Thanks everyone and especially Harvey Brooks! You would know, you the man!
— Duke Robillard, Facebook, July 3, 2013
If you are a music fan, you probably have recordings featuring Harvey Brooks somewhere in your collection. He’s played with everyone from Seals & Crofts to Fontella Bass to Jimi Hendrix. If you’ve heard Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited, “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis, “Mixed Bag” by Richie Havens, or “Super Session” with Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills, you are familiar with the bass playing expertise of Mr. Brooks.
He was born Harvey Goldstein on the 4th of July, 1944. To help celebrate his birthday, Brooks has consented to answer a handful of questions for the Bob Dylan Examiner from his home in Jerusalem via email, about a somewhat arbitrary selection of legendary recordings on which he appears.
BOB DYLAN EXAMINER: You were playing with Bob Dylan in 1965 during the “Highway 61 Revisited” sessions, and at a couple of his legendary early electric gigs ...
HARVEY BROOKS: It was the beginning of my career, incredible times, and the music was great.
BDE: When did you go from Harvey Goldstein to Harvey Brooks?
HB: Right after the “Highway 61” album.
BDE: What was it like in the inner circle during the live shows (Forest Hills and the Hollywood Bowl)?
HB: I was aware that the folk traditionalists were having a hard time with the electric-ness of the new folk-rock sound and that certainly added a tension in the air. Bob was committed to his new sound and was not concerned about the attitudes of the non-acceptees of his evolution. He planned the concert perfectly. I was only concerned about playing the music of the songs as good as I could. I would say the same for Levon (Helm), Robbie (Robertson) and Al (Kooper). A good time was had by all.
BDE: What was the stage equipment like?
HB: Primitive P.A. & monitor system. We had to depend on hearing each other and watching Dylan. Since the audience was in the stands and not on the field in front of us, until they rushed the stage, we could only hear their rumblings but not see them. Lighting was primitive as well. Bob, Robbie and I were playing Fender Amps. Bob and Robbie I think had Fender Twins and I played through a dual Showman.
BDE: Did you have the opportunity to speak with Murray “the K” at Forest Hills? If so, what was he like?
HB: The only strange touch was Murray “the K.” Murray was a great New York rock ‘n’ roll D.J. I worked with him a few times. He was a pro and even though he was the politically correct wrong choice, he delivered his M.C. duties professionally. He really knew his top forty music. Murray also brought Cream and the Who to New York for their first American concerts.
BDE: Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”: The sessions began the day after the Woodstock festival ended. Were you aware of the concert’s cultural significance, or were you too busy with your own career?
HB: At the time I was a staff producer at Columbia Records and was tuned into recording and performing.
BDE: It was as groundbreaking as “Highway 61” in many ways. Did you sense that at the time? How did the two sessions compare/contrast?
HB: Both sessions were spontaneous and intense. Bob had his tunes written and while he was still messing with the lyrics, he knew how the songs should go musically. Miles offered up tone centers with no written music and the sessions were based on the musician’s intuition and Miles’s direction. My friend Teo Macero was the producer, and between him and Miles in the editing room, “Bitches Brew” was born.
BDE: What was it like playing with another bassist? Did you work things out, or were you free to play as you chose?
HB: I loved playing alongside Dave Holland and Ron Carter. The whole idea for me was to create a groove and lock in and they would play around it.
- Part two of this three part interview continues tomorrow, where Brooks discusses playing with Cass Elliot, The Doors, Paul Kantner, and John Sebastian, and tells the story behind almost joining Crosby, Stills & Nash.
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