Posts Tagged ‘Al Kooper’

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From the “Supersession,” album in 1968 comes arguably Mike Bloomfield’s finest moment in his legendary career. The jam will send a jolt to your synapses, as Bloomfield’s inspired, fluid playing from the intro is so assured and soulful, it will make a true believer of you. With Al Kooper on organ, Harvey Brooks on bass, Barry Goldberg on electric piano, and Eddie Hoh on drums, “Albert’s Shuffle, the groups homage to Albert King, does the band and the Blues legend proud. It is an enduring masterpiece. Bloomfield’s playing with the Butterfield Blues Band on their first two albums is astonishing. He was one of the greatest players of all time. Sadly I don’t believe he received the recognition he deserved and it is us of a certain age who recall his inimitable skill. “Super Session” – the musically adventurous mid-1968 collaboration between the unlikely triumvirate of multi-instrumentalist Al Kooper, Chicago-blues ace Michael Bloomfield and Buffalo Springfield guitar player Stephen Stills – is cited as a different type of milestone: the capturing of itinerant rock musicians coming together briefly for a one-off jam, in the same way as jazz musicians had previously done. It can lay claim, almost by accident, to being the impetus for a whole branch of rock’s family tree.

The project was masterminded by well-travelled multi-instrumentalist Al Kooper, and Super Session was at least partially borne out of Kooper’s frustration that no producer had been able to properly showcase the formidable talents of his friend, blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield.Kooper and Bloomfield led parallel musical lives, both eventually playing in brass-driven bands; the former in Blood, Sweat & Tears, the latter in The Electric Flag. Both had recently left these acts at the time of Super Session; Stephen Stills, who joins the story later, was in the process of leaving Buffalo Springfield. Kooper, had taken a job as an A&R man at Columbia,

“Albert’s Shuffle” written by Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield  is from the classic Columbia album, Super Session, recorded in May 1968 by guitarist Michael Bloomfield, multi-instrumentalist Al Kooper, keyboardist Barry Goldberg, and bassist Harvey Brooks.  This version is from the Sony CD reissue and features the original track before the horns were added on the final mix.

“Super Session” (1968) was conceived by Al Kooper and features the work of guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills(originally printed on the sleeve as Steve Stills). Kooper and Bloomfield had previously worked together on the sessions for the ground-breaking classic Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan. The success of this record opened the door for the “supergroup” concept of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Kooper recalled in his book Backstage Passes And Backstabbing Bastards: “[Bloomfield] commenced to play some of the most incredible guitar I’d ever heard… And he was just warming up! I was in over my head. I embarrassedly unplugged, packed up, went into the control room, and sat there pretending to be a reporter from Sing Out! magazine.” Kooper still seized his chance to be part of the recording, by playing the Hammond – the first time in his life he’d ever sat behind the instrument. The pair were in also in Dylan’s band for his electrified 1965 Newport Folk Festival set.

The album’s title – thought up after it was recorded – is almost a misnomer, since its two star guitarists didn’t actually play together during it. Instead, Side One is the result of a nine-hour Kooper-Bloomfield session; Side Two features Kooper-Stills, with both sessions backed by Electric Flag members Barry Goldberg on keys and Harvey Brooks on bass, plus consummately talented session drummer ‘Fast’ Eddie Hoh – horns and Kooper’s extra guitar parts were overdubbed later.


Mike Bloomfield – is the subject of a new multi-disc anthology produced by Al Kooper, “From His Head to His Heart to His Hands”, released by Columbia/Legacy – is rock’s greatest forgotten guitar hero. From 1965 to 1968, he was nothing less than the future of the blues, charging the primal forms and raw truths of his idols – B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf – with cutting-treble tone, breakneck improvising and incisive, melodic articulation on a machine-gun series of classic records: Dylan’s epochal single “Like a Rolling Stone” and the Highway 61 LP; the Butterfield band’s ’65 debut album and ’66 raga-blues thriller, East-West; and the 1968 Top 20 hit Super Session, a dynamic jamming collaboration with Kooper. In 1966, Eric Clapton, on the verge of his own stardom, called Bloomfield “music on two legs.” But in the Seventies, as Clapton ascended to sold-out arenas, Bloomfield slipped into twilight in San Francisco, working with low-profile bands and making small-label records while wrestling with chronic insomnia and heroin.
Bloomfield – (1943-1981) Born in Chicago, Bloomfield gravitated toward the Blues after playing in high school Rock and Roll bands. He was born to play the Blues, spending time in Chicago’s South Side Blues clubs with black bluesmen such as Sleepy John Estes, eventually performing with Chicago’s finest, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters during the early ’60s. He also met harmonica player, Paul Butterfield and guitarist Elvin Bishop. A grandfather, Max, owned a pawnshop, and Bloomfield got his first guitar there. Born left-handed, he forced himself to play the other way around. “That’s how strong-willed he was,” says Goldberg. “When he loved something so much, he just did it.”

The Butterfield Blues Band was born in 1965 with the addition of keyboardist Mark Naftalin, bassist Jerome Arnold, and drummer Sam Lay. The debut album the eponymous “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” was released in October 1965 and met with little success nationally. But more important, Bloomfield played on Bob Dylan’s epic single “Like a Rolling Stone,” and on most of the tracks of Dylan’s 1965 “Highway 61 Revisited,” album. Additionally, he also joined Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in July, along with the balance of Butterfield’s band (sans the leader). and keyboardists Al Kooper and Barry Goldberg. This was Dylan’s historic appearance in which he strapped on a Telecaster, and the band played electric – the first instance of an electric-guitar performance by the folk rocker. Dylan remembered Bloomfield as “the guy that I always miss. . . . He had so much soul. And he knew all the styles.”

“He put tremendous force into what he was doing,” says pianist Mark Naftalin, who played with Bloomfield in the Butterfield band, then on many post-’68 gigs and sessions. “But that’s not the same as ambition. He turned away from possibilities of success ritually.

The Butterfield Blues Band’s second LP “East-West” from 1966 fared much better than its predecessor and has gone on to become a classic. During this period, Bloomfield also contributed guitar on albums by Chuck Berry, James Cotton, and Mitch Ryder. Next, after relocating to San Francisco in 1967, he formed Electric Flag with his long time collaborators Goldberg and Nick Gravenites, and bassist Harvey Brooks and drummer Buddy Miles completed the band. Michael was organic – he played directly from his heart into an amp,” says keyboard player Barry Goldberg, who met the guitarist in high school in Chicago and was in Bloomfield’s psychedelic-R&B big band the Electric Flag. “When he shook a string, it was like Otis Rush. He had the intensity in his soul. He didn’t need anything else.

They appeared together for the first time at the Monterey Pop Festival and released the “A Long Time Comin,” album in 1968, featuring “Killing Floor,’ “Texas,” and “Wine,” among other tasty tracks. The record was seen as uneven, and hostilities between band members and heroin abuse subverted the group. Teaming up with Kooper once again and Steven Stills., The band released the one-off “Supersession,” with one of Bloomfield’s finest moments on the soulful “Albert’s Shuffle,”

The classic example is Super Session, Bloomfield’s only hit record under his own name. Tracks from that album, outtakes and associated live material – arguably some of his most sublime, furiously poetic soloing on record – comprise From His Head‘s second CD. Guitarist Jimmy Vivino, the bandleader on Conan and a lifelong Bloomfield disciple, cites the gleaming tangle of vocal-like phrasing and diamond-hard melodic certainty in “Albert’s Shuffle,” the opener on Super Session, as the peak. “The intro and first chorus are breath taking,” he raves. “And it’s just a Les Paul Sunburst into a Super Reverb amp with that Bloomfield tone – no bass, volume all the way up. And you control it from the guitar.”

But Bloomfield is on only one side of the original LP. He quit the sessions after one night of recording, leaving Kooper a note: “Alan, couldn’t sleep. Went home.” Kooper finished the album with Stephen Stills. “You know what it was in retrospect? Michael wasn’t properly challenged by anyone,” Kooper says now. “Even I didn’t want to take that position. I’d rather be his friend.”

The album was a big hit landing at #12 on the Billboard Album Charts, and resulting in a sequel “Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper”, recorded at Fillmore West. Bloomfield turned to solo. session and backup work for the next 12 years, including guitar on a track of Mother Earth’s “Living With the Animals,” in ’68. He also produced James Cotton’s “Cotton in Your Ears,” sessions in ’69, and contributed to Janis Joplin’s “I Got Dem Ol’ Kosmic Blues Again Mama,” 1969 album – and helped put together the band.

His last major work was on “Fathers and Sons,” on the Chess label reuniting with Butterfield and Lay, backing Chess masters Muddy Waters and pianist Otis Spann. He gave up guitar playing in 1970 because of his addiction but did manage a few more albums in the 1970s, including “Triumvirate,” in 1973 with Dr. John and John Hammond Jr., and a reformed Electric Flag for an album “The Band Kept Playing.” He sat in with Dylan at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre on 11/15/80, and continued to play live dates, with an appearance at S.F. State College on 2/7/81 that would be his last.

Sadly, Bloomfield was found dead in his car from a heroin overdose on 2/15/81. His guitar prowess would live on in his wake, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #22 on its list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” in 2003, and he was inducted into Blues Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

Bob Dylan’s Gospel years inspired and rankled in unequal measure – with the critical brickbats and audience boos often drowning out the strength and beauty of the impassioned musical ministries delivered by Dylan between 1979 and 1981, gathering around him his five-strong chorus of gospel singers, and a crack band that included Little Feet guitarist Fred Tackett, bassist Tim Drummond, Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham and pianist Terry Young, and veteran drummer Jim Keltner. it’s no great mystery that when Bob Dylan seemed to find new faith around 1979, a lot of fans and Dylanologists lost theirs — in him. it seems clearer that another major impetus for him in heading down the path of spirituality had to be the opportunity to tap into the higher power of a great rock-gospel band.

So what were audiences to think when, with the release of 1979’s “Slow Train Coming” album, he sang that he was “Gonna change my way of thinking / Make myself a different set of rules” and preached that “there’s only one authority / And that’s the authority on high”?.

Roots music aficionado that he’s always been, Dylan has long understood the power gospel music has to move and inspire listeners. In turn, Bob Dylan served up some of his most impassioned, electrifying performances with these gospel-steeped songs.

Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13/ 1979-1981.” This one spans the so-called “Christian period” of his trio of albums: “Slow Train Coming,” “Saved” (from 1980) and “Shot of Love” (1981).

Slow Train Coming was at least a challenging and engaging album, with much typical imagery and complexity. A stunning gospel version of the title track features in the current hit play Girl from the North Country at the Old Vic theatre. The follow-up album, though, 1980’s Saved was too close to pure gospel, too devotional, and alienated even more fans. Shot of Love in 1981 continued the religious theme to a degree, but it was intermingled with what one might term secular tracks, and there was evidence that Dylan was once again changing course.

Filmed at Toronto’s Massey Hall and in Buffalo, New York, Dylan’s gospel shows have long been a bootlegger’s holy grail, and it was only on last autumn’s Trouble No More boxed set, the latest volume in the official Bootleg Series, that some of that footage finally found official release. Now that hour-long film has made it The nights of religious fervour and impassioned performances. It intersperses up-close and personal studio rehearsals with exceptionally intimate live footage of some of Dylan’s strongest Gospel songs – the likes of “Solid Rock”, “Slow Train”, “When He Returns” and “Precious Angel” – with slightly contrived but absorbing enough “sermons” written by Luc Sante and performed by Michael Shannon, who plays a lean, mean kind of preacher who wouldn’t be out of place in Girl from the North Country, the hit Dylan musical.

A lot of fans abandoned Bob Dylan during his Gospel [de]tours, largely to their own detriment

The subjects for each “sermon” were apparently suggested by Dylan, but it seems the singer had no further part in shaping their texts. A shame. There was a bit of a disconnect between the tone of these spiritual homilies and the music itself, so intimately captured, and so strong and vivid an expression of Dylan’s spiritual journey at the time. It might have made more sense to, say, use Hank Williams’ Luke the Drifter song-sermons. It was material that certainly chimed with Dylan from an early age (“I could listen to the Luke the Drifter record all day and drift away myself, become totally convinced in the goodness of man…” he wrote in Chronicles).

Director/producer Jennifer LeBeau excelled in choosing the strongest musical performances, all of it prefaced by that remarkable rehearsal footage, and closing with an extremely affecting performance of “Abraham, Martin and John” by Dylan and Clydie King, his then-girlfriend and a Gospel singer whose voice sounds like the female voice of an Old Testament God – tearing the air like paper and raising whatever roof it’s under until it hits the ground.

A lot of fans abandoned Dylan during his Gospel [de]tours, largely to their own detriment, but this was a film that put the music’s undeniable power up front, in your face and centre stage. Plenty of people back in 1979 and 1980 were talking up the “end times” and we’re enjoying a new flavour of “end times” right now, aren’t we, in a more solid, indigestible form? In that light, it’s fascinating to see and hear these spiritually impassioned songs performed under “the darkness that will fall from on high” that Dylan felt pressing down on him during those Gospel years. But let’s leave the last word to one of the men who was there, Fred Tackett. Here’s what he thinks of the film: “I was amazed, man. Everything was just so good. They picked the very best songs. Him and Spooner Oldham playing this harmonica and Hammond organ together at the end of ‘What Can I Do for You’… it was just so cool and hip, and Bob Dylan is playing so great. They found the best stuff and put it in this movie.”

In tracks like ‘Solid Rock’, you can feel his heart bursting with religious passion

That force comes through as well in the best tracks of Bob Dylan’s Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol 13 1979-81, the concert chronicle of his much-maligned “Christian” albums. The fiery gospel fervour delivered here benefits a great deal from being live rather than reproduced in the studio. These two discs are dynamite, containing, I am sure, some of the very most stirring moments of Dylan’s gigantic opus. In tracks like “Solid Rock” from San Diego in 1979, you can feel his heart bursting with religious passion, and everyone else – from the tightest of bands to five red-hot back-up singers – possessed by the spirit. This combination of note-perfect excellence and total letting-go can only be good for the soul, Dylan’s own, but for us the audience as well.

The deluxe set from Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings encompasses eight CDs and one DVD with director Jennifer Lebeau’s new documentary, “Trouble No More: A Musical Film.” An abridged two-CD set and a four-LP vinyl version are also available.

The deluxe set comprises 100 tracks: alternate studio versions, rehearsal takes and live performances. Only one has been previously released: “Ye Shall Be Changed,” which appeared on the first installment from 1991, “The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3.”

The first two discs of the “Trouble No More” set are drawn from various tour stops from 1979-81, while discs 3 and 4 collect rare versions of songs from the studio albums along with several that didn’t wind up on any of those releases. The fifth and sixth discs contain his full show from April 18th, 1980 in Toronto, while CDs 7 and 8 offer up another full concert from June 27th, 1981 at Earl’s Court in London. (For Dylan completists, the singer-songwriter’s website is offering two additional discs with yet another complete performance, this one from his Nov. 28th, 1979 tour stop in San Diego.)

Discs 1 through 4 are framed smartly, each of the four opening with markedly different renditions of the same song: “Slow Train Coming,” displaying how Dylan’s restless artistry was always in search of the right feel, tempo and attitude for a given song.

An alternate studio take of one of the “Slow Train Coming” album’s higher profile songs, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” features a livelier bounce in the rhythm section of Drummond and drummer Pick Withers, while keyboardist Barry Beckett pushes the song forward with beat-anticipating piano interlaced with funky clavinet parts. The backing gospel singers on the released version are absent.

The fidelity of the live versions varies noticeably in places, which makes for some compromises. The performance of “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” on the first disc, recorded in 1980 in Portland, Ore., benefits from a more fluid reggae-ized lilt by the band, and is buoyed further by a break where the gospel singers are featured.

But Dylan’s vocal is low in the mix, rendering certain lines difficult to discern, especially to anyone not already intimately familiar with his clever roster of creation stories he cooked up for so many critters.

Bob Dylan's 'Trouble No More' examines the gospel years, 1979-81