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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    The Big Chill Released in 1983

    On September 28, 1983, Columbia Pictures released The Big Chill. The film, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, featured baby boomer college friends reuniting around fifteen years after school for the funeral of a friend who committed suicide. The film perfectly encompassed the baby-boomer anxiety about selling out in life and a loss of innocence.

    And of course, there was the humor.  And the movie featured the great soundtrack with such performers as Marvin Gaye, Creedance Clearwater Revival, and Aretha Franklin.

    The move taught me an important lesson that had little to do with the lost idealism or the friendship of the characters. I learned how great it can be not to know anything about a movie before you see it.

    When I was in college, I went to a shopping mall with friends and we decided to see a movie. As we debated what to see, none of us had yet seen any advertisements for The Big Chill. I only knew that my sister had seen it and liked it, but I had no idea about the story or the actors.

    Well, we decided to see The Big Chill based on my sister’s vague recommendation. By the time the movie got to the scene with the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” I was hooked.

    For the time period, with MTV only about two years old, the movie seemed like something new and refreshing, using rock music to explore the 1980s nostalgia for the 1960s. I do not know if I would have loved the movie so much had I known what to expect. So I learned the best way to see a movie is without expectations. Now, before I see a movie I try to learn only as much as I need in order to decide whether or not I want to see it.

    Thus, in case you have not seen the The Big Chill, I will not say much more about the plot. Many have fond memories of the movie, which had a great ensemble cast of Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams.

    Much later, we would read that the dead friend Alex, who we never see in the film, was originally played by a young Kevin Costner.  You may here more about a deleted flashback scene in this reunion video.

    Critics are somewhat divided on the film.  I understand how looking back at the movie through today’s lens, one may see too many cliches.

    But for the time, seeing the movie through my own innocence, it helped connect me a tiny bit to thinking about how I might one day look back on my own life. And today, I find myself older than the characters in the film looking back nostalgically at where I was when I first saw The Big Chill during my own college years.

    What is your favorite scene in The Big Chill? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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