Al Kooper INinterview: He's Been Everywhere
By Terry Roland
Al Kooper hardly needs any
introduction. He's been there with the biggest names in rock including
the Beatles, Stones and Bob Dylan. His mercurial organ is a signutare sound
In a recent interview, he talks with wit, wisdom and a memory that holds stories and history which can be treasured by all.
TERRY:The first thing that struck me is your book memoir, Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards. It appears you didn't use a ghost writer. So, you are a writer in the literary sense as well. Many artists over the last 40 years have written biographies, what makes yours stand out from the others?
AL:I don't think of it as standing out. It's just what happened to me in a certain time period. I tried to express it so that everyone would understand.
TERRY:Johnny Cash has this song, I've Been Everywhere.....it seems this hold trues of you.
AL: It seems that way. Sometimes I step back from my resume in complete disbelief. I'm just glad I filled in that time from 14 - 66 so well.
TERRY: Reading over your career left me breathless. You've been on the edge of some historic moments in music. Where did the energy, inspiration and luck come from to accomplish all of this? I mean, is it a mission from God? Did you have this drive that wouldn't leave you alone, was it partially luck....and your own talent?... I've often been told its not so much talent as luck. What did you feel?
AL: Like A Rolling Stone...hahaha...you're leaving out one important thing - New York City AMBITION. I had a Great deal of that, sprinkled with luck. In the very beginning in fact I was probably 90% ambition and 10% talent (1958-62) but as I became experienced, I learned quickly. I think God was involved as well as there are no other explanations for some of it. But at the age of almost 66, it feels like those numbers are now reversed. I feel like I know a whole lot now but it takes a great deal to get me out of the house nowadays.
TERRY: Most notable for our readers is your being a part of Blues Project and founding Blood, Sweat and Tears. It seems you've specialized in breaking new ground in musical genre. Is this something that you pursued or did it pursue you?
AL: I was the last person
to join the Blues Project. I don't consider myself a founder or co-founder
of that band. Just a 1/5 participant. My role was to write songs, arrange
TERRY: Can you describe the scene at Newport Folk Festival in '65? What was your sense at the time?
AL: We completed the Highway 61 Revisited album a few weeks before Newport. It hadn't been released yet when we played there. That appearance was kinda the tip off to what was next for Bob. It took the audience by surprise I must say. We only played three songs because we only had one rehearsal the night before the show. We played for about fifteen minutes.
Bob was the headliner of the entire festival and everyone else played 45-60 minutes. I think THAT was what upset most of the audience. The Newport Board members were upset about the drums & electric guitars but the audience was more upset abouyt the short time we were onstage. I never heard any booing. Just unrest when we left the stage after that.
TERRY: Tell me about the Highway 61 Revisited sessions.
AL: The Highway 61 sessions were very disaorganized and chaotic on a day to day basis. The producer was fired after "Like a Rolling Stone" (the first track) was recorded. A new producer came in, but wisely just stayed in the corner out of everyone's artistic way. The arrangements were based on the skills of the individual musicians as opposed to thought out ahead of time. There were some great players on that album - Mike Bloomfield, Paul Griffin, Bobby Gregg, Harvey Brooks, etc - that is the glue that made it work. Of course the songs weren't too bad either - hahahaha. But there is the beginnings of what later was to be punk-rock on that album mixed with blues and folk music and good old rock n roll. I'm proud to have been a part of all that.
TERRY: You've released a new solo record, White Chocolate. Can you tell us about it? The title refers to your love for soul music?
AL: Yeah. It's not so new
anymore, however. It's been out about a year now. White Chocolate
is a term I'm hoping will replace "blue eyed soul" as I have brown eyes.
I released an album three years before that called Black Coffee.
I hadnt made a solo album in thirty years before that one. But I had still
been writing and recording, just not RELEASING anything.
TERRY:Who would you identify as the greatest soul singer of the last 50 years?
AL: Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Al Green , Luther Vandross, El DeBarge- thats the closest I can come to one
TERRY: Do you hear any bands or solo artists today who are carrying on your pursuit of great American music and especially breaking new ground in terms of innovative genre creation?
AL: I really like XTC, Kings
X, Field Music, Amos Lee, Kristina Train, North Mississippi All Stars,
Wilco, Anthony Hamilton, James Hunter, Grace Potter, Carolyn Wonderland
(although I think she should change her first name to Allison), The Veronicas,
The Bird & The Bee,Andy Davis, Paul Thorn, Jeb Loy Nichols, Deerhoof,Jake
Shimabukuro and my favorite band of
TERRY: Looking back over your career, what do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of it.
AL: That I am still alive
TERRY: Looking ahead, what do you see for your future contributions, escapades, projects etc.
AL: I dont know and that is good. I like the fairly open- minded concept.
TERRY: I was in Japan the summer of 1989. I bought an import of New Morning and found this album to be highly spiritual and with this natural element to it. What were you and Dylan going for on that album?
AL:I think it was a hurriedly
assembled attempt to wield off negative backlash from Self-Portrait.
I dont think people understood that album. So NM was a cross between Self
Portrait and maybe Nashville Skyline. It had a few different bands
on it. Also some tracks had horns or strings on them that Bob removed before
release. We are trying to get those released in the future in his BIOGRAPH