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September 11th, 1973, and Bruce Springsteen releases his second album, “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle“, to great critical acclaim. However barely anyone noticed, especially those at his label, CBS Records. A short 8 months after Bruce Springsteen‘s first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”, had been a priority release for CBS Records he was now bottom of the promotional pile and was rumored to be in danger of losing his contract.
The priority treatment previously bestowed on Springsteen was not all it was cracked up to be though. It saw CBS Records try to peg Springsteen with the “New Bob Dylan” tag. At the time seemingly all singer/songwriters were branded with this tag and since singer/songwriters were what was selling at the time, CBS Records decided they wanted one too and Bruce Springsteen was to be it. This did not fit well with Bruce Springsteen and neither did being sent out on tour as the opening act for Chicago (Columbia Record‘s biggest selling artist at the time).
Bruce Springsteen‘s two hour plus live show was what he was all about and being given a short support slot with hardly any sound-check was never going to be a winning formula. Neither was playing to fans of Chicago who regarded him as nothing more than something stopping the headliners getting on stage.
Bruce Springsteen knew this was all wrong when they played Philadelphia and he got booed…in Philly, the town that had bought approximately half the copies of “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” sold to that point! From then on Springsteen vowed only to play if he could play his full show, even if it meant much smaller gigs.
As Bruce Springsteen reconvened The E Street Band at 914 Sound Studios in New York to record “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” through the summer of 1973, they did so with the knowledge that their chief cheerleader at CBS Records, in the shape of label boss Clive Davis, had been removed from his post in a boardroom coup.
Bruce Springsteen was now seen as an artist whose first album had flopped, had not gone down well on the Chicago support slot and was being obstinate about doing what he wanted. Add to this a manager in the shape of Mike Appel, an ex-marine, who had a habit of speaking to the people at CBS Records with all the charm and grace of a drill sergeant “speaking” to raw recruits and it was obvious, Bruce Springsteen was not going to get much help from the label this time round.
In fact this turned out to be an understatement as when “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” was released Columbia Records did not even take out a single trade paper advertisement and one of the CBS Records promotions men actually tried to persuade a Houston radio station to play less Springsteen and more of their Billy Joel and Boz Scaggs instead!
The radio stations were not much help either. For all the FM station’s talk of playing less “commercial” music, by now they too had to be aware of what their advertisers wanted and they wanted the hits played. Even in New York, where Springsteen had a fan-base and tracks like “Incident On 57th Street” and “New York City Serenade” should have been local favorites, Springsteen still got very little airplay. As Dave Herman, a DJ at the time said, “He was just another media hype that failed. He was already a dead artist who bombed on his first album.”
Although Mike Appel’s dedication to Bruce Springsteen could not be faulted, his belligerent style further hindered Bruce Springsteen‘s cause. Instead of sweet talking the radio stations into playing Springsteen‘s material, he would call them and berate them and, depending on which version of the story you believe, send torn up $10 bills or photocopied twenties! If accusing the radio stations of being bought was not bad enough, over the Christmas period, a time when most were doing their best to sweeten up programmers, Appel sent bags of coal rather than presents to those he felt most aggrieved towards.
This further aggravated not just the radio stations but also CBS Records. CBS Records had other acts to promote. Not only that, they had other “more important” acts to promote and to do this they needed the radio stations onside. If one of their artists was putting the radio stations backs up, the they had to soothe them to get their artists on the playlists. For an artist that was not seen as a priority to be making so many problems for their priority acts, was not going to remain one of their acts for long.
The fact that the music business had moved in this way was only to be expected. As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, the world had become a more cynical place. During the 1960s, the belief of musicians that music could change the world had given way to looking for spiritual enlightenment through gurus and LSD, while all the time the music business itself became more and more a commercial concern. The advent of the album as an “art form” had also seen more and more elaborate and pretentious studio releases that were nearly impossible to translate to the live arena.
Bruce Springsteen had lived through all that Rock and Roll had been and had a natural ear for what was still true to the spirit of it. His view was not just of the stars and the music on the radio, but the songs that mattered to him. As he said, “Rock and Roll still motivates….there’s a whole load of other things involved, but that’s what I think you’ve gotta remain true to. That idea, that feeling. That’s the real spirit of the music.”
As Mike Appel said, “Bruce Springsteen isn’t a rock act, he’s a religion” and, when Springsteen was left to play his own shows, the audience quickly became converts. Since Bruce Springsteen had decided that his approach to live performances was all or nothing, there were almost no headliners that would let him play his set. This mean that he was limited to the places he had a following until he could build up a following elsewhere. Naturally the north-eastern seaboard was his home and he could play clubs and halls from Philly to Boston and he had built up a following in Phoenix and Houston too.
Relentlessly playing these places over and over was not considered wise. The danger, said those in the know, was that you would over-saturate your market, you should always leave them wanting more. This was probably true of many of the bands of the era as they were “musicians” not showmen. They would stand on stage and play intricate pieces of music to fans that would nod in appreciation.
When people saw Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band they were always taken back the sheer energy he and his band maintained for well over two hours a night. The shows were a mixture of his songs, which often morphed before the audience’s eyes into something else, new songs, Bruce Springsteen‘s tales and stories and cover versions that would always have that Bruce Springsteen stamp on them. Springsteen said of these, “They’re songs I’ve just always liked. Whenever a song’s got that life, that ability to move you and it’s still relevant to today, to what’s happening, it’s important….It’s obvious by the reaction they get. It’s great today, it’s great right now and if someone plays it and people hear it, they’ll still love it tomorrow.” Audiences never saw the same show twice and Springsteen ever left the stage until drenched in sweat, ecstatic and virtually collapsing from exhaustion and the audience was usually left feeling the same way.
This was particularly true after he replaced Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, who played the drums on “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle“, with Ernest “Boom” Carter. Bruce Springsteen agonized before deciding to fire Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, who he had played with since his days in Steel Mill. Vini Lopez‘s playing on “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” was loose and suited the material on the album perfectly. How much of this was down to his drumming and how much was that the material Springsteen decided to put on the album was governed by Lopez’s drumming, I do not know. What was certain was that the live rhythm section was now rock solid.
One member of the CBS Records executive had seen this and was still a believer. Ron Oberman was CBS Records‘ publicity director and saw that with both “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” and “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” getting near universal rave reviews from the critics, Springsteen must be doing something right. Add to this the incredible live shows and the fervent support of his fans and Ron Oberman made Bruce Springsteen his own personal priority.
The promoters were also his fans. With Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band throwing everything into the shows and the rapt audiences returning night after night, each time bringing more of their friends, they could not get enough. This lead to a conflict in April, 1974 as Springsteen found himself booked to play in two Boston venues on the same night.
Joe Spadafora had booked Springsteen to play at his club, “Joe’s Place”, a tiny dive-bar in Boston. They had met way back when Joe Spadafora had booked Springsteen in his early days and the two men had become friends. When “Joe’s Place” burned down shortly before they were due to play Springsteen moved the gig to “Charley’s” near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass. as a benefit for Joe Spadafora.
At this point he discovered that his booking agent, William Morris, had booked him to play the larger Performance Center in the heart of Harvard Square for the same night. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band had become hugely popular in the area and when he returned next time would be playing venues larger than these clubs. Bruce Springsteen felt he owed Joe Spadafora his last club dates in the area.
As it turned out this would prove to be one of the most important nights of his career as the gig was attended by Jon Landau.
Jon Landau ran the Record Review section of Rolling Stone Magazine and wrote a regular column in the Boston’s The Real Paper, the equivalent of New York’s The Village Voice. He was an important man in music and, with his Real Paper column, particularly so in the Boston/Cambridge area. He also understood the music industry having produced “Back in the USA” for the MC5 and been instrumental in getting Atlantic Records to sign The J Geils Band.
Jon Landau had come across “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” and was impressed. Stories were coming through about Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band‘s live show (from Oberman amongst others) and so he decided that now was a good time to see for himself. In the week running up to the gig’s at Charley’s Jon Landau wrote in The Real Paper that “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” was, “…the most under-rated album so far this year, an impassioned and inspired street fantasy that’s as much fun as it is deep.”
The night of the gig was cold and as Jon Landau walked up to Charley’s he saw none other than Bruce Springsteen peering into the window of Charley’s where they had cut out a copy of Jon Landau‘s review and stuck it in the window. Jon Landau wandered over and asked Springsteen what he thought of the piece. Springsteen replied that he thought it was good, but he had seen better. At that point Jon Landau introduced himself and the two entered the venue laughing.
Jon Landau had found himself becoming jaded with Rock and Roll and his friends were surprised to see him at the gig, he rarely went to them by then. But from the opening “New York City Serenade” through to the second encore, a raucous version of Fats Domino’s “Let The Four Winds Blow”, Jon Landau was utterly taken with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band‘s passion, energy, charisma – in short, they were the real deal. He left breathless and raved about Bruce Springsteen to all that would listen. He also saw to it that “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” made one Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 7 albums of 1973.
Another month passed and Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, defying industry logic again, was back in the area, this time playing at the Harvard Square Theater opening for Bonnie Raitt, a local favorite. Although Springsteen had decided not to open for anyone, Bonnie Raitt had agreed to let Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band play their full show.
Once again Jon Landau, on the eve of his 27th birthday, ventured out to see Springsteen and once again Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band left the stage to utter adulation from the crowd. Jon Landau returned home in a daze.
After the show he sat down and wrote a piece for The Real Paper, it was long and personal. In the piece he laid his emotions bare, telling of his long history as a musician, producer and critic and his disillusionment with Rock and Roll. He finished the piece, “Last Thursday at Harvard Square Theater, I saw my Rock and Roll Past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the first time.”
“I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” has passed into rock folklore and is much quoted and mis-quoted. The effect of this piece defining Springsteen as the future meant everyone involved or interested in music now had to have an opinion. Other influential critics joined in with almost universal praise and his fans became more fervent and greater in number.
It also reinvigorated CBS Records and soon the quote was splashed across adverts for “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” and CBS Records began pushing the album. By August 1974 sales of “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” were nearing 100 000 copies. For an album that had received so little promotion this was hugely encouraging and ensured that Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band would be back to record another album with CBS Records.
As thoughts turned to the next album, it became clear that the Harvard Square Theater gig was important for another reason. It was the first time Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band had played “Born to Run” live.
- Bruce Springsteen – guitar, harmonica, bass guitar, mandolin, maracas, vocals
- Clarence Clemons – saxophone, vocals
- Danny Federici – accordion, keyboards, organ on “Kitty’s Back”, second piano on “Incident on 57th Street”, vocals
- Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez – drums, cornet on “The E Street Shuffle”, vocals
- David Sancious – clavinet, electric piano, keyboards, organ solo on “Kitty’s Back”, piano, soprano saxophone on “The E Street Shuffle”, string arrangement on “New York City Serenade”
- Garry Tallent – bass, horn, tuba, vocals
- Richard Blackwell – conga, percussion
- Suki Lahav – choir vocals on “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Incident on 57th Street” (uncredited)
- Albee Tellone – baritone saxophone on “The E Street Shuffle”
All songs by Bruce Springsteen
- “The E Street Shuffle” – 4:31
- “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – 5:36
- “Kitty’s Back” – 7:09
- “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” – 4:47
- “Incident on 57th Street” – 7:45
- “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” – 7:04
- “New York City Serenade” – 9:55
- Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story (Marsh, Dave. Bruce Springsteen Story, V. 1.)
- Greetings from E Street: The Story of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
- Interviews in Classic Rock Magazine
- Interviews in Uncut Magazine