Tag Archives: Harvey Brooks

Harvey Brooks: A Bassist’s View From The Bottom

It sounds like a New York Times “Styles” section wedding story.

Growing up in 1950s Queens, Bonnie and Harvey were friends. But she only dated college guys. He figured she was out of his league.

In the late ’80s, after life’s twists and turns for both — Bonnie contacted Harvey. They reconnected, a bit awkwardly at first. It took a while for Bonnie’s daughters to warm up to this new man. She herself was not ready to commit to a guy who had lived all around the world, and still enjoyed a free, unfettered life.

But they had great chemistry. Harvey moved into Bonnie’s Compo Road North home. Her girls eventually came to love him too. They lived happily ever after, even after they moved — first to Arizona, then to Israel.

Bonnie and Harvey Brooks

It’s a charming tale. It becomes even more intriguing when you learn that Bonnie Behar was well-known locally, as marketing director for Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum, and a Cablevision public access coordinator covering arts and politics.

And that Harvey is Harvey Brooks, a bass guitarist.

You may not have heard his name. But you sure have heard his music.

Harvey has played and/or recorded with Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Mama Cass Elliot, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, John Cale, Phil Ochs, Al Kooper, Mavis Staples, and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Al Kooper, Buddy Miles and Harvey Brooks at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Miles and Brooks were the rhythm section for The Electric Flag, which debuted at the festival and inspired Kooper to form Blood, Sweat and Tears. (Photo by Pat Murphy)

He’s featured on Miles Davis’“Bitches Brew,” the best-selling jazz album of all time. He laid down some of the most famous lines in music history — including “Like a Rolling Stone” — and his work was the hook on the Doors’ “Touch Me.”

On July 4 (his birthday), Harvey published a memoir. “View From the Bottom: 50 Years of Bass Playing with Bob Dylan, the Doors, Miles Davis and Everybody Else” is a music-lover’s romp, from Greenwich Village to Monterey Pop. What could sound like name-dropping is instead a fascinating look behind the scenes of some of rock, jazz, folk and pop’s most memorable moments.

Harvey is the real deal.

But this is “06880,” so I’ll focus on the chapters that deal with Westport.

The globe-trotting musician settled down to life as a suburban stepdad. He drove Bonnie’s daughters to school. He went to yard sales. But he always came back to music.

At one of those yard sales, for example, he saw Weston resident Keith Richards. Harvey’s around-the-corner neighbor was Eric von Schmidt, who he knew from his folk days at Boston’s Club 47. Bonnie threw him a surprise birthday party at Eric’s bocce court; Keith, famed songwriter/session musician Danny Kortchmar, and legendary local guitarist Charlie Karp came too.

I wanted to know more about Harvey’s Westport life. Responding from Israel, he talked about his friendships with music industry heavyweights like Chance Browne, Gail and Terry Coen, and rock photographer Michael Friedman.

Writer Max Wilk and his artist wife Barbara were friends. Max was also a jazz musician. Harvey played at one of his Westport Arts Center concerts. They wrote a country song together: “You Can’t Cut a Deal With Jesus.”

Harvey had a side gig, teaching young musicians. He must have been great: Staples High School grads Dan Asher, Trevor Coen and Merritt Jacobs have all gone on to professional careers.

Harvey had a fulfilling life in suburbia. He and Bonnie now enjoy Israel. It’s a world away from Queens — but then, so was Westport.

He is certainly not without a home. And — after more than half a century in the studio and on stage, and now with the publication of his book — Harvey Brooks is definitely not a complete unknown.

(To order “View From the Bottom,” click here.)

Roundup: Kids’ Mural; Harvey Brooks’ Book; Playhouse Video; More


Ever since youngsters in Homes with Hope’s after-school program turned Hal and Betsy Kravitz’s 77-foot-long South Compo wall into a “hopeful” mural, it’s earned honks and thumbs-ups from passing drivers, bicyclists and walkers.

It also caught the eye of a producer for WABC-TV news.

Which is why — barring breaking news — they’ll run a story on it tomorrow (Sunday, July 5) on the 11 p.m. news.

Channel 7 may include some footage from the video below. Stay tuned!


Harvey Brooks has played with and for Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, Phil Ochs, the Fabulous Rhinestones and Fontella Bass.

The bassist laid down some of the most famous lines in music history, including “Like a Rolling Stone” and the hook on the Doors’ “Touch Me.” He’s featured on Miles Davis’ “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.

A few years ago he and his wife Bonnie Behar moved to Israel. But a good story is universal.

Today — which is also his birthday  — his memoir, “View From the Bottom: 50 Years of Bass Playing with Bob Dylan, the Doors, Miles Davis and Everybody Else,” was published. There are tons of musical anecdotes — and lots about his life in Westport too. To order, click here.

Congratulations, Harvey. And Happy Birthday too!


This summer would have marked the Westport Country Playhouse’s 90th season.

The coronavirus brought down the curtain on this year. But the theater — one of the country’s most historic — is not letting the anniversary go unnoticed.

They posed one question to WCP aficionados: “What does the Playhouse mean to you?”

Click below, for some very heartfelt responses.


Happy Birthday, America!

And huge props to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. They made sure our Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge is decorated appropriately — with, red, white and blue lights.

The photo below does not do it justice. Go see for yourself (after dark!).

 


Hugh Downs died Wednesday. He was 99.

The Westport connection? Scott Williams says that decades ago, the longtime TV newsmagazine and entertainment show host rented 121 Sturges Highway house Scott later grew up in.

Hugh Downs, on the “Today” set in 1966. (Photo/Jack Kanthal for Associated Press)


You’ve heard it everywhere. Don’t have a cow. Just wear your mask!

(Photo/Les Dinkin)


And finally … to celebrate America’s birthday, here’s the song that’s been called “our other national anthem.” It’s easier to sing — and the words sure are powerful.

“Highway 61 Revisited” — Revisited

Harvey Brooks — the legendary bassist who played with Miles Davis, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, and Phil Ochs — now lives in Israel.

But for many years, he was a Westport resident. Before that, however — perhaps most famously — he was in the studio with Bob Dylan. They recorded the groundbreaking album “Highway 61 Revisited” exactly 50 years ago today: July 28, 1965.

Today, Brooks posted this story on Facebook. It’s one his many Westport friends — and countless Dylan and Brooks fans around the world — will enjoy.

———————————————————–

It was July 28, 1965. I was playing a gig in Manhattan. During a break, I went next door to eat at the Burger Heaven, when I got a phone call from Al Kooper. I’m playing on this album with Bob Dylan and they need a bass player – are you doing anything?

That phone call would change my life.

The next day — 50 years ago today — I drove from Queens to Manhattan. I was soon in an elevator on the way to play for Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” album at Columbia Studio A at 777 Seventh Avenue. I opened the door to the control room, took a deep breath and entered.

Highway 61 Revisited

The first person I saw was Albert Grossman, Dylan’s manager. Grossman had long gray hair tied in a ponytail and wore round, tinted wire-rimmed glasses. I thought he looked like Benjamin Franklin. A thin, frizzy-haired guy dressed in jeans and boots was standing in the front of the mixing console listening to a playback of “Like a Rolling Stone.” I assumed it was Bob Dylan, though I didn’t know him or what he looked like at the time.

When the music stopped, Albert said, who are you? I told him who, what and why. Dylan said “hi” and went back to listening. Al Kooper then came in to make the official introduction. It was all very cryptic and brief.

I walked into the studio, took out my Fender bass and started to tune it. My instrument was strung with La Bella flat wounds which I still use. I plugged in the Ampeg B-15 amplifier which was provided by the studio. It sounded warm and percussive. The B-15 was my gig amp as well.

Though I was only 21 years old, I had already played many club gigs with a range of performers. I had worked with varying styles and felt I could adapt to about anything on the fly. So I was comfortable in the studio, and ready for anything Dylan could throw my way.

Suddenly, the studio door burst open. In stormed Michael Bloomfield, a moving ball of energy. He wore penny loafers, jeans, a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and had a Fender Telecaster hanging over his shoulder. Bloomfield’s hair was as electric as his smile. It was the first time I had met or even heard of him.

Harvey Brooks and Mike Bloomfield - recording Highway 61

Harvey Brooks (sitting) and Mike Bloomfield (lying on the floor).

At the first session, Joe Macho Jr. had played bass. He had been replaced by Russ Savakus who Dylan didn’t like either. Dylan wanted someone new for the rest of the sessions. Kooper recommended me to Dylan. Dylan needed to be comfortable with his bass player. Kooper knew I had a good feel and adapted quickly.

For Dylan, it was not enough to be a skilled studio musician. He wanted musicians who could adapt quickly to his style. I admitted to him that I hadn’t heard any of his music before the session, but was really impressed by “Like a Rolling Stone,” which I first heard when I walked into the studio.

“Well, these are a little different,” Bob responded. I assumed he meant from his past work, but Bob was bit vague. He gave me a crooked smile and then lit up a cigarette.

New producer Bob Johnston, a Columbia staff producer from Nashville, was already producing Patti Page when he got the Dylan assignment.

Johnston had a “documentary” approach that allowed him to capture fleeting moments in the studio. Frustrated by the technical bureaucracy at the Columbia studio, he ordered several tape machines brought into the control room, so he could keep one running at all times in order to capture anything Dylan might want to keep. That tactic worked quite well.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan's manager.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager.

Though the first session for “Highway 61 Revisited” had been only 2 weeks earlier, a lot had happened in the interim. “Like a Rolling Stone,” recorded at the first session, had been released and caught on like fire.

Only 4 days earlier, Dylan had been booed when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. It was a pivotal time in his career. He was beginning the transition from being a “pure” folk artist to a rock and roll performer.

Now we were at the 2nd session, my 1st, uncertain of what was on Dylan’s mind. In a few minutes he came out of the control room and started to sing the first of 3 songs we would work on that day.

Dylan sang the first, “Tombstone Blues,” a few times. There were no chord charts. It was all done by ear. As a habit, I made a few quick chord charts for myself as I listened to him perform. Everyone focused on Dylan, watching for every nuance. Then, the band went for it.

As we began recording, Dylan was still working on the lyrics. He was constantly editing as we recorded. I thought that was a really amazing way that he worked. His guitar or piano part was the guiding element through each song. Every musician in that room was glued to him. We would play until Dylan felt something was right. His poker face never revealed what he was thinking.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Mike Bloomfield, when they played together in Electric Flag (a few years after the Dylan session).

Harvey Brooks (left) and Mike Bloomfield, when they played together in Electric Flag (a few years after the Dylan session).

It might have taken a couple of takes for everyone to lock in. There were mistakes of course, but they didn’t matter to Dylan. If the feel was there and the performance was successful, that’s all that mattered. In real life, that’s the way it is. If the overall performance happens, there is always something there. Bob would go into the control room and listen. Johnston may have been the producer keeping the tape rolling, but it was all Dylan deciding what felt right and what didn’t.

Bloomfield’s fiery guitar parts accented Dylan’s phrasing. He was a very explosive guitar player and didn’t settle back into things. He was aggressive and a little bit in front of it. My goal is finding a part that makes the the groove happen. Dylan set the feel and direction with his rhythm. My bass parts reflected what I got from him.

Most of my early playing experience had been in R&B bands that performed Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson tunes, or songs by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Playing with Dylan created a totally new category. I call it “jump in and go for it.”

We recorded “It Takes a Lot to Laugh” and “Positively 4th Street” the same way. Masters for the 3 songs were successfully recorded on July 29. (“Positively 4th Street” was issued as a single only.)

At the close of the session that 1st night Dylan attempted to record “Desolation Row,” accompanied only by Al on electric guitar and me on bass. There was no drummer. This electric version was eventually released in 2005, on “The Bootleg Series Volume 7” album.

Our producer had a love of and even a bias toward Nashville musicians. It became an underlying topic during the session about how good they were. He kept talking about how cool Nashville is. I felt his comments were disparaging to us. I felt Johnston thought of us as New York bumpkins in a way.

This Nashville bias played into “Desolation Row.” I thought the version without drums that I did with Al that night was slower and definitely more soulful. We really liked it. Clearly, Johnston thought otherwise. On August 2, 5 more takes were done on “Desolation Row.” However, the version of the song ultimately used on the album was recorded at an overdub session on August 4.

When I left the studio after the final session, I didn’t have a sense of whether or not we had created a hit record. I did know, however, that all the songs felt good. They felt solid. I now understand that’s why “Highway 61 Revisited” was a successful record. In all the takes Bob chose, he made sure he got what he wanted from each song. He knew what he wanted. It’s an amazing talent that really knows what they want.

Harvey Brooks today.

Harvey Brooks today.

O Cecelia!

If you’re not like me, you open your issue of O — Oprah’s Magazine — the instant it lands inside your mailbox.

If you lingered on an ad from Hormel, you would have seen this:

Cecilia

It’s a celebration of Cecelia Behar of Newfield, New York. Cecelia is the Round 1 winner of Hormel’s “Hardest Working Women” Contest.

The ad copy says: “As a wife, mother of two, teen counselor, mommy blogger and avid swimmer, Cecelia is truly a hardworking woman who juggles it all.”

Cecelia also happens to be a Staples grad.  She’s the daughter of Bonnie Behar Brooks, a music/video/film production company owner/manager. Cecelia’s stepfather, Harvey Brooks, is a noted bassist who has played with every big name from Bob Dylan and the Doors to Miles Davis and Richie Havens.

Lil Mamas logo

So what did she win?

On her blog, Lil Mamas — that’s right, her hard work was featured in “06880” earlier this year — Cecelia says she got:

a trip to NYC with my girlfriend, a 2 night stay in a super-posh hotel, a MUCH needed mani-pedi, a seriously fantastic photo shoot, a full page spread in O Magazine and an insane amount of Hormel Completes coupons (which are very handy, I might add).

Oh – and maybe the most incredible pair of Michael Kors platform shoes that have ever been.

But, she notes,

what I really won was the experience. Like a lot of moms, I almost never get a chance to go away without the kids to spend time with friends for a few days. And I certainly never get an amazing team of professionals fancifying me up, dressing me in spectacular clothing and then taking my picture all day long. I gotta say – I could get used to that.

Oh, yeah. Cecelia adds this PS:

I would like to take a minute to thank my husband for doing his part to ensure that I was able to take this trip. I am very sorry that during my absence, our 6 year old got a case of the vomits.

Well… I’m MOSTLY sorry. Sort of. Almost? Oh, come on! It was his turn!! His turn I tell you!!!

Gramps Has A Ponytail

Back in the day — back many days, in fact — Bonnie and Harvey knew each other.

They were classmates at Junior High School 109 in Queens. Both graduated from Martin Van Buren High School.

Bonnie went to Santa Barbara, and married Mike Behar. Harvey Brooks embarked on a musical career.

Their paths did not cross again for many years. By then she was the marketing/media director at Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum. To reach a young audience, she created a rock-‘n’-roll art and artifact exhibit.

Westporters Terry and Gail Cunningham Coen helped, and shared their extensive contact list. Someone else said to call Harvey  Brooks.

Bonnie knew that “her” Harvey had played bass on “Summer Breeze,” with Seals and Crofts. She dialed the number — with a Queens area code.

Two weeks later, he called back. He was indeed the same Harvey.

Al Kooper, Buddy Miles and Harvey Brooks at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Miles and Brooks were the rhythm section for The Electric Flag, which debuted at the festival and inspired Kooper to form Blood, Sweat and Tears. (Photo by Pat Murphy)

They talked about their lives. She had 3 daughters — 19, 14 and 11.

He had recorded with — among others — Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian,Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, John Cale, Phil Ochs, the Fabulous Rhinestones and Fontella Bass.

He’d laid down some of the most famous lines in music history, including “Like a Rolling Stone,” the hook on “Touch Me,” and “Bitches Brew,” the best-selling jazz album of all time.

The exhibit was a huge success. So was Harvey and Bonnie’s relationship.

But there were sour notes in their soundtrack. Harvey was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Shortly after, Bonnie was found to have breast cancer. Their 1st year of marriage was spent in treatment.

Bonnie and Harvey Brooks

They survived, and the soundtrack soared. They lived on Compo Road North. Around the corner, on Evergreen Avenue, was Eric von Schmidt. Harvey introduced Bonnie — who knew Eric only as a very talented artist — to his astonishing musical career.

Harvey and Bonnie enjoyed many musical parties at Eric’s home (and bocce court). One birthday celebration featured a jam with local musicians like Keith Richards, Danny Kortchmar and Charlie Karp.

Years later, Bonnie’s granddaughters were visiting. Danya — age 4 — sat in Harvey’s studio, joyfully beating out a drum melody. Bonnie — enchanted — created story out of the scene. It involved a girl named Sam. She lives with her grandfather — a bass player. He teaches her how sound turns into music. Together they explore the wonders of the studio, and the process of creativity.

When it was finished, Bonnie sent the manuscript to tons of publishers.

Nothing happened.

She and Harvey moved to Tucson. Bonnie unpacked the story — called Gramps Has a Ponytail — and found an artist to illustrate it. Then she shelved it again.

Finally — years later — it’s been published. Danya is now 21, and married. Harvey and Bonnie have 14 grandchildren.

The bassist who once played with some of the baddest boys in the music industry loves being a grandfather.

And being called “Gramps.”

(Click here for the Amazon link to “Gramps Has a Ponytail.”)

Catching Up With Harvey Brooks

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?

Harvey Brooks.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Mike Bloomfield in Electric Flag.

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.

Harvey Brooks

“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.