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Al Kooper formed his first professional band at the age of 15. In 1965 he contributed to Bob Dylan's classic 'Highway 61 Revisited' album and subsequently, 'Blonde On Blonde'. A short stint in the jazz-rock band Blood Sweat And Tears, whom he founded, was followed by the classic 'Super Session' album with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills.

Kooper has played on numerous sessions, including 'Electric Ladyland' for Jimi Hendrix and 'Let It Bleed' for the Stones. He discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd and produced their first three albums, and he has worked with The Tubes, Nils Lofgren and, perhaps less well-known, David Essex in the 1980s.

1. What are you currently up to?

I am mostly promoting my new album Black Coffee; doing more interviews than a human was ever meant to do. I am not recording anything at the moment but a new message on my phone machine. I am playing gigs whenever they are scheduled (see and click on LIVE) I co-wrote the liner notes for the soundtrack album NO DIRECTION HOME , Martin Scorsese's documentary on Bob Dylan. I also make a few brief screen appearances in Part 2 of the film itself.

2. In a career that spans over forty years, can you tell us some of the highlights - what particular sessions, bands and/or events stand out for you. What album do you regard as your biggest achievement, production-wise, and why?

You have cheated here. These are two questions here. I will answer the first one

a) getting the oppurtunity to turn pro at age 14 in 1958 by being guitarist in the pop group The Royal Teens

b) Having a #1 record as a songwriter in America with This Diamond Ring. Also top twenty with Gene Pitney's I Must Be Seeing Things. Wrote the Rockin Berries song "The Water Is Over My Head" as well

c) playing on Like A Rolling Stone, Highway 61 Revisted album and Blonde on Blonde.

d) playing on You Cant Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones


e) All Those Years Ago by George Harrison

3. Tell us a bit more about the Hendrix sessions for 'Electric Ladyland'. What was he like to work with and how did he influence your own guitar playing?

Jimi and I were neighbors. We both lived on West 12th Street in NYC. Bumped into each other ALL the time. He was basically, a shy wonderful person. I think we were both influenced by the same people but he was way more gifted a guitarist than I was. Curtis Mayfield and Albert King. Without them - no Hendrix as we knew him.

4. Guitar or keyboard? Which instrument do you prefer and why? What make of guitar are you playing these days and any hints and tips for would-be players?

Three cheats this time - I'll be lenient and answer the first two. The third one is useless anyway

I am most comfortable playing the Hammond B3 organ. I lost my lead playing ability on guitar a few years ago, but I still feel that I am a mighty r&b/soul rhthym guitar player; a lost art in the millennium. My favorite guitar is my 1962 Fiesta Red Jazzmaster. I never fly that guitar. I bought a Japanese one that plays quite well and thats what I take on the road, if I am playing solo somewhere.

5. How has your own musical style changed through the years, and where are you currently at (favoured style, genre etc) ?

It hasn't changed much at all. I play an r&b/soul influenced horn-driven type of music that is pretty extinct in the world today; kinda like The Stone's Sticky Fingers period. My hopes are that younger people hear it and enjoy it because they could miss this music entirely in today's world.

6. Who was/is/are the biggest influences on the music you play?

Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, Booker T, Hank Crawford, Steve Cropper, Horace Silver, Scotty Moore and Reggie Young

7. Tell us some more about your recent trip to Japan. Aside from the music, what do you make of the culture?

Any country that accepts my music for what it is, is a culture I can easily deal with.

I recently bought a shamisen (Japanese 3 stringed instrument) there, and am teaching myself to play blues on it.

8. What would you say are the lowpoints in your career to date?

Probably being so swindled by so many and being thrown out of Blood Sweat & tears, a band I assembled.

Actually, in retrospect, I got out just in time before Bobby Colomby turned it into the lounge band of all time.

9. What do you think of the current music scene, do you use the Internet to research and locate new music, and have you succumbed to the i-Pod. If yes, what have you got loaded on your player at the moment that you think we should listen to?

I've been an iPod guy since the very beginning.I think; therefore iPod. That is engraved on the back of my latest pod.

I listen to the new releases on iTunes every week and download what I like. Each month I post on my website what I have downloaded to help the newer artists I support and also to help my fand get righjt to some great music.

My faves at the moment are

a) Better Get A Broom" by Hella

b) Crawlin Up My Bad Side by Weather

c) Don't Trip On Your Way Out by Shimmer

Nikka Costa's second album is MUCH better than her first - it rocks!

10. Outside of music, what interests do you pursue in your free time (leisure activity, etc) What other goals would you like to achieve?

You are such a cheater, Jason...

I play videogames on my computer, support a few of my local sports teams - Red Sox and Patriots, and cook a lot. I hardly leave the house except when I am on the road. Being home is my permanent vacation.

11. Message for your fans?

If everyone in New York City contributed a dime, than one starving child could get one seat to The Rolling Stones show at Madison Square Garden.


Interview © 2005 Jason Ritchie/
Format and edit: The Music Index.

All rights reserved.

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