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Springsteen, Bruce (23 September 1949-Present)

Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter from Long Branch, New Jersey, who was bitten by the music bug when he saw Elvis Presley perform on Ed Sullivan’s TV show. It inspired him to purchase a guitar at the age of thirteen, and he received an upgrade when his mom actually applied for a loan to buy him a Kent guitar for sixty bucks about three years later.

A local couple by the name of Vinyard got him on his long road to stardom by ensuring his place as lead singer and guitarist for The Castiles. They cut a couple of sides in New Jersey’s Bricktown Studio, “That’s What You Get” and “Baby I” which were penned by Bruce and fellow vocalist George Theiss. There were only five singles pressed, and of those, reportedly two have survived, and are undoubtedly collectors’ items. The Castiles stayed together for about three years, playing regional venues such as Greenwich Village’s Café Wha?.

They broke up in 1968 and Bruce went on to form Earth, a triumvirate of rock musicians who did the local club circuit. He earned the moniker “The Boss” because he took care of the administrative side of things, like making sure the band got paid. Bruce has never warmed to the nickname, however, as he doesn’t like bosses on principle, an attitude that shows through in his anti-corporate lyrics. This rebellious stance was at odds with any kind of formal education, although he did take classes at Ocean County College for a short time. In 1969, Bruce abandoned Earth and started Child, but the name was already taken and so they morphed into Steel Mill. This band comprised Bruce, Danny Federici, Vini Lopez, Vinnie Roslin, Robbin Thompson, and Steve Van Zandt, some of whom would go on to become members of the storied E Street Band. They stayed together for about two years, playing some very successful gigs, and were even presented with a chance at a recording contract, but for some reason decided against it.

Bruce disassembled the group at the beginning of 1971 as he was still trying to find his own musical voice. He experimented with a handful of different ensembles, including The Bruce Springsteen Band, Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom, and Sundance Blues Band. Then he decided to go solo and play the café circuit in the Big Apple and was discovered by Mike Appel, who commandeered his career and got him in the door at Columbia. After an audition at New York’s Gaslight Club, which he aced, Bruce scored his first record deal.

Early efforts consisted of only Bruce and John Hammond, who helped orchestrate the contract. Bruce played guitar and piano and sang and John did the mixing. A pair of these so-called “Hammond Demos” later appeared on Tracks. The Boss was not meant to be a one-man corporation, however. In the summer of 1972, a motley crew including Clarence Clemons, David Sancious, Garry Tallent and Vini Lopez were brought in to help Bruce record his first LP, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. It was a critical if not a commercial success, and reached a modest #60 on the Billboard album chart. The band toured in support of the album, opening for Chicago a couple of times, and were quickly back in the studio to hammer out The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle in the summer of 1973. It charted one whole position higher than its predecessor, and was followed by another tour.

On 12th February 1974, Vini Lopez was given his walking papers and was supplanted by Ernest Carter shortly thereafter. A turning point in the band’s fortunes took place on 9th May of the same year when Jon Landau, a music critic, witnessed a show at Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Harvard Square Theater. Jon was so enamoured of Bruce that he wanted to become his manager. In August, the first tracks of what would become “Born to Run” were laid down in the studio. It was a painstaking venture, and reports vary as to how long it actually took to finish, from a matter of days to a matter of months. Personnel changes abounded in September. Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg replaced David Sancious and Ernest Carter on keyboards and drums/percussion, respectively. Violinist and vocalist Suki Lahav also joined around this time. By the spring of 1975, the groundwork was laid to record the album, Born to Run. Jon Landau was on board by now and was taking up more and more of the production reins, much to the dismay of Mike Appel. The album, like the song that bears its name, was an arduous endeavour, apparently taking over a year to record. Part of the problem was that Bruce had difficulty conveying what he wanted to the other members of the band and production team. Enter Steve Van Zandt. “Miami” Steve was on Bruce’s wavelength, musically speaking, and helped him get his ideas onto vinyl. All of the hard work was worth it, however, as Born to Run went to #3 on the Billboard chart. Bruce was unsatisfied with the results, however, and chucked a copy of the album into an alleyway. A tour was launched about a month-and-a-half before the album’s release, a practice that would become commonplace for Bruce and the band.

On 27th October 1975, Bruce’s countenance graced the covers of Newsweek and Time. The Boss had clearly arrived. The rest of the year was chock-full of live dates, at home and abroad. In the spring of 1976, Bruce found that his music resounded not only with working-class city dwellers but their counterparts in the American South. The so-called “Chicken Scratch Tour” included a show in Memphis after which Bruce and Steve took a taxi to Graceland and The Boss tried to meet The King. The guard was not amused. Neither was Bruce’s ex-manager Mike Appel, who found himself not only fired by The Boss but sued by him as well. Mike counter-sued and the result was a litigious battle that would last almost a year and ban Bruce from recording. It didn’t stop him performing, however, with the likes of Southside Johnny and Patti Smith.

In 1977, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band topped the charts with a cover of “Blinded by the Light”, cementing Bruce’s reputation as a songwriter. To sweeten the pot, Bruce and Mike reconciled their differences, at least, legally speaking, and The Boss won full control over his quickly growing catalogue of music. It also meant that he could finally return to the studio and start recording again. Darkness on the Edge of Town took almost as long to finish as Born to Run. It charted almost as well, too, reaching #5 on the Billboard chart. Again, the beginning of the obligatory tour preceded the release of the album. Meantime, other artists continued to enjoy success with Bruce’s songs: Patti Smith had a #13 hit with “Because the Night” and The Pointer Sisters had a #2 hit with “Fire”.

In April 1979, Bruce and company set to work on his most ambitious project to date, a double-album entitled The River. Again, it turned into a meticulous undertaking, with interruptions a-plenty. Bruce was involved in a motorcycle accident which led to rumours of his death, which were greatly exaggerated. In September, he joined an all-star line-up of artists for a pair of “No Nukes” concerts at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Some of this material was immortalized on film and vinyl, the first taste of his now legendary live shows to be captured thusly. In September 1980, The River recordings were finally finished, comprising sixty songs from which to select for inclusion on the year-and-a-half long project. Like its two predecessors, it was worth the wait. It became his first #1 album and spawned his first top-ten hit, “Hungry Heart”. The subsequent tour lasted until 14th September 1981, and its culmination was marked by the departure of Steve Van Zandt, who sought out solo projects.

Bruce’s next album, Nebraska, was a much more intimate affair, starting with some four-track recordings in his Holmdel, New Jersey, home. They were meant to be demos that would be re-recorded later with a band, but Jon Landau, now Bruce’s manager and producer, thought the originals were better than the re-recordings with the full band. The result was a #3 album that is credited with helping to usher in a new generation of lo-fi recordings. A couple of songs from the E Street Band sessions survived to make the cut on his next album, Born in the U.S.A., including the title track. If The River sessions were a marathon, the Born in the U.S.A. sessions were a biathlon, resulting in the recording of nearly one hundred tracks, a dozen of which would make the final cut. Again, the hard work paid off. Seven of the twelve songs reached the top ten. The biggest hit off the album was “Dancing with the Dark”, which went to #2 and won a Grammy award. The album went to #1. It enjoyed a seven-week reign on the Billboard album chart, and spent eighty-five weeks in the top ten. Nils Lofgren had replaced Steve van Zandt on lead guitar by this time, and Patti Scialfa also joined the band, multi-tasking on acoustic guitar, background vocals, and percussion.

In January 1985, Bruce was one of a bevy of artists to be invited to record “We Are the World”. During the blockbuster tour that followed Born in the U.S.A., Bruce met his first wife, Julianne Phillips. They wed on 13th May 1985 in a private ceremony in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Their marriage was nearly over before it began. Julianne was an actress, and Bruce was constantly on tour.

On 10th November 1986, Bruce’s first live release, a mammoth five-album boxed set, hit the shelves. It was the first boxed set to actually make its debut atop the Billboard album chart. In the meantime, Bruce was ready to work on a follow-up to the monumentally successful Born in the U.S.A. Unlike past efforts, Tunnel of Love took mere months to put together, and was unveiled on 6th October 1987. It, too, reached #1, and the title track garnered Bruce another Grammy award. During the European leg of the corresponding tour, rumours began to circulate that Bruce was having an extra-marital affair with fellow band-member, Patti Scialfa. On 30th August 1988, Julianne filed divorce papers. Their marriage was officially dissolved on 1st March 1989. Likewise, Bruce also broke up with his band, telephoning each musician personally to inform them that he wanted to use different personnel on his next album, and essentially freeing them to pursue their own creative endeavours. Bruce and Patti moved to California, and Bruce set to work on not one, but two, new albums.

On 25th July 1990, Bruce and Patti had their first child, Evan James. By the time they wed, on 8th June 1991, they were already expecting another child. Jessica Rae entered the world on 30th December 1991. On 31st March 1992, both of Bruce’s new albums, Human Touch and Lucky Town, hit the shelves. They went to #2 and #3, respectively, on the Billboard album chart. The inevitable tour featured almost all new band members, save Patti and former E Street keyboardist, Roy Bittan. In September, Bruce stood on form when he appeared on MTV’s Unplugged and did the unthinkable: He plugged. Needless to say, fans of the show were not amused. His two new albums quickly plummeted out of the Billboard Top 200.

In 1993, Bruce did something very un-Bruce-like: He took some time off. Ironically, during this “time off”, he recorded what would become one of his most decorated songs, “Streets of Philadelphia” for the Jonathan Demme film, Philadelphia. On 5th January 1994, Bruce and Patti welcomed their third child, Sam Ryan, into the world. “Streets of Philadelphia” garnered a Golden Globe, and Oscar, and an armful of Grammys.

At long last, a greatest-hits package was released on 28th February 1995. Bruce did un-plug for his next album, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and the accompanying tour, which featured dates in more intimate venues, inevitably expanded into Europe. The album won a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Folk category. After a long international tour, the Springsteen family moved back to New Jersey. By 1998, Bruce had more than enough material for another boxed set, Tracks, which comprised a series of out-takes. In 1999, he was enshrined in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The E Street Band was on hand for the latter and they and Bruce reunited for the occasion. It turned out to be more than just a transitory reunion. Bruce and the band embarked on yet another international tour. By September, Bruce Springsteen was not only a star: He was a planet. I.P. Griffin discovered planet #23990 and named it after him. The reunion tour ended, fittingly, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and these performances have been immortalized on HBO and in CD and DVD format. To top it off, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live in New York City took home a pair of Emmys, in technical categories, no less.

Following the atrocities of 9/11, Bruce did a series of benefit concerts and was moved to write new material inspired by the events. The Rising rose to #1 on the Billboard album chart, and won another bucketful of Grammys. Its subsequent tour was another globe-trotting, large-scale affair that culminated at New York’s Shea Stadium. In total, Bruce and the band played 120 shows, reputedly shattering old box-office records in the process.

In 2003, Bruce won yet another Grammy award, this time in tandem with Warren Zevon, for their recording of “Disorder in the House”. He put his street cred on the line in 2004 when he actively campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. John lost the election, but the “Vote for Change” tour arguably galvanized the electorate. Bruce would do the same for Barack Obama in 2008, with better results.

In 2005, Bruce released an album sans E Street Band, entitled Devils & Dust. The album entered the charts at #1 in ten different countries, and the title track, which was about a soldier in Iraq, won another Grammy. It was followed by a solo tour that treated fans to Bruce’s multi-instrumental talents on autoharp, banjo, electric guitar, electric piano, harmonica, piano, pump organ, stomping board, and ukulele. Sirius fans of The Boss were treated to an all-Bruce, all-the-time radio station in the fall of 2005. Bruce paid homage to folk singer Pete Seeger in 2006 with We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. The album went to #3 and—you guessed it—won a Grammy. Unlike previous Olympian recording sessions, the album took all of three days to record.

In 2007, Bruce was enshrined in the New Jersey Hall of Fame. He also reunited with the E Street Band for his next album, Magic. It went to #1, and “Radio Nowhere” picked up a couple more Grammys. “Once upon a Time in the West” did the same in the rock-instrumental category.

On 17th April 2008, long-time E Street Band member Danny Federici passed away of complications from melanoma. He was replaced by accordionist and organist Charles Giordano. In 2008, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” won another Grammy. Bruce penned another movie theme, for the Mickey Rourke comeback film, The Wrestler. It won Critic’s Choice and Golden Globe awards in 2009, a year that opened with another #1 album, Working on a Dream. The corresponding tour got underway on April Fools Day. In September 2009, Bruce and the E Street Band took to performing entire albums in concert at Giants Stadium.

Bruce Springsteen recordings
Held up without a Gun (Bruce Springsteen)
Hungry Heart (Bruce Springsteen)