For several years back in the '80s and '90s, rock and roll keyboard legend Al Kooper had a very cool yuletide custom. Kooper was (and is) an avid collector of prank calls, celebrity (and some non-celebrity) bloopers, weird songs, hilarious answering-machine messages and studio banter, and each December he would press up a few of the best of them on vinyl and send the albums to the lucky few dozen people on his Christmas list.
These were called Al Kooper's Kapusta Kristmas albums, and they now cost a fortune on eBay. Because of their limited circulation and high appeal, back in the day most people heard them on second-, third- and fourth-generation cassettes, and so most people just called them Al Kooper tapes. The Kooper tapes not only revealed the darker side of stars like Barry White, Buddy Rich, Casey Kasem and Orson Welles, they also made a few of their own, such as the bluesy and quite probably boozy preacher Prophet Omega and the whacked-out and quite possibly cracked-out music business wannabe proprietor of J&H Productions.
Not only are these tapes huge hits as tour-bus entertainment for rock and country stars, but comedy writers in Hollywood certainly had access to the Kooper tapes. The running joke in The Simpsons wherein Bart goads Moe into vitriol-spewing rage by getting him to ask for patrons like Al Coholic and such was pretty much lifted verbatim from one of these albums, and Orson Welles's ill-fated frozen peas commercial was likewise borrowed in an episode of Pinky and the Brain. And on In Living Color, David Allen Grier and Tommy Davidson's Funky Finger Productions also seemed to owe a lot of its spirit to the aforementioned J&H Productions.
Al Kooper's tapes
Hilarious, influential stuff. And now you can have a Kapusta Kristmas without forking over the $100 the albums are going for on eBay or tracking down a bootleg tape and suffering the usually terrible audio quality. Almost all of the best of the Kooper tapes have found their way online. We spent a good chunk of a recent week hunting most of them down, and here are some highlights:
Artist: Buddy Rich
Backstory: This is perhaps the most infamous of these outtakes, at least in music circles. Rich was a helluva jazz drummer, but let's just say he seems to be a graduate of the Bobby Knight School of Anger Management and a sideman's worst nightmare, as this surreptitiously recorded tour-bus tirade attests.
Excerpt: "What the fuck do you think is goin' on here? You had too many fuckin' days off and you think this is a fuckin' game!? You think I'm the only one that's gonna work up there while you motherfuckers sit out there and clam all over this fuckin' joint!? What do you think this is, anyhow? What kind of playing do you think this is? What kinda miscues do you call this? What fuckin' band do you think you're playin' on, motherfuckers? You wanna fuck with me on the bandstand? Shut that fuckin' door! I'm up there working my balls off, trying to do somebody a favor, and you motherfuckers are suckin' all over this joint."
Artist: Barry White
Backstory: The rotund loverman attempts to record a radio spot for a "bee-yoo-ti-ful weekend" at Paul Quinn College in Waco. White and his majestic baritone take umbrage with the copy he is asked to read.
Excerpt: "This asshole fucked these words up, man; I mean, he got words in here he don't even need!"
Artist: Casey Kasem
Backstory: The American Top 40 DJ and former voice of Shaggy vehemently disagrees with the song chosen as a lead-in to his discussion of the tragic death of an Ohio dog named Snuggles. Negativland recycled snippets of this rage and interspersed them with "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on their multiple-lawsuit-inspiring song "U2."
Excerpt: "I want somebody to use his fucking brain to not come out of a goddamn record that is a up-tempo, and I gotta talk about a fucking dog dying!"
Artist: Orson Welles
Backstory: Little is known about when this frozen peas/beef burgers/fish fingers ad was recorded, but rumor has it that it was in Canada in the late '60s. By that time in his life, Welles had fallen far from the Olympian heights of Citizen Kane and A Touch of Evil and was forced to record tawdry radio ads for frozen foods. Yet he remained utterly stentorian to the end, as this coldly savage attack on poorly written copy attests.
Excerpt: "That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say 'In July' and I'll go down on you. That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive me by saying so. That's just stupid 'In July'; I'd love to know how you emphasize 'In' in 'In July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"
Artist: J&H Productions
Backstory: As nearly as I can tell, at some point a guy in Cincinnati just decided he wanted to get into the concert business, and not just as some sweaty stagehand, either. Nope, he was just gonna hop right in at the Louis Messina level, so in a bold, visionary effort to transform his life, he sent this tape-recorded résumé/statement of intent to several bigwigs in the industry.
Excerpt: "I want the stars that's gonna be in the coliseums that's gonna make the people sway and rock and clap their hands to the beat and get up and dance in a area that will be big enough for them to do it in."
Linkage: What little info there is on this ambitious mystery man is here: www.timharrod.com/jhhome.html. Make sure you click part two of the link immediately after part one. Trust us. Also, a New York funk collective by the name of Prophet Omega (see below) has adapted the J&H cassette into song here: www.prophetomega.net/music.html.
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Artist: Prophet Omega
Backstory: The "founder and overseer" of the Peaceway Temple in Nashville, Tennessee, Prophet Omega was the singularly soulful old-school preacher who inspired the group above to take his name, and their remix of his "I Am What I Am" sermonette found its way onto the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy series soundtrack. But that's just the beginning -- the Alpha for this Omega. In addition, Adrian Belew made a prog-rock remake of "I Am What I Am," and both the Charlie Hunter album Right Now Move and the Jay Bennett song "Courtesy Move" take their names from the Prophet's one-minute radio spot for the Shipp Moving Company. Hunter also borrowed another Omega-ism -- Friends Seen and Unseen -- for another of his album titles, and that title is shared with an award-winning half-hour documentary wherein a bevy of musicians including Marty Stuart and Belew discuss their love of the Prophet.
Excerpt: "I am what I am, and that's all that I am, and I am it."
Linkage: The "I Am What I Am" sermon and the Shipp Moving Company ad, plus his ad for the J&B Boutique, are all at www.bedazzled.blogs.com/bedazzled/2005/10/the_prophet_ome.html. (Here you will also find a couple more gems from the Kooper tapes that space won't allow us to discuss here -- the "One Good Turn Deserves Another" one is especially hilarious.) There is yet another remix of the sermon here -- www.paleomusic.com/receive.htm -- this one an Asian-Western fusion. Info on the documentary is here: www.genuinehuman.com/friends_seen_and_unseen.html. And, as the Prophet would say, "So much for that."