A passing glance at the resume Al Kooper has amassed over nearly a half-century is enough to make anyone ask, “What do you have to do to get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?”
Playing organ on “Like A Rolling Stone” would be a good place to start – coming up with that memorable B-3 hook on the spot, having never played organ on a session before. Add to that being a founding member of Blues Project and original leader of Blood, Sweat & Tears; writing classics like “This Diamond Ring” (for Gary Lewis) and “Flute Thing” (for Blues Project, later sampled by the Beastie Boys) and having other songs covered by everyone from Carmen McRae to Ten Years After; collaborating with Mike Bloomfield, Shuggie Otis, and Stephen Stills; playing keyboards, guitar, and French horn on sessions for the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Taj Mahal, the Who, Moby Grape, the Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Trisha Yearwood, Johnnie Johnson, Tom Petty, and the Butterfield Blues Band; producing acts as far-flung as Tom Rush, Nils Lofgren, the Tubes and Lynyrd Skynyrd (including “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird”).
Along the way, Kooper also released half a dozen solo albums, but despite compilations, group projects and a live retrospective, Black Coffee is his first solo outing in 30 years. In the interim, yet another hat Kooper wore was teacher – at Berklee College of Music. There, he formed a band of instructors, which he dubbed the Funky Faculty, and they comprise the very non-academic-sounding group here.
Bob Doezema handles most of the guitar solos, cutting loose on a burning live rendition of “Green Onions,” with an ascending passage that’ll make you either want to go back to school or hang up your guitar. One of the tastiest guitar solos, though, is Kooper’s harmonic-sprinkled break on “Keep It To Yourself,” one of several cuts where he serves as overdubbed one-man band.
The material ranges from the soul ballad “How My Ever Gonna Get Over You” to the country-tinged “Going, Going, Gone” (co-written with Dan Penn), from a locomotive arrangement of the Temptations’ “Get Ready” to a lowdown country blues called “Am I Wrong.” Kooper, again supplying all instruments on the latter, plays mandolin and what appears to be some vicious electric bottleneck guitar, but with Al you can never tell; he’s been known to play the steel guitar classic “Sleepwalk” on synthesizer.
The first thing you want to do after listening to this CD is listen to it again – which is about the strongest endorsement an album can get. Al Kooper’s voice has been sorely missed all these years, even while his imprint has been ever-present. He says he chose these 14 songs from 150 he was considering. If this is what he calls Black Coffee, I can’t wait to hear the cream.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.