There is a legendary story about how Al Kooper came to play that famous Hammond Organ part on Bob Dylan’s immortal song “Like A Rolling Stone”
The story is chronicled in Al’s book “Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Survivor”.
Al Kooper is a songwriter, record producer and musician. More importantly Al has a very strong sense of who he is as a person.
Producer Tom Wilson invited the then twenty-one year old Al to watch a recording session at Columbia Records on Seventh Avenue in New York. The session was for none other than Bob Dylan. This was 1965 so Dylan was just about to make the controversial stylistic transition from acoustic to electric based music.
So Al, being incredibly ambitious and a huge Dylan fan, decided he was going to play on the session.
There was another guitar player on the session that had guitar-playing abilities far beyond what young Al possessed. Al realized he was probably not going to get the opportunity to play guitar on this record. So he took his place on the control room couch to watch the musical proceedings.
After the first couple of hours of the session the producer moved the organ player over to play the piano. Al realized this was another shot for him to get to play with Dylan.
Al then says to Tom Wilson “Hey man, why don’t you let me play the organ, I have a great part for this tune?” Which Al admitted was “total bullshit”. Tom Wilson returns fire with “Al, you’re not an organ player you’re a guitar player.” Then immediately gets yanked away to take a phone call. So, Tom didn’t actually say no to Al playing the organ. Al takes the initiative and assumes his place behind the Hammond and waits for the downbeat.
Tom comes back into the room and pushes the talk back button to tell the musicians in the studio that they were doing another “take” of the song. Then he sees Al behind the organ and says, “What are YOU doing there?” At that point Tom could have just told Al to come out of the studio and get back on the couch where he belongs, but he didn’t. So Al was in.
The drummer counted the song off. The problem was Al hadn’t rehearsed with the band… at all. He wasn’t sure of the chords to the song so he hesitated an eighth note on every chord change until he was sure of his part. So Al’s playing was strangely behind everyone else.
After they played the first take Dylan said to the producer “Hey, turn the organ up.” Tom Wilson confessed to Dylan that Al wasn’t really an organ player; he was a guitar player who snuck behind the organ. Dylan then says, “ I don’t care, turn the organ up!!” Dylan loved the laid back feel of Al’s tentative Hammond playing.
Al became famous for his organ playing just from fearlessly jumping in and playing on this one, albeit iconic, Dylan tune. Everyone wanted Al to play organ on their records so they could capture the famous Al Kooper organ groove.
Al took the risk. It could have resulted in complete embarrassment for Al. But it didn’t.
Everyone recognizes the people that are taking the risks. Everyone knows them. They are the ones who proceed even when there is fear involved. Fear of being wrong. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of failure.
So, there you are. It doesn’t matter what you have done before. It really doesn’t matter what you will go on to do. It’s all about the “now”.