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Kooper, Vivino will pay tribute to Bloomfield

Thursday, March 14, 2013
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Giving credit where it’s due gets messy fast with Al Kooper and Jimmy Vivino.

Just their current stuff would stuff several Jukeboxes. Adding the late, great Mike Bloomfield to the mix makes things really complicated. But even a Martian with no knowledge of Kooper, Vivino or Bloomfield would likely love what he/she/it hears at The Egg on Saturday at “Al Kooper & Jimmy Vivino — Tribute to Mike Bloomfield.”

Kooper and Vivino both played The Egg fairly recently: Kooper with his Funky Faculty (fellow Berklee College of Music teachers; he’s now retired from teaching) and Vivino with the Levon Helm Band.

Vivino also plays with Kooper’s other band, the ReKooperators, and has as many bands at once as Michael Eck in the 1980s. Vivino played at the Palace in 2006 with Will Lee’s Beatles band the Fab Faux. He gigs regularly with the Vivino Brothers Band, the Prisoners of Second Avenue, Rich Pagano’s band Lulu, John Sebastian and many more. And he just recorded a new album at Levon’s studio with his band Jimmy Vivino and the Black Italians.

If he seems familiar (even to a Martian) when he stops onstage at The Egg on Saturday, it might be because he leads the Basic Cable Band on “Conan” (O’Brien) after stints on “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show.” Every Wednesday in February, Vivino played with Barry Goldberg & Friends at The Mint in Los Angeles, and that same crew plays Brian’s Backyard BBQ in Middletown on March 22.

First time I spotted Vivino’s name in album credits was on “Laura Nyro Live at the Bottom Line” in 1989 — one of few New York albums Al Kooper didn’t play on back then.

While still a teen, Kooper played on “Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens, wrote “This Diamond Ring” and played tons of sessions before meeting Mike Bloomfield, who re-directed Kooper’s career with the hyperactive prescience of a cultural time machine, a musical GPS.

Bloomfield was the guitarist on a mid-1960s Bob Dylan session Kooper urgently wanted to play. However, as the Dylan biopic “No Direction Home” reported, a humbled Kooper put his guitar back in the case as soon as he heard Bloomfield play. Kooper then jumped onto Hammond organ and faked his way through “Like a Rolling Stone” so intrepidly that Dylan directed it be turned up in the mix.

“It was ludicrous,” Kooper told me in a 2006 interview, a conversation almost as pungent as the prose in his fiery “Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock ’N’ Roll Survivor.”

“It was a chance thing that I played keyboards on that big hit and suddenly everybody wanted that sound and hired me.”

“Everybody” included Dylan, for the famous Newport Folk Festival gig in 1965 when Kooper and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band featuring guitarist Mike Bloomfield set the folk and rock worlds on fire.

“He really brought the blues to us white kids, first through Paul Butterfield, then Dylan,” said Jimmy Vivino in an interview for Gibson Guitars. Vivino said he especially admired how Bloomfield took risks, trying licks he really couldn’t play and sometimes failing. “It was pretty much heart to hand,” said Vivino of the fearless emotional directness in Bloomfield’s playing.

The careers of both Bloomfield and Kooper were anything but direct as they veered in and out of bands. Kooper founded then left the Blues Project and Blood Sweat & Tears and Bloomfield founded and left the similarly horn-powered Electric Flag. Bloomfield and Kooper crossed paths in the studio once again for “Super Session” in 1968 — Bloomfield’s best-selling release ever — and onstage later that year in “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.”

Kooper crafted a long and steady career as record producer — he discovered and produced Lynyrd Skynyrd, for example — teacher at Berklee College of Music, and more recently a recording artist and performer with newly prolific energies. But Bloomfield never again reached the heights his talents promised. His last notable recording, 1973’s “Triumvirate,” combined his still-sharp playing with fellow white blues guys Dr. John (with whom Kooper played at The Egg a few years ago) and John Hammond Jr.

Bloomfield was found dead of a heroin overdose in his 1965 Chevrolet Impala on a San Francisco street on Feb. 15, 1981, after years of semi-obscurity, playing sit-in gigs at clubs around town.

Long story short, Kooper and Vivino are the perfect cats to pay tribute to Mike Bloomfield. “Al Kooper & Jimmy Vivino — Tribute to Mike Bloomfield” kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at The Egg. They plan to play songs from Bloomfield’s days with Butterfield, the Electric Flag and Super Session. Tickets are $34. Phone 473-1845 or visit www.theegg.org.

Chandler’s birthday

Chandler Travis has almost as many bands as Jimmy Vivino, he lives in Massachusetts like Al Kooper, and he plays here more often than those guys combined. On Friday, he celebrates his birthday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs). This time around, Travis leads his Three-O, which some might think means a trio; you know, three guys. But this Three-O is actually a four-oh. Travis plays guitar and sings, Berke McKelvey plays keyboards and reeds, John Clarke plays bass and Fred Boak sings harmonies. This is Travis’ second annual birthday bash at Caffe Lena, where he has also led his crowd-the-stage crew the Chandler Travis Philharmonic; its sub-set, the Philharmonette; and probably his straight-ahead rock band the Catbirds.

Travis clearly delights in re-arranging his tunes with and for different bands, but his great strength is the tunes themselves. They’re strong and resilient, even when Silly-Putty’ed into new shapes. And they’re beautiful, insightful, deep and/or silly, in whatever shape.

The Chandler Travis Three-O celebrates his birthday on Friday at Caffe Lena, Folk-country troubadour Jack Grace opens at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door, $10 for students. Phone 583-0022 or visit www.caffelena.org.

Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at hochanadel@dailygazette.net.

 
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