Writings about Music

When Eight Was More Than Ten

Al Kooper discusses Bob Dylan's piano playing on the New Morning Album

Al Kooper and Bob Dylan (1966)

It was fascinating reading Al Kooper's autobiographical memoirs, something I highly recommend. While I knew Kooper had played the organ part that really makes the song, "Like A Rolling Stone," it being doubtful the track would have taken such momentous flight without his immaculate contribution, I was unaware of the thrilling and charming details Al reveals about how that fabled session transpired illuminating the essence of spontaneity, the incredibly influential producer, Tom Wilson, being another indispensable part of the creative team.

Kooper penned and sang the startlingly raw and timbrally exquisite opening track, "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know," for the debut album of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Child is Father to the Man, a band bassist Reggie Johnson declined to join because he felt the name of the new group wouldn't work!

There is one slight connection I have with Al Kooper, who was the original leader of Blood, Sweat & Tears, initially including Steve Katz, Bobby Colomby and Jim Fiedler, subsequently adding Fred Lipsius, Randy Brecker, Jerry Weiss and Dick Halligan. In 2003, Clive Fox, the son of Harry Fox of the Harry Fox Agency, whose storied career includes being the General Manager of Chappell Music, the General Manager of the MGM Record Label division, and managing Eric Burdon and The Animals, introduced Bobby Colomby and myself, the three of us meeting over lunch at Label's Table on Pico Boulevard. Clive's idea was for Bobby to become my manager, but I was completely surprised when he proceeded to describe me to Colomby as a "musical genius" who "deserves to win a Grammy Award," not having realized how strongly he felt about what I was doing. Bobby's most prominent client at the time was trumpeter Chris Botti, representing a vastly different musical form, of course. While Clive's intuition for Bobby and myself to work together didn't come to pass, I greatly appreciated his support and enthusiasm.

Something I had no idea of is how Kooper was the original producer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, including their most monumental tracks like "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Simple Man," still stunning in their musical primacy, emotive inventiveness, and recorded immediacy-presence. He certainly is in possession of catalytic magic, and I've only touched upon Al's myriad accomplishments on his own and with others.

Taking advantage of an opportunity to ask Al Kooper a question for his website, below is the text or transcript of a question I posed last month together with his beguiling response. You may actually hear Al's most expressive and original speaking voice responding to the question here, it being Question No. 3 at the Al Kooper website.

New Morning, Al Kooper being the producer, is unquestionably among a few of the very greatest Bob Dylan albums. It is my personal favorite for sheer musical beauty and rasa, alternately flashing like sun and stormy lightning manifestations, exemplifying how aesthetically nourishing contrasts may be. There are qualities of uninhibited purity, and melodic, harmonic and expressive sheen that remain unique in the history of recorded music. Judy Collins subsequently recorded a soaring version of one of the album's songs.

Michael Robinson (timevina): I think I know what you meant when you said yourself and Bob Dylan are both musical primitives [and this being why you feel you clicked so well together], but the precise meaning is a bit contradictory because both of you are obviously highly skilled and advanced in your own ways. Please elucidate more specifically what you meant by that statement if you can.

Al Kooper: Well, I think we both started primitively. And then, as we gained more knowledge, then the primitive went by the wayside, although he can still do a primitive.

Jon Sachs (moderator): Primitive being defined as making music even though you're not...

Al Kooper: No, simplified music.

Jon Sachs: Simplified music. OK.

Al Kooper: But I'll tell you, while we're on the subject, I'm working on this boxed set, and I worked on Bob's album called New Morning...

Jon Sachs: Right.

Al Kooper: ...and so I took some stuff from that, a couple of tracks, and put it on the album. I got permission from his manager.

Jon Sachs: Right.

Al Kooper: I'm really glad because it was a great combination, but the other thing that's great about it is at that point Bob was a fantastic piano player. Really good. And that was captured on that album, New Morning.

Jon Sachs: Right

Al Kooper: His piano playing was fantastic. I was really glad I was playing the organ as opposed to the piano because he would have blown me off. And the other thing that was interesting about it was when he plays he does not use his pinkies. So his pinkies are up in the air. And he plays like that. You can't see, but think of his pinky, both pinkies being up in the air, and the rest of his fingers playing the piano. And that used to amuse me. When I could see that happening. But he played fantastic piano on that album. And it was really fun to do that.

(End of Al Kooper's answer to Michael Robinson's question)

 

Hear for yourself - I couldn't agree more with Al about the inspired piano playing - with two of the tracks where Bob accompanies himself at the keyboard.

 

I will have more questions for Al Kooper, no doubt. He only touched upon what was meant by "musical primitive," of course, this being an endlessly provocative concept in general transcending genres.

It was very cool having the Bob Dylan Archive in Oklahoma request permission to add my writings about Bob to their collection a while back (pages).

- Michael Robinson, November 2021, Los Angeles

 

© 2021 Michael Robinson All rights reserved

not pertaining to the included question and response from Al Kooper

 

Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and musicologist. His 161 albums include 148 albums for meruvina and 13 albums of piano improvisations. He has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University.