David Clayton-Thomas on why musicians against guns could launch another Woodstock


TORONTO — David Clayton-Thomas thinks another Woodstock could be on the horizon.

The former member of Blood, Sweat and Tears says many have tried to replicate the iconic music festival for its 50th anniversary, but they’ve all missed a key element.

“It was about peace,” says the multiple Grammy winner, whose rock band was a headliner at the original 1969 event.

“It was at the height of the Vietnam War and people had enough of dozens of kids a week coming home in body bags. They were angry.”

He senses a similar unrest percolating in the United States as people grapple with the regularity of mass shootings, and a lack of interest by many politicians to change gun laws.

“That seems to really have ignited the youth of the country, with what just happened in El Paso and Dayton,” Clayton-Thomas says, pointing to two recent tragedies.

“In this current political climate we’re due for another Woodstock — and we may see something.”

Clayton-Thomas fondly recalls the original music festival as sheer pandemonium behind the scenes. His band was booked to play Sunday, the final night, and by then organizers had already lost control of the size of the event. People had cut through the fences and snuck onto the festival grounds without paying for tickets.

The roads to Woodstock were jammed with traffic and when Blood, Sweat and Tears landed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport they were told they wouldn’t be able to reach the concert grounds. Plans quickly changed as organizers hastily arranged helicopters to fly in the performers, in hopes of keeping the show from falling even further behind schedule.

“There was always the fear that this thing could turn ugly,” Clayton-Thomas wrote in his 2010 autobiography.

“The music was the only thing keeping a lid on the place, so the show had to go on.”

Blood, Sweat and Tears took the stage around 1:30 a.m. on Monday, shortly after Robbie Robertson’s The Band finished their set.

Clayton-Thomas doesn’t remember much about the crowds, which estimates have numbered at 400,000 people, but he says it seemed like many fans of Blood, Sweat and Tears had shown up in support.

The band was riding high on success with their self-titled sophomore effort, hot off seven weeks atop the U.S. album charts. They would win the Grammy for album of the year in 1970.

But when it comes to Woodstock’s visual record, Blood, Sweat and Tears has been largely erased.

The 1970 documentary released by Warner Bros. features historic moments with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, but it’s missing footage from many of the headliners. Managers for The Grateful Dead, The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival also refused to sign off on having the film crew record them without a guarantee they’d get paid for it.

“I kind of regret that financial circumstances ended up with all of us getting cut out of the movie, especially because we did a remarkable show that night,” Clayton-Thomas says.

“Managers, what are you gonna do? They weren’t going to get paid that night, so they cut us out of history.”

Clayton-Thomas has come to terms with how things played out, he says, though occasionally he’s reminded of the missed opportunity.

“I feel badly about my daughter asking me 30 years later, ‘Dad, were you at Woodstock? I saw the movie and you weren’t there,'” he shrugs.

A recent boxed set celebrating Woodstock’s 50th anniversary recaptures the band’s presence with a full recording of the Blood, Sweat and Tears set, including songs “Spinning Wheel,” “God Bless the Child” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.”

“It’s important to stress that was a unique moment in history,” Clayton-Thomas says.

“If violence had broken out at Woodstock it would’ve betrayed everything that generation stood for. It was the peace generation, it was about peace and love, and ending a war. The spirit among those people was just remarkable.”

He wonders if that lightning in a bottle could ever be recaptured.

“The era of social protest, and making social change, through music is kind of anachronistic today, isn’t it?” he adds.

“But that’s why we went to Woodstock — we thought we were going to change the world with our music. And maybe we did a little bit, for a while.”

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David Friend, The Canadian Press