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The Blues Project

One of the first album-oriented, "underground" groups in the United States, the Blues Project offered an electric brew of rock, blues, folk, pop, and even some jazz, classical, and psychedelia during their brief heyday in the mid-'60s. It's not quite accurate to categorize them as a blues-rock group, although they did plenty of that kind of material; they were more like a Jewish-American equivalent to British bands like the Yardbirds, who used a blues and R&B base to explore any music that interested them. Erratic songwriting talent and a lack of a truly outstanding vocalist prevented them from rising to the front line of '60s bands, but they recorded plenty of interesting material over the course of their first three albums, before the departure of their most creative members took its toll.

The Blues Project was formed in Greenwich Village in the mid-'60s by guitarist Danny Kalb (who had played sessions for various Elektra folk and folk-rock albums), Steve Katz (a guitarist with Elektra's Even Dozen Jug Band), flutist/bassist Andy Kulberg, drummer Roy Blumenfeld, and singer Tommy Flanders. Al Kooper, in his early twenties a seasoned vet of rock sessions, joined after sitting in on the band's Columbia Records audition, although they ended up signing to Verve, an MGM subsidiary. Early member Artie Traum (guitar) dropped out during early rehearsals; Flanders would leave after their first LP, Live at the Cafe Au-Go-Go (1966).

The eclectic résumés of the musicians, who came from folk, jazz, blues, and rock backgrounds, was reflected in their choice of material. Blues by Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry tunes ran alongside covers of contemporary folk-rock songs by Eric Anderson and Patrick Sky, as well as the group's own originals. These were usually penned by Kooper, who had already built songwriting credentials as the co-writer of Gary Lewis' huge smash "This Diamond Ring," and established a reputation as a major folk-rock shaker with his contributions to Dylan's mid-'60s records. Kooper also provided the band's instrumental highlights with his glowing organ riffs.

The live debut sounds rather tame and derivative; the group truly hit their stride on Projections (late 1966), which was, disappointingly, their only full-length studio recording. While they went through straight blues numbers with respectable energy, they really shone best on the folk and jazz-influenced tracks, like "Fly Away," Katz's lilting "Steve's Song," Kooper's jazz instrumental "Flute Thing" (an underground radio standard that's probably their most famous track), and Kooper's fierce adaptation of an old Blind Willie Johnson number, "I Can't Keep from Crying." A non-LP single from this era, the pop-psychedelic "No Time Like the Right Time," was their greatest achievement and one of the best "great hit singles that never were" of the decade.

The band's very eclecticism didn't augur well for their long-term stability, and in 1967 Kooper left in a dispute over musical direction (he has recalled that Kalb opposed his wishes to add a horn section). Then Kalb mysteriously disappeared for months after a bad acid trip, which effectively finished the original incarnation of the band. A third album, Live at Town Hall, was a particularly half-assed project given the band's stature, pasted together from live tapes and studio outtakes, some of which were overdubbed with applause to give the impression that they had been recorded in concert.

Kooper got to fulfill his ambitions for soulful horn rock as the leader of the original Blood, Sweat & Tears, although he left that band after their first album; BS&T also included Katz (who stayed onboard for a long time). Blumenfeld and Kulberg kept the Blues Project going for a fourth album before forming Seatrain, and the group re-formed in the early '70s with various lineups, Kooper rejoining for a live 1973 album, Reunion in Central Park. The first three albums from the Kooper days are the only ones that count, though; the best material from these is on Rhino's best-of compilation. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
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Comments

I'm not sure but I recall that Al Kooper's nick name was The Pooper Skooper. Why? I heard a rumor that he threw monkey poop at the tourist's visiting the Franklin Park Zoo circa 1968.
Went out with one of them tho, true to the times, can't recall whom?? I know his sister was a dear friend from M & A. If it sounds spacey it was & 4 that time it fit beautifully! !
OMG!***** I LOVE Steve Katz and his sexy voice and I absolutely LOVE Al Kooper to tears!!!
A GENIUS by all rights! These guys are LEGENDS for real of the MUSIC Business… I so much wish I was married to one of these guys! For REAL! I missed the mark they are in my heart so DEEP…. So deep ….. Bloomfield, The greatest guitar play I LOVE him he is still alive in my HEART… This Music and these guys I will take to my grave I LOVE them all so much! I call this
MUSIC baby! Cannot believe this TALENTxo
ONE OF THE MEMBERS FIRST TURNED ME ON TO POT IN 67
Their 1972 recordings of CRAZY GIRL and RAILROAD BOY with Tommy Flanders doing the vocal lead are outstanding!
malpelir
1966, NYC, I'm a 14 year old drummer in a band. We did a cover of Wake Me, Shake Me. It's been downhill since.
Truely a great addition to the Blues wave of the sixties. Al Kooper has the midas touch. I believe he's teaching music in Boston and rockin' the night away.
mrschaffins
those are the blues!
the truly greatest musicians of all time..especi a l l y Al Kooper! What a great era of music..these guys are the CORE of the sound at the time
in the 60's when music was at its' BEST!
kvons1
One truly great and forgotten blues band of the mid-late 60's. Just about any group sporting Al Kooper was great anyway. Many, many years since hearing these guys.
best band that no one herd of... Fantastic group made of the best musicians as time has proven
murdocknance
Had their albums when I was a kid (they were too). Still love them.
Kick a**
saw them in NYC in the 60s...what are young people listening to today that compares?
tc4all
You can relate them to some other bands, but not the Allman Bros. Band. Totally different sound. There sound was not mass market teenage type popular, but tons of people loved and still love that blues / jazz / rock unique sound of the group. Still very listenable today.
Love your sound
Harold, I thought Al played a Farfisa and a Wurlitzer not a Hammond, and I was a huge fan of Kalb too
ALL MY FAVORITES. Lucky to hear Al Kooper at McCabes in Santa Monica a few years ago.
bernerfur
Blood Sweat and Tears
Al Kooper
THE GREATEST BAND IN NYC AT THEIR TIME !!! -- STILL A MAJOR INFLUENCE -- DANNY KALB IS AND WAS A GUITAR GOD -- KOOPER A KING OF THE B-3 AND ALL THE REST WERE AMAZING !!

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