If you've never heard Blood, Sweat & Tears' stunning 1968 debut album, Child Is Father to the Man, go out, buy it and listen right now before reading any further. I know, I know—Blood, Sweat & Fuckin' Tears?!? Just trust me on this one, okay? I'll wait here [tap, tap, tap, tap, tap]. . .
Back? S'okay, you're welcome. Yep, I know—that's some amazing stuff, eh? Purebred genius. Innovative. Inspired. Scintillating. Soulful. Sgt. Pepper's with a jazz sensibility. Unfortunately, few people under the age of 45 even realize the album exists. Okay, now go out and buy a copy of BS&T founder Al Kooper's Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, certainly the most thoroughly entertaining rock & roll autobiography I've ever read. Among the highlights: an account of a late-night BS&T recording session where, because a conga couldn't be located, a member was persuaded to embed a microphone up his ass and beat out a rhythm on his belly. HAW! Anyway, I'll hang here again till you're finished reading the book [tap, tap, tap, tap, tap] . . .
So now you know the story. Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Kooper—Brill Building popster; A&R man for Columbia Records; the guy responsible for the wheezing organ sound that hallmarked Dylan's best albums; brain trust of New York's great, pioneering weirdo group the Blues Project; solo artist; producer and session man extraordinaire (Stones, Hendrix, B.B. King, Mike Bloomfield, George Harrison, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, Alice Cooper, Tubes, Skynyrd, etc., etc.)—founded BS&T with immaculate vision as a trail-blazing, genre-defying jazz/blues/rock/soul/pop synthesis, recording one of the best albums from one the best years in pop history, Kooper's finest work in a distinguished but curiously overlooked career.
The thanks Kooper received for his defining moment was to be subject to the ugliest of rock & roll mutinies imaginable: booted from his own group in a Soviet-style coup d'etat after assembling the band and helming that classic debut, only to be replaced by an amiable but unendurable grunting sweathog of a singer named David Clayton-Thomas, who bore a disturbing resemblance to Hoss Cartwright from the Bonanza TV series and had lung power to spare, but none of Kooper's Kool, a Tijuana Tom Jones whose over-the-top bellowing subsequently placed BS&T at the top of the charts with its self-titled, sophomore effort, featuring such frivolous pop hits as "And When I Die," "You've Made Me So Very Happy" and (ugh) "Spinning Wheel," songs that continue to haunt hell-spawned Clear Channel radio stations to this very day, while Kooper Klassics such as "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know," "Somethin' Goin' On," "I Can't Quit Her" and "My Days Are Numbered" are criminally consigned to the proverbial historic shitcan.
There was nowhere to go but downhill after the stunning success of that second album, as BS&T grew increasingly hackneyed and irrelevant—artistically, commercially and even politically (touring under the auspices of Richard Nixon's State Department at the height of the anti-war movement!), which is why the name conjures up universal shivers of revulsion when mentioned today. Clayton-Thomas even recognized the horror and bailed in 1972 for a solo career that never got off the ground, while BS&T carried on in one undistinguished version or another through most of the '80s.
Okay, so, something called "Blood, Sweat & Tears featuring David Clayton-Thomas" performs at the Cerritos Center on Friday night. As Thomas will be there and Kooper will not, tread lightly, dear reader—this concert was a good excuse to belatedly serve up my highest recommendations for Kooper's music and book; no more.
A happier coda is that Kooper continues to perform and record, albeit far too infrequently and never in OC that I'm aware of (hey, Cerritos Center, book Kooper sometime, will ya, pleez? PLEEZ?). In fact, 1995's live multidisc Soul of a Man reunited Kooper with both BS&T and the Blues Project to brilliant consequence; pick that sucker up along with Child for a definitive Kooper primer, then dig deeper into his solo, Blues Project and session catalog to discover an esoteric, all-time great who shoulda been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility.
Blood, Sweat & Tears featuring David Clayton-Thomas—but not Al Kooper—at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (562) 916-8500. Fri., 8 p.m. $25-$60. All ages.
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