Sunday, November 3, 2013


I went to see Al Kooper's show at S.P.A.C.E., the cool little rock theater in Evanston this past weekend.  There seems to be a weird vibe in the air every time Al and I connect.  

The first time we ever spoke by phone, the big music story of the day was the fact that legendary bassist Duck Dunn had just died.  (The occasion of that conversation was our Forgotten Hits interview about Al producing Rick Nelson's unreleased album "Back To Vienna".)  Then last Sunday Night, for the 45 minutes before Kooper took the stage, the theater was filled with the music of Lou Reed, whose death had been announced earlier that day.  

Stranger still was the fact that after the show when I went to thank Al for the complimentary tickets he had left for me at the door, he appeared to have absolutely NO idea who I was ... nor would he allow us to pose for a picture for the website!  Bummer!  This was ESPECIALLY odd in that I was there as his invited guest!!!  (Not to mention incredibly embarrassing in front of the coworker I brought along to enjoy the show, a long time Al Kooper fan himself!)

Now it wasn't as if I had played up the fact that Al and I were "best friends" or anything like that ... all of our previous encounters had all been via phone or email ... but we've probably talked at least half a dozen times in between that first conversation and last Sunday ... and each and every one of these conversations have always been fun, interesting and entertaining ... yet it was clear that he had absolutely NO clue who I was or why I was thanking him ... and this despite the fact that he had comped us the tickets!!!  (Now that's just weird!)

And I also know that Al reads Forgotten Hits ... he has been VERY complimentary and supportive of our efforts over the past several years.  In fact, I've mentioned a few times in the past that the highest compliment I've ever received from an artist came from Al, who one day sent me an email that simply said "Thank you for helping to spread the truth."  No other endorsement has ever meant as much ... and I have proudly displayed it on my "home page" ever since.
Click here: Forgotten Hits - Home   

In between the Lou Reed pre-show ... and the "awkward moment" ending, however, he entertained us for two solid hours in a one-man solo show, playing several of the songs he is best known for (closing with two Blood, Sweat and Tears favorites, "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" and "I Can't Quit Her") after mingling in several of his own personal favorite tunes ... everything from blues to rock-a-billy and then some.  

Al is a very entertaining storyteller ... his book "Backstage Passes ... and Back-Stabbing Bastards" is one of the best rock music biographies I've ever read ... an absolute "must read" for any music fan of this era ... nothing but fun anecdotes and observations about the music business from cover to cover from a guy who was right there in the thick of it ... but at times Sunday night he seemed to be rambling on a lot longer than necessary, especially at the beginning of the show ... almost as if the thought "Well, I've got to figure out a way to kill two hours here" was running through the back of his mind in some fashion.  Although he never really lost his audience, there were times when he certainly tried our patience!  This was particularly true of his opening rap, which can best be described as making a good number of us feel "uncomfortably patient" ... but I am happy to report that, moving forward, the pacing improved ... the stories got shorter and more to the point ... and the laughter got louder.  And even after the tedious opening monolog, once he finally got around to playing and singing, I've got to tell you that he sounded GREAT!   

The show opened with "Just One Smile", the Gene Pitney hit, which was written by Randy Newman.  (Ironically, he didn't perform the song that HE had written for Pitney, "I Must Be Seeing Things").  He also did a nice version of Harry Nilsson's "Without Her", a song I first heard done by Herb Alpert in 1968 ... and paid tribute to some of the great rock-a-billy guitar players he admired growing up, like Scotty Moore and James Burton, who Al hired for several sessions years later when he was producing other artists ... including one session with James that was recorded at Al Kooper's dining room table via remote due to a recording studio shut-down.  (Al and I discussed James Burton at great length during our Rick Nelson interviews ... he has been a life-long fan.)

It was definitely a "Kooper Krowd" ... Al's followers were in great abundance and hung on his every word as he recounted humorous life stories about his own personal journey through the history of rock and roll. However, amongst all of his entertaining anecdotes, I have to admit that I was a little bit surprised that he didn't mention anything at all about launching The Zombies' hit "Time Of The Season" here in The States ... or talk about discovering and producing Lynyrd Skynyrd (who failed to even mention him during their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction, an honor not yet bestowed on Kooper himself.)  In fact despite playing alongside some of the biggest artists and musicians in the history of rock and roll, he really didn't do any "name-dropping" at all!  

He barely talked about Bob Dylan (other than to say that he has three saved phone messages that "would make you pee in your pants if you ever heard them") and Mick Jagger (except to say that it would be cool to see Mick's REAL thoughts projected to a big screen behind the stage when he's performing some of his best-known, most-loved songs for the two zillionth time.)  Al himself admitted to drifting off and thinking about whether or not he did his laundry from time to time when performing tracks like "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" ... which is a shame because I consider that to be one of his crowning achievements ... and certainly one of the highlights of Sunday Night's performance.   

Kooper switched off (quite ably I must say!) between keyboards and guitar throughout the night and gave a solid two hour performance.  (If he was distracted at all, it seemed to be more by the fact that he was missing his beloved Boston Red Sox playing in The World Series that night!)   

Let's face it, you're not going to get a "Greatest Hits" night of music at an Al Kooper concert ... he's not that kind of artist ... most of his biggest career milestones involve him more as a background or support player rather than as the "star of the show".  I understand he performed the night before in Milwaukee with a full band ... which I imagine really livened things up on stage ... but for a one-man performance, I found the whole experience to be very satisfying and entertaining.  (He's a very charismatic guy ... and in the intimate setting of the S.P.A.C.E. Theatre, there were times when it felt like it was just you and Al, sitting in the living room while he talked and doodled on the keyboard ... almost like a visit with an old friend ... although in MY case, probably more like a friend who didn't recognize you!)

That's because, as I mentioned earlier, Al Kooper is a GREAT storyteller ... so it was fun to hear what inspired some of these tracks in the first place.  A good friend of his once told him that he was getting back together to visit with an ex-girlfriend from seven or eight years ago ... and when Al asked him how it went, he smiled and replied "I took a drive through the old neighborhood" ... which Kooper IMMEDIATELY recognized as a GREAT song title ... and then proceeded to write about the event!   

For me, the best song of the night (other than "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know", Al's self-professed "laundry song" that I think couldn't have sounded any better than it did) was a new discovery for me ... a track called "Going Going Gone".  Kooper's monolog REALLY set the stage for this one ... and I don't want to ruin his perfect rap in case you ever get the chance to hear it ... but as you listen to it now (even if it's your first time), please go into this with the understanding that every line in this song comes from an actual real life observation or experience that Al experienced at some point in time, driving the point home that much stronger when you consider that it can also be played (much more emotionally) at the funeral of a friend ... which he has ALSO done over the years.  It's a great track ... so I wanted to share it with you today.  

Catching Al Kooper in concert was a real treat ... he simply doesn't do that many live shows anymore ... so getting the chance to see him was something I just didn't want to pass up ... so thanks again, Al, for the tickets.  (Thanking you publicly now ... since I didn't really get much of a chance to do so privately after the show!!!)  However, if any of you out there would like to know where else he'll be gigging soon, you won't find any recent updates on Al Kooper's official website ... unless you want to know where he was playing in 2011!!!  It looks like it hasn't been updated in YEARS!!!  (What's THAT about?!?!?) 

What he IS doing today is putting out his excellent jukebox list / newsletter "New Music For Old People" every week.  
You can tune in and listen here:  Click here: New Music for Old People: Gary Numan, Fats Domino, Keb' Mo', Burt Bacharach and More | The Morton Report    ... or simply sign up here and get a new list every Friday!  Click here: New Music For Old People : Mailing List Signup  

A couple of weeks ago, Al featured the Amy Winehouse version of this track ... which completely blew me away.  Here it is again for the benefit of anyone out there who may not have ever heard it before:  Click here: ? Amy Winehouse - I love you more than you'll ever know (STUDIO QUALITY). - YouTube   

And, since he wouldn't let us take a new one, here's a recent picture of Al from his website and advertisements:

As mentioned earlier, I ran a week-long interview with Al Kooper last year ... most of it centered around the Rick Nelson album he produced ... but you'll see that we also ventured off into other areas as well.  

You can check the whole thing out (or any parts of interest that may appeal to you) here:

And finally, don't miss an opportunity to pick up a copy of Al's EXCELLENT book  "Backstage Passes and Back-Stabbing Bastards", one of the best rock biographies you'll ever read:

Every once in a while WE discover some great new music, too ... and this is one I wanted to share with you.   

A couple of weeks ago we featured a brand new version of "Angie Baby" by a Canadian duo calling themselves Wahl Collins. 

Well, since then, I've received a solo track from James Collins (one half of that duo) that just blew me away.  

Much like a good amount of Al Kooper's music, the story relates to a real-life experience that James was able to set to music ... this time telling the story about the time he just happened to be on a cruise ship where the entertainment one evening was provided by none other than Cyndi Lauper!  

But after the show when James asked if he could take a photo with the '80's pop star, "Cyndi Lauper Said 'No'" ... and a GREAT track was born!  (Hey, let's face it ... She's So Unusual ... on a GOOD day ... but OMG, shades of Al Kooper came rushing back to me after last weekend's experience after listening to this track!  lol)   

And, much like a good amount of Al Kooper's music, James was able to find the humor in the whole experience ... and relate it in a very fun and entertaining way.  (My guess is that when Cyndi Lauper first heard this track ... which I know she did ... her reaction would have been more of a "Well see ... what are you complaining about?  You got a GREAT musical experience out of that snub ... which is worth a WHOLE lot more than some dumb old picture!) Here's hoping that Al Kooper feels much the same way about today's concert review posted in Forgotten Hits.  Good show ... great experience ... but it still kinda hurts.   

Meanwhile, what a perfect and timely tie-in ... and what a great song!  Listen here:

By the way, this track became quite the hit in Canada, topping the charts in several markets in Quebec and winning the Socan Award in the process.  Great job, James ... I love it!  (kk)