Al Kooper Still Live & Kickin' At 66 - by J. Blake

Posted on 2/09/2010 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

On Friday February 5th, 2010, a Brooklyn native and musical icon celebrated his 66th birthday with a night of jamming at B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill in the heart of NYC’s Time Square. Al Kooper took the stage at one of The Big Apple’s last true blues venues and entertained a sold out crowd with a night of stories, expletives, friends and music.

Kooper, who got his start as a professional musician in his early teens, playing with bands like The Royal Teens on early rock and roll hits like “Short Shorts” and “Believe Me”; has been around the block more times than most of popular music’s most seasoned artists. In addition to playing the keyboards in New York City’s answer to the British Blues Boom of the mid-1960s, The Blues Project, Kooper was also the founding member of Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1967 and has participated in several legendary studio sessions for some of the industry’s most notable artists; including Jimi Hendrix, The Who, George Harrison and The Rolling Stones (on their hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”). In 1972 Kooper discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd in an Atlanta bar, formed his own record label called “Sounds of the South” and produced the band’s first three albums; including hits like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird”.

Despite all of his accomplishments (and clearly there are many), perhaps Kooper’s most defining musical moment was at a recording session in 1965, when at age 21, he sat down behind the organ and laid down the signature riff to Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” for the now legendary HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED album. In addition to a lifelong musical relationship with Dylan, this session also spawned a series of fruitful collaborations between Kooper and a then relatively unknown blues guitar prodigy named Mike Bloomfield.

Kooper and Bloomfield’s first (non-Dylan) collaboration, SUPER SESSION, with Stephen Stills, was an enormous financial success and featured numerous covers of songs like Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”. It also featured some inspired blues guitar playing by Bloomfield on tracks like “Albert’s Shuffle” and “Stop”. The duo’s follow up, THE LIVE ADVENTURES OF MIKE BLOOMFIELD AND AL KOOPER, was recorded over three nights at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco in 1968 and has proven to be one of the seminal live recordings of the late-60s. The album’s cover-art features a now famous portrait of Bloomfield and Kooper painted by Norman Rockwell and musically, the double album captures amazing playing from not only the duo, but also Elvin Bishop, Steve Miller and Carlos Santana (all of which substituted for Bloomfield on the night he was hospitalized for exhaustion).

Thankfully, in 2003 Columbia Records released yet another live collaboration by the dynamic duo titled FILLMORE EAST: THE LOST CONCERT TAPES 12/13/68. Though, this recently unearthed performance was recorded in New York, two and a half months after THE LIVE ADVENTURES OF MIKE BLOOMFIELD AND AL KOOPER, it features much of the same material; songs like “59th Streets Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”, “Together Till The End Of Time”, “That’s All Right With Mama” and Albert King’s “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong”. Blues fans will be thrilled to also find versions of Elmore James/Sonny Boy Williamson’s “One Way Out”, Bloomfield’s original composition “(Please) Tell Me Mama” and B.B. King’s “It’s My Own Fault” (featuring a then unknown Johnny Winter).

Beyond performing, Kooper is a celebrated author. His book BACKSTAGE PASSES & BACKSTABBING BASTARDS: MEMOIRS OF A ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SURVIVOR is often sited as being one of the best literary works on the subject of rock music. He has also received honorary Doctorates from Five Towns College in Long Island and the Berklee School of Music in Boston and taught songwriting and record production at the latter for several years.

Al Kooper’s achievements are many (too many for one article) and as the music veteran took the stage last Friday night in front of a capacity crowd in NYC, he celebrated his birthday with new friends like female-vocalist Kristina Train and his band of Berklee Music professors “Funky Faculty”; as well as old friends like The Blues Project’s Danny Kalb and The Max Weinberg Seven’s (formally the new Tonight Show Band) Jimmy Vivino. It was a wonderful night of music (and blues) that not only celebrated Kooper’s day of birth, but also his 50+ years in the music business.

*If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: B.B. King Live at the Regal

Thanks and keep reading American Blues News!!!

Copyright © 2010 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

Photo by Arnie Goodman

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