Monday, June 14, 2010
Skywave Rider Book Club: Al Kooper Biography
I had lost track of Al Kooper. I loved his work way been when -- Super Session, The Blues Project and early Blood, Sweat and Tears. I played them all on my radio shows.
When I was recently reading Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller (another good read) I learned that Kooper had crossed paths with both Joni Mitchell and Carole King in their early years.
in her book, Weller cites Al Kooper's 1977 autobiography Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards. I searched for Backstage... online and saw the 1977 edition was out-of-print and existing copies were selling for several hundred dollars each.
Then, I saw that Kooper in 2007 had released a revised version that incorporates much of the celebrated earlier book. So, I bought a copy.
Kooper's book tells his story in a totally raw and uncompromising manner. I found myself frequently thinking "what a jerk" as Kooper describes situations and people who screwed him again and again. And the people (particularly women) he screwed. The Kooper I met is full of anger issues, paranoia and grudges.
Also, Kooper writes of amazing encounters and experiences with musicians at key times in their lives. Kooper played organ on Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone and most of tracks on Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blond and New Morning. He recounts vivid times backing Dylan when Bob first went "electric" at the Newport Folk Festival and the Hollywood Bowl.
The great names and events roll through out the book: Gene Pitney, This Diamond Ring (Kooper wrote it), Monterey Pop, the Rolling Stones, Clive Davis, Smokey Robinson, Lynyrd Skynyrd (Kooper produced their first three albums), Michael Mann (Kooper did the music for the remarkable TV series Crime Story) and on and on.
Kooper's road is littered with burned bridges, rip offs and hard feelings. His career descends lower and lower, much of it caused by his own words and deeds.
In the end, Kooper finds himself, starts teaching at the Berklee School of Music, gets his musical voice and reflects on the full measure of his life.
This a courageous book because Al Kooper tells the truth and gives us "a piece of his heart." His stories mean a lot to him and to me too.
Posted by Ken Mills Agency, LLC at 1:01 PM