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                 A Baby Boomer

 

                           Muses on The Music

Not Quite as Super as I Remembered

January 19, 2017

       Sometimes, things just aren’t as good as you remember them being.

       For instance, when I saw the Academy Award-winning motion picture “The Graduate” in 1968, I thought it was great. And not, get your mind out of the gutter, just because of Mrs. Robinson; I was, after all, there with my then-girlfriend (or maybe she was my wife by then).

       Not much more than a year later, though, after I she and I had divorced and I had moved to Madison, I jumped at the chance to see it at matinee prices. The result? I left before the movie was over — even before I could hoo-coo-ca-choo Mrs. Brooks.

       But, mercifully, this post isn’t about Benjamin Braddock’s thing with his cougar. It’s about “Super Session,” which I obtained recently, one of those Bucket List additions to the library.

       That 1968 album, which featured Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, caught my attention the following year, possibly listening to a friend’s copy, or perhaps it was one of those LPs we listened to over the PA while cleaning Arlan’s. It might even have been one of those eighth-track tapes I got from the mail-order music club back in ’69, ka-thunk.

       Not sure of the provenance, but do remember liking the album, particularly their cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” an extended jam featuring Stills’ guitar work. Over the years, I heard that cut, and maybe a few of the others less often, on FM radio and, much later, on sat radio.

       The album, Kooper’s project, was an unusual concept at the time, and has an interesting backstory — as does Kooper, who will mark his 73rd birthday in a couple weeks. Brooklyn-born and raised in Queens, his musical career got its start when he played guitar, at age 14, on the Royal Teens’ 1958 novelty hit “Short Shorts.”

       After a stint with a song-writing team — their credits included Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring” — Kooper hooked up with Bob Dylan. He helped Dylan go electric in 1965, and the Hammond organ lines he contributed help make “Like a Rolling Stone” a classic.

       Kooper then played keyboards for the Blues Project. Leaving that group right before the historic Monterrey Pop Festival, and bailing on Blood Sweat & Tears — which he had formed in ’67 — after its first album might seem like bad career choices, but Kooper has done pretty well since. The ace studio musician has played on records ranging from Alice Cooper to the Stones, and produced albums for Lynyrd Skynyrd (who he discovered), the Tubes and others.

       After leaving BST, and with time on his hands, he came up with the idea for “Super Session,” renting a studio for a couple days and inviting Bloomfield to jam with he and a handful of other musicians. Among the latter were Harvey Brooks and Barry Goldberg, members of the band that Bloomfield was about to leave, Electric Flag.

       Bloomfield, like Kooper, had an impressive musical pedigree. A Windy City native and also a teen prodigy, he had played with Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and other legends of Chicago blues. He later played with the Paul Butterfield Blue Band, and with Kooper helped electrify Dylan, contributing the guitar licks on “Like a Rolling Stone” and playing on most of the cuts on his breakthrough “Highway 61 Revisited” album.

       Bloomfield also had been working as a session musician — playing for Chuck Berry, Mitch Ryder and Peter, Paul and Mary, among others — when Kooper proposed the “Super Session” project. On the first day, Bloomfield, Kooper and the others recorded some blues-influenced instrumentals and “His Holy Modal Majesty,” said to be a tribute to jazz saxophone genius John Coltrane.

       On the second day, though, Bloomfield was a no-show. Kooper had already paid for two days of studio time, so to get his money’s worth he needed another good guitarist. Who he came up with was Stephen Stills, who had made his name as part of the breakthrough country/folk-rock band Buffalo Springfield.

       Stills took the lead on the remaining tracks, which mostly involved vocals — although not his. Among those were “Season,” but also a cover of “It Takes a Lot toLaugh, It Takes a Train To Cry,” from Dylan’s “Highway 61.”

       Kooper’s project worked pretty well. It cost him $13,000 — okay, that was in 1968 dollars, but still pretty reasonable — and netted a certified Gold Record.

       More significantly, perhaps, the album is said ome to have kicked off the “supergroup” trend, exemplified by the likes of Blind Faith and Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Sometimes Young). Some might say that’s not a good thing — those groups weren’t always equal to the sum of their parts — but some great music did result.

       But was that the case with “Super Session”? It’s not as good as I remembered it sounding nearly 50 years ago. The blues numbers don’t seem that inspired, although Bloomfield’s guitar at times is tasty. I’m not a Coltrane expert, but “His Holy Modal Majesty” doesn’t sound like what I’ve heard of his work, and isn’t as good as Butterfield’s “East-West,” which was also an inspiration for it.

       Not even “Season” has the same effect today for me. Part of the problem is that the vocals are all by Kooper. (David Clayton-Thomas was one of several reasons why BST was more successful after its founder departed.) Why didn’t he let Stills warble on “Super Session”?

       One good thing did come out of downloading “Super Session”: It reminded me of my intention to get Electric Flag’s “A Long Time Comin'.”

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