Al Kooper

My memories of writing BS&T horn arrangements with Al Kooper went something like this: I would come down from the Bronx to his Greenwich Village apartment. Sitting together at the piano, he would play and I would write down the horn parts on music paper. Al had wrtten a number of the tunes that we were about to arrange, so I imagine that he pretty much knew what he wanted the horns to play on his tunes. In many cases, the horn parts that I jotted down were simply what he was playing on the piano. Sometimes, I would abruptly stop him from playing, saying something like, “Al, that’s a good horn line - that half-step clash between the G and F# on the E-7 chord”. If he agreed, it became part of the chart. He left places in the arrangements for me to write an intro, ending or a horn line here or there, but for the most part, I felt like I was simply ‘filling in the cracks’. But I really didn’t mind this at all. I really enjoyed working with him. This was all 'new musical territory' for me, and at the time, I didn’t feel any big need to write the whole chart myself. The jazz influences that were so much a part of me spilled over and mixed with his style and influences, creating something very fresh! We respected each other’s musical talents and worked very efficiently together. I don't remember having any hassles with him writing charts. Once in a while, from his 'vast' collection of records, he would play me a song or point out a certain musical phrase or lyric on a record that he wanted to share with me. He once told me that he didn’t think he was a great singer, but rather, simply good at reproducing or capturing vocal phrases or styles from singers he liked and using them effectively in his performance of a tune.

Before Al and I began writing our first BS&T charts together, the two of us along with Steve Katz, Bobby Colomby and Jimmy Fielder played our first gig at the Fillmore East, as one of the opening acts. The five of us - rhythm section and me on alto - were the original band before "BS&T" was named. Shorty after the Fillmore gig, Al invited me to a private showing of the Monterey Pop Festival film, where I saw Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendricks for the first time. Al had been at the festival and was 'knocked out' by both of these performers. He told me that he felt Janis would soon become a star! He also took me to a "Cream” concert. We had seats right up front. Al wore his brown and black-checkered suit - the one he was wearing when I first met him. When various people came over to him to say hello or get his autograph, I figured he must be somewhat of a celebrity! I had only known of him from hearing the Blues Project album with “Flute Thing” on it. That tune was about the closest thing to 'jazz' I had heard coming from a Pop group. It was interesting to me that, not long before Bobby Colomby called me to join BS&T, my friend, Jane Levy, had played me this Blues Project Album, which I remember liking!

The following story I call "The old Kooper – Lipsius bit". It took place after I had left BS&T and moved back to New York City from California. Al and I hadn't been in touch for quite a while... Then one afternoon, we ran into each other in front of an audio store in Manhattan. He told me he was playing a concert at Town Hall the next day and invited me to play a sax solo on "I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know". But he wanted to present me to the audience in an unusual way, which I agreed to. My appearance came around the middle of his show. As planned, I waited off stage until Al finished singing the melody halfway through his song and the band built up to my solo... Then, as a surprise for the audience, Kooper introduced me. I came out, played my solo, took a bow and exited. Al and his band finished the rest of the song. Everybody seemed to like my little contribution. Sometime later, when we 'happened’ to meet once again, Al asked if I would do the same 'bit' with him. This time, it was at the "Bottom Line" in the Village, where he was performing 2 shows! I reluctantly agreed to do it, since I didn’t really share the same sense of 'humor' or 'theatrics' as him! But I knew Al really loved my horn playing (I think I was his favorite alto player besides Hand Crawford) so I basically did it for him, or perhaps for ‘old times’ sake. Backstage, after the first show, he really wasn’t that impressed with my solo. He made some kind of hand gesture or brief comment like I sounded ‘so-so’. But, I still had another chance to redeem myself! After the second show Al very enthusiastically said something like, “That’s more like it!” I had played like the old Freddy he once knew! The amusing part of this tale, for me, was that, my first wife, Carol, came with me to the club. She had never seen me perform live. The place was packed with no seats available. So she had to stand at the bar next to some Hell’s Angels! She told me later that when I came out to play my sax solo, one of the guys next to her made a comment about me, like I shouldn’t be up there with Kooper - I didn't 'fit', I was ruining the music. These kinds of things keep you humble!

Dick Halligan

Dick and I played a gig together prior to Blood, Sweat & Tears. He had a beautiful sound on the trombone. He also had a good singing voice. When Al Kooper left the band, Dick switched from trombone to organ, doubling on trombone when needed. One day, he asked if he could write a chart for the band. None of us knew that he arranged! His first chart on "God Bless The Child" knocked everybody out!

Listen to "God Bless The Child"

I thought all of his arrangements were wonderfully imaginative and quite diverse – from "Sometimes in Winter" to "Lucretia MacEvil" to "He’s a Runner" to "Sympathy for the Devil" to "One for My Lady".... Unlike me, who had only studied arranging a little bit and was a slow arranger, Dick was quick at writing charts. He developed this skill at Manhattan School of Music, where he had deadlines for completing his assignments. Probably only a few people know this, but some of the tunes that I picked to arrange for BS&T I had trouble finishing, for one reason or another. So I asked Dick if he would take them on. These included the Erik Satie piece, "Fire and Rain", and the hit tune "And When I Die". For the latter, I had only come up with one idea, that I played for Dick at the piano. I encouraged him to use this idea because I felt it was very catchy/commercial. It was an Coplandish hoedown–type rhythm. Dick used a variation of my suggestion as a recurring motif or musical ‘hook’ several times in his arrangement. He originally intended his arrangement of the Erik Satie theme to be for three recorders. But when they tried recording the piece, it wasn't in tune. So Dick played all the parts on flute instead. He told me that around the time of recording this piece, he took one casual flute lesson from a trumpet player he knew. Then the rest he learned on his own, in a very short time.

At meetings for choosing material to record for BS&T, the attending band members would listen to the tunes being presented. Once a tune was chosen, either Dick or I would say we wanted to arrange it. Rarely did both of us desire to arrange the same song. We never co-arranged a tune, and hardly ever discussed arrangements we were doing for the band. Dick and I always got along very well ever since our first meeting at a bus terminal in the Bronx, en route to a gig playing together in the Catskill Mountains.

David Clayton-Thomas

I always looked forward to how David would approach a song, vocally. You never knew what he’d come up with. When he came to New York City from Canada and auditioned for BS&T after Al Kooper left, he sounded incredible singing "I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know". I think he learned that song the previous day. It was very exciting hearing him sing with the band, which had some new horn players! We knew he was our singer right away! I always felt he was the best pop singer around. Besides his strong voice and clear enunciation, I never heard him sing out of tune. He was so versatile.

In Blood Sweat & Tears, the tunes or arrangements sometimes pushed David into unfamiliar territory. But he didn't have a problem with any of it! He also had a great ear. For example, in my chart for "John the Baptist", I reharmonized the tunes’ original chords for the part of the tune that goes… “the waters are dirty and the reason is - Holy John had to wash away our sins”. I’m amazed to this day when I listen to that section, that David could sing the melody without my horn voicings throwing him off. In the studio, he usually nailed his vocal on the first take. Sometimes, he’d do a second take if he wasn’t totally pleased with the first one and felt he could do it better, as was the case with "40,000 Headmen". A few of us who were in the engineer’s booth witnessing him sing that tune just about begged him to keep his first take – it was so good! But his second take was just as good. I couldn’t tell the difference. An interesting ‘quirk’ about that second take is: if you listen closely, you can hear (and maybe even see) David smiling, when he sang "three small ships a-sailing off towards a distant shore" (on the second verse). I don’t think I ever heard a ‘smile’ on a vocal before! Maybe you had to be there to see David doing it, but he really did smile. Listen for it below!

Listen to "40,000 Headmen"

Gags With Lew Soloff

I visited Lew at his New York City duplex apartment. He buzzed me in through the front door and I entered his apartment, following him downstairs, past a long row of trumpet mouthpieces neatly lined up on the top landing. His living room contained a small couch or two, a beautiful, new seven-foot Steinway piano with a huge empty champagne bottle sitting on top of it, an elephant foot (perhaps used as a low table), and some wild-colored Middle-Eastern or African–looking material on his walls and ceiling. I sat down making myself comfortable. Lew handed me an interesting looking small box which I began to examine. I touched the wrong thing and something came flying out at me, causing me to jump back. I had fallen for the old ”Jack in the box“ trick! Lew was laughing maniacally. I began laughing with him... I think! A moment later, he perched himself over me with a tiny camera in his hands, taking my picture. But, there was no film in the camera. It was a water gun, and he 'got me' real good! His laughter was zanier than before!

One day, while walking down Broadway in Manhattan, I came upon this store that prints newspaper headlines of your choice. You get a page with your headline at the top, with a bunch of jibberish in small print below. Knowing the prankster that Lew was, I thought he’d get a kick out of receiving one of these silly personalized headlines from me. It read: "SOLOFF CRACKS HIGH NOTE FROM PIMPLE ON LIP."