Welcome Back, Jimmy

Al Kooper's birthday bash at B.B. King's

Al Kooper's birthday bash at B.B. King's

We experienced the only high side (aside from all the hilarious late night fodder we had for weeks) of the ending of the Conan O’Brien stint on the Tonight Show when guitarist Jimmy Vivino joined the Al Kooper 66th birthday celebration at B.B. King’s Friday night. Jimmy, member of the seminal New York band Prisoners of 2nd Avenue, one fourth of the excellent Beatles cover band the Fab Faux and a regular at Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles in the barn in homey Woodstock, has been on the wrong coast almost continuously since Al’s 65th celebration last year, and New York has missed him.

The night celebrated the glorious rock ‘n’ roll career of Mr. Kooper, who has been appearing on history-making recordings since he played organ with Bob Dylan on Like a Rolling Stone more than four decades ago. And yes, we all got to join in on the insistent “How does it feel?” plea during this show. Al got the show started by doing solos on a few Randy Newman and Harry Nillson tunes, then invited the Danny Kalb trio on stage for a blues-y set. Tall, attractive Country-ish Christina Train, with the pipes to sing without amplification, followed. And then Al joked how he had called Jay Leno and asked him to see what he could do to get Vivino back to New York for his birthday before introducing Jimmy.

Al had a hand in organizing the group organizing the group Blood, Sweat & Tears years ago before providing studio support for Bob Dylan’s trek to electric in 1965, then brought together guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills of CSNY fame to record the Super Session album. He was in the Blues Project, played on recordings and tours with the Rolling Stones, B.B. King, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Alice Cooper, and Cream. He produced three albums and the megahit Free Bird for Lynyrd Skynyrd.

He and Vivino got things going with a very funky take on the “Feelin’ Groovy” vibe of the 59th Street Bridge song, then covered Dylan’s Rolling Stone and It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry. A pounding rendition of Roy Head’s Treat Her Right left Al hoping he could still cook like that for his 70th. I like his chances.

Al has made a lot of music the last 45 years, and he wanted to sample it all, which led to a few loud exchanges with audience members who had come for their favorite hit and decided to scream for it until Al finally let ’em have it, asking, “What is this? Yankee Stadium? We’re not playin’ a ball game here.” There were a few equipment problems each time the players changed on stage, and the King venue crowds its patrons in. Nothing wrong with that when everyone is in rightful thrall to the performances and out for a good time. But it can be annoying when one or two “overly oiled” chatterboxes in the crowd take advantage of their captive audience and the opportunity to yell over the music in a continuous monologue. Not much to be done about that, I guess, unless Al wants to come to my home to play. Not likely.

Al’s backup band were next, with a lively cover of You Can’t Always Get What You Want, a few songs off the Black Coffee album and then you just knew it “must be” the Season the Witch. All players gathered on stage for a brief encore, and we were out on a thankfully snow-less 42nd Street before 11:00 pm.