What do Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, John Cale, Phil Ochs, the Fabulous Rhinestones and Fontella Bass have in common?
Anyone who has read a liner note knows the name. The gifted bassist laid down some of the most famous lines in music history, including “Like a Rolling Stone.” His work was the hook on the Doors’ “Touch Me.”
Brooks — Davis’s 1st electric bassist — played on “Bitches Brew,” the best-selling jazz album of all time.
And, for many years, Harvey Brooks lived on North Compo Road, right here in Westport.
He and his wife Bonnie Behar have moved to Israel — that’s a whole other story — but he’s still in the news. The International Guitar Hall of Fame recently inducted Brooks. He joins legends like Muddy Waters, Willie Nelson, and Westonites Keith Richards and Jose Feliciano.
Bass Musician Magazine also featured Brooks. After showcasing his career — his big break at age 20, when his friend Al Kooper hooked him up with Dylan; his iconic playing in rock, folk and jazz for over 4 decades; his new life in Israel — the interview included these tidbits:
I had an apartment on Thompson Street and the Au Go Go was around the corner on Bleecker Street, and I became the house bass player there. I would play with whoever was on the bill that evening, with no rehearsal and just a quick run-through backstage. [To] be a musician in Greenwich Village in the mid-sixties…was AMAZING!
Monterey Pop was [Electric Flag’s] 1st gig. We were pumped. [Mike] Bloomfield kept using the word “groovy” in all its variations, in his excitement to describe the scene that was set out before us. We played in the afternoon so we able to see people dancing and the expressions on their faces as we played. Their feedback was amazing. The band was nervous and tense, but once we started performing and the audience accepted us we relaxed enough to play a decent set.
When I began to do session work after the Highway 61 Dylan album, I was expected to read music on some of the more structured sessions. I could read chord charts but not bass clef, so I had to learn to read. I began to acquire books on rhythm, scales, chords, composing, ear training and method books, and all kinds of fakebooks (books of tunes).
At the same time that this literary musical awakening was going on, I was getting all kinds of sessions that were pure instinct, demanding only my heart and soul. No problem– I have always been a melodic player who could at the same time “keep it simple.”
Over the years my ability to hear the music has evolved and my technique has grown to accommodate what I’m hearing. I’ve learned enough guitar and piano to harmonize the music and bass parts I compose. I’ve also been blessed with the most wonderful wife and partner Bonnie, who inspires me to create and continue to grow.
As for Israel: Brooks — who was born Harvey Goldstein — “caught the Zionist bug” from Bonnie, who for years took her daughters backpacking there. In 2009, the couple moved permanently.
“I’m very relaxed here. I’m with my people,” Brooks told the Arizona Jewish Post.
Though not religious, Brooks says he “feels spiritually connected to Judaism” after long years in which music was his “only religion.” He’s gotten into the Israeli music scene, and performs at local clubs.
He continues to write and record, too.
Who knows? The multi-talented Harvey Brooks might soon add bass lines to klezmer music.
It couldn’t hurt.