This was written by Al Kooper 3 years ago today. It’s a great story so we thoug…

Written by on June 17, 2018

This was written by Al Kooper 3 years ago today. It’s a great story so we thought we would repost it:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


On June 16th, 1965 the complete take of “Like A Rolling Stone” was recorded (Take 4) at approximately 3:30 PM in Studio A at Columbia Recording Studios on Seventh Avenue in New York City. Ten more takes were recorded until they realized that #4 was the one. It was the first take to be played all the way through the 6 minute plus lyric.

I was a songwriter at the time and also a studio guitarist. I knew Tom Wilson pretty well and we were good friends. When he found out I was a Dylan fan, he invited me to this session as a guest to watch. I was 21 at the time. A song I had co-written had six months previously been the #1 song in the country (This Diamond Ring by Gary Lewis & The Playboys) for about a month. I also got calls as a studio guitarist to play on recording sessions. Me and my neighbor from Queens, NY, Harvey Brooks played a lotta Top 40 club dates in various bands as well. We had previously played a place called Carousel Park at The NYC Worlds Fair about a year before six nights a week and made a nice pile of change for those days. Harvey got me that gig and i owed him big.

At the time, I was trying to make it big in the music biz and I was about ten per cent talent and ninety percent ambition. I decided immediately I was gonna get to the Dylan session early with my guitar, plug in, and tell Tom Wilson I had misunderstood his invitation and thought he meant to hire me as a guitarist.

The session was called for 1 PM and so I showed up about noon to pull off my ambitious caper. The other musicians knew me from other sessions and nothing seemed amiss to them. I was warming up when Dylan burst through the door with another guitarist in tow and that guy sat down next to me said hello and plugged in his guitar and started warming up as well. He looked to be about the same age as me and so I was quite surprised and disappointed to hear what an amazing player he was as he warmed up. I immediately took a cigarette break, put my guitar in it’s case and went in the control room where I actually belonged. This happened before Tom Wilson arrived, so he hadn’t seen my failed ambitious caper go up in smoke. The guitarist was, of course, Mike Bloomfield from Chicago who I had never heard of or met before. He had just joined The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and their first album was due to be released soon.

An hour into the actual session. they moved organist Paul Griffin
over to piano instead. Here was another chance for me. I played keyboards early in my life but switched to guitar when Elvis Presley came along because by then it was hipper to play guitar. But I always still played keyboards i.e. for songwriting, sometimes on sessions, etc. So I went over to Tom Wilson and said: “Tom, why doncha let me play organ on this ? I gotta great part to play on this!” Actually, I had nothing but that ninety percent ambition. Wilson looked at me and said “You’re not an organ player – you’re a guitarist!” and then they called him away to take a phone call. I thought to myself – he didn’t actually say NO – and so i walked into the studio and sat down at the organ.

A Hammond B3 organ is very complicated to start up and I didn’t yet know how to turn it on. Fortunately, Paul Griffin had left it on. Tom Wilson hadn’t seen me go back in the studio and sit behind the organ. When he finished his phone call he said over the talkback mic – ” Okay Bob – we got everybody here. Let’s do one and I’ll play it back to you and you can pick it apart. (Pause as Tom sees me sitting at the organ) What are you doing out there?(all the other musicians start laughing cause they knew me as a guitarist). Wilson laughs as well. This is where he should have said “Would you get your white ass back in the control room where you belong please ?” But because he was a kind man and also because he would have had to explain what i was doing there, after he laughed he said:) “Okay – stand by – This CO86446 Like A Rolling Stone remake Take 1.”

And so began my career as an organ player. Three takes later,
I did miraculously come up with a part and the first full take of the song was recorded and everyone went back into the booth to listen to all six minutes and thirty five seconds of it. About a minute into the playback, Dylan said to engineer Roy Halee, “Turn the organ up louder” Tom Wilson quickly replied “Bob, that guy is NOT an organ player” Bob said ” I don’t care – turn the organ up!” thus cementing my career as an organ player. Another ten takes were taken but they were all much faster than Take 4 and so it was decided to return to Take 4 and use that as the final master.

Nothing else was recorded that day but Bob came over to me and asked me to return the next day and play on the rest of the album. Within a coupla days, I talked Dylan into hiring Harvey Brooks on bass to join us. Years later Miles Davis had Harvey play on his Bitches Brew album. So we were finally even for that great World’s Fair gig he had gotten me! Unfortunately and mysteriously, Tom was replaced the next day as producer by Bob Johnston, and never produced another Dylan track. But he did sooo much more – produced “Sounds Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, discovered and prodduced The Mothers of Invention and The Velvet Underground. And signed and produced The Blues Project with me playing keyboards as a session guy and I was asked to join their band – which I did for three years.

So today I sit here at age 71 and am amazed at what a lucky and bizarre career I have had as well and bless Tom Wilson for inviting me to that Bob Dylan session because he was my friend and thought I would enjoy it.

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