The history of rock 'n' roll is filled with Al Kooper footnotes.
Over the past 50 years, the New York musician/producer/arranger/songwriter/performer has contributed to the success of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Blood Sweat & Tears (which he founded), Lynyrd Skynyrd (which he discovered and produced) and even Gary Lewis & the Playboys (he wrote their 1965 No. 1 single "This Diamond Ring"). We'll get to some of those stories in a bit.
First: What's the most underrated band he's worked with?
"The Honeydogs," he answered after contemplating for a moment. "I think they should be much bigger. I'm a big fan."
That's right, the big-shot music guy met the Twin Cities band at the South by Southwest festival in Texas and worked on their 1997 album for Mercury Records, "Seen a Ghost."
Since then, he has stayed in touch with Honeydogs frontman Adam Levy, and on Sunday, they will collaborate at the Dakota Jazz Club on "A Tribute to Al Kooper," featuring his compositions played by the Honeydogs, various Twin Cities singers and, of course, Kooper himself.
"I've never done something like this. That's the best part of it," said Kooper, who will arrive early to rehearse.
In a recent late-night call, the Forrest Gump of rock shared some stories about famous recordings.
BOB DYLAN, "BLONDE ON BLONDE"
Kooper first worked with Dylan on his breakthrough single "Like a Rolling Stone." Those sessions "were chaotic," he said. "No one acted as a producer, per se, or music director. 'Highway 61' was like a proto-punk album because of that disorganization and Dylan's attitude, musically and singing-wise."
It was the opposite for the next album, on which Kooper, 22, was enlisted to play music director for a group of top-flight studio musicians.
"Bob was still writing the lyrics when he came to town. The songs were finished musically. So we had a piano put in his room and he had me come up there -- he taught me the song musically, this is pre-cassette. Then I'd play the song over and over again and he'd sit there and write lyrics."
The recording sessions were "incredibly long. Because he'd take a break and still be writing lyrics, maybe for sometimes five hours without budging from the piano, and we'd play ping-pong, watch television, eat. The thing was, I was a big Dylan fan and these guys didn't know who he was."
JIMI HENDRIX, "LONG HOT SUMMER NIGHT"
1968, New York
Kooper and Hendrix were neighbors, and often jammed together. On this night he arrived in the studio early, as usual, and was fooling with one of Hendrix's guitars when the superstar walked in. "He said, 'Why don't you keep it?' I said, ''Cause it's your guitar.' He sent it to my house the next day."
Kooper kept the "great guitar" for 23 years but felt compelled to sell it after two break-ins at his house. "I don't think they were after my wife's jewelry."
THE ROLLING STONES, "YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT"
"Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] came in and they were so full of energy," the pianist/organist recalled. "They played the song for everybody and passed out acoustic guitars so everybody could play along 'til they learned it. And they also had the best food of any session I was ever at; they had it catered, which I'd never seen anybody do at that time."
LYNYRD SKYNYRD, "SWEET HOME ALABAMA"
The band's debut album had just been sent to the pressing plant when frontman Ronnie Van Zant called Kooper to say he was dying to record a new song.
"Those guys, when they rehearsed, they got everything done. Even the guitar solos were composed before they went into the studio. I've never worked with a band like that. They were brilliant arrangers; most bands suck at that," Kooper said. "We recorded 'Sweet Home' in one day, and we all knew it was a big one. But we had to wait about a year before it came out."
GEORGE HARRISON, "ALL THOSE YEARS AGO"
1980, Friar Park, England, with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney
The night before the first session, Kooper received a phone call from Harrison asking if he needed any special keyboards for the recording. Kooper thought it was bassist Herbie Flowers on the phone pulling a prank. The next day, when Kooper was introduced to Harrison, the ex-Beatle said: "You didn't think that was me on the phone last night, did ya?"
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719