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Talking With Al Kooper About Michael Bloomfield and More

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A Conversation with Al Kooper

Mike Ragogna: Al, From His Head To His Heart To His Hands, that's pretty much how Mike Bloomfield did it creatively, right?

Al Kooper: Yeah, that's what I thought.

MR: You and Michael recorded much together and you were good friends. What was the relationship like with him, both musically and personally?

AK: Personally it was very nice. We laughed a lot, we didn't get to see each other that often, but when we did we were deep in it. Musically, it was extremely unique for me. It was an experience that I had never had before where we never discussed the music, we just instinctively knew what to do in terms of anything that you would normally talk about. I had never had that with anyone before, so that was a very unique experience for me. I've only had it with one other person and I just turned seventy. That's a long time to have that unique experience with someone.

MR: What would a typical session with the both of you guys be like?

AK: The thing was that we said, "Okay, let's do this song," and then we both had enough background to know the correct things to play, so we did that and we knew that the other one would know. That was a great thing and a unique thing.

MR: Nice and perhaps that also applies to how you curated this box set? What was it like going through the process?

AK: That was done with the executive producer Bruce Dickinson. He came up to Boston where I live and we spent a week together and we listened through everything and decided what to include and what not to include.

MR: Were there any tracks that especially made you miss Mike?

AK: I'm past that. I've heard all of his stuff a lot of times. But there's just something that rings in my heart for some of the things that we did together that were really special, like "Albert's Shuffle."

MR: And although each disc of the box is titled, it's chronological?

AK: It's primarily chronological. The first record starts with his earliest recording and the last record ends with his final recording.

MR: I noticed there's a lot of live material represented in that middle area. That was his supertalent, wasn't it?

AK: Yeah, he was an extraordinary player live. As a matter of fact, the reason that I did Super Session was to try to get better playing out of him in the studio. I was unhappy with the comparison between his live playing and his studio playing.

MR: Ah. When you look at some of the experiences that he had--The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Electric Flag, helping out with Moby Grape, did he ever share with you what some of his favorite times creatively were?

AK: No, he'd share with me his un-favorite times.

MR: [laughs]

AK: Which I won't mention.

MR: When you look back at his work, what do you think Michael Bloomfield's legacy should be if someone were to write about it?

AK: Well, I tried to do that, I wrote an introduction in the box set and that was my space to do that. Then, of course, Michael Simmons wrote an excellent bunch of liner notes for the box as well.

MR: How do you think people will remember him?

AK: I have no idea. I just know how I remember him and what I attempted to do was to put together an outpost where people could go if they wanted to try and understand what he did and who he was and what's special about him. That was the point of the box set.

MR: Al, about the story of how you ended up on "Like A Rolling Stone." I heard you were hired as the guitarist but you after heard Michael play, you somehow ended up as the organist. What was the true story?

AK: I was just invited to observe the session, I wasn't hired as a guitar player. I've told the story a million times. In fact, it's in the Martin Scorsese movie, so now I don't even tell it anymore. I just say, "Watch the Martin Scorsese movie." It's a great story, but like I said, I've told it a million times. I was not hired as a guitar player, I was invited to watch.

MR: I guess that's the story through the game of telephone.

AK: I would say that all of the major events that I was fortunate enough to be involved with have all been misrepresented in print. Every single one.

MR: Let me ask you, then, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Lynyrd Skynyrd were two major groups you fathered into existence as far as I'm concerned. How do you view your stamp on music, what you've contributed all of these years?

AK: I was very lucky, I was very ambicious, and a combination of those two things worked out very well to me.

MR: Right. And there were things that happened as a result that have almost turned it into a family tree. Are there some projects that you're very fond of?

AK: I thought that first Tubes album was probably the best record I ever produced for somebody else.

MR: Your own legacy is pretty unforgettable, with classic songs like "John The Baptist" and "Bury My Body." What about your own work?

AK: Nobody but you knows about "John The Baptist."

MR: [laughs] I say not. There are lots of songs that mean a lot to people. I would say you're one of the most important contributors to popular music.

AK: Well there are a few of you and then there are a lot of the others. [laughs]

MR: [laughs] Al, what is your advice for new artists?

AK: My advice is before you get too deep into it, go to plumbing school so that you can make a living if it doesn't work out.

MR: [laughs] What about a creative suggestion?

AK: No, I'm really serious. The odds are against you.

MR: It's a different time now, isn't it.

AK: No, not really! The odds are against you. You have to have a certain amount of amibition and not be in it for the money, because you're going to get screwed.

MR: Now when you got into the business it was purely for the love of music, right?

AK: It's always been for the love of music.

MR: And that's never going to change, huh?

AK: Not really, no.

MR: Are you working on anything right now?

AK: For the past three years I've written a weekly column on the internet called New Music For Old People. That takes up a great deal of my time nowadays. I have one more project to do in the music business and then I won't be doing anything else.

MR: So even if some great, exciting artist comes your way you wouldn't be tempted to jump in there again?

AK: No. My vantage point is now that if I heard a great new aritst I would just write about them in my column. That's what I do.

MR: From His head To His Heart To His Hands has to be one of your favorite projects that you've worked on, right?

AK: I had to do it.

MR: Because you knew best what needed to be on the box?

AK: I wanted to do it, I thought, "Well, somebody has to do this." I had tried two other times that were unsuccessful for various reasons before they came to fruition. But this time, the record company came to me, and that was different. That helped. But it really took a long time, it took a year and it was a lot of hard work. People would say, "Well, you're going to have a film in there, is that okay with the record company?" and I would say, "I don't work for the record company, I work for Michael Bloomfield." That's the way I felt about it.

MR: Al, when you listen to this top to bottom, how did you feel at the end?

AK: I couldn't listen objectively, because I did much more than listen to it top to bottom, I mastered it. That's a whole other tehcnical thing. That's like listening to it times ten.

MR: When you held the box in your hands was there a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction?

AK: Yeah, because I'd spent a lot of time on the look of it as well, so when I got the first copy of the box of it at the house I was very happy. I thought it worked great. It was just a lot of work, and sometimes you do that and it doesn't work out, so I was really glad that it did work out, especially for him.

MR: Nicely said. What does the future hold for Al Kooper?

AK: Well, I'm telling you, it takes most of the week for me to do the column. Tuesday, the new releases come out, and I have to go through all of that and that takes a few days, and then I usually pick more than ten songs and I have to whittle it down to ten. Then they have to be in the right order, two songs that are next to each other can't be in the same key; I have all of these rules. So that takes a long time. Really, the last thing that I do is write about it.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne

ASIA'S GRAVITAS EPK - AN EXCLUSIVE LOOK AT THE NEW ALBUM

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On the 4th album since their reunion with lead vocalist John Wetton, Asia rolls out Gravitas with new guitarist Sam Coulson. Wetton returns with Geoff Downes on keyboards and Carl Palmer on bass for a new batch of prog rock anthems. This EPK features the band giving glimpses into Gravitas as well as a taste of its opening song, "Valkyrie," the album's first focus track.

CELTIC WOMAN'S EMERALD: MUSICAL GEMS

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According to the Celtic Woman gang...

"Global music sensation Celtic Woman release a brand-new album and DVD on February 25 titled Emerald: Musical Gems that spotlights newly reimagined performances of fan favorites from the group's treasure chest of Celtic songs. Commented musical director David Downes, 'Creating the new show allowed me the opportunity to revisit and re-imagine some of our most popular Irish songs, as well as writing some exciting new material for the show,' said Downes. 'With all-new performances of these great songs, Emerald... has created a whole new experience for both our longstanding fans, and for those who have just discovered our music. This is a Celtic Woman experience that will soothe the soul and have you dancing in the aisles!'

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A Conversation with Meg Myers

Mike Ragogna: Meg, you have a new EP, Make A Shadow that features the single "Desire," that song having a pretty intense video. First of all, what inspires your creativity?

Meg Myers: It always changes, who I listen to for inspiration. But I do have a few go-to's these days: Sting, Enya, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Randy Travis, Townes Van Zandt, Tracy Chapman, Alt-J, Ludovico Einaudi, Tupac, Vast, Robert Plant...

MR: How would you describe your style?

MM: Raw, primal and vulnerable. Alternative Rock/Dark Pop with added electronic elements.

MR: As you were recording the songs for Make A Shadow, do you think the process of recording brought out more of the song's meaning or layers beyond what you originally imagined the song itself to be?

MM: Yeah, that's a really great question. I think that that happened mostly with "Make A Shadow." I wrote that song over a year ago and so to come back to it with new life experiences, well, I think I actually connected to it even more in a strange way than when I wrote it. I also cried throughout recording those verses, half because it was emotional and half because I'm a big baby and I was probably PMSing.

MR: [laughs] What are you looking to achieve as an artist, what will ultimately satisfy you?

MM: I don't know... I want to put out music that I feel great about and I want to play shows to fans who genuinely feel what I am expressing and that's what I want. What will ultimately satisfy me? Being able to take care of my family so that they don't have to struggle anymore and also finding a little peace within.

MR: Which artists or bands inspired you?

MM: Mark Knofler, Lindsey Buckingham, Robert Plant, Sting, Ludovico, Trent Reznor, Jewel, Tracy Chapman, Joan Osborne, Sinead O'Connor, Enya, John Frusciante, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley and many more.

MR: What do you think of the current trends in popular or artist-oriented music?

MM: Uhmmm.... Haha, no comment.

MR: [laughs] What was the inspiration for and story behind "Desire"'s video?

MM: I thought it was more powerful to have an invisible person than a real person. The song is dark and sexual so it only made sense to make a video that lined up with the intensity of the song. However, I found it created something even darker and disturbing by adding innocent elements, such as the teddy bear sweatshirt, the socks and the cartoons and other footage on the TV screen. I don't know how to explain it exactly, like what it means to me. But life is a struggle for me and a lot of people I'm sure between dark places and wholesome places and that is kinda what it represents to me in a way.

MR: What are your interests beyond creating and performing music?

MM: I love all of the arts. I draw in my spare time--don't have much though--and write/read stories. I love movies, mostly animated, and I love to hike and box. I also love animals. I like playing cards and chess and I like to whittle.

MR: What's your advice for new artists?

MM: Be yourself and don't hold back your feelings. Well, I mean like find a healthy outlet for them.

MM: How do you picture Meg five years from now?

MM: I don't know really, it would be nice to have a garden and a home studio and be closer to my family. also I'm sure if all goes well I'll be on the road in 5 years nonstop!

INFORMATION SOCIETY'S "LAND OF THE BLIND"

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photo credit: Wil Foster/rockcandyphoto.com

"I wrote the bulk of this song all the way back in the '90s after we recorded the Peace and Love, Inc. album.," says Information Society's synth player, Paul Robb. "It was meant to be on our--never to be recorded--4th Warner Brother LP. After we decided to begin a new record, Kurt helped me finish the song up, and we recorded the finished product over the course of a few long weekends at my studio in Santa Monica. We knew this track was extra special so we had our old friend from Minneapolis, Chuck Zwicky, mix it at his ZMix facility in New York. The lyrics video is the creative work of our longtime touring VJ Falcotronic who came up with the ASCII based concept and, with a bit of input from the rest of us, came up with something we're very excited to unleash upon the world."

"LOST" WITH SALIVA AND COVER ART PREMIERED

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About the audio...

"Lost" is about overcoming and beating addiction," according to Bobby Amaru. "Whether it be drug, relationship, or life related. Telling yourself you will find a way to a better and more positive life. No more self abuse. Saying you are "lost" for the last time!

This is also the premiere of the cover art, which is pretty explosive, right?

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A Conversation with Noah Gundersen

Mike Ragogna: Noah, you've been recording and touring professionally since 18 and your new album Ledges addresses your transition into manhood. What would you say were the most challenging aspects of that evolution?

Noah Gundersen: It's been a long process and one that I am very much still in the middle of. Having drive is so incredibly important, but equally so is patience. I'm not always the most patient person and developing a more patient spirit has been a challenge. Then there's the terrible tours, playing for empty rooms, being broke, living in your friend's brothers garage in the middle of winter, working s**t jobs to pay rent, etc. But I wouldn't have the foundation I have now without those challenges. So I'm grateful for them. And grateful that they are past.

MR: Would you say the process of writing for and creating Ledges was cathartic and what were your discoveries about yourself when you listened to the project top to bottom after it was mastered and ready for release?

NG: The process of writing songs has always been cathartic for me, which is ultimately why I do it. Sometimes is it's like pulling teeth, difficult but worth it when it's done. Sometimes its a verbal vomit. Sometimes it's a shot of morphine straight to the heart. Ledges was no different, except for that I was in a new season of life with new experiences. Listening to the album top to bottom gave me such a satisfied feeling, like "I can do this." Very encouraging.

MR: Which songs on Ledges would be the most revealing about Noah Gundersen and why?

NG: They're all about me, in some way or another. One through the eyes of someone else, one through a fictional story, most in my relationship to others. The single, "Ledges," is probably the most self-reflective. In it, I did my best to express my wants and desires, while also addressing my faults and downfalls.

MR: How do you view the world differently now than when you first started?

NG: My art has simultaneously grown as I have. I played my first show when I was 16. My view of the world then was much more wide-eyed and innocent. I've seen a lot more since then. I've traveled the country several times, met a lot of interesting and wonderful people. And some not so wonderful people. I've been burned, I've had my heart broken, as we all do when we're growing up. My music has been a reflection of that. I also see my world as something I have more control of, that I can make choices and stand by them and not be pushed around.

MR: Were there any events in your life since you've been a professional musician that you can remember as being major turning points and what were they?

NG: My first song placement on Sons Of Anarchy was a significant moment in my career. It was a good placement that in the span of 4 minutes introduced my music to a very large national audience. I got a call from a major record label the next day and although I turned their offer down, along with others, it was a big deal for me. I was able to quit my day job shortly thereafter. Hiring my current manager, Paul Bannister, was an important step. He's someone who completely gets my vision and works his ass off to help achieve it. My whole team is like that and I'm so grateful for them. I couldn't be doing this without them.

MR: How has your being an artist affected your relationships with your friends and family?

NG: I'm gone a lot, so it can be difficult to sustain friendships at home. But I'm aware of that and try to keep in touch with my close friends when I'm on the road and be intentional about spending time with them when I'm home. I'm still very tight with my family and thankfully I get to tour with some of them. Family has always been a priority and we always make time to be together when we're home.

MR: What is it about this career and artistic path that surprised you the most?

NG: How kind and generous and supportive people can be. There is a lot of s**t in the world, a lot of hurt and sadness. I'm continually blown away by how well people have treated us. Our fans are the best.

MR: Would you encourage a younger brother or sister to go into this field?

NG: Haha, well, I guess I already have....

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

NG: Work hard. Be good to people. Being an asshole doesn't make you cool, it just makes you an asshole. Be diligent. Be patient. Don't compare yourself to others. Surround yourself with people who will be honest with you. Write a lot. Be honest in your art. Don't wait around for the moment to fall into your lap, because it won't. Get out there and do it.

MR: How do you see yourself five years from now?

NG: I plan to have a couple more records under my belt. I also hope to produce several more records for other artists. My dream is to support my parents in their retirement. And be writing better songs.