Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills – Super Session
Not all music collaborations are created equally. Some might be better known due to the names involved, but in retrospect come up short musically. One example in my opinion is the Dylan and the Dead album. Another might be John McLaughlin’s joint effort with Carlos Santana on Love Devotion Surrender, an enjoyable listen but far from either guitarist’s best album. The widely acknowledged first “supergroup” was Blind Faith, whose eponymous album is highly regarded. But the precursor to the rumble caused by Clapton, Winwood, Baker and Grech was Super Session, released 50 years ago today. With this album we have three artists who were arguably in near peak spontaneous creative mode.
The album title is a slight misnomer, as it’s really two separate collaborations with Kooper/Bloomfield on side one and Kooper/Stills on side two. I’m not exactly breaking headline news by saying this is a significant blues rock album, as it has earned gold record status. But with so many other noteworthy releases around the same time, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. You’ll likely never hear a track from it on classic rock radio (which is just fine with me). Al Kooper was still somewhat fresh off his brief stint as one of the founding members of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Mike Bloomfield was about to leave the Electric Flag (having previously worked with the Butterfield Blues Band), and Stephen Stills was a free agent with the recent demise of Buffalo Springfield and participation in one of the most famous “supergroup” collaborations in his near future after spending a day with Kooper.
Kooper and Bloomfield had worked together as session musicians on Dylan’s landmark Highway 61 Revisited three years earlier as well as the latter’s fabled performance at Newport when he “went electric.” Kooper, working as an A&R man for Columbia post-B,S&T, booked two days of studio time and invited Bloomfield to jam. The songs on side one of Super Session are from the very productive first day, but when the second day rolled around, Bloomfield was a no-show. As a testament to the respect Kooper has in the music industry, he was able to ring Stephen Stills, whose contribution rounds out the album.
Side one includes three Kooper/Bloomfield originals, including their tribute to John Coltrane, His Holy Modal Majesty. This extended jam has been described by one critic as a “fun, trippy waltz” that “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.” Side two, or the “Stills side,” includes covers of Dylan (It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry), Donovan (a very unique take on Season of the Witch), and an original by session bassist (and bassist for Bloomfield’s Electric Flag) Harvey Brooks, Harvey’s Tune. Session horn players added a brassy touch (though not as featured as on albums by Electric Flag or Blood, Sweat & Tears). The album is late-60s Chicago blues with a twist. In my view, it’s also an indispensable addition to any collection of blues-based rock albums of the era.
- Albert’s Shuffle
- Man’s Temptation
- His Holy Modal Majesty
- It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
- Season of the Witch
- You Don’t Love Me
- Harvey’s Tune
For those who enjoy this album, here are a couple of others I recommend:
Michael Bloomfield – Don’t Say That I Ain’t Your Man!: Essential Blues, 1964-1969
The Butterfield Blues Band – East-West (1966)