Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know, Blood, Sweat & Tears (1968)

I've just finished Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, a thoroughly engaging memoir by Al Kooper, who, among many, many other things, founded Blood, Sweat & Tears.

As a junior in high school, I mainlined the group's eponymous second album, and then had to backtrack to learn that there was a debut LP called The Child is Father to the Man. As with Fleetwood Mac, the original group and the one that became wildly famous were two very different enterprises. Until now I never really knew why.

I defy anyone to read about Kooper's life and not come away with a head swirling under the weight of his extravaganza of experiences. He loved music in all of its iterations so much that he couldn't ever settle into any particular genre and became the poster child for eclecticism, creating music so original and working with so many artists that you wonder how he kept it all straight.

If there's a common thread to Kooper's life in music, it's that he was driven to explore new frontiers. With guitar greats Steve Stills and Mike Bloomfield he began the first so-called "supergroup" after each member departed his prior band; he worked for record companies in A&R; produced artists from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Nils Lofgren to the Tubes and even Dylan; taught music at Berklee College of Music; wrote scores for The Landlord film and Crime Story TV series, and though he has slowed down due to myriad health problems, he's still working and writing a great column for The Morton Report, New Music for Old People, the purpose of which is to "fill the gap for those of us who were satiated musically in the '60s and then searched desperately as we aged for music we could relate to and get the same buzz from nowadaze." He also includes obscurities from back in the day that he feels deserved more attention than they received.

By his own description, he was prone to biting off more than he could chew. Sometimes disaster ensued, but boy, did his penchant for throwing caution to the winds often pan out, as evidenced in the event he is somewhat immortalized for, playing the distinctive organ riff  on Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone recording session - essentially an interloper with slender experience in the instrument he played it on. By this point a well-known session musician, he'd been invited to observe, but brought along his guitar and planned to insert himself into the session somewhere. A Hammond organ wasn't in his plans, but one thing led to another and ... well, read the book.

No shrinking violet, he was a guy who always had a vision. In the rock world, no one was doing horns in a big way until Chicago made the scene. Blood Sweat & Tears was Kooper's attempt to integrate the thrilling energy of jazz into a blues-rock format after the demise of his previous gig, The Blues Project.

To his new band members, Kooper stipulated that he was the bandleader and that the group's repertoire and arrangements would be determined by him alone. The "majority rules" policy of The Blues Project had driven him to distraction; he needed to be the impresario. All of the members agreed to this at the outset, he says, but it didn't sit well for long and Kooper was actually ousted by the band before a second album, which led to the eventual selection of David Clayton-Thomas as lead singer and a new, more commercial direction for the group. 

I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know was Kooper's homage to the artistry of James Brown and Otis Redding. As fate would have it, the first recording session for the album was scheduled for the day after Redding tragically died in a plane crash (on my 15th birthday). Kooper insisted on laying down I Love You ... first, and it was accomplished in one impassioned take on the part of all of the players, according to his memoir. Kooper has never been known as a great singer, and his weaknesses show here, but from start to finish the song is a powerhouse of musicality and emotion.

Just for grins, here's a list of Al's top 100 greatest recordings of all time, selected primarily for best engineering and production values, and minus anything on which he was a performer or producer. It would be so much fun to have a beer with him and shoot the breeze. I can't recommend the book highly enough.  

1 comment:

H. Harvey said...

I was a fan, back in the day of "Child is the Father..." when privileged white kids were nodding their heads to the stickiness of blues based releases. Even gave the David Clayton Thomas version a spin, but found it lacking in something and never really attached myself to that version.
Bloomfield, Butterfield, Kooper... they had something going. Thanks for making me think about them, Wendy