Insomnia, heroin, and some of the finest blues guitar ever recorded
Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper always seemed to have a difficult working relationship. In 1968, half way through recording Super Session, one of the late ‘60s most seminal LP’s, Bloomfield unexpectedly split, leaving Kooper with no other option than to draft in the services of a young Stephen Stills to complete the album. Though despite Mike’s lack of commitment (Bloomfield’s chronic insomnia and heroin addiction no doubt played a part in his decision making), both musicians teamed up to perform and release this double album, recorded at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco over three nights during September 1968, and just might well be the pinnacle of their work together.
Joining them was John Kahn (bass), Skip Prokop (drums), along with guest appearances by Carlos Santana and Elvin Bishop (both on guitar). Apparently Steve Miller and Dave Brown also dropped by but are not listed on the album credits.
Let it be said, that Mike Bloomfield was one of the finest and most naturally gifted blues guitarists of his or any other generation, who could make his instrument speak, growl, grunt, and ultimately soar with one of the sweetest tones this side of BB King. The Live Adventures Of Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper is all the evidence anyone will ever need to qualify his place in the Parthenon as one of the greatest exemplars of electric blues.
The show begins with an opening speech by Bloomfield, where he provides the audience with a little background information as to where things are at, before the band launch into an uplifting version of Paul Simon’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” (Simon would later overdub his vocal performance in the studio), followed by the tender blues of Ray Charles’ “I Wonder Who” and “Mary Ann,” on which Bloomfield gives Peter Green, another superb guitarist, a real run for his money in the BB King stakes.
“Her Holy Modal Highness,” from the Super Session album, is given a lengthy and inspired run though, along with fine interpretations of “The Weight” (The Band), “That’s All Right” (Arthur Crudup), and “Together ‘Til the end of Time.” Throughout both Kooper and Bloomfield are on fire, with each musician giving the other just the right amount of space to take off and do their thing, especially on “Green Onions,” (Booker T & The MGs), where they complement each other beautifully, though never in a way that comes across as being competitive.
CD 2 begins with another speech, only this time by Al Kooper, who explains to the audience that Bloomfield, due to lack of sleep, won’t be able to make the gig, hence the appearance of a then unknown Santana on “Sonny Boy Williamson” and Elvin Bishop on “No More Lonely Nights,” both of whom do an incredible job, if one considers that they had less than a day’s notice to appear on stage.
The band pulls off an enthusiastic take of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” (a true highlight), while performing an emotive version of Albert King’s “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong.” Last number, “Finale-Refugee” is a brief but strong way to close what is overall an extremely enjoyable listen.
Without question, any fan of either Al Kooper or Mike Bloomfield who doesn’t own this record is doing themself a disservice. Across these 2 LP’s, both musicians (and guests) put in some of the greatest playing of their careers. Bloomfield wasn’t what one would necessarily call a flashy instrumentalist, but he had the chops and most importantly of all, the feel, as if one was actually listening to someone who had been born and raised on the Mississippi Delta. And though despite the guitarist’s unreliable nature (nowadays anyone would be sued for not turning up to their own gig), Bloomfield and Kooper melded wonderfully together, like musical soulmates, and when it worked, it worked beautifully.
The Live Adventures Of Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper is a fine document not only of the era in which it was made, but for any period, especially lovers of the blues.