Hey, Western Union Man

Not many people survive getting kicked out of their own band.

At this point in time, that big hit Blood, Sweat & Tears album featuring David Clayton Thomas is a period piece. Hear "Spinning Wheel" on the oldies station and you turn it off. Stunned that you endured it back in ’68. But hear ANYTHING from the first record, whether it be "I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know" or my personal favorite "So Much Love", and not only will you turn up the radio and SMILE, when it’s finished you’ll call your buddy and tell him you heard it.

But canned from his band Al Kooper didn’t fade into the woodwork, didn’t cry in his beer, rather he dusted himself off and started testing the limits.

I told Tim Devine that he should do a new "Super Session" record.

Tim wasn’t moved. So I’m deeding the idea to you. I’m willing to forgo the profits, I just want to HEAR IT!

You’ve got to get one key player. Whether it be a muso with a lot of friends who can get along with anybody like Bruce Hornsby, or a virtuoso like Eddie Van Halen, and build a group around THEM! Skew as young as you want. Go with Trey. Bring in the members of the Dave Matthews Band. But people the session with some left field ringers. Kind of like they do with rap albums. Throw everything in the stew, and then start recording!

Cost is next to nothing. Done right, you can record this album in two days. A week at most. It’s about capturing lightning in a bottle. Not about getting it perfect, but having the musicians spur each other on, to pure greatness. Playing some classics, some hidden gems. And think of all the press you’re going to get as a result of people remembering the FIRST "Super Session". You can’t help but make money. The record will sell itself.

But the labels aren’t interested in music. First they want hits. And they must be sung by people who look good. And, if this good-looking person can’t write, they’ll get someone else to pen the tunes. It’s as far away from not only classical music, but CLASSIC ROCK, as can be.

But times were different in the late sixties. "Super Session" was a monster. The ten minute plus version of "Season Of The Witch" became the definitive take. It set Stephen Stills up for stardom. The album made Mike Bloomfield a household word. And it jumpstarted Al Kooper’s solo career. Which began with "I Stand Alone".

I love the title track. But it’s the COVERS that astound. The CHOICES! "Coloured Rain" from the first Traffic album. And Jerry Butler’s "Hey, Western Union Man".

Butler’s version is a classic.

But it doesn’t have the power of Al Kooper’s.

If Mark Burnett really wanted to blow away the "Rock Star" audience he’d bring out a horn session. A veritable wall of sound. Pitched just below dog whistle level. Delivered with the punch of a kick to the gut. That’s what brass will do to you. Have brass play the right riff and it’s pure ECSTASY! You WRITHE! It’s like being pumped with 10,000 watts. It’s like ORGASM!

I’ve been trying to recreate "I Stand Alone" online for years. I’ve got every key track except for "Hey, Western Union Man".

You can’t buy "Hey, Western Union Man" on iTunes. Can’t hear it on Rhapsody. It’s LOST! Kept alive in my mind, and in the hearts of fans touched back in the sixties.

Oh, I’ve got the vinyl. But I want to get it P2P. Want to make the connection. Want to know someone ELSE believes.

I’ve literally been searching for a year. Every time I load my P2P application I search. "Hey, Western Union Man" sits atop my list. It never disappears.

But now it’s gone. Because LAST NIGHT, way past midnight, stunningly, it APPEARED!

Kooper’s take of "Hey, Western Union Man" starts off with a horn flourish that stands up to any Motown record. It’s like you’re at the gates of a palace. And the musicians are heralding the appearance of the king.

And Kooper emerges. Surrounded by his retinue. Female backup singers.

It’s a whole production. Not Nirvana, the ANTI-NIRVANA! The OPPOSITE OF PUNK! But punks wouldn’t hate "Hey, Western Union Man". Because the best punk is about energy, power, emotion and truth, and these are ALL encapsulated in "Hey, Western Union Man".

It’s as if the Blues Brothers were really good. As if Jake and Elwood could really sing. As if they meant it, WERE IT, instead of paying tribute to it.

And it’s such a conundrum. It’s a sad song. But sung with so much POWER! As if Kooper can WILL the connection to his baby.

Whoa, western union man
Send a telegram
To my baby
Send a telegram, send a telegram
Come on and send a telegram
Send it to my baby
That’s what I want you to do
I want you to tell her that I’m all alone
I tried to call her on the telephone
Tell her I’m in misery
And that she’s important to me
And if a telegram don’t do
Send a box of candy too
And maybe some flowers
Tell her that I missed her for hours and hours

I don’t think teenagers even know what a telegram is, never mind Western Union. But, you don’t need to know in order to appreciate this song.

Have you ever been disconnected? Unable to get in touch? It drives you NUTS!

But maybe it’s worse. Maybe it’s something you did. Maybe it’s an e-mail you wish you could take back.

You feel you’re losing them. You need to touch base. You’ve got to talk to them.

You’re revved up. What are your OPTIONS? Should you drive right over there? You know she’s there. But what if you show up and she gives you the wrong response. How can you make connection without risking quite that much?

Send a telegram. That’s the way we used to signify something was urgent. That the message couldn’t be lost. That it had to get through.

And the message of "Hey, Western Union Man" gets through. The horns are present throughout. Oh, laying back now and again, but they’re a main feature. But they don’t always play that killer riff. Sometimes they just serve as emphasis. Showing what Kooper is singing is IMPORTANT! But every once in a while, the riff, the FLOURISH, it comes back, to REMIND YOU! This is deadly important. That you’d better not forget. That you’d better be paying ATTENTION! Kooper’s reluctant to bang you on the head, but your mind can’t wander, it’s necessary you stay focused, on the MESSAGE!

And, since this riff doesn’t constantly repeat, you’ve got to play the track over and over again. Just to hear it. It’s almost like a member of the opposite sex winking at you. You just want to capture, be exposed to that brief moment, again and again.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.