Michael's Reviews > Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'N' Roll Survivor

Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards by Al Kooper
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's review
Nov 02, 11

Read in April, 2011

Al Kooper is both the Svengali and Selig of rock and roll. A skinny Jewish kid from Queens, he broke into songwriting as a Brill Building brat (fluke hit: "This Diamond Ring," by Gary Lewis & the Playboys); developed a following on the Super Session albums with Mike Bloomfield; founded Blood, Sweat & Tears; produced Lynard Skynard (sp?); and was sideman to Bob Dylan (famous organ part on "Positively 4th Street") and the Rolling Stones (French horn into to "You Can't Always Get What You Want"). Along the way he virtually invented jam-band music, jazz-rock, Southern-fried rock and maybe another genre or two.

While documenting encounters with producers, porn stars, Jimi Hendrix's guitar, and even Norman Rockwell, Kooper shares musical insights along with the inevitable tales of debauchery, broken contracts, and drug flameouts. It's all fun to read if amateurish; it reads like a self-published vanity book with little if any editing. For example, Kooper constantly uses exclamation points and italic asides that a pro editor would delete on the first edit.

But he also spins great stories in vigorous prose and a humorous, self-effacing style. The nuggets reprinted from his photo albums are a bonus.

Somewhat like Keith Richards's book (another brutally honest tale conveyed with few regrets), the book loses steam as Kooper's career winds down. After getting the inside view on the making of "Blonde on Blonde," you are not compelled by the guts of producing the likes of the Tubes and Eddie and the Hot Rods. The sputtering out of Kooper's solo career is sad but mitigated by the sense of his comfort in playing in a pickup band with Dave Barry and Amy Tan, just for fun. The touching denoument finds Kooper dealing with blindness and diabetes but still carrying on.

If you dig Kooper's music (the good stuff has held up well) or just like reading about the music scene of the 1960s and 70s, this is highly recommended.


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