1997–98)
|Running time||22 minutes|
|Production company(s)||West-Shapiro Productions
Castle Rock Entertainment
Columbia Pictures Television (1993–1995)
Columbia TriStar Television (1995–1998)
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Television|
|Picture format||Original broadcasts:
|Original run||July 5, 1989 (1989-07-05) – May 14, 1998 (1998-05-14)|
|Related shows||Curb Your Enthusiasm
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally ran for nine seasons on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself. Set predominantly in an apartment block in Manhattan‘s Upper West Side in New York City, the show features a handful of Jerry’s friends and acquaintances, particularly best friend George Costanza (Jason Alexander), former girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and neighbor across the hall Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards).
Seinfeld was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment. In syndication the series has been distributed by Sony Pictures Television since 2002. It was largely co-written by David and Seinfeld with script writers, who included Larry Charles, Peter Mehlman, Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin, Carol Leifer, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer, Steve Koren, Jennifer Crittenden, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Dan O’Keefe, Charlie Rubin, Marjorie Gross, Alec Berg, Elaine Pope, and Spike Feresten.
A critical favorite, the show led the Nielsen ratings in seasons six and nine, and finished among the top two (with NBC’s ER) every year from 1994 to 1998. In 2002, TV Guide named Seinfeld the greatest television program of all time. In 1997, the episodes “The Boyfriend” and “The Parking Garage” were respectively ranked numbers 4 and 33 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time, and in 2009, “The Contest” was ranked #1 on the same magazine’s list of TV’s Top 100 Episodes of All Time. E! named it the “number 1 reason the ’90s ruled.” In 2013, the Writers Guild of America named Seinfeld the No. 2 Best Written TV Series of All Time (second to The Sopranos). That same year, Entertainment Weekly named it the No. 3 best TV series of all time.
- 1 Production history
- 2 Characters
- 3 Episodes
- 4 High-definition versions
- 5 Reception and legacy
- 6 Consumer products
- 7 DVD releases
- 8 References
- 9 After Seinfeld
- 10 External links
Seinfeld began as a 23-minute pilot named The Seinfeld Chronicles. Created by stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and writer Larry David, developed by NBC executive Rick Ludwin, and produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, it was a mix of Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy routines and idiosyncratic, conversational scenes focusing on mundane aspects of everyday life such as laundry, the buttoning of the top button on one’s shirt and the attempt by men to properly interpret the intent of women spending the night in Seinfeld’s apartment.
The pilot was filmed at Stage 8 of Desilu Cahuenga studios, the same studio where The Dick Van Dyke Show was filmed (this was seen by the crew as a good omen), and was recorded at Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood. The pilot was first screened to a group of two dozen NBC executives in Burbank, California in early 1989. Although it did not yield the explosion of laughter garnered by the pilots for the decade’s previous NBC successes like The Cosby Show and The Golden Girls, it drew a positive response from the assembled executives, such as Warren Littlefield, then the second-in-command for NBC’s entertainment division, who relates, “There was a sense this was something different. The room embraced the humor and the attitude.” Littlefield’s boss, Brandon Tartikoff, by contrast, was not convinced that the show would work. A Jewish man from New York himself, Tartikoff characterized it as “Too New York, too Jewish”. Test audiences were even harsher. NBC’s practice at the time was to recruit 400 households by phone to ask them to evaluate pilots it aired on an unused channel on its cable system. An NBC research department memo summarized the pilot’s performance among the respondents as “Weak”, which Littlefield called “a dagger to the heart”. Comments included, “You can’t get too excited about two guys going to the laundromat”; “Jerry’s loser friend George is not a forceful character”; “Jerry needs a stronger supporting cast”; and “Why are they interrupting the stand-up for these stupid stories?”
When NBC announced its 1989-90 primetime schedule in May 1989, The Seinfeld Chronicles was not included, but Littlefield and other supporters of the show did not give up on it. The pilot first aired on July 5, 1989, and finished second in its time slot against the CBS police drama Jake and the Fatman, receiving a Nielsen rating of 10.9/19, meaning that the pilot was watched by 10.9% of American households, and that 19% of all televisions in use at the time were tuned into it. The ratings did not exhibit regional skew that Tartikoff predicted, much to the encouragement of the show’s supporters. Despite the poor test results, Ludwin cancelled one of the Bob Hope specials budgeted for that season so that the entertainment division had the money to order four more episodes of The Seinfeld Chronicles, which formed the rest of the show’s first season. a move without which Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal later stated there would be no Seinfeld. Although this was a very low order number for a new series (the smallest sitcom order in television history), Castle Rock failed to find any other buyers when it shopped the show to other networks, and accepted the order. The show was renamed Seinfeld, but it would not return to the airwaves until May 30, 1990, and it would be another three years before it became a Top 5 ratings success. Preston Beckman, who was in charge of NBC’s research department at the time, reminisces, “The show was different. Nobody had seen anything like it. It wasn’t unusual for poor-testing shows to get on the air, but it was very rare that they became hits.” Seinfeld and David did not see the memo for several years, but after they became aware of it, they hung it in a bathroom on the set. Seinfeld comments, “We thought, if someone goes in to use this bathroom, this is something they should see. It fits that moment.”
When it was first repeated on June 28, 1990, it received a rating of 13.9/26. These ratings were high enough to secure a second season. NBC research showed that the show was popular with young male adults, a demographic sought after by advertisers. This gave NBC an incentive to keep broadcasting the show. One DVD reviewer, Britt Gillette, wrote that “this initial episode exhibits the flashes of brilliance that made Seinfeld a cultural phenomenon.”
Many Seinfeld episodes are based on the writers’ real-life experiences, with the experiences re-interpreted for the characters’ storyline. For example, George’s storyline, “The Revenge“, is based on Larry David’s experience at Saturday Night Live. “The Contest” is also based on David’s experiences. “The Smelly Car” storyline is based on Peter Mehlman’s lawyer friend, who could not get a bad smell out of his car. “The Strike” is based on Dan O’Keefe’s dad, who made up his own holiday—Festivus. Other stories take on a variety of turns. “The Chinese Restaurant” consists of the main characters (excluding Kramer) waiting for a table throughout the entire episode. “The Boyfriend“, revolving around Keith Hernandez, extends through two episodes. “The Betrayal” is famous for using reverse chronology, and was inspired by a similar plot device in a Harold Pinter play, Betrayal. Some stories were inspired by headlines and rumors, as explained in the DVD features “Notes About Nothing”, “Inside Look”, and “Audio Commentary.” In “The Maestro“, Kramer’s lawsuit is roughly similar to the McDonald’s coffee case. “The Outing” is based primarily on rumors that Larry Charles heard about Jerry Seinfeld’s sexuality.
Seinfeld broke several conventions of mainstream television. It is often described as being “a show about nothing”. However, Seinfeld in 2014 stated “the pitch for the show, the real pitch, when Larry and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material. The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it’s the opposite of that.”
The show is typically driven by humor interspersed with superficial conflict and characters with peculiar dispositions. Many episodes revolved around the characters’ involvement in the lives of others with typically disastrous results. On the set, the notion that the characters should not develop or improve throughout the series was expressed as the “no hugging, no learning” rule. Unlike most sitcoms, there are no moments of pathos; the audience is never made to feel sorry for any of the characters. Even Susan’s death elicits no genuine emotions from anyone in the show.
The characters are “thirty-something singles with vague identities, no roots, and conscious indifference to morals.” Usual conventions, such as isolating the characters from the actors playing them and separating the characters’ world from that of the actors and audience, were broken. One such example is the story arc in which the characters promote a television sitcom series named Jerry. The show within a show, Jerry, was much like Seinfeld in that it was “about nothing” and Seinfeld played himself. The fictional Jerry was launched in the season four finale, but unlike Seinfeld, it was not picked up as a series. Jerry is one of many examples of metafiction in the show. There are no fewer than 22 fictional movies featured, such as Rochelle, Rochelle.
Many terms were coined, popularized, or re-popularized in the series’ run and have become part of popular culture. Notable catchphrases include “Yada, yada, yada“, “No soup for you“, “These pretzels are making me thirsty” and “Not that there’s anything wrong with that“.
As a body, the lexicon of Seinfeldian code words and recurring phrases that evolved around particular episodes is referred to as Seinlanguage, the title of Jerry Seinfeld’s best-selling book on humor.
A signature of Seinfeld is its theme music. Composed by Jonathan Wolff, it consists of distinct solo sampled bass synthesizer riffs (played on a Korg M1 synthesizer) which open the show and connect the scenes, often accompanied by a “percussion track” composed of mouth noises, such as pops and clicks. The bass synthesizer music eventually replaced the original music by Jep Epstein when it was played again after the first broadcast “The Seinfeld Chronicles“. The show lacked a traditional title track and the riffs were played over the first moments of dialogue or action. They vary throughout each episode and are played in an improvised funk style. An additional musical theme with an ensemble, led by a synthesized mid-range brass instrument, ends each episode.
In “The Note“, the first episode of season three, the bumper music featured a scatting female jazz vocalist who sang a phrase that sounded like “easy to beat”. Jerry Seinfeld and executive producer Larry David both liked Wolff’s additions, and three episodes were produced with this new style music. However, they had neglected to inform NBC and Castle Rock executives of the change, and when the season premiere aired, the executives were surprised and unimpressed, and requested that they return to the original style. The subsequent two episodes were redone, leaving this episode as the only one with additional music elements. In the commentary of “The Note”, Julia Louis-Dreyfus facetiously suggests it was removed because the perceived lyric related closely to the low ratings at the time.
In the final three seasons (7, 8 & 9), the bits were tweaked slightly with more frenetic rhythms; a bass guitar was added in addition to the sampled bass from earlier seasons. Throughout the show, the main theme could be re-styled in different ways depending on the episode. For instance, in “The Betrayal”, in which part of the episode takes place in India, the theme is heard played on a sitar.
- Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld) – Jerry is a “minor celebrity” stand-up comedian who is often portrayed as “the voice of reason” amidst the general insanity generated by the people in his world. The in-show character is a slight germaphobe and neat freak, as well as an avid Superman and breakfast cereal fan. Jerry’s apartment is the center of a world visited by his eccentric friends and a focus of the show. Plot lines often involve Jerry’s romantic relationships. He typically finds minute, finicky reasons to break up with women, including a habit of eating peas one at a time, over-sized “man hands”, and an annoying laugh. Other plot lines involve his longtime nemesis Newman and his overbearing relatives, with whom he meets periodically.
- Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) – Elaine is Jerry’s ex-girlfriend and later friend. She is attractive and assertive, while also being playful, selfish and occasionally self-righteous. She sometimes has a tendency to be too honest with people (usually by losing her temper), which often gets her into trouble. She usually gets caught up in her boyfriends’ quirks, her eccentric employers’ unusual behaviors and idiosyncrasies, and the maladjustment of total strangers. She tends to make poor choices in men she chooses to date and is often overly reactionary. First she works at Pendant Publishing with Mr. Lippman, is later hired as a personal assistant for Mr. Pitt, and later works for the J. Peterman catalogue as a glorified assistant. One of Elaine’s trademark moves is her forceful shove while exclaiming “Get Out!” when she receives good, objectionable or surprising news. Another is her memorable “Little Kicks” dance move, which is described as a full body heave accompanied by a double-fisted “thumbs-up” and, “little kicks.” She hates The English Patient, which is met with significant social disapproval. Elaine is popularly described as an amalgamation of David’s and Seinfeld’s girlfriends during their early days in New York as struggling comedians.
- Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) – Kramer is Jerry’s “wacky neighbor”. His trademarks include his humorous upright pompadour hairstyle, vintage clothing and energetic sliding bursts through Jerry’s apartment door. The Cosmo Kramer character was heavily based on a neighbor of Larry David’s during his amateur comedic years in Manhattan. At times, he appears naive, dense and infantile, and at others insightful, experienced and inexplicably influential; similarly, he is exaggeratedly successful, socially, with his charm and easygoing manner. This is seen in his infallible success with women and employers. He has been described as a “hipster doofus”. Although he never holds a steady job, he is rarely short of money and often invents wacky schemes that often work at first then eventually fail. Among these are coffee table books about coffee tables (for which he appeared on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee) and a brassiere for men called the Bro, also known as the Manssiere, with Frank Costanza. Kramer is longtime friends with Newman, and they work well together despite their differences.
- George Costanza (Jason Alexander) – George is Jerry’s best friend, and has been since high school. He is miserly, dishonest, petty and envious of others’ achievements. He is portrayed as a loser who is perpetually insecure about his capabilities. He complains and lies easily about his profession, relationships and almost everything else, which usually creates trouble for him later. He often uses the alias Art Vandelay when lying or concocting a cover story. Despite these shortcomings, George has a sense of loyalty to his friends, has success in dating women and eventually secures a successful career as Assistant to the Traveling Secretary for the New York Yankees. During the run of the show, George and Jerry work with NBC to produce a pilot episode of a TV show called Jerry. During this time, he meets Susan Ross, who works for NBC. George has an on-and-off relationship with her, eventually getting engaged, until she dies at the end of season seven.
Many characters made multiple appearances, as a friend or a relative, like Newman and Uncle Leo. In addition to recurring characters, Seinfeld featured numerous celebrities who appeared as themselves or as girlfriends, boyfriends, bosses and other acquaintances. Many who made guest appearances became household names later in their careers, or were comedians and actors already well known.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||Nielsen ratings|
|First aired||Last aired||Rank||Rating||Viewers
|1||5||July 5, 1989 (1989-07-05)||June 21, 1990 (1990-06-21)||N/A||N/A||19.26|
|2||12||January 23, 1991 (1991-01-23)||June 26, 1991 (1991-06-26)||18.07|
|3||23||September 18, 1991 (1991-09-18)||May 6, 1992 (1992-05-06)||#42||17.66|
|4||24||August 12, 1992 (1992-08-12)||May 20, 1993 (1993-05-20)||#25||13.7||20.91|
|5||22||September 16, 1993 (1993-09-16)||May 19, 1994 (1994-05-19)||#3||19.6||29.59|
|6||24||September 22, 1994 (1994-09-22)||May 11, 1995 (1995-05-11)||#1||20.6||30.06|
|7||24||September 21, 1995 (1995-09-21)||May 16, 1996 (1996-05-16)||#2||21.2||33.19|
|8||22||September 19, 1996 (1996-09-19)||May 15, 1997 (1997-05-15)||#2||20.5||32.48|
|9||24||September 25, 1997 (1997-09-25)||May 14, 1998 (1998-05-14)||#1||21.7||38.03
Seinfeld stood out from family and group sitcoms of its time. None of the principal characters are related by family or work connections but remain distinctively close friends throughout the series. It was called “a show about nothing” by its own creative personnel.
Many characters were based primarily on Seinfeld’s and David’s real-life acquaintances. Two prominent recurring characters were based on well-known people: Jacopo Peterman of the J. Peterman catalog (based on John Peterman), and George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees. Many characters were introduced as new writers got involved with Seinfeld. Other characters based on real-life individuals include the Soup Nazi  and Jackie Chiles based on Johnnie Cochran.
Seinfeld follows its own structure: a story thread is presented at the beginning of every episode, which involves the characters starting in their own situations. Rapid scene-shifts between plot lines bring the stories together. Even though it does not follow a pattern as other sitcoms, the character’s story variously intertwines in each episode. Despite the separate plot strands, the narratives reveal the creators’ “consistent efforts to maintain the intimacy” among the small cast of characters.
The show maintains a strong sense of continuity—characters and plots from past episodes are often referenced or expanded upon. Occasionally, story arcs span multiple episodes and even entire seasons, the most memorable being the fourth season, which revolved around the pilot pitch to NBC by Jerry and George. Another example is Jerry’s girlfriend Vanessa, who appears in “The Stake Out” and he ends the relationship when things do not work out in “The Stock Tip“. Other examples are Kramer getting his jacket back and Elaine heading the “Peterman catalog”. Larry David, the head writer and executive producer for the first seven seasons, was praised for keeping a close eye on minor details and making sure the main characters’ lives remained consistent and believable. Curb Your Enthusiasm—David’s later comedy series— expanded on this idea by following a specific theme for all but one season in the series.
A major difference between Seinfeld and sitcoms which preceded it is that the principal characters never learn from their mistakes. In effect, they are indifferent and even callous towards the outside world and sometimes toward each other. A mantra of the show’s producers was: “No hugging, no learning.” Entertainment Weekly‘s television critic Ken Tucker has described them as “a group dynamic rooted in jealousy, rage, insecurity, despair, hopelessness, and a touching lack of faith in one’s fellow human beings.” This leads to very few happy endings, except when they come at someone else’s expense. More often in every episode, situations resolve with characters getting a justly deserved comeuppance.
The show premiered as The Seinfeld Chronicles on July 5, 1989. After it aired, a pickup by NBC did not seem likely and the show was offered to Fox, which declined to pick it up. Rick Ludwin, head of late night and special events for NBC, however, diverted money from his budget by canceling a Bob Hope television special, and the next four episodes were filmed. These episodes were highly rated as they followed Cheers on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., and the series was finally picked up. At one point NBC considered airing these episodes on Saturdays at 10:30 p.m., but gave that slot to a short-lived sitcom called FM. The series was renamed Seinfeld after the failure of short-lived 1990 ABC series The Marshall Chronicles. After airing in the summer of 1990, NBC ordered 13 more episodes. Larry David believed that he and Jerry Seinfeld had no more stories to tell, and advised his partner to turn down the order, but Seinfeld agreed to the additional episodes. Season two was bumped off its scheduled premiere of January 16, 1991, due to the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war. It settled into a regular time slot on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. and eventually flipped with veteran series Night Court to 9:00.
Seinfeld was championed by television critics in its early seasons, even as it was slow to cultivate a substantial audience. For the first three seasons, Jerry’s stand-up comedy act would bookend an episode, even functioning as cut scenes during the show. A few episodes set a benchmark for later seasons. “The Deal” establishes Jerry and Elaine’s relationship by setting rules about sleeping together and remaining friends. “The Parking Garage” was the first episode shot without an audience for the episode, as well as not showing Jerry’s apartment, after “The Chinese Restaurant. “The Keys” contains a crossover to CBS show Murphy Brown, marking the first such cooperation between rival networks. “The Busboy” introduces George, Kramer and Elaine as having their own storylines for the first time. Although Castle Rock Entertainment’s Glenn Padnick thought Jerry Seinfeld was too generous, showcasing his co-stars’ comedic talent became a trademark throughout the series.
Larry Charles wrote an episode for season two, “The Bet”, in which Elaine buys a gun from Kramer’s friend. This episode was not filmed because the content was deemed unacceptable, and was replaced by the episode “The Phone Message“. “The Stranded“, aired in season three, was intended for season two. In the beginning of this episode, Jerry clears up the continuity error over George’s real estate job.
Season four marked the sitcom’s entry into the Nielsen ratings Top 30, coinciding with several popular episodes, such as “The Bubble Boy“, in which George and the bubble boy are arguing over Trivial Pursuit, and “The Junior Mint” in which Kramer and Jerry accidentally fumble a mint in the operating room. This was the first season to use a story arc in which Jerry and George create their own sitcom, Jerry. Also at this time, the use of Jerry’s stand-up act slowly declined, and the stand-up segment in the middle of Seinfeld episodes was cut.
Much publicity followed the controversial episode, “The Contest“, an Emmy Award-winning episode written by co-creator Larry David, whose subject matter was considered inappropriate for prime time network television. To circumvent this taboo, the word “masturbation” was never used in the script, instead substituted by a variety of oblique references. Midway through that season, Seinfeld was moved from its original 9:00 p.m. time slot on Wednesdays to 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays, following Cheers again, which gave the show even more popularity. The move was also sparked by ratings, as Tim Allen’s sitcom Home Improvement on ABC had aired at the same time and Improvement kept beating Seinfeld in the ratings. NBC moved the series after Ted Danson announced the end of Cheers and Seinfeld quickly surpassed the ratings of the 9:00 p.m. Cheers reruns that spring. The show won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1993, beating out its family-oriented and time-slot competitor Home Improvement, which was only in its second season on fellow network ABC.
Season five was an even bigger ratings-hit, consisting of popular episodes such as “The Puffy Shirt” in which Jerry feels embarrassed wearing the “pirate” shirt on The Today Show, “The Non-Fat Yogurt” featuring Rudy Giuliani, the Republican mayor-elect of New York at the time, and “The Opposite” in which George does the opposite of his instincts that lands him in the “New York Yankees” and Elaine leaves “Pendant Publishing” because of a comedy of errors that led to its demise. Another story arc has George returning to live with his parents. In the midst of the story arc, Kramer creates and promotes his coffee table book. The show was again nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, but lost to the Cheers spin-off Frasier, then in its first season. Seinfeld was nominated for the same award every year for the entire run but always lost to Frasier, which went on to win a record 39 Emmy Awards.
With season six, Andy Ackerman replaced Tom Cherones as director of the show. The series remained well-regarded and produced some of its most famous episodes, such as “The Beard” in which Jerry is put through a lie detector test, to make him admit that he did watch Melrose Place, “The Switch“, in which Kramer’s mother, Babs, revealed that his first name is Cosmo  and “The Understudy” when Elaine meets J. Peterman for the first time. Story arcs used in this season were Elaine working as a personal assistant to her eccentric boss Justin Pitt, as well as George’s parents’ temporary separation. This was the first season in which Seinfeld reached Number 1 in the Nielsen Ratings. The use of Jerry’s stand-up act declined with the end stand-up segment no longer used as the storylines for all four characters grew more dense.
In season seven, a story arc involved George getting engaged to his former girlfriend, Susan Ross, after the unsuccessful pilot Jerry. He spends most of the season regretting the engagement and trying to get out of it. Along with the regular half hour episodes, two notable one-hour episodes include “The Cadillac” in which George plans to date an award winning actress Marisa Tomei  and “The Bottle Deposit” with Elaine and Sue Ellen participating in a bidding war to buy JFK’s golf clubs in an auction.
Following the anthrax scare of 2001, the episode, “The Invitations” was temporarily held back from syndication due to the concern that it might seem objectionable and insensitive to portray Susan’s death caused by licking toxic envelopes.
The show’s ratings were still going strong in its final two seasons (8 and 9). Larry David left at the end of season seven (although he continued to voice Steinbrenner), so Seinfeld assumed David’s duties as showrunner, and, under the direction of a new writing staff, Seinfeld became a faster-paced show. The show no longer contained extracts of Jerry performing stand-up comedy (Jerry had no time or energy for this with his new roles), and storylines occasionally delved into fantasy and broad humor. For example, in the episode titled “The Bizarro Jerry“, Elaine is torn between exact opposites of her friends and Jerry dates a woman who has the now-famed “man hands”. Some notable episodes from season eight include “The Little Kicks” showing Elaine’s horrible dancing, and “The Chicken Roaster” which depicts the Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken restaurant which opened during that time. A story arc in this season involves Peterman going to Burma in “The Foundation”  until he recovered from a nervous breakdown in “The Money“, followed by Elaine writing Peterman’s biography in “The Van Buren Boys”  which leads to Kramer’s parody of Kenny Kramer’s Reality Tour seen in “The Muffin Tops“.
The final season included episodes such as “The Merv Griffin Show” in which Kramer converts his apartment into a talk-show studio and plays the character of talk-show host, “The Betrayal” that follows in reverse chronology order of what happened to Sue Ellen’s wedding in India, and “The Frogger“, in which George pushes a Frogger machine across the street. The last season included a story arc in which Elaine has an on/off relationship with David Puddy. Despite the enormous popularity and willingness from the cast to return for a tenth season, Seinfeld decided to end the show after season nine in an effort to maintain quality and “go out on top”. NBC offered him $110 million but he declined the offer.
A major controversy caused in this final season was the accidental burning of a Puerto Rican flag by Kramer in “The Puerto Rican Day“. This scene caused a furor among Puerto Ricans, and as a result, NBC showed this episode only once. However, Jerry Seinfeld defused the protestors by allowing this episode to continue in syndication, as revealed in “Inside Look” on DVD.
After nine years on the air, NBC and Jerry Seinfeld announced on December 25, 1997, that the series would end production the following spring in 1998. The announcement made the front page of the major New York newspapers, including the New York Times. Jerry Seinfeld was featured on the cover of Time magazine’s first issue of 1998. The series ended with a 75-minute episode (cut to 60 minutes in syndication, in two parts) written by co-creator and former executive producer Larry David, which aired on May 14, 1998. Before the finale, a 45-minute retrospective clip show, “The Chronicle“, was aired. The retrospective was expanded to sixty minutes after the original airing and aired again on NBC as an hour-long episode, and has since aired in syndication.
It was the first episode since the finale of season seven, “The Invitations“, to feature opening and closing stand-up comedy acts by Jerry Seinfeld. The finale was filmed before an audience of NBC executives and friends of the show. The press and the public were shut out of the taping for the sake of keeping its plot secret, and those who attended the shoot of the final episode signed written “vows of silence.” The secrecy only seemed to increase speculation on how the series would end. The producers of the show tweaked the media about the hype, spreading a false rumor about Newman ending up in the hospital and Jerry and Elaine sitting in a chapel, presumably to marry.
The final episode enjoyed a historic audience, estimated at 76.3 million viewers (58 percent of all viewers that night) making it the fourth most watched regular series finale in U.S. television history, behind M*A*S*H, Cheers and The Fugitive. However, the finale received mixed reviews from critics and fans of the show. The finale poked fun at the many rumors that were circulating, seeming to move into multiple supposed plots before settling on its true storyline—a lengthy trial in which Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer are prosecuted for violating a “Good Samaritan law” and are sentenced to jail terms.
According to Forbes magazine, Jerry Seinfeld‘s earning from the show in 1998 was US$267 million. He refused NBC’s offer of $5 million per episode, or more than $100 million total, to continue the show into a tenth season. Seinfeld told the network that he was not married and had no children, and wished to focus on his personal life. As reported in July 2007, he was the second-highest earner in the television industry, earning at the time $60 million a year. The show became the first television series to command more than $1 million a minute for advertising–a mark previously attained only by the Super Bowl. According to Barry Meyer, chairman of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Seinfeld has made $2.7 billion through June 2010.
There are two high-definition versions of Seinfeld. The first is that of the network television (non-syndicated) versions in the original aspect ratio of 4:3 that were downscaled for the DVD releases. Syndicated broadcast stations and the cable network TBS began airing the syndicated version of Seinfeld in HD. Unlike the version used for the DVD, Sony Pictures cropped the top and bottom parts of the frame, while restoring previously cropped images on the sides, from the 35 mm film source, to use the entire 16:9 frame.
Reception and legacy
Elizabeth Magnotta and Alexandra Strohl analyze the success of Seinfeld with recourse to the incongruity theory of humor: “The Incongruity Theory claims that humor is created out of a violation of an expectation. For humor to result from this unexpected result, the event must have an appropriate emotional climate, comprised of the setting, characters, prior discourse, relationships of the characters, and the topic.” Specifically, Magnotta and Strohl focus on “The Marine Biologist“, in which George is embroiled in yet another lie, and on “The Red Dot“, in which George tries to save a few dollars at Elaine’s expense by giving her a marked-down cashmere sweater.
Nod Miller, of the University of East London, has discussed the self-referential qualities of the show:
Seinfeld is suffused with postmodern themes. To begin with, the boundary between reality and fiction is frequently blurred: this is illustrated in the central device of having Jerry Seinfeld play the character Jerry Seinfeld. In the show’s fourth season, several episodes revolved around the narrative of Jerry and George (whose character is co-creator Larry David’s alter ego) pitching ‘a show about nothing’ based on the everyday life of a stand-up comedian to NBC. The reaction of the fictional NBC executives, by all accounts, mirrored the initial responses of those who eventually commissioned Seinfeld. The fourth season ends with ‘The Pilot’, an episode focusing on the casting, taping and screening of the show-within-the-show, Jerry. This episode also illustrates neatly the self-referential quality which is one of Seinfeld’s hallmarks. The series finale was so replete with references to earlier shows as to render it largely incomprehensible to those not already well-versed in the personae and preoccupations of the Seinfeld universe.
William Irwin has edited an anthology of scholarly essays on philosophy in Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing. Some entries include “The Jerry Problem and the Socratic Problem,” “George’s Failed Zest for Happiness: An Aristotelian Analysis,” “Elaine’s Moral Character,” “Kramer the ‘Seducer’,” “Making Something Out of Nothing: Seinfeld, Sophistry and the Tao,” “Seinfeld, Subjectivity, and Sartre,” “Mr. Peterman, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Me,” and “Minimally Decent Samaritans and Uncommon Law.”
U.S. television ratings
|Season||Episodes||Original air dates||TV season||Nielsen ratings|
|Season premiere||Season finale||Rank||Rating||Viewers (in millions)|
|1||5||July 5, 1989||June 21, 1990||1989–90||N/A||N/A||19.26|
|2||12||January 23, 1991||June 26, 1991||1991||#46||12.5||18.07|
|3||23||September 18, 1991||May 6, 1992||1991–92||#42||12.5||17.66|
|4||24||August 12, 1992||May 20, 1993||1992–93||#25||13.7||20.91|
|5||22||September 16, 1993||May 19, 1994||1993–94||#3||19.6||29.59|
|6||24||September 22, 1994||May 18, 1995||1994–95||#1||20.6||30.06|
|7||24||September 21, 1995||May 16, 1996||1995–96||#2||21.2||33.19|
|8||22||September 19, 1996||May 15, 1997||1996–97||#2||20.5||32.48|
|9||24||September 25, 1997||May 14, 1998||1997–98||#1||21.7||38.03 (32.15)|
Awards and nominations
Seinfeld has received awards and nominations in various categories throughout the mid-1990s. TV Guide has named it the greatest show of all time. It was awarded the Emmy for “Outstanding Comedy Series” in 1993, Golden Globe Award for “Best TV-Series (Comedy)” in 1994 and Screen Actors Guild Award for “Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series” in 1995, 1997 and 1998. Apart from these, the show was also nominated for an Emmy award from 1992 to 1998 for “Outstanding Comedy series”, Golden Globe award from 1994 to 1998 for “Best TV-Series (Comedy)”, and Screen Actors Guild Award for “Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series” from 1995 to 1998.
In 2013, TV Guide ranked Seinfeld as the greatest TV show of all time.
A recurring feature of Seinfeld was its inclusion of specific products, especially candy, as plot points. These might be a central feature of a plot (e.g., Junior Mints, Twix, Jujyfruits, bite size Three Musketeers, Snickers, Nestlé Chunky, Oh Henry!, Drake’s Coffee Cake and PEZ), or an association of candy with a guest character (e.g. Oh Henry! bars), or simply a conversational aside (e.g., Chuckles, Clark Bar, Twinkies). A large number of non-candy products were also featured throughout the series.
The show’s creators claim that they were not engaging in a product placement strategy for commercial gain. One motivation for the use of real-world products, quite unrelated to commercial considerations, is the comedy value of funny-sounding phrases and words. “I knew I wanted Kramer to think of watching the operation like going to see a movie”, explained Seinfeld writer/producer Andy Robin in an interview published in the Hollywood Reporter. “At first, I thought maybe a piece of popcorn falls into the patient. I ran that by my brother, and he said, ‘No, Junior Mints are just funnier.'”
Many advertisers capitalized on the popularity of Seinfeld. American Express created a webisode in which Jerry Seinfeld and an animated Superman (voiced by Patrick Warburton, who played the role of David Puddy) starred in its commercial. The makers of the Today Sponge created the “Spongeworthy” game, on their website, inspired by the episode “The Sponge“. An advertisement featured Jason Alexander in a Chrysler commercial. In this, Alexander behaves much like his character George, and his relationship with Lee Iacocca plays on his George’s relationship with Steinbrenner. Similarly, Michael Richards was the focus of a series of advertisements for Vodafone which ran in Australia where he dressed and behaved exactly like Kramer, including the trademark bumbling pratfalls.
In addition, the show occasionally incorporated fictional products such as a Scotch brand called “Hennigan’s” (a portmanteau of “Hennessy” and “Brannigans“) and a canned meat product called “Beef-a-reeno” (a parody of “Beef-a-roni“).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released all nine seasons of Seinfeld on DVD in Regions 1, 2 and 4 between 2004 and 2007. On November 6, 2007, Seinfeld: The Complete Series was released on DVD. The complete series set box set included a 2007 “roundtable” reunion of the four main cast members and Larry David; only highlights of this were also included in the Season 9 set.
Streaming on Hulu Plus
On April 29, 2015, it was officially announced, during Hulu‘s “Upfront” presentation in New York, that all 9 seasons of Seinfeld will be available for online streaming, via the video service, starting in June of 2015. The news was first reported by Variety and Deadline, citing the deal at around $130 million to $180 million.
|Also known as||Levon and the Hawks
|Origin||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Genres||Roots rock, Americana, folk rock, country rock|
|Years active||1964 (1964)–1977, 1983–1999|
|Labels||Capitol, Rhino, Warner Bros.|
|Associated acts||Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, John Simon, Allen Toussaint, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band|
|Past members||Rick Danko
The Band was a Canadian-American roots rock group that originally consisted of Rick Danko (bass guitar, double bass, fiddle, trombone, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, vocals), Garth Hudson (keyboard instruments, saxophones, trumpet), Richard Manuel (piano, drums, baritone saxophone, vocals) and Robbie Robertson (guitar, vocals). The members of the Band first came together as they joined rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins‘ backing group The Hawks one by one between 1958 and 1963.
In 1964, they separated from Hawkins, after which they toured and released a few singles as Levon and the Hawks and the Canadian Squires. The next year, Bob Dylan hired them for his U.S. tour in 1965 and world tour in 1966. Following the 1966 tour, the group moved with Dylan to Saugerties, New York, where they made the informal 1967 recordings that became The Basement Tapes, which forged the basis for their 1968 debut album Music from Big Pink. Because they were always “the band” to various frontmen, Helm said the name “the Band” worked well when the group came into its own.[a] The group began performing officially as the Band in 1968, and went on to release ten studio albums. Dylan continued to collaborate with the Band over the course of their career, including a joint 1974 tour.
The original configuration of the Band ended its touring career in 1976 with an elaborate live ballroom performance featuring numerous musical celebrities. This performance was immortalized in Martin Scorsese‘s 1978 documentary The Last Waltz. The Band recommenced touring in 1983 without guitarist Robbie Robertson, who had found success with a solo career and as a Hollywood music producer. Following a 1986 show, Richard Manuel was found dead of suicide, but the remaining three members continued to tour and record albums with a revolving door of musicians filling Manuel’s and Robertson’s respective roles, before finally settling on Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante, and Jim Weider. Danko died of heart failure in 1999, after which the group broke up for good. Levon Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, and after a series of treatments was able to regain use of his voice. He continued to perform and released several successful albums until he succumbed to the disease in 2012.
The group was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked them No. 50 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2008, they received the Grammy‘s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, “The Weight” was ranked the 41st best song of all time in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
- 1 History
- 2 Musical style
- 3 Copyright controversy
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Members
- 6 Discography
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
1960–1964: The Hawks
The members of the Band gradually came together as a part of Toronto-based, rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins‘ backing group, the Hawks: Helm, an original Hawk who journeyed with Hawkins from Arkansas to Ontario, then Robertson, Danko, Manuel, and finally, Hudson. Hawkins’ act was popular in and around Toronto, and he had an effective way of eliminating his musical competition: when a promising band appeared, Hawkins would often hire their best musicians for his own group; Robertson, Danko, and Manuel came under Hawkins’ tutelage this way.
While most of the Hawks were eager to join Hawkins’ group, getting Hudson to join was a different story. He had earned a college degree, planned on a career as a music teacher, and was interested in playing rock music only as a hobby. The Hawks were in awe of his wild, full-bore organ sound and often begged him to join. Hudson finally relented, so long as the Hawks each paid him $10 per week to be their instructor; all music theory questions were directed to Hudson. While pocketing a little extra cash, Hudson was also able to mollify his family’s fears that his education had gone to waste. The piano–organ combination was uncommon in rock music, and for all his aggressive playing, Hudson also brought a level of musical sophistication.
There is a view that jazz is ‘evil’ because it comes from evil people, but actually the greatest priests on 52nd Street, and on the streets of New York City were the musicians. They were doing the greatest healing work. And they knew how to punch through music which would cure and make people feel good.—Garth Hudson, The Last Waltz
With Hawkins, they recorded a few singles in this period and became well known as the best rock group in the thriving Toronto music scene. Hawkins regularly convened all-night rehearsals following long club shows, with the result that the young musicians quickly developed great technical prowess on their instruments.
By 1964, the group had split from Hawkins over personal differences. They were tiring of playing the same songs so often and wanted to perform original material, and they were weary of Hawkins’s somewhat dictatorial leadership. He would fine the Hawks if they brought their girlfriends to the clubs, fearing it might reduce the numbers of “available” girls who came to performances, or if they smoked marijuana. Alcohol and pills were acceptable but Canada then had stiff penalties against marijuana possession.
Robertson later said, “Eventually, [Hawkins] built us up to the point where we outgrew his music and had to leave. He shot himself in the foot, really, bless his heart, by sharpening us into such a crackerjack band that we had to go on out into the world, because we knew what his vision was for himself, and we were all younger and more ambitious musically.”
Upon leaving Hawkins in 1964, they were briefly known as the Levon Helm Sextet with sax player Jerry Penfound being the sixth member, then Levon and the Hawks after Penfound’s departure. In 1965, they released a single on Ware Records under the name Canadian Squires, but returned as Levon and the Hawks for a recording session for Atco later in 1965. Also that year, Helm and the band met blues singer and harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson. They wanted to record with him, offering to become his backing band, but Williamson died not long after their meeting.
1965–67: with Bob Dylan
In late summer 1965, Bob Dylan was looking for a backup band for his first U.S. “electric” tour. Levon and the Hawks were recommended by blues singer John P. Hammond, who earlier that year had used Helm, Hudson and Robertson on his Vanguard album So Many Roads. Around the same time, one of their friends from Toronto was working as secretary to Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman. Mary Martin told Dylan to visit the group at the Yonge Street club called the Le Coq d’Or Tavern—though Robbie Robertson recollects it was the Friar’s Tavern, just down the street. Her advice to Dylan: “You gotta see these guys.”
After hearing the band play and meeting with Robertson, Dylan invited Helm and Robertson to join his backing band. After two concerts backing Dylan, Helm and Robertson told Dylan of their loyalty to their bandmates, and told him that they would only continue with him if he hired all of the Hawks. Dylan accepted and invited Levon and the Hawks to tour with him. The group was receptive to the offer, knowing it could give them the wider exposure they craved. They thought of themselves as a tightly rehearsed rock and rhythm and blues group and knew Dylan mostly from his early acoustic folk and protest music. Furthermore, they had little inkling of how internationally popular Dylan had become.
With Dylan, The Hawks played a series of concerts from September 1965 through May 1966, billed as Bob Dylan and the Band. The tours were marked by Dylan’s reportedly copious use of amphetamines. Some, though not all, of the Hawks joined in the excesses. Most of the concerts were met with the heckling and disapproval of folk music purists. Helm was so affected by the negative reception that he left the tour within three months and sat out the rest of that year’s concerts, as well as the world tour in 1966. Helm spent much of this period working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
During and between tours, Dylan and the Hawks attempted several recording sessions, but with less than satisfying results. Sessions in October and November yielded just one usable single (“Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window“), and two days of recording in January 1966 for what was intended to be Dylan’s next album, Blonde on Blonde resulted in “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)“, which was released as a single a few weeks later and was subsequently selected for the album. On “One Of Us Must Know”, Dylan was backed by drummer Bobby Gregg, bassist Danko (or Bill Lee),[b] with guitarist Robbie Robertson, pianist Paul Griffin, and Al Kooper on organ. Frustrated by the slow progress in the New York studio, Dylan accepted the suggestion of producer Bob Johnston and moved the recording sessions to Nashville. In Nashville, Robertson’s guitar was prominent on the Blonde on Blonde recordings, especially “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat“, but the other members of the Hawks did not attend the sessions.
During the European leg of their 1966 tour, Mickey Jones replaced Sandy Konikoff on drums. Dylan and the Hawks played at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on May 17, 1966. The gig became legendary when, near the end of Dylan’s electric set, an audience member shouted “Judas!”. After a pause, Dylan replied, “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar!” He then turned to the Hawks and said “Play it fucking loud!” With that, they launched into an acidic version of “Like a Rolling Stone“.
The Manchester performance was widely bootlegged (and mistakenly placed at the Royal Albert Hall). The recording of this gig became one of the most famous of Dylan’s career. A 1971 review from Creem stated “My response is that crystallization of everything that is rock’n’roll music, at its finest, was to allow my jaw to drop, my body to move, to leap out of the chair … It is an experience that one desires simply to share, to play over and over again for those he knows thirst for such pleasure. If I speak in an almost worshipful sense about this music, it is not because I have lost perspective, it is precisely because I have found it, within music, yes, that was made five years ago. But it is there and unignorable.” When it finally saw official release in 1998, critic Richie Unterberger declared the record “an important document of rock history.”
On July 29, 1966, while on a break from touring, Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident, and retired into semi-seclusion in Woodstock, New York. For a while, the Hawks returned to the bar and roadhouse touring circuit, sometimes backing other singers (including a brief stint with Tiny Tim). Dylan invited the Hawks to join him in Woodstock in the summer of 1967, where (minus the still-absent Helm) they recorded a much-bootlegged and influential series of demos, some of which were subsequently released on LP as The Basement Tapes. A track-by-track review of the bootleg was detailed by Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone; where the band members were explicitly named as well as giving a collective name of “The Crackers”.
1968–1972: initial success
The sessions with Dylan ended in October 1967, with Helm having rejoined the group by that time. The Hawks then began writing their own songs in a rented large pink house, which they affectionately named “Big Pink”, in West Saugerties (near Woodstock). When they went into the recording studio, they still did not have a name for themselves. Stories vary as to the manner in which they ultimately adopted the name “the Band.” In The Last Waltz, Manuel claimed that they wanted to call themselves either “The Honkies” or “The Crackers” (which they used when backing Dylan for a January 1968 concert tribute to Woody Guthrie), but these names were vetoed by their record label; Robertson suggests that during their time with Dylan everyone just referred to them as “the band” and it stuck. Initially, they disliked the moniker, but eventually grew to like it, thinking it both humble and presumptuous. In 1969, Rolling Stone referred to them as “The band from Big Pink.”
Their first album, Music from Big Pink (1968) was widely acclaimed. The album included three songs written or co-written by Dylan (“This Wheel’s on Fire“, “Tears of Rage“, and “I Shall Be Released“) as well as “The Weight“, the use of which in the film Easy Rider would make it probably their best known song. While a continuity certainly ran through the music, there were stylistic leanings in a number of directions. In contrast to his wild guitar playing with Hawkins and Dylan, Robertson opted for a more subdued, riff-oriented approach, often mixed low down in the song.
After the success of Music from Big Pink, the band went on tour. Their first live appearance was at Stony Brook University in the spring of 1969 several weeks preceding a performance at the Woodstock Festival (which was not included in the famed Woodstock film due to legal complications) and an appearance with Dylan at the UK Isle of Wight Festival (several songs from which were subsequently included on Dylan’s Self Portrait album). That same year, they left for Los Angeles to record their follow-up, The Band (1969). From their deliberately rustic appearance on the cover, to the songs and arrangements within, the album stood in contrast to other popular music of the day. Although it should be noted that, by this point, several acts, notably Dylan on John Wesley Harding (written during The Basement Tapes sessions) and The Byrds on Sweetheart of the Rodeo (featuring two Basement Tapes covers), had made similar stylistic moves. The Band featured songs that evoked oldtime rural America, from the Civil War in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” to unionization of farm workers in “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)“.
These first two records were produced by John Simon, who was practically a group member: he aided in arrangements and played occasional instruments (piano or tuba). Simon reported that he was often asked about the distinctive horn sections featured so effectively on the first two albums: people wanted to know how they had achieved such memorable sounds. Simon stated that, besides Hudson (an accomplished saxophonist), the others had only rudimentary horn skills, and achieved their sound simply by creatively utilizing their limited technique.
Rolling Stone lavished praise on the Band in this era, giving them more attention than perhaps any other group in the magazine’s history; Greil Marcus‘ articles in particular contributed greatly to the Band’s mystique. The Band was also featured on the cover of Time‘s January 12, 1970 issue.
A critical and commercial triumph, The Band, along with works by The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, established a musical template (sometimes dubbed country rock) that later would be taken to even greater levels of commercial success by such artists as Eagles. Both Big Pink and The Band also influenced their musical contemporaries, with both Eric Clapton and George Harrison citing the Band as a major influence on their musical direction in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed, Clapton later revealed that he had wanted to join the group.
Following their second album, the Band embarked on their first tour as a headlining act. The resulting anxiety from fame and its hang-ups was especially evidenced by the group as its songs turned to darker themes of fear and alienation: the influence on their next work is self-explanatory. Stage Fright (1970) was engineered by musician/engineer/producer Todd Rundgren and recorded on a theatre stage in Woodstock, New York, but the fraying of the group’s once-fabled unity was beginning to show. As was the case with their previous, self-titled record, Robertson is credited with the majority of the songwriting. However, the trademark vocal style of the Band’s three lead singers was much less prominent on this work.
After recording Stage Fright, the Band was among the acts participating in the Festival Express, an all-star rock concert tour of Canada by train that also included Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and future Band member Richard Bell (at the time he was a member of Joplin’s band). In the concert documentary film, released in 2003, Danko can be seen intoxicated participating in a drunken jam session with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Joplin while singing “Ain’t No More Cane”.
At about this time, Robertson began exerting greater control over the Band, a point of antipathy, especially between Helm and Robertson. Helm charges Robertson with authoritarianism and greed, while Robertson suggests his increased efforts in guiding the group were due largely to some of the other members being unreliable. In particular, Robertson insists he did his best to coax Manuel into writing or co-writing more songs, only to see Manuel’s talents overtaken by addiction.
Despite mounting problems between the musicians, the Band forged ahead with their next album, Cahoots (1971). Cahoots included tunes such as Bob Dylan‘s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “4% Pantomime” (with Van Morrison), and “Life Is a Carnival,” the last featuring a horn arrangement from Allen Toussaint. Toussaint’s contribution was a critical addition to the Band’s next project, and the group would later record two songs written by Toussaint: “Holy Cow” (on Moondog Matinee) and “You See Me” (on Jubilation).
In late December 1971, the Band recorded the live album Rock of Ages, which was released in the summer of 1972. On Rock of Ages, they were bolstered by the addition of a horn section, with arrangements written by Toussaint. Bob Dylan appeared on stage on New Year’s Eve and performed four songs with the group, including a version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece”.
1973–75: move to Shangri-La
In 1973, the Band released Moondog Matinee, an album of cover songs. There was no tour in support of the album, which garnered mixed reviews. However on July 28, 1973, they played at the legendary Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, a massive concert which took place at the Grand Prix Raceway outside of Watkins Glen, New York. The event, which was attended by over 600,000 music fans, also featured the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band. It was during this event that discussions began about a possible tour with Bob Dylan, who had —along with Robertson—moved to Malibu, California. By late 1973, Danko, Helm, Hudson and Manuel had joined them, and the first order of business was backing Dylan on the album Planet Waves. The album was released concurrently with their joint 1974 tour, in which they played 40 shows in North America during January and February 1974. Later that year, the live album Before the Flood was released, which documents the tour.
During this time, the Band had brought in Planet Waves producer Rob Fraboni to help design a music studio for the group to record in. By 1975, the studio—known as Shangri-La—was completed. That year, the Band recorded and released Northern Lights – Southern Cross, their first album of all-new material since 1971’s Cahoots. All eight songs were written exclusively by Robertson. Despite poor record sales, the album is favored by critics and fans alike. Levon Helm regards this album highly in his book, This Wheel’s on Fire: “It was the best album we had done since The Band.” The album also produced more experimentation from Hudson switching to synthesizers, heavily showcased on “Jupiter Hollow”.
1976–78: The Last Waltz
By 1976, Robbie Robertson was weary of touring. After having to cancel tour dates due to Richard Manuel suffering a severe neck injury in a boating accident in Texas, Robertson urged the Band to retire from touring, and conceived of a massive “farewell concert” known as The Last Waltz. The event was held, following an appearance on Saturday Night Live on October 30, on Thanksgiving Day of 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California, and featured a horn section with arrangements by Allen Toussaint and a stellar list of guests, including other Canadian acts Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Two of the guests were fundamental to the Band’s existence and growth: Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. Other guests they admired (and in most cases had worked with before) included Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Bobby Charles, Neil Diamond, and Paul Butterfield. The concert was recorded by Robertson’s friend, filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
In 1977, the Band released their seventh studio album Islands, which fulfilled their record contract with Capitol so that a planned Last Waltz film and album could be released on the Warner Bros. label. Islands contained a mix of originals and covers, and was the last with the Band’s original lineup. That same year, the group recorded soundstage performances with country singer Emmylou Harris (“Evangeline”) and gospel-soul group The Staple Singers (“The Weight”); Scorsese combined these new performances—as well as interviews he had conducted with the group—with the 1976 concert footage. The resulting concert film–documentary was released in 1978, along with a triple-LP soundtrack.
Levon Helm later wrote about The Last Waltz in his autobiography This Wheel’s on Fire; in the book he makes the case that The Last Waltz was primarily Robbie Robertson’s project, and that he had forced the Band’s break-up onto the rest of the group. Robertson offered a different take in a 1986 interview: “I made my big statement. I did the movie, I made a three-record album about it—and if this is only my statement, not theirs, I’ll accept that. They’re saying, ‘Well, that was really his trip, not our trip.’ Well, fine. I’ll take the best music film that’s ever been made, and make it my statement. I don’t have any problems with that. None at all.”
In 1983, the Band recommenced touring, though without Robertson. Several musicians, mostly from the group’s Ronnie Hawkins days, were recruited as touring personnel to replace Robertson and to fill out the group. The reunited Band was generally well-received, but found themselves playing in smaller venues than during the peak of their popularity.
After a performance in Florida on March 4, 1986, Richard Manuel committed suicide, aged 42, in his motel room. It was later revealed that he had suffered for many years from chronic alcoholism and drug addiction. According to Levon Helm’s autobiography, in the later stages of his illness, Manuel was consuming eight bottles of Grand Marnier per day. Manuel’s position as pianist was filled by old friend Stan Szelest (who died not long after), then by Richard Bell. Bell had played with Ronnie Hawkins after the departure of the original Hawks, and was best known from his days as a member of Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band.
The Band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the 1989 Juno Awards, where Robertson was reunited with original members Danko and Hudson. With Canadian country rock superstars Blue Rodeo as a back-up band, Music Express called the 1989 Juno appearance a symbolic “passing of the torch” from The Band to Blue Rodeo.
1990–99: return to recording
The Band appeared at Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert celebration in New York City in October 1992, where they performed their version of Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece“. In 1993, the group released their eighth studio album, Jericho. Without Robbie Robertson as primary lyricist, much of the songwriting for the album came from outside of the group. Also that year, the Band, along with Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, and other performers, appeared at US President Bill Clinton‘s 1993 “Blue Jean Bash” inauguration party.
In 1994, the Band performed at Woodstock ’94. Later that year Robertson appeared with Danko and Hudson as the Band for the second time since the original group broke up. The occasion was the induction of the Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Helm, who had been at odds with Robertson for years over accusations of stolen songwriting credits, did not attend. In February 1996, the Band with The Crickets recorded “Not Fade Away“, released on the tribute album ‘Not Fade Away (Remembering Buddy Holly). the Band released two more albums after Jericho: High on the Hog (1996) and Jubilation (1998), the latter of which included guest appearances by Eric Clapton and John Hiatt.
The final song the group recorded together was their 1999 cover of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings“, which they contributed to the Dylan tribute album Tangled Up in Blues. On December 10, 1999, Rick Danko died in his sleep at the age of 56. Following his death, the Band broke up for good. In 2002, Robertson bought all other former members’ financial interests in the group, with the exception of Helm, giving him major control of the presentation of the group’s material, including latter-day compilations. Richard Bell died of multiple myeloma in June 2007. The Band received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award on February 9, 2008, but there was no reunion of all three living members. In honor of the event, Helm held a Midnight Ramble in Woodstock. On April 17, 2012, it was announced via Helm’s official website that he was in the “final stages of cancer”; he died two days later.
Members’ other endeavors
In 1977, Rick Danko released his eponymous debut solo album, which featured the other four members of the Band on various tracks. In 1984, Danko joined members of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and others in the huge touring company that made up “The Byrds Twenty-Year Celebration”. Several members of the band performed solo songs to start the show including Danko who performed “Mystery Train”. Danko also released a number of additional solo albums in the 1990s, “In Concert”, “Live On Breeze Hill” & “Times Like These”.
In the late 70s and 80s, Helm released several solo albums and toured with a band called Levon Helm and the RCO Allstars. He also began an acting career with his role as Loretta Lynn‘s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter. He also received praise for his narration and supporting role opposite Sam Shepard in 1983’s The Right Stuff. Beginning sometime in the 1990s, Helm regularly performed Midnight Ramble concerts at his home and studio in Woodstock, New York, and toured. In 2007 Helm released a new album, an homage to his southern roots called Dirt Farmer, which was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album on February 9, 2008. Electric Dirt followed in 2009 and won the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. His 2011 live album Ramble at the Ryman was nominated in the same category and won.
After he left the Band, Robbie Robertson became a music producer and wrote film soundtracks (including acting as music supervisor for several of Scorsese’s films) before beginning a solo career with his Daniel Lanois-produced eponymous album in 1987.
Hudson has released two acclaimed solo CDs, The Sea To The North in 2001, produced by Aaron (Professor Louie) Hurwitz and LIVE at the WOLF in 2005, both featuring his wife Maud on vocals. He has also kept busy as an in-demand studio musician. He is featured extensively on recordings of The Call and Country/Indie star Neko Case. Hudson contributed an original electronic score to an Off-Broadway production of Dragon Slayers, written by Stanley Keyes and directed by Brad Mays in 1986 at the Union Square Theatre in New York, which was re-staged with a new cast in Los Angeles in 1990. In 2010, Hudson released Garth Hudson Presents: A Canadian Celebration of The Band featuring Canadian artists covering songs that were recorded by the Band.
Manuel had few projects outside of the Band; he and the rest of the Band contributed to Eric Clapton‘s 1976 album No Reason to Cry. It included an original composition by Manuel, and also featured his vocals and drumming on several tracks. Manuel later worked on several film scores with Hudson and Robertson, including Raging Bull and The Color of Money.
The Band’s music fused many elements: primarily old country music and early rock and roll, though the rhythm section often was reminiscent of Stax or Motown-style rhythm and blues, and Robertson cites Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers as major influences, resulting in a synthesis of many musical genres. As to the group’s songwriting, very few of their early compositions were based on conventional blues and doo-wop chord changes. Singers Manuel, Danko, and Helm each brought a distinctive voice to the Band: Helm’s Southern voice had more than a hint of country, Danko sang in a tenor, and Manuel alternated between falsetto and baritone. The singers regularly blended in harmonies. Though the singing was more or less evenly shared among the three men, both Danko and Helm have stated that they saw Manuel as the Band’s “lead” singer.
Every member, with the exception of Robertson, was a multi-instrumentalist. There was little instrument-switching when they played live, but when recording, the musicians could make up different configurations in service of the songs. Hudson in particular was able to coax a wide range of timbres from his Lowrey organ; on the choruses of “Tears of Rage“, for example, it sounds like a mellotron. Helm’s drumming was often praised: critic Jon Carroll declared that Helm was “the only drummer who can make you cry,” while prolific session drummer Jim Keltner admits to appropriating several of Helm’s techniques. Producer John Simon is often cited as a “sixth member” of the Band for producing and playing on Music from Big Pink, co-producing and playing on The Band, and playing on other songs up through the Band’s 1993 reunion album Jericho.
Robertson is credited as writer or co-writer for the majority of the Band’s songs, but sang lead vocals on only three of their studio recordings (“To Kingdom Come”, “Knockin’ Lost John”, and “Out of the Blue”). This role, along with Robertson’s resulting claim to the copyright of most of the compositions, would become a point of contention, especially as directed towards Robertson by Helm. In his 1993 autobiography This Wheel’s on Fire – Levon Helm and the Story of The Band, Helm disputes the validity of the official songwriting credits as listed on the albums, and explains that the Band’s songs were often honed and recorded through collaboration between all members. Danko concurred with Helm: “I think Levon’s book hits the nail on the head about where Robbie and Albert Grossman and some of those people went wrong and when the Band stopped being the Band.” … “I’m truly friends with everybody but, hey—it could happen to Levon, too. When people take themselves too seriously and believe too much in their own bullshit, they usually get in trouble.” Robertson for his part denied that Helm had written any of the songs attributed to Robertson and his daughter Alexandra later remarked in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that Helm’s solo work consists almost entirely of songs written by others.
The Band has influenced numerous bands, songwriters, and performers, from the Grateful Dead and The Beatles to Eric Clapton, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Phish, and Pink Floyd
The album Music from Big Pink, in particular, is credited with contributing to Clapton’s decision to leave the super group Cream. In his introduction of the Band during the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert, Clapton announced that in 1968 he’d heard the album, “and it changed my life.” Guitarist Richard Thompson has openly acknowledged the album’s influence on Fairport Convention‘s Liege and Lief, and journalist John Harris has suggested that the Band’s debut also influenced the spirit of The Beatles’ back-to-basics album Let It Be as well as The Rolling Stones’ string of roots-infused albums that began with Beggars Banquet.[c] George Harrison has said that his song “All Things Must Pass” was heavily influenced by the Band, and that while writing the song, he imagined Levon Helm singing it. Meanwhile, the Big Pink song “The Weight” has been covered numerous times, and in various musical styles. In a 1969 interview, Robbie Robertson remarked on the group’s influence, “We certainly didn’t want everybody to go out and get a banjo and a fiddle player. We were trying to calm things down a bit though. What we’re going to do now is go to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and record four sides, four psychedelic songs. Total freak-me songs. Just to show that we have no hard feelings. Just pretty good rock and roll.”
In the nineties, a new generation of bands influenced by the Band began to gain popularity, including Counting Crows, the Wallflowers, and The Black Crowes. Counting Crows indicated this influence with their tribute to the late Richard Manuel, “If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead)” from their album Hard Candy. The Black Crowes frequently cover Band songs during live performances, such as “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down”, which appears on their DVD/CD Freak ‘n’ Roll into the Fog. They have also recorded at Helm’s studio in Woodstock.
The inspiration for the classic rock-influenced band The Hold Steady came while members Craig Finn and Tad Kubler were watching The Last Waltz. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson are namechecked in the lyrics of “The Swish” from The Hold Steady’s 2004 debut album Almost Killed Me. Also that year, southern rock-revivalists Drive-By Truckers released the track “Danko/Manuel” on the album The Dirty South.
The Band also inspired Grace Potter, of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, to form the band in 2002. In an interview with The Montreal Gazette, Potter said, “The Band blew my mind. I thought if this is what Matt [Burr] meant when he said ‘Let’s start a rock ’n’ roll band,’ … that was the kind of rock ’n’ roll band I could believe in.”
In January 2007, a tribute album, entitled Endless Highway: The Music of The Band, was released which included contributions by My Morning Jacket, Death Cab for Cutie, Gomez, Guster, Bruce Hornsby, Jack Johnson and ALO, Lee Ann Womack, The Allman Brothers Band, Blues Traveler, Jakob Dylan, and Rosanne Cash, amongst others.
Members of Wilco, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Shins, Dr Dog, Yellowbirds, Ween, Furthur, and other bands staged The Complete Last Waltz in 2012 and 2013. Their performances included all 41 songs from the original 1976 concert in sequence, even those edited out of the film. Musical director Sam Cohen of Yellowbirds claims “the movie is pretty ingrained in me. I’ve watched it probably 100 times.“
|Altamont Speedway Free Festival|
|Genre||Rock and folk, including blues-rock, folk rock, jazz fusion, latin rock, and psychedelic rock styles.|
|Dates||December 6, 1969|
|Location(s)||Altamont Speedway, California, United States|
|Founded by||Jorma Kaukonen, Spencer Dryden, Grateful Dead|
The Altamont Speedway Free Festival was a counterculture-era rock concert held on Saturday, December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Speedway in northern California, between Tracy and Livermore. The event is best known for considerable violence, including the death of Meredith Hunter and three accidental deaths: two caused by a hit-and-run car accident and one by drowning in an irrigation canal. Four births were reported during the event. Scores were injured, numerous cars were stolen and then abandoned, and there was extensive property damage.
The concert featured, in order of appearance: Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with the Rolling Stones taking the stage as the final act. The Grateful Dead were also scheduled to perform, but declined to play shortly before their scheduled appearance due to the increasing violence at the venue. “That’s the way things went at Altamont—so badly that the Grateful Dead, prime organizers and movers of the festival, didn’t even get to play,” staff at Rolling Stone magazine wrote in a detailed narrative on the event, terming it in an additional follow-up piece “rock and roll’s all-time worst day, December 6th, a day when everything went perfectly wrong.”
Approximately 300,000 people attended the concert, and some anticipated that it would be a “Woodstock West.” Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles shot footage of the event and incorporated it into a documentary film titled Gimme Shelter (1970).
- 1 The Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead-centered background narrative
- 2 The Rolling Stones/Grateful Dead-centered background narrative
- 3 Security
- 4 Situation deteriorates
- 5 Death of Meredith Hunter
- 6 Reactions
- 7 The Rolling Stones’ set list
- 8 In other media
- 9 See also
- 10 References
The Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead-centered background narrative
According to Jefferson Airplane‘s Spencer Dryden, the idea for “a kind of Woodstock West” began when he and bandmate Jorma Kaukonen discussed the staging of a free concert with the Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones in Golden Gate Park. Referring to the Stones, Dryden said, “Next to the Beatles they were the biggest rock and roll band in the world, and we wanted them to experience what we were experiencing in San Francisco.” As plans were being finalized, Jefferson Airplane were on the road, and by early December they were in Florida, believing the concert plans for Golden Gate Park were proceeding. But by December 4, the plans had broken down, in Paul Kantner‘s account because the city and police departments were unhelpful; innate conflict between the hippies of Haight-Ashbury and the police was manifested in obstructiveness. Sears Point Raceway was suggested, but its owners wanted $100,000 in escrow from the Rolling Stones. At the last moment, Dick Carter offered his Altamont Speedway in Alameda County for the festival. Jefferson Airplane flew out of Miami on December 5. Kantner said the location was taken in a spirit of desperation: “There was no way to control it, no supervision or order.” According to Grace Slick, “The vibes were bad. Something was very peculiar, not particularly bad, just real peculiar. It was that kind of hazy, abrasive and unsure day. I had expected the loving vibes of Woodstock but that wasn’t coming at me. This was a whole different thing.”
The Rolling Stones/Grateful Dead-centered background narrative
During the Rolling Stones‘ American tour in 1969, many (including journalists) felt that the ticket prices were far too high. In answer to this criticism, the Rolling Stones decided to end their tour with a free concert in San Francisco.
The concert was originally scheduled to be held at San Jose State University’s practice field, as there had recently been a three-day outdoor free festival there with 52 bands and 80,000 attendees. Dirt Cheap Productions was asked to help secure the property again for the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead to play a free concert. The Stones and the Dead were told the city of San Jose was not in the mood for another large concert and the grounds were out of bounds. Golden Gate Park in San Francisco was next on the list. However, a previously scheduled Chicago Bears–San Francisco 49ers football game at Kezar Stadium, located in Golden Gate Park, made that venue impractical, and permits were never issued for the concert. The venue was then changed to the Sears Point Raceway. However, a dispute with Sears Point’s owner, Filmways, Inc., arose over a $300,000 up-front cash deposit from the Rolling Stones and film distribution rights, so the festival was moved once again. The Altamont Raceway was chosen at the suggestion of its then-owner, local businessman Dick Carter. The concert was to take place on Saturday, December 6; the location was switched on the night of Thursday, December 4.
In making preparations, Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully and concert organizer Michael Lang helicoptered over the site before making the selection, much as Lang had done when the Woodstock Festival was moved at the last moment from Wallkill, New York to Bethel, New York.
The hasty move resulted in numerous logistical problems, including a lack of facilities such as portable toilets and medical tents. The move also created a problem for the stage design; instead of being on top of a rise, which suited the geography at Sears Point, at Altamont the stage would now be at the bottom of a slope. The Rolling Stones’ stage manager on the 1969 tour, Chip Monck, explained that “the stage was one metre high – 39 inches for us – and [at Sears Point] it was on the top of a hill, so all the audience pressure was back upon them”. Because of the short notice for the change of location, the stage couldn’t be changed. “We weren’t working with scaffolding, we were working in an older fashion with parallels. You could probably have put another stage below it … but nobody had one,” Monck said.
By some accounts, the Hells Angels were hired as security by the management of the Rolling Stones, on the recommendation of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane (who both had previously used the Angels for security at performances without incident), for $500 worth of beer ($3216 after inflation[when?]). This story has been denied by some parties who were directly involved. According to the road manager of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 US Tour Sam Cutler, “the only agreement there ever was … the Angels would make sure nobody tampered with the generators, but that was the extent of it. But there was no way ‘They’re going to be the police force’ or anything like that. That’s all bollocks.” The deal was made at a meeting including Cutler, Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully and Pete Knell, a member of the Hells Angels’ San Francisco chapter. According to Cutler, the arrangement was that all the bands were supposed to share the $500 beer cost, “[but] the person who paid it was me, and I never got it back, to this day.”
Hells Angels member Bill “Sweet William” Fritsch recalled this exchange he had with Cutler at a meeting prior to the concert, in which Cutler had asked them to provide security:
- “We don’t police things. We’re not a security force. We go to concerts to enjoy ourselves and have fun.”
- “Well, what about helping people out – you know, giving directions and things?”
- “Sure, we can do that.”
When Cutler asked how they would like to be paid, William replied, “we like beer.” In the documentary Gimme Shelter, Sonny Barger states that the Hells Angels were not interested in policing the event, and that organizers had told him that the Angels would be required to do little more than sit on the edge of the stage, drink beer and make sure there weren’t any murders or rapes occurring. Other accounts[who?] also state that the initial arrangement was for the Hells Angels to watch over the equipment, but that Cutler later moved them, and their beer, near the stage to placate them or to protect the stage.
In 2009, Cutler explained his decision to use the Angels. “I was talking with them, because I was interested in the security of my band — everyone’s security, for that matter. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. They were the only people who were strong and together. [They had to protect the stage] because it was descending into absolute chaos. Who was going to stop it?” Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully said that if the Angels hadn’t been on the stage, “that whole crowd could have easily passed out, and rolled down onto the stage. There was no barrier.”
Stefan Ponek, who hosted a December 7, 1969 KSAN-FM radio broadcast of a four-hour, “day after” post-concert telephone call-in forum (and who also helped organize the event), provided the following for the 2000 release of the Gimme Shelter DVD: “What we learned in the broadcast was pretty much startling: These guys — the Angels — had been hired and paid with $500 of beer, on a truck with ice, to essentially bring in the Stones and keep people off the stage. That was the understanding, that was the deal. And it seemed like there was not a lot of disagreement over that; that seemed to emerge as a fact, because it became rather apparent that the Stones didn’t know what kind of people they were dealing with.”
The Gimme Shelter DVD contains extensive excerpts from that broadcast. A Hells Angels member who identified himself as “Pete, from Hells Angels San Francisco” (most likely Pete Knell, president of the San Francisco chapter), says “they offered us $500 worth of beer (to) go there and take care of the stage…we took this $500 worth of beer to do it.” Sonny Barger, who also called into the KSAN forum, states: “We were told by one of the (other Hells Angels) clubs if we showed up down there (and) sat on the stage and drink some beer… that the Stones manager or somebody had bought for us.” In his lengthy call, Barger mentions the beer deal yet again: “I ain’t no cop, I ain’t never going to ever pretend to be no cop. I didn’t go there to police nothing, man. They told me if I could sit on the edge of the stage so nobody could climb over me, I could drink beer until the show was over. And that’s what I went there to do.”
Emmett Grogan (founder of the radical community-action group, the Diggers), who was intimately involved in the organization of the event (especially at the two earlier-planned venues), confirmed the $500 beer arrangement on that same KSAN forum with Ponek.
“Pete” also tells host Ponek that the Angels were hired by Cutler because of some rowdy, anxious on-stage incidents during the Stones’ Oakland and Miami concerts weeks earlier. As security guards, Pete said “we ain’t into that security”, but that they agreed after the beer offer. He also claimed that, other than being told to “just keep people off the stage”, Cutler gave the Hells Angels very little specific instructions for stage security: “They didn’t say nothing to us about any of that.” And although the Angels are not security guards, “If we say we’re going to do something, we do it. If we decide to do it, it’s done. No matter what, how far we have to go to do it.” The similar lack of detailed security instructions by the concert’s management was also mentioned by Barger during his telephone call-in.
Altamont Speedway owner Dick Carter had hired hundreds of professional, plainclothes security guards, ostensibly more for the purpose of protecting his property rather than for the safety and well-being of the concertgoers. Barger mentions these guards, as identified by their wearing of “little white buttons”.
Political scientist and cultural critic James Miller believes that since Ken Kesey had invited the Hells Angels to one of his outdoor Acid Tests, the hippies had viewed the bikers unrealistically, idealizing them as “noble savages“ and thus “outlaw brothers of the counterculture”. Miller also maintains that the Rolling Stones may have been misled by their experience with a British contingent of self-described “Hells Angels”, a non-outlaw group of admirers of American biker gear who had provided nonviolent security at a free Stones concert earlier that year in Hyde Park, London. Cutler, however, denies ever having had any illusions about the true nature of Californian Hells Angels. “That’s another canard foisted on the world by the press”, he said, but Rock Scully remembers explaining to the Stones what the “real” Angels were like after watching the Hyde Park concert.
The first act on the stage, Santana, gave a performance that generally went smoothly; however over the course of the day, the mood of both the crowd and the Angels became progressively agitated and violent. The Angels had been drinking their free beer all day in front of the stage, and most were very drunk. The crowd had also become antagonistic and unpredictable, attacking each other, the Angels, and the performers. A Mick Jagger biographer, Anthony Scaduto, in Mick Jagger: Everybody’s Lucifer, wrote that the only time the crowd seemed to calm down to any degree was during a set by the country-rocking Flying Burrito Brothers. By the time the Rolling Stones took stage in the early evening, the mood had taken a decidedly ugly turn as numerous fights had erupted between Angels and crowd members and within the crowd itself. Denise Jewkes of local San Francisco rock band the Ace of Cups, six months pregnant, was hit in the head by an empty beer bottle thrown from the crowd and suffered a skull fracture. The Angels proceeded to arm themselves with sawed-off pool cues and motorcycle chains to drive the crowd further back from the stage.
After the crowd (perhaps accidentally) toppled one of the Angels’ motorcycles, the Angels became even more aggressive, including toward the performers. Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was punched in the head and knocked unconscious by an Angel during the band’s set, as seen in the documentary film Gimme Shelter. The Grateful Dead had been scheduled to play between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and the Rolling Stones, but after hearing about the Balin incident from Santana drummer Michael Shrieve, they refused to play and left the venue, citing the quickly degenerating security situation.
The Rolling Stones waited until sundown to perform. Stanley Booth stated that part of the reason for the delay was that Bill Wyman had missed the helicopter ride to the venue. When the Stones began their set, a tightly-packed group of between 4,000 and 5,000 jammed to the very edge of the stage, and many attempted to climb onto it.
Death of Meredith Hunter
Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, who had already been punched in the head by a concertgoer within seconds of emerging from his helicopter, was visibly intimidated by the unruly situation and urged everyone to, “Just be cool down in the front there, don’t push around.” During the third song, “Sympathy for the Devil“, a fight erupted in the front of the crowd at the foot of the stage, prompting the Stones to pause their set while the Angels restored order. After a lengthy pause and another appeal for calm, the band restarted the song and continued their set with less incident until the start of “Under My Thumb“. Some of the Hells Angels got into a scuffle with Meredith Hunter, age 18, when he attempted to get onstage with other fans. One of the Hells Angels grabbed Hunter’s head, punched him, and chased him back into the crowd. After a minute’s pause, Hunter returned to the stage where, according to Gimme Shelter producer Porter Bibb, Hunter’s girlfriend Patty Bredahoft found him and tearfully begged him to calm down and move further back in the crowd with her; but he was reportedly enraged, irrational and so high he could barely walk. Rock Scully, who could see the audience clearly from the top of a truck by the stage, said of Hunter, “I saw what he was looking at, that he was crazy, he was on drugs, and that he had murderous intent. There was no doubt in my mind that he intended to do terrible harm to Mick or somebody in the Rolling Stones, or somebody on that stage.”
Following his initial scuffle with the Angels as he tried to climb onstage, Hunter (as seen in concert footage wearing a bright lime-green suit) returned to the front of the crowd and drew a long-barreled .22 caliber revolver from inside his jacket. Hells Angel Alan Passaro, seeing Hunter drawing the revolver, drew a knife from his belt and charged Hunter from the side, parrying Hunter’s pistol with his left hand and stabbing him twice with his right hand, killing him.
The footage was shot by Eric Saarinen, who was on stage taking pictures of the crowd, and Baird Bryant, who climbed atop a bus. Saarinen was unaware of having caught the killing on film. This was discovered more than a week later when raw footage was screened in the New York offices of the Maysles Brothers. In the film sequence, lasting about two seconds, a two-meter (six foot) opening in the crowd appears, leaving Bredahoft in the center. Hunter enters the opening from the left. His hand rises toward the stage, and the silhouette of a revolver is clearly seen against Bredahoft’s light-colored dress. Passaro is seen entering from the right and delivering two stabs with his knife as he parries Hunter’s revolver and pushes him off-screen; the opening then closes around Bredahoft. Passaro is reported to have stabbed Hunter five times in the upper back, although only two stabs are visible in the footage. Witnesses also reported Hunter was stomped on by several Hells Angels while he was on the ground. The gun was recovered and turned over to police. Hunter’s autopsy confirmed he was high on methamphetamine when he died. Passaro was arrested and tried for murder in the summer of 1971, but was acquitted after a jury viewed concert footage showing Hunter brandishing the revolver and concluded that Passaro had acted in self-defense.
The Rolling Stones were aware of the skirmish, but not the stabbing (“You couldn’t see anything, it was just another scuffle”, Jagger tells David Maysles during film editing), and felt that had they abandoned the show, the crowd may have become even more unruly, leading to riots and other chaos.
In 2003, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office initiated a two-year investigation into the possibility of a second Hells Angel having taken part in the stabbing. Finding insufficient support for this hypothesis, and reaffirming that Passaro acted alone, the office closed the case for good on May 25, 2005.
The Altamont concert is often contrasted with the Woodstock festival that took place less than four months earlier. While Woodstock represented “peace and love”, Altamont came to be viewed as the end of the hippie era and the de facto conclusion of late-1960s American youth culture: “Altamont became, whether fairly or not, a symbol for the death of the Woodstock Nation.” Rock music critic Robert Christgau wrote in 1972 that “Writers focus on Altamont not because it brought on the end of an era but because it provided such a complex metaphor for the way an era ended.” Writing for the New Yorker in 2015, Richard Brody said what Altamont ended was “the idea that, left to their own inclinations and stripped of the trappings of the wider social order, the young people of the new generation will somehow spontaneously create a higher, gentler, more loving grassroots order. What died at Altamont is the Rousseauian dream itself.”
The Grateful Dead wrote several songs about, or in response to, what lyricist Robert Hunter called “the Altamont affair”, including “New Speedway Boogie” (featuring the line “One way or another, this darkness got to give”) and “Mason’s Children”. Both songs were written and recorded during sessions for the early 1970 album Workingman’s Dead, but “Mason’s Children” was viewed as too “popular” stylistically and was consequently not included on the album.
The music magazine Rolling Stone stated, “Altamont was the product of diabolical egotism, hype, ineptitude, money manipulation, and, at base, a fundamental lack of concern for humanity,” in a 14-page, 11-author article on the event entitled “The Rolling Stones Disaster at Altamont: Let It Bleed” published in their January 21, 1970 issue. The article covered the many issues with the event’s organization and was very critical of the organizers and the Rolling Stones; one writer stated: “what an enormous thrill it would have been for an Angel to kick Mick Jagger’s teeth down his throat.”  Another follow-up piece in Rolling Stone called the Altamont event “rock and roll’s all-time worst day.”  In Esquire magazine, Ralph J. Gleason observed, “The day The Rolling Stones played there, the name [Altamont] became etched in the minds of millions of people who love pop music and who hate it as well. If the name ‘Woodstock’ has come to denote the flowering of one phase of the youth culture, ‘Altamont’ has come to mean the end of it.” 
The film was criticized by Pauline Kael, Vincent Canby and other reviewers for portraying the Stones too sympathetically and exploiting the events. Salon’s Michael Sragow, writing in 2000, said many of the critics took their cues from the Rolling Stone review, which heavily blamed the filmmakers for the disastrous events at the concert. Sragow pointed out numerous errors in the Rolling Stone coverage and added that the Maysles did not make “major motion pictures” in the traditional way; instead, a variety of factors contributed to the tragedy.
The Rolling Stones’ member Keith Richards was relatively sanguine about the show, calling it “basically well-handled, but lots of people were tired and a few tempers got frayed”  and “on the whole, a good concert.” 
In 2008, a former FBI agent asserted that some members of the Hells Angels had conspired to murder Mick Jagger in retribution for The Rolling Stones’ lack of support following the concert, and for the negative portrayal of the Angels in the Gimme Shelter film. The conspirators reportedly used a boat to approach a residence where Jagger was staying on Long Island, New York; the plot failing when the boat was nearly sunk by a storm. Jagger’s spokesperson has refused to comment on the matter.
The Rolling Stones’ set list
- “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“
- “Sympathy for the Devil” (stopped then resumed, due to numerous fights in vicinity of the stage)
- “The Sun Is Shining”
- “Stray Cat Blues“
- “Love in Vain“
- “Under My Thumb” (stopped and abandoned as Hunter is killed, then re-played in its entirety; violence subsides for remainder of concert)
- “Brown Sugar” (debut live performance of the song; studio version recorded only 2 days earlier in Muscle Shoals, Alabama)
- “Midnight Rambler“
- “Live with Me” (naked woman seen in the film attempting to climb onstage actually occurs during this song)
- “Gimme Shelter“
- “Little Queenie“
- “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction“
- “Honky Tonk Women“
- “Street Fighting Man“
5 HRS 13 RBIS .232
Wow! Genius, all this hitting. EDB
Martha and the Vandellas
|Martha and the Vandellas|
|Also known as||The Del-Phis (1957-1961)
The Vels (1961-1962)
Martha Reeves & the Vandellas (1967-1972, 2010-present)
The Original Vandellas (2000s-present)
|Origin||Detroit, Michigan, United States|
|Genres||R&B, doo-wop, rock’n’roll, soul, pop|
|Associated acts||Marvin Gaye
The Funk Brothers
|Members||Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
|Past members||Gloria Williams
Martha and the Vandellas (known from 1967 to 1972 as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas) were an American vocal group who found fame in the 1960s with a string of hit singles on Motown‘s Gordy label. Founded in 1960 by friends Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Williams, the band eventually included Martha Reeves, who moved up in ranks as lead vocalist of the group after Williams’ departure in 1962. The group signed with and eventually recorded all of their singles for Motown’s Gordy imprint.
The group’s string of hits included “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave“, “Nowhere to Run“, “Jimmy Mack“, “Bless You” and “Dancing in the Street“, the latter song becoming their signature single. During their nine-year run on the charts from 1963 to 1972, Martha and the Vandellas charted over twenty-six hits and recorded in the styles of doo-wop, R&B, pop, blues, rock and roll and soul. Ten Vandellas songs reached the top ten of the Billboard R&B singles chart, including two R&B number ones.
Early years (1957–1962)
Teenagers Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard first became acquainted after a local music manager hired them to be members of a girl group he named The Del-Phis. Ashford & Beard, along with then-lead vocalist Gloria Williams, performed at local clubs, private events, church benefits, YMCA events and school functions. They were also being coached by Maxine Powell at Detroit’s Ferris Center. One of the group’s first professional engagements was singing background for singer Mike Hanks. The group originally had up to six members, shortened to four. After another member left the group, she was replaced by Alabama-born vocalist Martha Reeves, who had been a member of a rival group, the Fascinations and had also been a member of another group, the Sabre-Ettes. In 1960, the group signed their first recording contract with Checker Records, releasing the Reeves-led “I’ll Let You Know”. The record flopped. The group then recorded for Checkmate Records, a subsidiary of Chess Records, recording their first take of “There He Is (At My Door)”. That record, featuring Williams on lead vocals, also flopped.
Briefly separated, Reeves returned to a solo career performing under the name Martha LaVaille, in hopes of getting a contract with emerging Detroit label Motown. After Motown staffer Mickey Stevenson noticed Reeves singing at a prominent Detroit club, he offered her his business card for an audition. Reeves showed up at Motown on a wrong date (Motown auditions were held at Thursdays, while Reeves showed up to Motown’s Hitsville USA studios on a Tuesday). Stevenson, initially upset, told Reeves to look out for clients and other matters. Soon Reeves became Stevenson’s secretary and later was responsible for helping acts audition for the label. By 1961, the group, now known as The Vels, were recording background vocals for Motown acts. Prior to her success as lead singer of The Elgins, Sandra Edwards (then going by her surname Maulett) recorded the song “Camel Walk”, in 1962, which featured the Vels in background vocals. That year, the quartet began applying background vocals for emerging Motown star Marvin Gaye, singing on Gaye’s first hit single, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow“ After Mary Wells failed to make a scheduled recording session feigning a short illness, the Vels recorded what was initially a demo recording of “I’ll Have to Let Him Go”. Motown was so impressed by the group’s vocals – and Martha’s lead vocals in the song – that the label CEO Berry Gordy offered to give the group a contract. Figuring that being in show business was too rigorous, Williams opted out of the group. With Williams out, the remaining trio of Ashford, Beard and Reeves renamed themselves The Vandellas.
Motown major hit years (1962–1968)
Following their signing to Motown’s Gordy imprint in 1962, The Vandellas struck gold with their second release, the first composition and production from the famed writing team, Holland–Dozier–Holland, titled “Come and Get These Memories“. It became The Vandellas’ first Top 40 recording, reaching number twenty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at number six on the R&B chart. Their second hit, “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave“, became a phenomenal record for the group, reaching number four on the Hot 100 and hitting number one on the R&B singles chart for five weeks. It became their first million-seller and eventually won the group their only Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. (On the single and album, the song was titled “Heat Wave”. It was sometime later that the song was retitled to avoid confusion with the Irving Berlin song.)
The group’s success continued with their second Top Ten single and third Top 40 single, “Quicksand“, which was another composition with Holland-Dozier-Holland and reached number eight pop in the late fall of 1963. Around that time, Annette, who was pregnant with her first child and set to get married, chose to leave her singing career behind by 1964. Betty Kelley, formerly of The Velvelettes, was brought in shortly afterward to continue the Vandellas’ rise.
The next two singles, “Live Wire” and “In My Lonely Room”(#6 R&B Cashbox) were less successful singles, failing to reach the Top 40. However, their next single, “Dancing in the Street“, rose up to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and also found global success, peaking at #21 on the UK Singles Chart in 1964. In 1969, “Dancing in the Street” was re-issued and it was plugged heavily on radio stations. It did not take long for the song to peak at #4 in the UK, thus making the song one of the all time favourite Motown single releases ever. The song became a million-seller, and one of the most played singles in history.
Between 1964 and 1967, singles like “Wild One” (US #34), “Nowhere to Run” (US #8; UK #26), “Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)” (US #70; R&B #22), “You’ve Been in Love Too Long” (US #36), “My Baby Loves Me” (US #22; R&B #3), “I’m Ready for Love” (US #9; R&B #2; UK #29) and “Jimmy Mack” (US #10; R&B #1; UK #21) kept The Vandellas on the map as one of the label’s top acts. The Vandellas’ popularity helped the group get spots on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, American Bandstand and Shindig!. Throughout this period, The Vandellas had also become one of the label’s most popular performing acts.
Motown struggled to find good material for many of their acts after the exit of Motown contributor and Reeves’ mentor William “Mickey” Stevenson in 1967 and Holland–Dozier–Holland in early 1968, but after their former collaborators left the label, the Vandellas initially continued to find success with the Richard Morris-produced singles “Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone” (US #25; R&B #14) and “Honey Chile” (US #11; UK #30; R&B #5) added to their already extended list of charted singles. In the summer of 1968, the group joined The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye in performing at the Copacabana though much like albums from the Four Tops and Gaye, a live album of their performance there was shelved indefinitely.
That same year, label changes had started to take effect, and Gordy focused much of his attention on building the Supremes’ as well as Diana Ross’ burgeoning upcoming solo career that would follow in 1970. The Vandellas’ sound (and the sound of many Motown acts with the exceptions of Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Marvelettes, and Stevie Wonder) suffered as a result.
However it was the infighting amongst the members of the Vandellas that led to their problems. Kelley was the first to be let go after reportedly missing shows, and as well as getting into altercations with Reeves. There were many instances where these “fights” happened on stage. Kelley was fired in 1967 and was replaced by Martha Reeves’ sister Lois. Simultaneously, the group’s name was officially changed to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, to conform with the company’s recent changes of The Supremes‘ and The Miracles‘ names to reflect their featured lead singers. During this time, Vandellas records including “(We’ve Got) Honey Love“, “Sweet Darlin'” and “Taking My Love and Leaving Me” were issued as singles with diminishing results.
“Bless You” (1969–1972)
Reeves, out of the group temporarily due to illness, recovered and returned; Ashford was replaced by another former member of the Velvelettes, Sandra Tilley, and the group continued to release albums and singles into the early 1970s, although they could not reignite the fire that had made their records successful in the 1960s. Among their late 1960s hits was “I Can’t Dance to That Music You’re Playing“, which featured singer Syreeta Wright singing the chorus, and peaked at number forty-two. Reeves reportedly hated singing the song sensing it “close to home”. In 1970, the group issued Motown’s first protest single, the controversial anti-war song, “I Should Be Proud“, which peaked at a modest forty-five on the R&B singles chart. The song was uncharacteristic of the Vandellas and did nothing to promote the group. On some stations, the flip-side “Love, Guess Who” was played instead.
In 1971, the group scored an international hit with “Bless You” (produced by the Jackson 5’s producers The Corporation). The song peaked at number fifty-three on the American pop singles chart (the biggest peak of Vandellas’ seventies singles), and number twenty-nine on the R&B singles chart. “Bless You” was their first UK Top 40 hit since “Forget Me Not”, with the song reaching number thirty-three there. “Bless You” became top 20 hit in Canada. It was to be the last Billboard Hot 100 hit single for the group. That record also signaled the end of the Motown era. After two successive Top 40 R&B singles, the ballad “In and Out of My Life” (#22 US R&B) and the Marvin Gaye cover, “Tear It On Down” (#37 US R&B), the group disbanded following a farewell concert, held at Detroit‘s Cobo Hall on December 21, 1972.
The next year, Reeves announced plans of starting her solo career. At the same time, Motown Records moved its operations to Los Angeles; when Reeves did not want to move, she negotiated out of her deal with Motown, signing with MCA in 1974, and releasing the critically acclaimed self-titled debut, Martha Reeves. Despite critical rave reviews of her work, neither of Reeves’ post-Vandellas/Motown recordings produced the same success as they had the decade before. After living what she called “a rock & roll lifestyle” of prescription pills and alcohol, Reeves sobered up in 1977, overcoming her addictions and becoming a born-again Christian.
After the Vandellas’ split, Reeves’ sister Lois sang with the group Quiet Elegance and also sang background for Al Green, while Tilley retired from show business in the late 1970s, suddenly dying of a brain aneurysm in 1981 at the age of thirty-nine. Original member Gloria Williams, who retired from show business when she left the group, died in 2000. In 1978, Reeves and original Vandellas Ashford and Beard reunited at a Los Angeles benefit concert for actor Will Geer. In 1983, Reeves successfully sued for royalties from her Motown hits and the label agreed to have the songs credited as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas from then on. That year, Reeves performed solo at Motown 25, which alongside some of their songs being placed on the Big Chill soundtrack, helped Reeves and the Vandellas gain a new audience. In 1989, original members Ashford and Beard also sued Motown for royalties. During this, the original trio were inspired to reunite both as a recording act and in performances. They were offered a recording contract with Ian Levine at Motorcity Records and issued the group’s first single since the Vandellas disbanded seventeen years before with “Step Into My Shoes”.
Although they are no longer singing together full-time, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas have occasionally reunited for various concerts. Currently, Ashford, whose full name now is Rosalind Ashford-Holmes, and Beard, whose full name now is Annette Beard-Helton, continue to perform with other singers, most notably Roschelle Laughhunn, as “The Original Vandellas.” Reeves, with her sisters Lois and Delphine Reeves, tour as “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.”
From 2005 to 2009, Reeves held the eighth seat of Detroit’s city council. She has since lost her seat and told the press that she would continue performing.
A remake of the song “Nowhere To Hide”,sung by Arnold McCuller, is heard in the film “The Warriors” during the scene in which the Gramercy Riffs call a hit on the Warriors.
Candace Bergen, who hosted the Saturday Night Live episode on which Martha Reeves appeared in its inaugural season, made sure that Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were a presence throughout her “Murphy Brown” series. The group’s picture was displayed prominently in Murphy’s office. When Aretha Franklin guest starred and Murphy tried to sing with her, Franklin stopped her, saying, “My name is not Martha, and you are no Vandella.”