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Legendary keyboardist Al Kooper and the Season of the Ditch

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In the next few weeks, all the major record labels will release their schedules for 2005. At this early stage, it seems that SACD and DVD Audio pressings are noticeably absent. To make matters worse, news arrived this morning of Sony\BMG’s apparent ditching of a seminal surround sound reissue.

In 1968, keyboardist extraordinaire Al Kooper joined forces with Dylan compadre, Michael Bloomfield and Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills to create a hippy-psychedelic-blues masterpiece. Their “Super Session” proved to be a landmark both in its performance and selection of songs. The highlight of this recording was the exceptional cover version of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”.

Alas…at some point someone from Sony Legacy decided that this album was worthy of a surround sound reissue. Al Kooper was dispatched to spend the better part of a year reworking the tapes and sifting through all the tracks to reconstruct both “Super Session” and his debut Blood Sweat and Tear’s release for audiophile consumption. This morning Al Kooper issued the following..

“To the best of my knowledge, based on an unnamed source, the new head of SONY/BMG shut down the 5.1 SACD department and let everyone go. A year and a half ago I remixed Super Session and Child Is Father To The Man for them in 5.1 SACD. They both came out incredible and so I mastered them with Bob Ludwig.Now it seems they will languish on the shelves under the current administration of SONY/BMG.,……..Typical, in soooo many ways

Al Kooper”

The future looked bright in 2003…the SACD format seemed to be capturing the market. Fresh off a springtime of Rolling Stones reissues dozens of us lined up to buy last year’s Bob Dylan SACD reissues from Sony. This year slowed down some, but we still blew our allowance on muilti-channel reissues from Eric Clapton, The Animals, and the cream of Elton John. It’s interesting to note that during these holidays, home theater has never been more economical. Instead of a pull back, shouldn’t the labels be increasing their surround sound audio offerings?

Over the last week, I’ve been surfing around trying to uncover any and all news, rumour and conjecture concerning surround sound audio. The results are troubling.

Universal Music Group, seized by the outpouring of grief over the death of Johnny Cash, planned on reissuing his 4 American Recordings titles on SACD. An progress report inquiry posted to Johnny Cash’s website yesterday went unanswered. And this in spite of
Johnny’s daughter Kathy posting her father’s poetry all day. I can only assume that this project has become another reality of the season of the ditch. Also; a rumoured reissue of David Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember my Name” has fallen off the radar.

In 2002, the Annual Surround Sound Awards named Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” best multi-channel release of that year. How could Sony and the members of Pink Floyd drop the ball on the rest of their titles? If any band is worthy of studio blender remastering its Pink Floyd. Just think of the money that Sony could make or could have made from surround sound reissues of “The Wall”, “Wish You Were Here” and “Animals”…..not to mention the additional revenue from the sales of the players and home theater equipment to reproduce them.

This February, the Grammy Awards ceremony will present its inaugural honour for the best in surround sound recordings. Alas…it may be their one and only pause to recognise this marvel of sonic technology.

As an afterthought, this article must be post scripted as “the season of the bitch”. In a day and age of soul-less, heartless, manufactured pop stars we once again shelve brilliance for the sake of the bottom line. I’m not saying that these reissues would have saved the music industry or appreciably improved Sony\BMG’s 2005 revenues. Instead, it’s simply disenchanting to me as a music critic and purveyor of surround sound recordings to write about upcoming Motley Crue 5.1 compilations and to get at all excited by a reissue of an AM-hell stalwart like the Carpenters..

As a post script; I would strongly recommend that everyone who reads this to follow the link and purchase a piece of history that is the Mike Bloomfield-Al Kooper-Stephen Stills “Super Session” remaster on cd….you too will be the coolest kid on the block with music that truly rocked a generation..

Ron Wheeler
www.surroundablog.com

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  • http://brhubart.blogspot.com Bob Rhubart

    I came of age listening to what was then called underground or progressive radio in the late 60s. Both of the albums mentioned in this review got a significant amount of airplay on Cleveland underground stations at the time, and I quickly became a fan. I played my original vinyl copy of Super Session until I wore it out. I still play the CD.

    “Season of the Witch” is indeed a standout cut, but I can’t think of a weak tune on the entire disk. Bloomfield is one of the great unsung guitar heroes (commercially, at least, but that’s no surprise) of the 60s, and Stills’ country-laced fills and solos remain some of his best playing to date.

    BST went on to greater and greatly deserved commercial success after Kooper was replaced by David Clayton Thomas, but Child is the Father to Man stands as a prime example of East Coast progressive rock.

    BST brought a welcome contrast to the somewhat looser sound of seminal West Coast jam bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. It is no slight to those fine bands to observe that their identification with late-60s music is an unforgivable artistic injustice to BST and other East Coast bands like the Blues Project (which evolved into BST), the New York Rock Ensemble, and numerous others.

    The albums Mr. Wheeler mentions here are amble evidence that rock musicians on the East Coast made their contributions to 60s music.

  • http://brhubart.blogspot.com Bob Rhubart

    I came of age listening to what was then called underground or progressive radio in the late 60s. Both of the albums mentioned in this review got a significant amount of airplay on Cleveland underground stations at the time, and I quickly became a fan. I played my original vinyl copy of Super Session until I wore it out. I still play the CD.

    “Season of the Witch” is indeed a standout cut, but I can’t think of a weak tune on the entire disk. Bloomfield is one of the great unsung guitar heroes (commercially, at least, but that’s no surprise) of the 60s, and Stills’ country-laced fills and solos remain some of his best playing to date.

    BST went on to greater and greatly deserved commercial success after Kooper was replaced by David Clayton Thomas, but Child is the Father to Man stands as a prime example of East Coast progressive rock.

    BST brought a welcome contrast to the somewhat looser sound of seminal West Coast jam bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. It is no slight to those fine bands to observe that their identification with late-60s music is an unforgivable artistic injustice to BST and other East Coast bands like the Blues Project (which evolved into BST), the New York Rock Ensemble, and numerous others.

    The albums Mr. Wheeler mentions here are ample evidence that rock musicians on the East Coast made their contributions to 60s music.