Tight connection to his heart

One of rock's most respected bass players and former fellow bandmate, Harvey Brooks shares his experiences working with Bob Dylan.

Harvey Brooks 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Harvey Brooks 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
He may only be watching the Bob Dylan show from the stands like the rest of us, but Jerusalem resident Harvey Brooks knows what it’s like to be on the other side looking out.
The 67-year-old musician got his big break in his fledgling musical career when his friend and fellow Jewish musician Al Kooper, who was playing keyboards on the sessions for Dylan’s seminal 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited – the album that yielded the song “Like a Rolling Stone” – recommended bassist Brooks to producer Bob Johnson.
“That was my first entrance into the pop world, my first real session,” Brooks recalled recently. “It was special for me, and I think I helped him out, too,” he added of Dylan.
“I didn’t know the music was special at the time, it happened so spontaneously. My whole focus was on making the music happen and finding the right part. Bob is such a spontaneous artist that some of the music was evolving as we were doing it, so I was intent on paying attention, getting the marks down and getting as solid a performance as quickly as possible,” he explained.
“Some of the songs were done in only a couple of takes, and his criteria weren’t based on whether it was perfect, but whether it was right. Does it feel good? Did I get what I wanted from it?” According to Brooks, Dylan didn’t relate his feelings to the band, so they would only know those answers when they heard the record much later.
“If we didn’t record another take of a song, that meant that either it worked and he was happy or that it didn’t work and he was going to drop the song,” said Brooks, who performed live with Dylan at some 1965 shows along with Kooper, as well as The Band’s Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, and then went on to play on albums like Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew (1969), The Doors’ The Soft Parade (1969), and 1968’s Super Session – featuring Michael Bloomfield, Kooper and Stephen Stills – on his way to establishing himself as one of rock’s most respected bass players.
While he and Dylan didn’t really establish a friendship during the Highway 61 sessions, Brooks did eventually become friendly with the singer, and even discussed their mutual Jewish heritage in passing at a late 1960s party thrown by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.
“He had just come back from Israel and he was very much into it,” said Brooks. “I remember he told me how amazing it was being at the Kotel and that it was an incredible experience for him.”
He added, “I think he’s a spiritual guy. He considers himself to be a vehicle.”
And the period in which Dylan embraced Christianity? “I thought that maybe Bob wanted to get some nice gospel lick together for his music.”