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Number 5 (Summer 1995)

Interview with Al Kooper

           "Man, I hate that song. I wouldn't play that song if it was my dying mother's last request."

           Bloomfield notes: In interviews Mike always downplayed his recorded work with you. Why do you think that was?

           Al Kooper: I think he was embarrassed by it. Not playing-wise, but success-wise. He just wanted to be in a certain niche, and anything above that niche really embarrassed him.

           Bn: He didn't want to be a rock star.

           AK: He definitely didn't want to be a rock star. Nor did I.

           Bn: But his recorded work with you holds up as some of his best work ever.

           AK: That's what I was trying to do. Being very conversant with his playing for many years, I was trying to capture him the way that I knew him to be, because I was very dissatisfied with his other recordings. I felt like my mission, the best thing I could do as a producer, would be to get all this great playing out of him that I knew he had but no one had been able to document on tape. So that was the angle. That was certainly the angle with Super Session.

           I feel really good about it. I don't hear much other stuff that got it. I thought the Butterfield albums were really lacking compared to what they were like live. And I felt the Electric Flag album was a joke in terms of his playing. And then he lost his focus.

           When he made all those Norman Dayron albums he was on another tangent, which was sort of Bloomfield as folklorist. And he wasn't really concentrating on his playing, per se. I think that was a reaction to the success of the two Super Session records.

           Bn: Why do you think he ran away from success?

           AK: You have to go to his family life. He was the son of an amazingly rich man. I think Bloomfield was embarrassed by that and so he took to the South Side of Chicago, hanging out with these ne'er-do-wells and playing blues music. That was his reaction to that.

           And then there was the success of Super Session, which we really weren't trying for. I mean that was the last thing on our minds, that that was going to be a successful record. I was trying to emulate the Blue Note jazz records of the 50's in concept -- put a bunch of guys that can really play in a room and let 'em jam. Make rock n' roll more of an art form, comparing it to those jazz records. And it turned out to be the most successful record of our careers.

           Bn: Whatever happened to the Norman Rockwell portrait of you and Mike Bloomfield that appears on the cover of Live Adventures?

           AK: That's an interesting question. Here's what happened. It was hanging at CBS in the art director's office, John Berg. And I tried to steal it three times. Because I felt it belonged to me. And I was unsuccessful all three times. Then a few years later I went to John Berg and I said, "You really should give that to me. It's ridiculous for you to have it." And he said, "You know, I would leave it to you in my will, but I'm afraid you'll kill me." And that was the end of that.

           Finally, about two years ago I did an interview at WABC radio in New York and the disc jockey said, "My brother owns the painting." And he bought it from somebody that wasn't John Berg. So John Berg sold it. And then whoever he sold it to maybe is the one he bought it from. I talked to the guy that owned it and it really depressed me. That was as much as I wanted to know.

           Bn: The audiophile "gold disc" version of Super Session is out. Were you involved in that project?

           AK: Only in that they found three out-takes. They used one and the other two were really bad and I wouldn't let them put them on the disc. And the out-take they did use is not really an out-take of "Albert's Shuffle." It's just another track.

           Bn: Is there any more Bloomfield/Kooper work in the Columbia vaults?

           AK: There also remains a Fillmore East concert that's never been found. I think we're gonna find it. I think Columbia would be very excited to find it and put it out. That'd be two CDs at least.

           They just put out that Electric Flag compilation Faded Glory and it's terrible. The choice of rarities is disgusting. Those tracks from Monterey, "Wine" and "The Night Time Is The Right Time" are just terrible.

           Bn: Were they any good at Monterey?

           AK: They were great. But none of that concert was recorded very well.

           I have a live Electric Flag tape from that period that's pretty darn good. Michael sings an Otis Redding song, "Good to Me." He does a pretty good job. And then the band kinda falls apart and he's yelling out chords to them. I want to get that put out some time, without the track that falls apart.

           I also have an amazing tape of Bloomfield's audition for Columbia. They have the rights to the tape. But they don't have the tape itself -- I do. It's very interesting. It's just Mike solo. It's more of Michael the folklorist than Michael the burning lead player. But it's very interesting, he's so unabashed and young and going for the throat on it.

           It's fantastic. He's telling John Hammond, Sr. off. And they hired a bass player for the session, Bill Lee, Spike Lee's dad, and Mike's going, "Come on, get with it man." It's great. I could put out a great Bloomfield album. But the situation is Columbia can't put that audition tape out and neither can I.

           Bn: Your liner notes for the recent Bloomfield compilation on Columbia Don't Say I Ain't Your Man hinted that a second volume of Bloomfield work could be forthcoming.

           AK: I don't know if that will happen. I didn't care for that disc too much. I found that just to be an opportunity to say my goodbyes to Michael that I never had a chance to say in print.

           Bn: What was your relationship with him like?

           AK: It was pretty good. He wouldn't do the drug thing in front of me. Only one time, I saw him on the street when he wasn't planning to see me and he was whacked out of his head, and that was the only time I ever saw him in that condition. Otherwise, I think he would've been embarrassed to do that in front of me.

           Bn: Any special performances that really stand out in your memory?

           AK: I used to love to see him eat fire with Butterfield. It was really dramatic. He didn't do that enough for me.

           Bn: What do you mean?

           AK: He would eat fire on stage. He would blow fire out of his mouth like Gene Simmons of Kiss. He would do that with Butterfield like once every five gigs. It was as exciting as Hendrix setting his guitar on fire or Townshend smashing his guitar -- it was right up there.

           Bn: You, Mike, and the Butterfield Blues Band rhythm section backed up Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Music Festival in 1965 when he stunned the crowd by playing electric rock and roll. Was he really booed off stage?

           AK: Dylan wasn't booed off stage as much as...he was the star of this three day show. And he came out and played three songs and said "goodnight." That's what he was booed about. A lot of people sat through three days of music that they didn't understand or care about just to hear him play. And he was definitely the king. And he came out and did that -- and they were horrified. They were in disbelief -- "what do you mean? three songs? that's it?"

           But we had stayed up all night the night before rehearsing and only got three songs together. I'm not so sure Dylan wanted to play more than that. I think the whole thing was semi-spontaneous about him doing an electric set at the show. He could've gone out and played acoustic, which I think was probably his original plan when he got in the car to drive up there.

           But once he got up there and Bloomfield was up there with Butterfield and his band and he bumped into me, I think he started formulating in his mind "oh why don't I just do this?"

           The media promulgated Newport to be something that it wasn't. The next time I played with Dylan -- which was in Forest Hills along with Harvey Brooks, Levon Helm, and Robbie Robertson -- everyone had read in the paper that they were supposed to boo. So that's what they did.

           However, a week after we played Forest Hills, we played the Hollywood Bowl and there was nary a boo. Which sort of breaks down the difference between the East and the West Coast in 1965.

           Bn: What about the bonus instrumental on Child is Father to the Man that is listed as a Bloomfield/Kooper collaboration?

           AK: That's a misprint. The research department at Columbia made a stupid mistake. Because it was called "Refugee from Yahupitz" they just took the "Refugee" part to mean it was a Bloomfield/Kooper composition. Editor's note: "Refugee" is the instrumental that closes the Live Adventures album.

           Bn: So do you both get royalties for that?

           AK: Well [laughter], Columbia's as good at paying royalties as they are at doing research.

           Bn: Didn't you appear on TV with Mike Bloomfield?

           AK: Right, it was a show called Speakeasy. Mike and I played and we changed instruments. He played keyboards and I played acoustic guitar. And then we talked on a panel with Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. Chip Monk, who was the voice of Woodstock, was the host of the show.

           Bn: What's ahead for Al Kooper?

           AK: Three projects. One is a Jimmy Vivino solo album that I would produce. The other is a Blues Project studio album, which we need to do, 'cause we haven't done one in 30 years. And I've got to make a record of these songs I've been writing for the last 15 years. I've got about 50 great songs that I would have to edit down to one album. And that would probably be a really good song album.

           And then there's an additional record. I want to make a covers album, but I want to do it down my basement in my studio so it would cost nothing to make. And then maybe I could work out some way so that only fans could have it.

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Soul Of A Man

           Soul Of A Man by Al Kooper. MusicMasters #1612-65113-2. What makes the appearance of this thrilling live offering astonishing is the fact that Al Kooper has been largely silent in the last 10 years, except for a mostly instrumental solo album, Rekooperation, released last year. The fire and fury of Soul Of A Man is not the kind of work you would expect from a guy who has been in semi-retirement. Itūs clear from the first track that Kooper and his all-star cast of seasoned musicians are in top playing form. Kooper reunites with original members of The Blues Project and Blood, Sweat and Tears, and teams up with great musicians like Johnnie Johnson, Harvey Brooks, and Jimmy Vivino. The peak performances are those with some of the original members of BS&T, the group Kooper formed in 1967 and left after the classic album, Child Is Father To The Man. Kooper and the band dust off the best material from that album for this live release. My Days Are Numbered features a duel between trumpet legends Lew Soloff and Randy Brecker that's a white-knuckled thrill ride not to be missed. Kooper's music has always been about diversity, and this release ties together the varied pieces of his career in one neat package that's all meat and no filler.

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Kooper Albums Available as Imports

           Many Kooper albums, including The Live Adventures Of Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper, Kooper Session, I Stand Alone, You Never Know Who Your Friends Are, Easy Does It, New York City (You're A Woman), A Possible Projection Of The Future, Naked Songs, Championship Wrestling, and Act Like Nothing's Wrong are available on CD only as Japanese imports. A compilation, Al's Big Deal, was released in the USA but has been deleted. That disc was re-mixed for CD by Al Kooper.

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© 1995 Jan Mark Wolkin & Neal McGarity

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