Season of the Witch, from Super Session

The term Super Group, so popular in describing a band of musicians who already made a name for themselves in the music industry, started with the Super Session record released in July 1968. The album name was Bruce Lundvall’s idea. Lundvall was a marketing executive at Columbia Records and nodded in favor when Al Kooper pitched the album to the label’s executives. Lundvall was a Jazz fan and maybe the idea of recording a jam session in a studio was not foreign to him – in Jazz that was the norm. Lundvall had a rich career in music business after this faithful meeting, culminating in reviving the Blue Note label in the 1980s.

The album front cover is a little misleading, as it includes photos of Al Kooper and guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. However there is not a single track on the album that features both guitar players, simply because they were never in the same room at the same time. There were actually two sessions – one with Bloomfield, a second with Stills hastily organized. This bit of rock and roll lore is well documented in Al Kooper’s entertaining book Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards and has to do with the erratic Bloomfield dropping off the second recording date in the middle of the night due to insomnia. The recording being in LA, Kooper was able to secure the services of Stephen Stills on a same-day notice for the second session. Without any preparation time, the assembled band consisting of Kooper, Stills, Harvey Brooks on Bass and Eddie Hoh on Drums, had to run through songs familiar to all. One of these was Season of the Witch, a song written by Donovan and first appearing on his excellent album Sunshine Superman from 1966. Interestingly the drummer on the Donovan album was no other than Eddie Hoh, a forgotten musician who millions around the world  surely heard him if not of him, as he is the drummer on Daydream Believer by the Monkees and is backing up The Mamas and The Papas on the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival performance of California Dreaming. Speaking of that milestone festival, all of the musicians performing on the Super Session album played in Monterey – in addition to Eddie Hoh, Kooper run a jam session, Stills was then with Buffalo Springfield, and Bloomfield, Brooks, and Goldberg were part of the Electric Flag.

Season of the Witch features Stephen Stills on electric guitar, and it sounds like he found a wah wah pedal laying around and started experimenting with it. I like the rawness of his guitar sound, as it adds authenticity to the fact that this was truly a jam session, not a polished rock record. Al Kooper plays a tasty organ solo and sings the vocals. The horns are a great addition to the song and I was surprised to find out that they were added later at a New York studio, as they sound so integral to the arrangement. The album was reissued in 1999 with an additional remix of the song without the horns. I like the one with the horns much better. First impressions count.

Harvey Brooks, Stephen Stills, Al Kooper

Music fans in 1968 were open to this type of music – blues and rock jams with songs lasting 11 minutes. The record peaked at number 12 on the billboard charts and became a gold record, a first for Kooper. The album was released in July 1968, a good month as record releases go: Music From Big Pink by The Band, Waiting for the Sun by the Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s debut, Music in a Doll’s House by Family, Miles in the Sky by Miles Davis (released on July 22, same day as Super Session), In Search of the Lost Chord by the Moody Blues and Wheels of Fire by Cream. You couldn’t go wrong visiting a record store in those days.

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14 replies »

  1. I remember first hearing this in the early 70’s at a friend’s house after school. TBH I never took to it they way I did to Stills, Kooper, and Bloomfield’s other ventures, as it seemed overindulgent and diffuse. It does have a certain nostalgic appeal now, but that appeal doesn’t quite make it the full 11:07.

    • I heard this record in a store in Singapore played really loudly, bought a copy and played it to death! Went on to buy all the artists different records too!
      1968 was a great musical time

      • I first heard this song in December 1968 — it came on the radio while I was wrapping Christmas gifts. It blew me through the wall! I had to stop what I was doing and listen to the entire recording! I bought the album at the first opportunity, and over the years I’ve owned at least six copies — two on vinyl (my original copy was borrowed and never returned); two on tape, including a bootleg copy; and two CDs including the1999 re-release.

        I consider “Season of the Witch” to be one of the finest blues performances I’ve ever heard (and I’ve been listening to music since 1955. Enough said!

  2. 1968 was also the release year for Spirit’s debut album, and if I’m not mistaken also The Rolling Stone’s ‘Beggar’s Banquet’. Yes, it was a very good year.

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