Life on the Road at 55; Bob Dylan, Ron Wood, BB King, among others...
So I get this Israeli driver to Newark Airport. Fortunately, I leave at 5PM for an 8PM flight. We head into the Lincoln Tunnel and I'm noticing this guy is a perpetual motion machine. He's constantly adjusting the AC, shifting gears (automatic transmission nonetheless) and his idiot light says he's running out of gas. We are twenty car lengths behind the lead car in the tunnel and I ask if there's something the matter with the car.
"Why ? Because the other car's so far ahead ? Pollution, my friend. The less cars in the tunnel the less pollution!"
This always happens to me. The moment I say Kooper with a K to the car service, they vomit up the wackiest, looniest driver on staff and slowly dispatch him to moi. We come out of the tunnel and he starts bellyaching about the traffic. It's 5:15 PM. What does he expect, chop-chop service ? He asks if he can take an alternate route. I say fine. Every time the sign says Newark Airport, this exit, he takes the other choice. I'm rolling my eyes for him to see in the rear view mirror, but he's too busy adjusting from Drive 1 to Drive 2 to notice me. I tell him Continental Airlines, not domestic, but overseas.
"What means this overseas?" he asks in all seriousness.
"Not domestic.....errrr.....Europe..." I reply, missing the magic word obviously.
"International?" he parries, almost intelligently locating the missing word.
"Yes. That's it. International..." I concur.
"But, what means this overseas?" he asks again
"Same thing as international..." I instruct.
"Doesn't mean bigger??? Worldwide ????"
"No. It means over the sea. Spanning the bleeping ocean. Overseas" I'm almost screaming.
Miraculously, we get there at 6:30 and I am very glad to be rid of him. If I wanted to teach, I would have stayed in college. The flight is allegedly on-time contrary to the radio in the car. Til we get on the plane. THEN it's an hour's delay.
I keep my sleeping pill unactivated nowadays until we're in the air ten minutes. This is in deference to the time I was at the gate to go to England from Los Angeles with my delightful friend, the late Denny Cordell. He gave me a Mandrax (English Quaalude) and said if I took it, I'd wake up when we were landing. I dry-swallowed it instantly and then they announced the flight would be delayed two hours. Denny had to carry me on the plane in his arms two hours later and I woke up just as we were landing, as promised. This flight was less than half that length, so I wasn't that concerned. I hadn't been across the pond since I flew fleeing from London, where I made the mistake of living in 1979-80. I was booked in business class or what Continental calls first/business. There actually is no first class or there is; but they charge less and call it business class. Free little booties. The seats were fabulous. Wide, lots of leanback and a footrest, and a personal 9 inch TV to watch the free movie. (Unforgettable with Ray Liotta did not remotely live up to it's title. A cross between Altered States and Naked Gun 33 1/3. Garbage). A cold lobster appetizer and a sirloin steak entree and goodnight folks. I woke up early in daylight. Don't ya hate to be the first guy to put the reading lamp on during the red-eye flight? This trip I'm reading "Waiting For The Sun" by Barney Hoskyns. It's a well researched history of modern music in Los Angeles.
We land in Manchester and I stand in the longest immigration line I've ever stood in. No AC, of course. We're in England. I'm pouring sweat, lugging carry-ons, etc. I've got a work permit and they've got to check THAT out and the sweat continues to pour out of me. A driver picks me up. This time I'm traveling under the alias Bill Loney so the drivers name sign convulses me. It's an hours drive to Liverpool with zero scenery so I nap in the car.
We arrive at the hotel and I check in. TV is just as I remember it. Inane programming highlighted by mediocre US shows. Murder One is on here. So is Friends. And so is Pro American Football. Scotland vs London. Very Bizarre. I watch a weird Pinter-esque teleplay about six people marooned on a desert island, which has cannibalism for an ending. Unrewarding. I order a club sandwich and a piece of strawberry shortcake as my first English meal. I cheated by packing Pringles and Chocolate chip pound cake and three 1.5 liter bottles of Spa water. The food is not bad and my eyebrows are raised in astonishment. I take a walk to the centre of Liverpool. There is a statue of the Fab 4 in the basement of a shopping mall. There is every damned thing but a CD shop. Maybe tomorrow. And so to bed on Day One.
Jet-lagged Al is awake at 6 AM, bright-eyed and bushytailed. I read from my book, -play computer games , and thankfully at 9 AM, I drift back to sleep. The whole day is like that until 3:45 PM when I must report to the lobby. Why, you ask ? So I can go to the Bob Dylan sound-check at the Empire Theater in Liverpool, where I am accompanying Mr. Bob for the next two nights in preparation for the Hyde Park Show where I am again in the employ of Mr.Bob. But that's another day.
The band runs over all the stuff I missed at the other rehearsal I did in NYC last week with them. Everyone is real nice to me and I'm havin' a good time. The show is good and I forgot to bring a set list back for you guys, but I will tomorrow.
Inclusions from memory: Drifters Escape, Don't Think Twice, Girl From The North Country, Sylvio, Watchtower, Memphis Blues Again, Rainy Day Women, etc. Then it's back to the hotel bar for a drunken goonbash with some of the cast and crew. It's 2:45 AM . My bags have to be in the lobby at 3 PM tomorrow as we are leaving for London by coach right after the show. Can a 52 year old man still tour like a rock madman? Stay tuned. Goodnight from Day Two.
Liverpool Day Three: Absolutely cannot sleep til 9 AM. Awake, of course, at 11 AM. I get up and go for another Liverpool stroll and find a CD shoppe !!! I go into a feeding frenzy but only purchase 2 items: A double soul sampler for 18 quid and a double Dusty Springfield for 16 quid. This is gonna be an expensive trip, me buckos. So, its back to the hotel to freshen up before 4 PM sound-check. Today we tighten stuff up from last night that wasn't so great. I am prevented from playing the parts I played on the records because other guys are playing those parts, so mostly I have to hold chords down and try and invent the odd rhythm that doesn't conflict with what the other guys are doing. Not that much fun actually. Bob has been in a pretty good mood since I spoke with him on the phone last month. It's good to see him like this. Naturally, I forgot to grab the set-list again, but I'm sure its in the Bob net pages anyhow. Here's what I remember: Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat, Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You, WatchTower, Under The Red Sky, Sylvio, Alabama Getaway, John Brown, To Ramona, Seven Days, and Rainy Day Women. We rushed out right from the stage and I followed these bodies into the bus. I climbed aboard and saw Bob and realized I was on the wrong bus - Soooo, I ran back to the other bus just as the door was shut in my face. I had no laminate on but the security guy recognized me and got me on. A close call!!!
On the bus tonight, I took on the DJ role and we listened to my friend, Robert Schimell the comedian,'s new Warner Bros. CD out in 6 weeks. Don't miss this one! Everyone was howling! Then, the ruff mixes from Jimmy V's CD and people seemed to really like that. We ate some Chinese food that wasn't too bad (a rarity for England), drank all the beer, and four hours later, we arrived in London at 2:30 AM. The plugs didn't work in my room, so I had to change rooms. It's 4 AM, I'm wide awake now and sound-check is at 1:30 tomorrow. Don't bet against me......
Well, its definitely the jet lag. I've given up sleeping in the dark hours. I was up all night and finally slept from 10 AM to 12:30 PM. Left for sound-check at 1:30 freshly showered and bushytailed. The driver was a twit. The AC was busted in the van and it was hot. He didn't know where the hell he was going. Once we got to the site, we just pointed at the stage and said "Drive THERE, mate!" Security was lax. We parked the van and as I was walking towards the stage, I bumped smack into Eric "God" Clapton. I watched his eyes as he slowly recognized me. We hugged and had a quick chat until I realized I had walked right into his HBO promo clip shoot! Embarrassed, I excused myself and I hope they don't show THAT ! Finally, we got onstage to sound-check, and JJ (John Jackson), Bob's guitar player, filled in for Bob as he usually does. People were looking at JJ incredulously because he sings just like Bob, but looks nuthin like him.
Right in the middle of the check, this guy sits down on the organ bench and gives me a big hug!! It's Ron Wood from the Stones who I haven't seen in many, many years. He was very nice and I met his two teenage sons, who he had brought to meet me ! Maybe he'll play w/us tomorrow. People were asking JJ for his autograph as we left the stage and calling him Bob.... Jeeeeeez! It was scarily overcast today with little bits of rain throughout the afternoon. Hope its better tomorrow. Tonight, I'll just grab a bit of dinner with some old friends and relax on a rare night off.
Well, the big day arrived. I got up at 8 AM....well, not really awakened at 8 cause I didn't sleep very much and was just lying there waiting for it to be 8. Went downstairs and had a small $30 breakfast. The prices are worse than when I lived here in 1980 and they were obscene, then. Bob's bodyguard said breakfast was 86 pounds at the hotel they were staying at. Then I walked over to Tower Records in Picadilly Circus (where I had shopped last night, spent 87 pounds and only got as far as the "C's".) From 9-11 I made it to the "N"s at a cost of another 112 pounds, but I also got Jeff Tamarkin the book he asked me to get, so it wasn't really 112. Tonight, I hope to make it at least to the T's.
So at eleven I walked back to the hotel and took a nap til 1 PM. At 1:30 we left for Hyde Park in a van. Just the band, a few friends and road manager. It took 45 minutes because the only way we could drive in was through the wheelchair entrance and........well, it took a long time, anyway. When we arrived, Alanis was just going onstage to bellyache about what bastards us men are, with that platinum chip on her shoulder, real shiny and all. In the paper she called it stadium-therapy. No comment.
We went on about 4 PM. Ron Wood played the whole show with us sans rehearsal. He's such a great guy. Spotted in our backstage area: Eric Clapton, Val Kilmer, Frank Bruno (England's favorite son/boxer - Bob's into boxing), Woody, Michael Kamen, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, etc. It was a gala turnout. I walked over to Val Kilmer and introduced myself and told him I enjoyed his work - especially his Doc Holliday. To my amazement he knew who I was and told me he enjoyed my work as well. He sat onstage behind the organ for the whole show with his little daughter. It was 40 degrees all day, overcast, and quite chilly. And for the third time, I forgot the set list.
Some selections from memory: Leopard Skin, Tonight I'll Be Staying, Watchtower, Seven Days, Don't Think Twice, Posalutely 4th Street, Tom Thumbs Blues. Seems Bob has stopped playing Like A Rolling Stone as of when the Stones started playing it. Seemed to have a lot of HBO camera coverage an my chubby hands, but ya never can tell. I've had people watch shows that I never appeared on. I'm a cutting room floor guy. We stayed for most of the Who set, but we could only hear, not see. It seemed like the world's longest song. BTW, when the Who play the USA it's just them, no Dylan, Clapton, Morisette. Just so everybody understands that. We left before the Who finished, as it was extremely cold and we had had our fill of the giant crowd experience. I'm off to Tower. As I mentioned b4, if george h didn't visit bob d, then the fab 3 were most assuredly not there. AND THEY WERE NOT. I've just had a chat with my good pal Derek Taylor, who looks after their press. and he said to prevent another world war, they MIGHT perform. So use that information as you will....
Boy am I glad I brought my blaster with..........my neighbors at this hotel probably ain't too happy about it though.
the fire alarm keeps going off for short intervals . The food is WAY
overpriced and everyone on staff keeps looking at me like they've had
the Stepford operation performed on them. It's like Fawlty Towers here. I
personally want to meet the travel agent who put us here. The bellman
let himself into my room, ignoring the do not disturb sign, while I was
on the phone w/Derek, to tell me that one of the Eurythymics was holding
on the phone. I don't need this kind of service. Hope they're not
Blues Revue Magazine set it up for me to interview BB King after his show at the Royal Albert Hall tonight. We are old friends and I think I can put a spin on the interview similar to my Dan Penn and Jerry Ragovoy pieces in Goldmine recently. I am to call his road manager between 3 and 4 for details ( passes, timing, where to meet, etc. ) His phone rang and rang unanswered from 3 - 4:30. I even called the production office at the Albert Hall to find this guy. He never returned my messages. Finally, I had him paged at his hotel and got him on the line. He said:
"We'll be at the hall at 7 PM. BB has to meet with his publishers til 7:45 and then he's all yours til 9:10. Your passes and tickets will be at will-call."
I don't trust anyone. Least of all this guy who didn't think enough to return my calls. So I shoot on over to the Virgin Megastore for a little CD shopping (they closed at six). Todays prime catch was Larry Carlton's very first album originally on Blue Thumb called "Singing/Playing" Then I realized I hadn't eaten a thing all day and tried to find a decent place to eat in Marble Arch. Not much luck. So, I walked into the American Cafe and had steak and eggs. So far, so good. I got a cab to the RAH and arrived at seven. I found my way to will-call at Door 9. No tix for Al. They directed me to Door 1. No tix for Al. They directed me to Door 2 which wasn't open for another ten minutes. This is what it's like to be on "The Price Is Wrong" If this wasn't BB King, I'd have been long gone by now.
But I love BB and so I twiddle away for fifteen minutes til they open their pompous little door. This women, who barely speaks the English language, is in charge of my fate. Passes for Kooper. She heads for the C's. No - that's Kooper with a K. I have to explain this in minute detail BUT they are actually there. My ALL ACCESS pass only takes me as far as the "artists bar", which is like a hospitality room without the hospitality. The crew and band are eating nice dinners there that we can't partake of and the bar is no-host. Now, THIS is the England I remember!
All of a sudden I see BB pass by with a small entourage around him and I immediately follow like a damned stalker. They go thru some guarded doors and luckily the guard thinks I'm with them and lets me pass. Then I come to a very large elevator that they are walking into.
"BB" I yell, "It's Al Kooper!" He smiles and says "let him in" which is fortunate because I'm walking in anyway. We chat amiably and then walk into this reception. This is when I meet the road mANAGER.
"BB just has to fraternize with these people and then he's all yours."
OK, fine... I sit down in the back of the room and watch BB do his stuff. He is a consumate professional at this sort of thing, and I love watching a master at work. Evidently, he has an autobiography coming out in the fall and these are a contingency of his English publishers. At the end of his "performance", he introduces me to them. I, was enjoying my warhol fifteen minutes without even knowing it. The night before, they ran that last history of rock we had on PBS last year. They had the Dylan episode on with my interview and all these people had watched it as there is NOTHING to see on the telly here most of the time. So they were oooing and ahhing over me and BB snuck out with the road manager. After a few minutes of being attacked by these media piranhas, I, not the consumate professional that Mr. King is, beat a hasty retreat for what I hoped were the dressing rooms. Needless to say, my ALL ACCESS pass did not admit me to this area, (what does ALL mean in London ?). Just then the roAD MANAGER appears and escorts me back to the Artists no-host Bar.
"He's with Publisher's Weekly now and I'll come get you when he's done." I guess he's not "all mine" as promised. I sit there with steam coming out of my ears. Additionally, everywhere in England, there's no AC and this vignette's sweat is co-mingling with the last vignettes sweat and I am NOT a happy camper/writer.
At 8:15, he returns and leads me to BB's dressing room. "He's got another interview with Eric Clapton's fanzine, so don't keep him too long, okay ?"
I don't even dignify that with an answer.
Finally, we sit down and have a pretty good chat til 8:55, when Quasimodo comes back in to "use the men's room." I don't even bring up jamming, which is what we would usually do in this situation, cause my nerves are quite shot from playing stalker. We hug and I go to my seat. I stay for 5 songs but the sound is horrendous and the climate is stifling. Go back to my fawlty towers and have a $100 room service "snack" , and begin to transcribe the interview.
Since this is now a Goldmine piece, I think I'll list a discography of what I bought over here so readers can be green with envy or look askance at the "CD pig."
AUGERNIZATION - Best of Brian Auger- Tongue and Groove label
DO YOUR OWN THING - James Taylor Quartet (organ stuff)
YESTERDAY and TODAY - Reverend Claude Jeter (good gospel)
BURIED ALIVE IN THE BLUES - Amos Garrett - Stony Plain
WHATS WRONG WIT THIS PICTURE - Our own Qbrain
BBC RADIO LIVE IN CONCERT - Frankie Miller (great singer)
RIDIN HIGH - The Impressions (my favorite of theirs-32 pounds!)
LIVE - Paul Rodgers (Japanese) 37 pounds. I should be shot!
SOUL DEEP - Jimmy Barnes (great Aussie singer)
FIRST CUTS - Cat Stevens - (all the pre A&M Deram label stuff)
ALL THE BYRDS REMASTERED CD'S
COMPLETE ROULETTE RECORDINGS - Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen
CRY TOUGH - Nils Lofgren (my production-no USA release)
ORIGINAL HIT RECORDINGS - The Animals- BR label ?? (Big risk?)
ROCKER - Roy Orbison - all the Sun stuff collected
GET READY - Roachford - English soul band- I like Ôem
SINGLES COLLECTION - Paul Young - love his voice
SHOWTIME - Ry Cooder - not been available on CD
GOSPEL AT NEWPORT - Various - French Vanguard
SOUVENIRS - Dan Fogelberg - a guilty pleasure
THE BEST OF - Green On Red - China Label
SOUTHERN NIGHTS - Allen Toussaint - may already have this
WILD CHILD - Valarie Carter - never seen it on CD -32 pounds!
BLUES BROTHER/SOUL SISTER - Various - great 2 CD compilation
SOMETHING SPECIAL - Dusty Sporingfield - Rarities best of
VERY BEST OF - Bill Haley - my roots nicely collected-MusicClub label
SINGING/PLAYING- Larry Carlton - debut on Blue Thumb '73/Edsel
LOUISIANA R&B MAN - Bobby Charles - 50's Chess stuff on Charly
Got a lotta listenin' to do now!!! Unless some adventure befalls me tomorrow, all the exciting stuff is over. So I guess this is the final installment of the Blighty Papers. Jeff Tamarkin wants to publish this en toto in Goldmine, so we shall see. First I gotta get the 16 pounds he owes me for the Dave Davies book, which is more than they'll pay for the diaries.
GOODNIGHT, AMERICA - WHEREVER YOU ARE.