Saturday, October 13, 2012

I'm Shouting All About Love

All Those Years Ago - George Harrison (Al Kooper on keyboards)

Hit the "play" button in your mind and listen to "All Those Years Ago," George Harrison's 1981 tribute to John Lennon.  As with songs, the vocals are most prominent in memory.  Then what do you hear?  Probably George's unique slide guitar.  Next?  That great keyboard part.  Who's playing it?  Al Kooper.  

George, Ringo, Barbara Bach, Al Kooper
Photo © Al Kooper
Now, the people I've interviewed for this blog have all been very kind and each one is an accomplished and talented musician.  But Al Kooper is a whole other level.  Initially I was going to list his career highlights, but it was way too long.  Then I pared it down to the highlights of his highlights and it was still a bit long.  So I cut it down once more to produce what appears below.

 Besides his work on a song featuring three Beatles, he also:
  • Played the fantastic organ part on one of the milestone songs in pop music history, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."  The story of how this came to be is a great one; he recounts it memorably in Martin Scorsese's documentary "No Direction Home."  Kooper also played with Dylan at the infamous 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
  • Speaking of stones that roll, Kooper played the piano, organ and french horn on another 1960s masterpiece, "You Can't Always Get What You Want."
  • He founded the innovative jazz rock band Blood Sweat & Tears - only to be kicked out by the other members, who wanted to pursue Top 40 hits (which they accomplished).
  • At age 21, co-wrote the #1 pop hit "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis & the Playboys.
  • He discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd, signed them to his Sounds of the South label, and produced their first three albums (which included "Free Bird" and "Sweet Home Alabama.")
  • Wrote the book Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'N' Roll Survivor and played in the Rock Bottom Remainders with other authors (Stephen King, Amy Tan, Matt Groenig, Dave Barry, etc.).
  • Was a faculty member at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
  • Released a dozen solo albums and landmark LPs with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills.  He sings, plays keyboards, guitar and more.
  • Scored Michael Mann's Crime Story series, among other film and television work.
And so on and so forth.  Google him for more details.  A personal favorite of mine is his production of the live Joe Ely EP, "Texas Special." 

Also, if you want to find great music - and you do - then you need to follow his weekly playlist here.

After the jump, Al cheerfully answers seven questions about "All Those Years Ago."

George Harrison is recording a heartfelt song about John Lennon not long after John's murder. He thinks, I need to have these guys perform on it: Paul, Ringo... and Al Kooper? Pretty elite company. How did the gig come about?

AK:  I was living in London. I was best friends with bassist Herbie Flowers who I worshipped as a musician at the time.
I played with him as often as I could. He got called for the Harrison sessions and suggested George hire me as well.
George didn't know I lived there and was a large Dylan fan so I got the job. We were recording an entire album,
plus some tracks for Ringo's album that George was producing. We cut a version of ATYA before John died, but it
had an alternate lyric. John died while we were naking the album. George rewrote the lyric and recorded a new
vocal to the track we had already cut.

And then had Paul, Linda and Denny Laine come in and add backing vocals.  George supposedly wrote the song for Ringo to sing - this was before John died, so it had different lyrics - but Ringo wasn't keen on it. Did you ever hear the original version?



                                                                                                                             Photos © Al Kooper
AK:  I think that is not so. I don't think it was for Ringo's album, but rather George's. But it did have another lyric based on the title.

Your part is very prominent in the mix. Did George give you much direction or did he leave it up to you to create what you felt was right?

AK:  All the tracks we cut were just jammed. We were all experienced studio players and that's the way we played. George sang live so I knew where to play fills.

Did you record any alternate versions or just the take we all know?

AK:  We played it until George thought we had a good take.

Photo © Al Kooper
You recorded this at Friar Park, George's home. What was that like? 
AK:  It was very comfortable and it was great to see his guitar collection.

Did you know Lennon?

AK:  I did know Lennon.  Mostly when we both lived in LA.  A bunch of us used to record and hangout at The Record Plant studios.

When I was producing Skynyrd's second album, John came in during a session to ask me something. He stayed for two minutes then discretely left.  

The band were all out in the studio. Lennon had come into the control room.

When he left Ronnie Van Zant said: Was that John Lennon who just came in?"

I said "Yeah."

Ronnie said " We have to take a break for a few minutes." It blew their southern minds!

How do feel the song holds up since it was recorded all those years ago, pun intended?

AK:  a) I have never been so loud in a mix on someone else's record
         b) I am very proud of what I played on the fly
         c) It was a #1 record in Billboard
         d) For me, it holds up great

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