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Al Kooper Interview: ‘Super Session’ Remastered & Kooper Uncovers New Music In Column
September 3, 2014
By Ray Shasho
-Interviewed July 2nd 2014
Singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist AL KOOPER continues to relish an incredible life of music. Although these days it’s mostly through his weekly online column for The Morton Report entitled ‘New Music for Old People’
“This column is like the title says - its intention is to fill the gap for those of us who were satiated musically in the '60s and then searched desperately as we aged for music we could relate to and get the same buzz from nowadays. iTunes was the answer for me in 2003 and I have been following the new releases every Tuesday ever since I realized there was an endless stream of music I could enjoy there. The reason I am writing this column is to make sure others don't miss this. These are not top ten items; but they SHOULD be!”
Kooper is also excited about the re-release of the classic ‘Super Session’ album featuring Al Kooper-Mike Bloomfield-Stephen Stills. The album is re-mastered with the latest (Hybrid Multichannel SACD) technology. The package includes new liner notes written by Al Kooper that tells the story of the Super Session album and the new 5.1 Multichannel mix. The 5.1 mix by Al Kooper with mastering by Bob Ludwig was never released and yet it has acquired some fame from industry insiders familiar with the Multichannel mix with comments like "excellent" and "it deserves to be heard."The new mastering of the Stereo tracks for new SACD Stereo and CD Stereo audio are by mastering engineer Steve Hoffman. -The official release of ‘Super Session’ on amazon.com is -September 9th.
AL KOOPER: had a life changing undertaking technologically and musically after receiving a Webcor reel to reel tape recorder as a Bat Mitzvah gift in 1957.Born in Brooklyn and growing up in Queens, New York … Kooper began his incredible music career as a fourteen year old guitarist with The Royal Teens (“Short Shorts” #3 U.S. Hit in 1958).
In 1960, Kooper joined the songwriting team of Bob Brass and Irwin Levine and wrote “This Diamond Ring” (#1 U.S. Hit in 1965) for Gary Lewis & the Playboys. At 21, Kooper moved to Greenwich Village and began a momentous relationship with Bob Dylan. He performed and recorded with Dylan including adding his classic Hammond organ riffs on “Like a Rolling Stone” (#2 U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Hit in 1965). During those recording sessions, Kooper met Michael Bloomfield.
In 1967, Al Kooper joined The Blues Project as their keyboardist. He left the band before the group was to appear at the infamous Monterey Pop Festival, and instead, along with bandmate Steve Katz, formed the jazz/rock/psychedelic/ R&B/ group …Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Al Kooper recorded a jazz inspired jam entitled ‘Super Session’in 1968 with Michael Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. The album spawned an incredible cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and my favorite track “His Holy Modal Majesty” (Written by Kooper and Bloomfield). The album peaked at #12 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold.
It was Al Kooper who called Judy Collins in the middle of the night and put Joni Mitchell on the phone to sing “Both Sides Now” which eventually became a huge hit for Collins in 1968.
Throughout the years …Kooper became a mainstay in the recording studio performing with The Rolling Stones, The Who, B.B. King, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Alice Cooper, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joe Cocker, Tom Petty, and Roger McGuinn to name just a few.
Al Kooper produced The Tubes, David Essex, Nils Lofgren, Rick Nelson, Ray Charles, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan, and Lynyrd Skynyrd … to name just a few. He also played and arranged three tracks on George Harrison’s ‘Somewhere in England’ album and performed with the remaining Beatles … George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr, on Harrison’s Hit single “All Those Years Ago” (U.S. #2 Billboard Hot 100 Hit in 1981). Kooper has also written and composed on countless albums and scores for television and motion pictures.
I had the rare opportunity of chatting with Al Kooper about the remastered classic ‘Super Session’ album on 5.1 Multichannel mix … Al’s column ‘New Music for Old People’ … The Music industry today … Discovering Lynyrd Skynyrd … My infamous ‘Field of Dreams’ question… And much-much more!
Here’s my interview with founding member of The Blues Project, Blood Sweat & Tears, Collaborator with artists such as Bob Dylan, Michael Bloomfield, Stephen Stills, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, and many-many other legendary artists! Co-writer of the hit single… “This Diamond Ring,” Producer for numerous bands including Lynyrd Skynyrd & The Tubes … Singer/Songwriter/Producer/Multi-instrumentalist/Columnist/Author/ …AL KOOPER. ...(WHEW!)
Ray Shasho: Al, thank you so much for being on the call today.
Al Kooper: “You weren’t just talking with David Clayton-Thomas were you?”
Ray Shasho: (Laughing) No, haven’t gotten around to chatting with David yet. I did chat with Judy Collins recently and she told me it was you that introduced her to Joni Mitchell.
Al Kooper: “Yes. I was actually living in her apartment for awhile.”
Ray Shasho: Judy had great things to say about you.
Al Kooper: “Well, that’s why we pay her. (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Let’s chat about the re-release of the classic ‘Super Session’ album. The package includes new liner notes written by you that tells the story of the Super Session album and a new 5.1 Multichannel mix.
Al Kooper: “There was a time when Sony the label that owns it had a whole SACD, 5.1 department and they called and asked me if I’d be interested in doing some 5.1 remixes of stuff that I have worked on. So I said sure, they wanted me to do ‘Super Session’ and ‘Child is Father to the Man.’ I didn’t produce ‘Child is Father to the Man’ and so I called the producer and asked him if he was interested … and he said you should do it. So I said are you sure, because you’re the first choice in my book? He said no, I’m not interested and you are. So I did the first one in a week and the second a week after. I’ve only done those two and haven’t done anything else in 5.1.”
Ray Shasho: What will be the main difference in sound using 5.1?
Al Kooper: “You’ve got a great more space to deal with, it’s more of like a totally three dimensional space, so that helps tremendously and gives you more room to spread the instruments out … and vocals etc. I thought it was great that we could do that because when someone found the sweet spot where you need to sit, they could hear everything clearly, which is much tougher to do in a stereo situation.”
Ray Shasho: I thought the sound quality for the original ‘Super Session’ recording was incomparable for 1968.
Al Kooper: “Well it’s an eight-track tape, which means we only had eight tracks to put stuff on, so it’s really a credit to the engineer that it sounds the way it sounds, even more of a credit because we were just making everything up as we were playing it. We weren’t playing some preconceived tune, it was a jam session. With a preconceived tune you can say …well, at this point this is going to happen, and you say watch out for this and like that. But everyone was flying by the seat of their pants, so for him to do such a great job is very rare in a situation like that.”
Ray Shasho: I chatted with Billy Cobham who told me that the ‘Spectrum’ album was also a fly by the seat of your pants jam session. I think many of those jam sessions were much better recordings than the over produced ones.
Al Kooper: “We were sort of modeling that album after jazz recordings … but we weren’t playing jazz though.”
Ray Shasho: The ‘Super Session’ album includes so many great jams …“His Holy Modal Majesty” and an incredible version of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” have always been my favorite tracks. I consider that album as one of those timeless and inspiring recordings … much of the same way I feel about the second John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers release.
Al Kooper: “You mean the one with Clapton on it …or as we call it the Beano album.”
Ray Shasho: I covered John Mayall’s 80th Birthday show here in Sarasota and he looked and sounded fantastic, he was even setting up his own equipment.
Al Kooper: “Well that’s because he can’t afford a roadie” (All Laughing) I played with him about six or seven years ago… I opened for him and hadn’t seen him for a long time …it was very nice.”
Ray Shasho: Were there any thoughts of you, Michael Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills continuing as sort of a supergroup while touring as a band together?
Al Kooper: “We did do that and played a handful of gigs and two of them are albums. One is called ‘The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper’ and the other one is called ‘The Lost Concert Tapes’ because they were lost for about four years.”
Ray Shasho: So how were they lost?
Al Kooper: “Sony Records. When they found them, they called me; I came in and made an album out of multi-track tapes. So there are actually three situations where Bloomfield and I made albums together that were pretty much jam session albums.”
Ray Shasho: How about some of the other players on the album ... like bassist Harvey Brooks (Electric Flag), did you continue to play with those guys?
Al Kooper: “Harvey and I grew up together and played quite a bit prior to that … way back to when we were little kids. I was born in Brooklyn and actually grew up in Queens.”
Ray Shasho: Al, we’re definitely looking forward to the re-release of the classic ‘Super Session’ album (Hybrid Multichannel SACD) which will be available on amazon.com - September 9th. Al, what else do you have going on these days?
Al Kooper: “I have a weekly column that I write called ‘New Music for Old People’… and that’s what it is. Its music that just came out that would appeal to someone in my age range. So it’s new releases by anybody, but has to pass my test. If I like it then it goes in the column. I started doing this when iTunes first came out and I discovered all these amazing bands that nobody ever heard of, but they were great, I mean it was music that I really liked as anything else I’ve heard in my life. It all started towards the end of 2003 when iTunes started. I found a place where they had all the new releases every week which was exactly what I was looking to find. So I went through everything every week and I’d find bands that killed me and it was just great. I started buying them and setting up playlists and it changed my life. It took the place of radio. Radio is over. I haven’t listened to mainstream radio in maybe thirty years. Satellite radio is different because they’re trying to do what I’m trying to do. It’s easier for me to get an audience online. I’m a critic, but a critic by omission as well. I never write anything bad about anybody. Not only do I write about it but it’s streamed as well, you can also hear it, which is a nice touch. I think you’ll get a kick out of the column. I’m in my third year now, so I guess I’m getting good at it now.”
Ray Shasho: You also have a memoir out entitled ‘Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Survivor.’
Al Kooper: “I talk about what happened to me because it was such a bizarre story, and that’s why I wrote it. I had the most bizarre life. There are three editions of it out there and the latest edition is the best one. Backbeat Books is the publisher.”
Ray Shasho: You were also an A&R man for Columbia Records… a job I’ve always wanted to do. Is the A&R position important today as it was back in the 60s or 70’s?
Al Kooper: “The record companies are nothing what it used to be … especially the majors. I don’t feel like I belong there anymore. I don’t understand what those people are doing up there. Consequently, I think it’s just really tough for new bands as a result. But somehow all this great music is reaching me. The column that came out on Friday is called ‘What the Folk Is All This?’ And it’s about bizarre folk music. So it has some old stuff in it that was strange for the time it came out and then stuff from today that is also strange for the time it came out. There is also an artist that killed me, just knocked me out and nothing happened to it. I thought this guy was like the equivalent of Neil Young. And it just came and went, I couldn’t believe it.”
Ray Shasho: I chatted with Arthur Brown recently, a true rock pioneer, he was so grateful that I thought of him for an interview for my column.
Al Kooper: “Oh I love Arthur Brown. We played on the bill several times together. I thought he was unbelievable. I was also a little bit influenced by his organ player Vincent Crane and he was fabulous.”
Ray Shasho: My fondest memory of Lynyrd Skynrd was in 1975 …I was actually working at the Capital Centre arena in Maryland and watched the band rehearse their new song “Saturday Night Special” with maybe three other guys looking on. I hung out with Skynyrd a bit and then watched the concert later that evening.
How did you first discover Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Al Kooper: “I heard them in a bar. It was in Atlanta and I was there producing a record, I used to work from about midnight to 8pm every day and then me and this band I was producing would go out to this bar and get crazy. In those days, this was 1972, when you played a club you played for six nights. It wasn’t like one-nighters. So we had sat through one band already, and now a new week had started and a new band came in. The first band was okay, they weren’t great or anything, just background noise. So we went in and I saw the marquee and said…What is this … Ly-Nard Sky- Nard …what is this? (All laughing) They were a four-piece when I saw them … not counting the singer. Their songs and arrangements were incredible and I just thought they were amazing, and I got to hear them every night. I had favorites already and by the end of their engagement I offered to sign them. They became the reason why I started my record label (‘Sounds of the South’). I had found another band as well and thought… why am I giving this away, I should just start my own label, and then I moved to Atlanta. As a matter of fact I didn’t even go home from Atlanta. I had my roadies pack up my apartment and I never went home. (Then eventually sold the label to MCA Records)”
“I just love music … that’s what it’s all about.”
Ray Shasho: Al, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview …
Al Kooper: “About eight inches! (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: No, that’s not it … If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Al Kooper: “Well my favorite band of all-time was ‘FREE.’ I would have loved to play with that band. And my favorite track is “The Stealer.”
Ray Shasho: Al, thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us and continue to bring. Keep in touch!
Al Kooper: “I will, thank you Ray!”
Pre-order now … ‘Super Session’ (Hybrid Multichannel SACD) –Al Kooper-Mike Bloomfield-Stephen Stills - Official release date September 9th on amazon.com. The package includes new liner notes written by Al Kooper that tells the story of the Super Session album and the new 5.1 Multichannel mix. The 5.1 mix by Al Kooper with mastering by Bob Ludwig was never released and yet it has acquired some fame from industry insiders familiar with the Multichannel mix with comments like "excellent" and "it deserves to be heard."The new mastering of the Stereo tracks for new SACD Stereo and CD Stereo audio are by mastering engineer Steve Hoffman.
Also purchase … ‘From His Head to His Heart to His Hands’ (3 CD/ 1 DVD) by Michael Bloomfield (2014) - Box set An Audio-Visual Scrapbook (2014); a Columbia Legacy career retrospective, produced by Al Kooper. Previously unissued live performances and a DVD that includes the documentary film Sweet Blues: A Film about Mike Bloomfield, the film premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October, 2013. –Available now on amazon.com
Very special thanks to 'THE GREAT' Billy James of Glass Onyon PR
COMING UP NEXT … Keyboard extraordinaire Patrick Moraz (YES/The Moody Blues)… … Legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson (The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer) … Don Wilson guitarist, pioneer, and co-founder of ‘The Ventures.’ … Country Music’s shining new star -19 year old Mary Sarah … And Folk/Rock singer & songwriter Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine”).
Contact music journalist Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org
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