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Music Review: Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield & Stephen Stills – Super Session

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Every once in awhile what seems like a good idea at the time actually turns out to be a great idea. Such was the case with the concept behind what would become the Super Session album.

The sixties found Al Kooper backing Bob Dylan on tour plus joining him in the studio. He provided the keyboards for “Like A Rolling Stone,” and would go on to play with The Blues Project and form Blood, Sweat, & Tears which he would leave after one album. In 1968 he came up with the idea of recording his friend Mike Bloomfield by gathering some back-up musicians and just jamming. He felt this type of recording technique would fit the style of Bloomfield well.

Mike Bloomfield was an addict who died at the age of 37 in 1981. He also was one of the most talented guitarists to ever walk this earth. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him at number 22 on their list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time. He was an original member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and a part of the short lived but brilliant Electric Flag. He met Al Kooper while playing for Dylan.

Kooper and Bloomfield entered the studio in May of 1968 backed by bass player Harvey Brooks and keyboardist Barry Goldberg from Bloomfield’s Electric Flag days plus session drummer deluxe Eddie Hoh. Bloomfield’s performance would be everything Kooper hoped for and more. The music buying public would agree as the album would become a big hit at the time.

Side one of the original vinyl release contains five of the finest performances Bloomfield would record during the course of his career. He was always exciting and creative when playing live as his ability to innovate and improvise were impressive. This free form session with Kooper freed him from the usual studio constraints and allowed him the freedom of a live type environment.

Three Bloomfield/Kooper improvisational compositions are perfect vehicles for his exploration of the blues. “Albert’s Shuffle” “His Holy Modal Majesty,“ and “Really” contain some of the finest electric rock/blues fusion music this side of Eric Clapton. The band lays down a foundation as Bloomfield explores the rhythms and basic song structures. His interplay with Kooper is both intricate and energetic. Curtis Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation” and the Jerry Ragovoy/Mort Shuman song “Stop” provide a little more structure and take the music in a more funky direction.

Everything seemed to being proceeding according to plan until Bloomfield did not show up for any more recording sessions. His heroin addiction made him unable to continue. Enter Stephen Stills who agreed to fill in at the last minute. It proved to be an interesting and ultimately brilliant choice. His side of the original album release is far different from Bloomfield’s as he brought his rock guitar to the mix. When Stephen Stills is in the mood he is a superb guitarist as his number 28 ranking among Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitars Of All Time shows.

He gives Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” a nice workout but it is an eleven minute version of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch” which allows him to stretch out and provide some of the best playing of his career. “Harvey’s Tune” takes him in a jazz direction. “You Don’t Love Me” is the only failed track and they may have been out of ideas by this time.

Super Session was a unique stop in the careers of Stills, Bloomfield, and Kooper. Stills would go on to a credible solo career and super stardom with Crosby, Stills & Nash. Al Kooper teaches music at a college in Boston and continues to tour. This album would mark the height of Mike Bloomfield’s commercial popularity. He would continue his musical relationship with Al Kooper but his recording and live concerts would become increasingly erratic. This release remains a highlight of his career and is well worth hearing over forty years after its release.

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About David Bowling

  • http://trinimansblog.blogspot.com/ Triniman

    Super Session is a great find. Essential listening.

  • Phil T. Listener

    Super Session was a wondeful collaboration and the effort was clearly a standout at the time. Bloomfield was one of the most adept blues guitarists around at the time, up there with the greats like Clapton, Johnny Winter and Duane Allman.

    I do agree Stephen Stills added a nice contrast to the album that enhanced the final output from another stylish perspective.

    Al Kooper was one of the creative songwriting forces behind the distinctive sound of Blood, Sweat and Tears, and the band was never the same without him.

    Nice album review. Keep up the good work.

  • Press

    My friend and I listened to that record a million times when it first came out. What a blast it was. How about Live Adventures, too, remember that?

  • Oerdoeg

    Greetings from Helsinki, Finland. I found this LP today at a flea market, for two euros. It’s marvellous!