Featured Album – Super Session – Al Kooper (with Michael Bloomfield and Steven Stills)

(Despite the cover, at no point in time were Bloomfield, Kooper, and Stills in the studio at the same time)

I did a two-part series on Al Kooper a while back which I called Al Kooper- Journeyman. Which he was, and is. I’ll spare you the details and let you go read about him ther if you wish. Suffice it to say that Al was like Zelig – always there at the most important moments in (musical) history.

I also wrote about the Butterfield Blues Band and their terrific guitarist Mike Bloomfield a few moons ago. All of which leads me to the following from Wikipedia:

“Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield had previously worked together on the sessions for the ground-breaking classic Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan, as well as playing in support of his controversial appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965.

Kooper had recently left Blood, Sweat & Tears after recording their debut album with them, and was now working as an A&R man for Columbia. Bloomfield was about to leave Electric Flag and was at a relatively loose end. Kooper telephoned Bloomfield to see if he was free to come down to the studio and jam; Bloomfield agreed, leaving Kooper to handle the arrangements.”

As Kooper relates in his book Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, “we picked the sidemen (I chose bassist Harvey Brooks, Mike’s recent bandmate from The Flag and my boyhood buddy; Bloomers chose Eddie Hoh, The Mamas and the Papas’ drummer, known as Fast Eddie) and set the dates. I got all the proper permissions, filed all the correct paperwork, and away I went.”

This a cool slow blues they laid down called “Albert’s Shuffle.” That organ you hear all over this album is Al Kooper. For a guy who couldn’t play the organ when he wandered into the “Like a Rolling Stone” session he turned out ok.

The album is by no means all blues as they also lay down Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” along with some Dylan and Curtis Mayfield.

“His Holy Modal Majesty” is a weirdly 60’s pseudo-psychedelic jazzy number. I really like the groove although I find that sometimes Bloomfield gets lost outside of his normal blues idiom. Still, it cooks right along.

Now so fat this is all Bloomfield and Kooper which was always the plan. However, plans often have a way of going awry. As Kooper recounts: “Michael always had some problem that he carried around with him; it’s like a cross he enjoyed bearing (part of his American-Jewish suffering heritage).

This time around he arrived with an ingrown toenail, which he kept insisting was gangrene. As soon as he walked in, he took the most expensive crystal bowl from the kitchen cabinet and soaked his big toe in it for an hour. His injured toe is immortalized in a photo on the back of the album for all you blues purists and foot fetishists.”

They had half the album recorded in nine hours. Kooper figured they could finish side two the next night. But it wasn’t to be. Apparently unable to sleep in the rented place Kooper had gotten, Bloomfield took off in the middle of the night. “I got half an album, studio time, and musicians booked, and this putz can’t sleep in the $750-a-month dungeon with the heated pool and the crystal toe-soaking bowl.”

Kooper “methodically made out a list of all the guitar players I knew who lived on the West Coast. At noon, I started callin’ ’em—Randy California, Steve Miller, Steve Stills, Jerry Garcia. Once again, fate stepped in to save my ass, this time in the persona of Steve Stills, also unemployed by the breakup of his band, Buffalo Springfield.”

Kooper knew Stills primarily as a singer-songwriter but figured his singing would improve the album by 200%. (Not even sure if Stills sings on this album. Also, I don’t think of Stills as a bluesman per se but he’s a damn fine guitarist – ME).

It’s interesting how the shift from Bloomfield to Stills made it less of a blues album and more of, well, not sure, certainly not Buffalo Springfield or CSN. Just some more nice grooves in a different vein.

It’s possible your only knowledge of the song “You Don’t Love Me” is the Allmans version on At Fillmore East. Here’s the swoopy psychedelic version:

Finally, one of the songs that Kooper worked on with Dylan is “It Takes a Lot to Laugh it Takes a Train to Cry.” If you know the tune, (from Highway 61 Revisited), you know it’s a moderately slow song. But Kooper pulled out a faster version the band had also tried. Somehow they manage to almost turn it into a country-rock tune!

Super Session was released in July of 1968, the same month as Music from Big Pink, Anthem of the Sun, In Search of the Lost Chord, Truth, and Miles in the Sky. Wheels of Fire and Cheap Thrills would be released the following month. And in November, The Beatles (White Album), Village Green Preservation Society, and Astral Weeks. That’s an eventful couple of months right there.

“In a matter of weeks,” per Kooper “it was in the Top Twenty and finally peaked at number eleven. But that was plenty. This was a first for me. It only cost $13,000 to make, and soon it was a gold album (for sales exceeding 450,000). I found this particularly ironic. All my life I’d busted my ass to make hit records. Now me and these two other goons went into the studio for two nights, screwed around for a few hours, and boom, a best-seller.”

Kooper forgave Bloomfield, and the two of them made several concert appearances after the album was released. The results of one of those became the album The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. 

According to Kooper’s book, he has yet to receive royalties from either his Blood Sweat and Tears album or Super Sessions. Oh, and fun fact, Linda Ronstadt was in the studio while Bloomfield and Kooper were recording. Too bad she didn’t sing.

Kooper, Al. Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards (p. 136). Hal Leonard Corporation – A. Kindle Edition.

11 thoughts on “Featured Album – Super Session – Al Kooper (with Michael Bloomfield and Steven Stills)

  1. Stills is a very good guitarist in my book. I’d take him over the more celebrated Neil Young, even though he’s not as distinctive.

    I always used to see this album in cutout bins and never took the plunge, but it seems like the kind of thing I should spin on Spotify.

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    1. You may find it a bit bluesy for your taste, especially the Bloomfield side. Season of The Witch is good but it’s 11 minutes long.

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    2. PS. I’m not at all a fan of Neil’s playing. I actually believe Stills to be the more respected of the two. Young always sounds to me like an undisciplined guy just learning how to play.

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        1. Yes. He gets an A for enthusiasm. BTW, Townshend did a one-note solo on ” I Can See For Miles.” He later confessed that he was intimidated by Hendrix and felt he couldn’t compete in the “guitar hero” sweepstakes. Which is ironic because he’s on many Top Ten lists and has a unique style that I’ve never heard anybody else play.

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    1. Yes, it is very “1968y.” But what’s fascinating to me is the entirely different styles that came with either having Bloomfield or Stills. Chicago blues vs. California hippie.

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        1. This is one of the albums my older sister had. She had all the right music but it wasn’t clear that she was even into some of it. She has close to zero feel for the blues.

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  2. Great stuff, Jim. I had not listened to music from that album before. It certainly sounds intriguing. As annoying as Bloomfield’s unannounced departure in the middle of the recording process must have been for Kooper, ultimately, bringing in Stephen Stills evidently resulted in a richer album.

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    1. Yeh, and a completely different one than he planned. He knew that Bloomfield would bring the blues, but for him – at least guitarwise- Stills was an unknown quantity. It’s a unique album from a unique era.

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