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Al Kooper
Al KooperMany 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.

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Comments: 18

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I emailed Al Kooper and told him that he is one of my musical heroes. He has met, played with or produced just about every great musician I love. His work is soul stirring, and as others mentioned, it is a shame so many people do not know about the amazing music from his era.
-Mark D from Boston, MA

Thanks Al. For all that you've done and the various groups artists I've gotten to based on your producing/performing. From Bloomfield to Otis, to Skynyrd, etc. While I agree with you on the new music to a degree, I'm finding lots of new stuff that is well worth listening to. Daptone Records is putting out some pretty good funky horm music and Tower of Power is still around.
-Rick from Ithaca ny

It saddens me to know that the genius of great music like blood sweat and tears santana the animals zombies and such has all but vanished there is no more soul in music now days its just racket or noise. Wish I could have experienced first hand the music my dad grew up with damn i envy him for that, music is the only real connection he and i have not much else in common, when I listen to allman bros, blood sweat and tears everything seems to dissapear the bad along with the good is gone I become one so to speak Thank you Al Kooper more than you'll ever Know.
-moose73 from california

Al, thanks for givin´us Lookin´ for a Home. It's part of my life. Wilmer Rafael Hernández
-wilmer rafael hernandez from valencia, venezuela

To me, the Kooper - Bloomfield collaborations (including "The Lost Sessions) remain some of my favorite work and are still in constant rotation on my play list. Overall, both Kooper and Bloomfield are terribly under-rated in rock history.
-Aaron from Detroit

I will play Al's '68 double Live Adventures (with Mike Bloomfield) until the day I die. Priceless. Vinyl and CD worn out, now I'm on the download. Highly recommended.
-andy from The Hague, Netherlands

Unfortunately Al's genius will never be fully recognised. A pioneer and innovator in a business in which the Dollar is the be all and end all. If anyone doubts this try a retrospective of Al's solo albums, they exude a freshness and invention which the current crop of musicians would balk at. His work with his friend Mike Bloomfield is exemplary.
thanks for all the good music Al.

There aren't enough words to say about the first (and only real) Blood, Sweat & Tears album. It is a moment when all the pieces were brought together, and it is a master class in how to do it. Song, playing, arrangement, and, yeah, even vocals, because while Al Kooper is no Robert Plant or Roger Daltrey, his is the perfect voice to tie up the package he assembled. The song selection, besides Kooper's, is inspired -- Randy Newman, Tim Buckley, Harry Nilsson. Also, great use of loud-soft dynamics. It transcends genre by not caring about genre, as with Astral Weeks and some other greats. Absolutely essential listening.
-Bob from Tupelo

At least one band who was one of Kooper's Blood, Sweat & Tears is still going, the one and only Chicago.
-Larry Launstein Jr from Michigan

Super Sessions sound led me to the Electric Flag, another unique album. Horn fans may want to check out music from Urge (out of St Louis and Columbia MO) and for a current touring group gathering some aclaim is "Lubriphonic" out of Chicago. Enjoy
-fender1967 from St Louis MO

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