Thursday, August 9, 2012

AL & RICK (Part 3)

All week long, Al Kooper has been telling us about the sessions he produced for Rick Nelson for Epic Records in the late '70's.  Those tracks have remained locked in the vault, unreleased for most of the past 35 years ... but a recent overseas box set release by Bear Family Records ... and now a domestic 2-CD set put out by Real Gone Music (called "Rick Nelson: The Complete Epic Recordings") is allowing fans to hear these tracks for the very first time.
Why has it taken so long?  Because, after seven weeks in the studio, recording and mixing, when Al Kooper turned in the final album, Epic Records flat out rejected it!  

"We are NEVER putting this out", they told him!  And now, some 35 years later, technically they still haven't!  Even when Rick died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve, 1985, Epic stood firm on their decision ... quite ironic, really, since record labels are typically known for using ANY means or excuse to turn a fast buck!
Today in Forgotten Hits we talk to Al Kooper about the rejection of the Rick Nelson album "Back To Vienna" that he produced.

KENT KOTAL / FORGOTTEN HITS:  Then, after ALL this work, Epic refused to release the album.  What was that all about?  How did you first find out that the LP had been rejected and what was your initial reaction to this?  How were you notified?
AL KOOPER:  Well, the guy just told me ... the head of the label, the guy who hired me ... Lenny Petze ... founder of Cyndi Lauper and The Hooters ... he said, "We hate this record ... we'll never put it out."  We finished it up and I spent awhile mixing it and then gave it to Lenny Petze, who was the head of Epic at the time, and he called me back and told me he hated it and they would never release it.

kk:  Just like that?
AK:  Yeah.

kk:  And what did you say?
AK:  Well, I said "I'm sorry you feel this way."

kk:  And that was it?
AK:  That was it.  And Epic has never put it out.  The tracks were used for a Bear Family Box Set a few years ago that was put out in Germany ... and now Real Gone Records has put it out as part of what they're calling "The Complete Epic Recordings" ... but, true to his word, Epic has never put this record out.

kk:  So you knew even before Rick Nelson knew that it wasn't going to be released?
AK:  I don't know ... because, you know, once I'd finished the record, my sort of day-to-day relationship with him ended ... and we both went back to our regular lives, you know? 

kk:  So you guys didn't really keep in touch after you finished up with these sessions? Did the two of you ever discuss the fact that all your work was being locked in the vault?
AK:  No, not really.  

kk:  You know it seems like after he died, they would have investigated what they had in the can ... I mean, typically the record companies are always out to make a fast buck ... looking for a way to cash in at any opportunity, no matter how sad the circumstances may have been ... I'm really surprised they didn't push to release this record then.
AK:  You know, I went to them after he died ... I called the record company after he died ... and I said, "You know you have that stuff there ... that whole album" ... and they said, "But we told you ... we're NEVER putting that out ..."
Then about a year ago Bear Family, a German reissue label put it out as part of a box set but didn't use my final mixes. Epic used the tapes from Bear Family so the real mixes are still unreleased. Plus they put out a track we never finished, "Love You So", the Free song. We hadn't put the solos on that one yet and it sounds pretty fucked up. I don't know how they even got a rough mix of that.

kk:  Wow!  That's just AMAZING! I mean the record company is ALWAYS out to make the fastest buck possible ... that's just amazing.  It's hard to believe that they were THIS adamant about this record not coming out. 
AK:  Well, it rubbed somebody the wrong way.

kk:  But why do you think that is? 
AK:  Well, I guess I could understand it ... if you just want to hear the same old Rick Nelson over and over again, then you're going to hate that album.  I just didn't see the point ... I wanted to do something different.  I mean, I took what he had ... and I tried to go a little deeper with it ... because he could do it ... it's just that nobody ever ASKED him to do it ... but he was willing to do it.  Ozzie Nelson's brother came to the studio most nights and told me he really enjoyed seeing Rick break new ground.

kk:  Ozzie's brother?  Or Rick's brother, David?
AK:  No, no, Ozzie's brother.  Do you know who Kathy Nelson is?  She's worked at Universal for HUNDREDS of years ... and she oversees the scores to the films .. the records that they use in the films ... and also the scores that they use in the films ... she's like one of the giants in the film business of doing that.  Ozzie's brother is her father ... and what a nice guy he was, too. And I thought, "Boy, what a nice guy ... he's here every night!"

kk:  And what was that about?  Was this more for moral support or what?
AK:  No, I just think it's family.  I mean for all I know he could have been at all those other Epic sessions, too.

kk:  Prior to Bear Family reissuing some of this material, had you revisited it at all?  Or once these sessions were over ... and the album was scrapped ... did you put it all behind you?
AK:  No, well I had the material and at some point I made MP3's and put them in my collection ... but nobody ever actually used my final mixes!  They used the wrong mixes!

kk:  Really?  Even on the new stuff?
AK:  ESPECIALLY on the new stuff!  Nobody ever came to me and said "Do you have the mixes?"  I have all this stuff ... and nobody ever asked me!  And why would they?  I mean they said they were never going to put it out!

kk:  So you have ALL of the final mixes.
AK:  Yeah, I've got 'em.

kk:  Wow, what a shame.  So now that the album is FINALLY out we're STILL not hearing it the way it was intended to be heard!
AK:  I look back at it as a great experience with Rick and a dreadful experience with Epic.
kk:  And I have to ask you ... where were you when you heard about Rick's plane crash?  What were the emotions that went through your mind at that time?
AK:  It wasn't good ... it wasn't good.  I felt terrible.

kk:  Well, you've seen a lot of the great ones come and go, I'm sure ... I mean, we all have ... but you had personal connections with a lot of these people.  I mean you started our conversation this morning talking about Duck Dunn dying in Tokyo.
AK:  Yeah, oh yeah ... and just recently, Levon.   
(Levon Helm of The Band, who passed away a few weeks before this interview took place. - kk)    

kk:  Yeah, well we're all getting to the point where we're getting older ... and we see this now in some of these artists that we grew up with.  We saw The Doobie Brothers the other night and they've been doing these songs now for over 40 years ... and they sound JUST as good today as they did back then.
I'm a big Beach Boys fan and this year, with the reunion tour, the whole focus seems to be on the fact that before the tour is finished, they will all be in their 70's ... it's not even about the music ... or the legacy of the music ... and truthfully, some of that is hard to watch ... because then we realize that we've all gotten older, too.  This was the music of another time.  But I've got to say that they still sound great ... but it's as if the music doesn't even matter to the critics ... it's like their age has become the determining factor ... because that's where all the focus is at.
AK:  I always wondered why they didn't change their name to The Beach Men. 
kk: They could have changed their name to The Beach Men a LONG time ago ... 30 years ago!!! (lol)

AK:  Well, I don't know if you know this, but I'm a gigantic Beach Boys fan.  On my website is my hundred most favorite produced albums and "Pet Sounds" is #1.  My favorite band of all time is Free, though.
kk:  Really?!?!?   Now why's that???
AK:  Because they were just unbelievable ... see, most people just think of them as "All Right Now" ...

kk:  Well, that's because that's all we hear ... that's all we're ALLOWED to hear!
AK:  Yes, but they had a REALLY deep and amazing catalog ... and nobody played like them.  It was fantastic.  And the reason they were so great is because nobody stuck out in that band ... they were all incredibly talented and equally fantastic ... so nobody ever could say, "Wow, what a great guitar solo" without also saying "Wow, what a great bass line" ... "what a great drum part" ... "what a great vocal!"  And I never saw that many bands where the talent was so equally split ... and that's why I love this band ... and we did a Free song on Rick's album ... but we threw it out ... we didn't keep it ... and they put that on the album, too, which annoyed me, because it wasn't FINISHED!

kk:  Which one is that?
AK:  "Love You So" ... and that infuriated me because that wasn't supposed to be out.  I mean there's space on there where there were supposed to be guitar solos ... and we didn't put the guitar solos on there because we threw the track out!

kk:  Are there a lot of outtakes from that?
AK:  I don't think so.

kk:   You'll get a kick out of this ... Paul Rodgers is doing a show here in Chicago next month WITH Lynyrd Skynyrd.  
(Rodgers was the lead vocalist of Free ... and Al Kooper produced the first few Lynyrd Skynyrd albums after discovering them playing in a bar! - kk)   
AK:  That is something!!!

Tomorrow in Forgotten Hits we'll talk to Al Kooper about Al Kooper!  Be sure to check it out.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos of Al with Rick Nelson, taken during the time they were working together on Rick's "Back To Vienna" album ... running exclusively in Forgotten Hits!

Rick Nelson with Al Kooper, circa 1978
Al Kooper, Hank Ballard, Rick Nelson and Fats Domino, 1978