There is a big buzz on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s The River Tour. Friends of mine have been raving about the fact that not only do you see one of rock’s greatest albums played live in it’s entirety, but true to Springsteen’s crowd pleasing work ethic, you also get an extra hour of every Bruce song you’d ever want to hear, plus some wonderful surprises thrown in for good measure!
To retain long time fans and also garner new ones for over 40 years with must see concerts and this kind of palpable excitement permeating the media and the culture an artist has to work extremely hard. Something this big that lasts for this long usually comes down to one major item–work ethic.
I’ve known a lot of artists in my day but only a handful have a full on work ethic. Bruce Springsteen tops them all, and by far. I’ve never seen any other artist work nearly as hard to make each show as amazing as it can possibly be.
I go back to the beginning with him when he first signed with Columbia. I was part of a very small group of people who really got him early on and we all banded together (on a mission from God) to help him and the E Street Band realize their dreams and help turn the world on to the greatest artist in rock and roll since Elvis Presley. It was an amazing time–it was like one big family, Bruce, the band, the manager Jon Landau, and us, all trying together to make this thing happen.
I used to watch Bruce rehearse the band while he also took control of the sound check, which included getting the correct mix for the house. Back before there were wireless instruments Bruce had a guitar cable that had to be at least 150 feet long. He’d be at a big hall like Madison Square Garden and walk from the stage all the way back to the sound board so he could play his Fender Esquire along with the band while mixing the sound at the same time to his liking–we are talking 2 hour sound checks, and then he’d follow with his typical 4 hour show! Afterwards he’d stay and meet fans, radio, press, and retail people backstage for a couple more hours. He’d finally go back to the hotel at around 2:00 or 3:00AM, get some sleep and then wake up and do it all again the very next day–and the day after that, and the day after that. There is no accident or magic dust that makes Bruce Springsteen great—he makes himself great, and he won’t let up until he knows he’s totally and completely slayed his audience.
Once, Tom Donnarumma, our head of sales at the time, was back stage when Bruce came off the stage after doing 4 encores. Bruce was dripping wet with sweat and a bit winded. He peaked out from behind the curtain to check out the audience. Tom looked at him and said, “Bruce what are you looking at? You’ve already done way more than anyone would expect.” Bruce turned around, looked at Tom and declared, “I am in the business of the unexpected!!”
“Hungry Heart” from The River album was Bruce’s first big hit single. I was lucky enough to be at the Rosemont Theater show in Chicago the very first time the crowd sang the lyrics back to Bruce. It came as a total shock, but in the nicest of ways. The record was in the process of becoming a hit on top 40 radio. This was brand new territory for Bruce and it meant more new fans and those fans coming to a show with that specific song in their heads that they’d heard over an over again on their local top 40 radio station. The band started the intro and as Bruce put the mic up to his mouth before he could get the first words out the audience started singing! Bruce had never experienced anything like that before and his eyes nearly popped out of his head with amazement. He looked back at the band like, “What??!! Can you believe this?!!! Then he looked at Landau and us in the wings with the same astonished face, which quickly turned into a huge smile. Then he realized he had to sing the song himself after the audience had finished the first verse. It was funny watching him make a quick decision—do I just start singing the second verse or do I re-start the song from the beginning and repeat the first verse? Well, he chose the latter and he’s been doing it that way ever since. He was pumped beyond belief and it was the best time I’ve ever heard him sing “Hungry Heart”—a total artist and audience bonding—a euphoric and shared love fest.
A few nights later in Cleveland I called back to the New York office and the head of promotion confirmed that “Hungry Heart” was going all the way–it was going to be a huge hit record.
I caught up to Bruce backstage after the show and said, “Hey Boss, ka-ching ka-ching! You are about to have a real hit record. Given that you already sell a million records without a hit single you are about to make some REAL money!” Here’s the fun part—Bruce looks up at me and says, “Wow that’s great Rap, because you know my blue Vette? I’ve been lookin’ for some cool wheels for it for such a long time!” I laughed and replied, “No Bruce, I mean like enough money to buy the whole Corvette factory!!” He looked at me with quizzical eyes, started shaking his head, and walked away as if to say, “You’re nuts!!” He honestly didn’t understand what was about to happen.
Those innocent, on-the-way-up days to fame and superstardom are some of my fondest memories. It was all about the music and watching the audiences grow in numbers night after night in total discovery, realizing that they were becoming a part of the next big thing in rock and roll.
And we on the Bruce team all felt a camaraderie helping to make that next big thing happen. Those were magical times.
Well, the magic still continues to this day and you can be a part of it. The River Tour is in progress with some great US dates still coming up.
“Cadillac, Cadillac, long and dark, shiny and black, open up your engines and let ‘em roar, tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur!”
Ahhhh,..rock and roll like it ought to be!
© Paul Rappaport 2016