A massive influence on American music, composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer, arranger, and producer Al Kooper has collaborated with the biggest names in rock & roll. Kooper began his career as a teenage session musician with the Royal Teens while also apprenticing as an audio engineer and working with the songwriting team of Bob Brass and Irwin Levine – the latter of which yielded the 1965 Number One hit “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys. That same year, Kooper was invited to watch a Bob Dylan recording session, and within hours, he ended up improvising the signature B2 Hammond organ riff on “Like a Rolling Stone,” performing alongside blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield. Kooper’s friendships with Dylan and Bloomfield resulted in several performance opportunities, including Dylan’s electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, Super Session with Bloomfield and Stephen Stills (1968), The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (1969), and hundreds of other records with the Rolling Stones, the Who, John Lee Hooker, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Alice Cooper, Cream, Tom Petty, and Joe Walsh. Kooper also produced records and albums for three of the four Beatles as solo artists, B.B. King, the Tubes, and the E Street Band’s Nils Lofgren; signed the Zombies with Columbia and Richard Thompson with PolyGram Records; and founded his own record label, Sounds of the South, where he discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd and produced their seminal work.
Kooper is perhaps best known for his work with bands the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Kooper joined the Blues Project in 1965, whose fiery performances cemented the 1960s urban blues sound. Kooper’s jazz instrumental composition “Flute Thing” from 1966’s Projections was later sampled by the Beastie Boys in “Flute Loop” from their 1994 album Ill Communication. Kooper’s music has also been sampled by Jay-Z, Pharcyde, and the Alchemist, among many other hip-hop artists. In 1967, Kooper left the Blues Project to form Blood, Sweat & Tears with guitarist Steve Katz. The band’s debut album Child Is Father to the Man featured enduring songs like “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” and “I Can’t Quit Her.” Kooper’s role was crucial, crafting the horn-heavy blues-rock sound and contributing keyboards, guitar, and vocals.
Al Kooper played a vital role in bringing some of the most noteworthy roots-based rock music and musicians of the 1960s and 1970s to the world stage. His work as a songwriter, session player, and producer places him among the giants of popular music.
Gary Lewis and the Playboys, “This Diamond Ring” (1965) • Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone,” Highway 61 Revisited (1965) • Blues Project, “Flute Thing,” Projections (1966) • Blood, Sweat & Tears, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” “I Can’t Quit Her,” Child Is Father to the Man (1968) • The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (1969) • Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Let It Bleed (1969) • Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Free Bird” (1974)
Influences: James Brown, The Beatles, Percy Sledge, Elizabeth Cotten
Legacies: Ray Manzarek, Joe Walsh, Steve Winwood, George Winston
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