Many of the greatest moments in Rock were made possible by Al Kooper. He founded Blood, Sweat & Tears, produced Lynyrd Skynyrd, and played on records by Dylan, Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and The Who.
A fan of the truth with no revisionism, Kooper tells the tales in his memoir Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards
. It's a fascinating, unfiltered look at what really went down on the tours, in the recording sessions, and everywhere in between. Kooper was kind enough to answer our 8 burning questions.
1) Does today's generation of kids care as much about music as the generation of the '60s did?
I don't think so and it's too bad things like mp3's and cellphones diminish the quality of sound they listen to as well. Hip hop sort of fractured the lyrical base of what is commonly top ten and we don't see albums that will stand the test of time like Pink Floyd, The Stones and The Beatles. There is no comparative Elvis Presley or Beatles for this time period as far as I can tell. I DO think there is a great deal of great music being made, but it is not being made available on radio, in the press or in magazine ads; ergo, it probably won't survive. The threat of everything turning to streaming terrifies people my age. We wanna OWN all the music we enjoy.
2) You make reference to a vast record album collection. What are the favorite pieces that you like to show off?
I don't really "show off" my vinyl collection. It hides in a room upstairs like a quiet documentation of the '50s - '70s. Some of my faves are the original pressings of many Chess Records and Vee Jay Records releases. I was never a collector, just a huge fan. I still am.
3) You talk about your song "Thirty-Eight People" and the Kitty Genovese incident. Fantasy author Harlan Ellison also talks about that extensively in his work, for example in his intro to "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs." Why did that incident touch such a nerve in the 1960s?
Because a woman was tortured and killed and nobody called the police. 38 people commented later they heard a fuss but went on about their business not contemplating that someone was losing their life. It helped bring 911 into being and that solved a great many future events like that from happening again.
4) Towards the end of your memoirs, you mention dabbling in graphics art. Could you share some more details?
I was always intimately involved in the design of all my album covers and CD packaging starting with Child Is Father To The Man. Prior to that, I had no input in graphics OR sound and I set out to make sure that never happened again.
5) A lot of musicians have overdosed on heroin. Why do they have a weakness for this drug?
Because being a musician is primarily a hard life. One is dedicated, but rarely properly compensated or artistically satiated. Along comes a powerful drug that makes you forget your troubles momentarily until you find that your new trouble is you are addicted to an illegal drug. I snorted it twice in order to see what it was like, but I knew in front I would go no further. I was just as intellectually curious as you were by asking this question.
6) Your work is scattered to the four winds, but is there one particular song or album that stands out as your finest moment?
By the amount of emails I receive and the press that I get it is undoubtedly the organ part on "Like A Rolling Stone
." I kinda like the way Martin Scorcese edited my telling of that story in the documentary No Direction Home
For me, no one moment or event sticks out. I think reading my resume every ten years or so, is my finest moment - certainly my most incredulous. I cannot believe I did all the stuff I did in one lifetime. One is forced to believe in luck and God.
7) What are your thoughts on music downloading?
I download all my favorite music from the "new releases" section of iTunes every Tuesday. Admittedly, these are artists that are primarily never heard of, but their music reaches me and I want to hear it again. At a dollar a song, I can handle it. I rarely download an entire album - maybe 10 a year. But the single tracks I download mean a great deal to me. It has replaced listening to the radio or going to non-existent record shops in my life and it's actually cheaper and less time consuming than it used to be pre iTunes. The best part is I don't have to leave the house to do it.
8) What are some bands today which show a lot of influence from Blood Sweat & Tears? Certainly horns have gotten more respect than they did before, haven't they?
I dont hear many special horn bands anymore. I think that era is long gone. My favorite band nowadays is called Field Music from England. My favorite band of all time is the English band Free.
Get more at alkooper.com.