The Man Behind the Organ in “Like a Rolling Stone”

Alan Peter Kuperschmidt, who became known as musician Al Kooper, was born on February 5, 1944. Kooper played a number of important roles in the history of music, such as work as a producer and writer and for organizing Blood, Sweat & Tears. But most people know his work from a chance role he played in one of the greatest rock songs of all time, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

On June 16, 1965, Kooper showed up for the second day of the production of “Like A Rolling Stone,” which was being produced by Tom Wilson. Kooper, who was a 21-year-old session guitarist, arrived merely as a guest of Wilson.

Initially, Kooper hoped to work his way into the session on guitar. But then he realized that guitarist Mike Bloomfield was more talented than him.

After Paul Griffin moved from playing organ on the song to playing piano, Kooper tried to get Wilson to let him play an organ part. Wilson rejected the idea. But when Wilson left the room, Kooper went into the session and took over the Hammond organ. Wilson let Kooper remain, and Kooper added the now famous organ riff to the song. When Dylan heard the playback, he reportedly asked for more organ.

The following video explains Kooper’s role in the recording of “Like a Rolling Stone,” including an interview with Kooper. Check it out.

Kooper went on to other amazing work, including playing organ for Dylan on tour and playing that instrument on the recording of “Just Like a Woman,” released in 1966.  Among his many other accomplishments, he discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd, producing and performing on their first three albums.  That’s him again on organ in “Free Bird,” even though he was officially credited under the name Roosevelt Gook.  He also played piano, organ, and French horn parts on The Rolling Stones’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Kooper’s most recent solo album is WHITE CHOCOLATE (2008).

What is your favorite instrument on the recording of “Like a Rolling Stone”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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