Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper & Steve Stills – Super Sessions (1968)

FrontCover1Super Session is an album conceived by Al Kooper and featuring the work of guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills, released on Columbia Records in 1968, CS 9701. Bloomfield and Stills do not play together on the album, with tracks including Bloomfield on side one, and those including Stills on side two. It peaked at #12 on the Billboard 200, and has been certified a gold record by the RIAA.

Kooper and Bloomfield had previously worked together on the sessions for the ground-breaking classic Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan, as well as playing in support of his controversial appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965. Kooper had recently left Blood, Sweat & Tears after recording their debut album with them, and was now working as an A&R man for Columbia. Bloomfield was about to leave Electric Flag, and at relative loose ends. Kooper telephoned Bloomfield to see if he was free to come down to the studio and jam; Bloomfield agreed, leaving Kooper to handle the arrangements.

Kooper booked two days of studio time in May 1968, and recruited keyboardist Barry Goldberg and bassist Harvey Brooks, both members of the Electric Flag, along with well-known session drummer “Fast” Eddie Hoh. On the first day, the quintet recorded a group of mostly blues-based instrumental tracks, including a modal excursion “His Holy Modal Majesty”, a tribute to the late John Coltrane that was also reminiscent of “East-West” from the second Butterfield Blues Band album. On the second day, with the tapes ready to roll, Bloomfield did not show up.

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Needing to have something to show for the second day of sessions, to sit in for Bloomfield, Kooper hastily called upon Stephen Stills, also in the process of leaving his band Buffalo Springfield. Regrouping behind Stills, Kooper’s session men cut mostly vocal tracks, including “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” from Highway 61 and a lengthy and atmospheric take of “Season of the Witch” by Donovan.

Some overdubbed horns were later added while the album was being mixed, and sales worth a gold record award were garnered from an album which cost just $13,000 to make. The success of this record opened the door for the “supergroup” concept of the late 1960s and 1970s — Blind Faith, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the like. Kooper forgave Bloomfield, and the two of them made several concert appearances after the album was released. The results of one of those became the album The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.

On April 8, 2003, Legacy Records reissued the album for compact disc with four bonus tracks, including both an outtake and a live track with Bloomfield, and two with the horn overdubs mixed out. (by wikipedia)

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As the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) had done a year earlier, Super Session (1968) initially ushered in several new phases in rock & roll’s concurrent transformation. In the space of months, the soundscape of rock shifted radically from short, danceable pop songs to comparatively longer works with more attention to technical and musical subtleties. Enter the unlikely all-star triumvirate of Al Kooper (piano/organ/ondioline/vocals/guitars), Mike Bloomfield (guitar), and Stephen Stills (guitar) — all of whom were concurrently “on hiatus” from their most recent engagements. Kooper had just split after masterminding the groundbreaking Child Is Father to the Man (1968) version of Blood, Sweat & Tears. Bloomfield was fresh from a stint with the likewise brass-driven Electric Flag, while Stills was late of Buffalo Springfield and still a few weeks away from a full-time commitment to David Crosby and Graham Nash. Although the trio never actually performed together, the long-player was notable for idiosyncratically featuring one side led by the team of Kooper/Bloomfield and the other by Kooper/Stills. The band is fleshed out with the powerful rhythm section of Harvey Brooks (bass) and Eddie Hoh (drums) as well as Barry Goldberg (electric piano) on “Albert’s Shuffle” and “Stop.”

KooperStillsThe Chicago blues contingency of Bloomfield, Brooks, and Goldberg provide a perfect outlet for the three Kooper/Bloomfield originals — the first of which commences the project with the languid and groovy “Albert’s Shuffle.” The guitarist’s thin tone cascades with empathetic fluidity over the propelling rhythms. Kooper’s frisky organ solo alternately bops and scats along as he nudges the melody forward. The same can be said of the interpretation of “Stop,” which had originally been a minor R&B hit for Howard Tate. Curtis Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation” is given a soulful reading that might have worked equally well as a Blood, Sweat & Tears cover. At over nine minutes, “His Holy Modal Majesty” is a fun trippy waltz and includes one of the most extended jams on the Kooper/Bloomfield side. The track also features the hurdy-gurdy and Eastern-influenced sound of Kooper’s electric ondioline, which has a slightly atonal and reedy timbre much like that of John Coltrane’s tenor sax. Because of some health issues, Bloomfield was unable to complete the recording sessions and Kooper contacted Stills. Immediately his decidedly West Coast sound — which alternated from a chiming Rickenbacker intonation to a faux pedal steel — can be heard on the upbeat version of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” One of the album’s highlights is the scintillating cover of “Season of the Witch.” There is an undeniable synergy between Kooper and Stills, whose energies seems to aurally drive the other into providing some inspired interaction. Updating the blues standard “You Don’t Love Me” allows Stills to sport some heavily distorted licks, which come off sounding like Jimi Hendrix. This is one of those albums that seems to get better with age and that gets the full reissue treatment every time a new audio format comes out. This is a super session indeed. (by Lindsay Planer)

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Personnel:
Mike Bloomfield (guitar on 01. – 05., 10., 12. + 13.)
Harvey Brooks (bass)
Eddie Hoh (drums, percussion)
Al Kooper (vocals, keyboards, guitar)
Stephen Stills (guitar on 06. – 09. + 11.)
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Barry Goldberg (piano on 01. + 02.)
unknown horn section (arranged by Al Kooper and Joe Scott)

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Tracklist:
01. Albert’s Shuffle (Kooper/Bloomfield) 6.54
02. Stop (Ragovoy/Shuman) 4.23
03. Man’s Temptation (Mayfield) 3.24
04. His Holy Modal Majesty (Kooper/Bloomfield) 9.16
05. Really (Kooper/Bloomfield) 5.30
06. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Dylan) 3.30
07. Season Of The Witch (Leitch) 11.07
08. You Don’t Love Me (Cobbs) 4.11
09. Harvey’s Tune (Brooks) 2.07
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10. Albert’s Shuffle (remix without horns) (Kooper/Bloomfield) 6.58
11. Season Of The Witch (remix without horns) (Leitch) 11.07
12. Blues For Nothing (outtake) (Kooper) 4.15
13. Fat Grey Cloud (in concert at the Fillmore West) (Kooper/Bloomfield) 4.38

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Al Kooper & Mike Bloomfield

2 thoughts on “Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper & Steve Stills – Super Sessions (1968)

  1. On the second day Kooper not only called upon Stephen Stills, but also Jerry Garcia and Randy California… Stills was the one, who took time and joined the session. What a great Album – Weltkulturerbe!! (‘Season of the witch’ I like most – unbelievable!)

    Like

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