5 Questions About Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Answered
Bruce Springsteen's debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., hit shelves 45 years ago, and since then, The Boss has carved out a unique place in the music scene with the help of the E Street Band. He's sold millions of albums, yet he sticks to his working-class ethos; he's traveled all over the world, but his sound will never leave the Jersey Shore behind. His music crosses generations and seems to get more popular with each new album. But with that much history to explore, it's easy to have questions go unanswered. So whether you're a new fan or someone that's followed the band since those early Stone Pony days in Asbury Park, here's a quick Springsteen primer.
1. WHAT DOES "THEY BLEW UP THE CHICKEN MAN IN PHILLY LAST NIGHT" MEAN IN THE SONG "ATLANTIC CITY"?
The Chicken Man was Phil Testa, the underboss of the Philadelphia crime family under Angelo Bruno. Bruno was killed in 1980, and Testa, who got his nickname from his involvement in a poultry business, succeeded him as don of the family. His nine-month reign ended when conspirators in the family placed a nail bomb under his porch and detonated it when he walked out the front door.
2. IS THERE REALLY AN E STREET?
E Street runs northeast through the New Jersey shore town of Belmar. According to Springsteen lore, the band took its name from the street because original keyboard player David Sancious's mother lived there and allowed the band to rehearse in her house. The titular avenue of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" is also in Belmar.
3. WHAT'S "TENTH AVENUE FREEZE OUT" ALL ABOUT?
"Tenth Avenue" tells the story of how the band was formed. The "Bad Scooter" that's searching for his groove is a young Springsteen in search of a new backing band; the "Big Man" in the third verse is saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Springsteen met him while playing in a club in Asbury Park. It was a stormy night with strong winds, and when Clemons opened the door to the club, it flew off its hinges. Clemons was a larger-than-life figure in the band, their personal Paul Bunyan, and Springsteen likes to use the story as proof that Clemons, who died in 2011, could blow the doors off any room he was in. The horn intro was proposed and arranged by guitarist Steven Van Zandt, and at several concerts it's been performed by the Miami Horns, a horn section that includes La Bamba and Pender from Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
4. WHAT DO THE E STREET BAND MEMBERS DO WHEN THEY'RE NOT PLAYING WITH BRUCE?
In the late '60s and early '70s, the Jersey Shore had a lively music scene, especially in Asbury Park, and almost all the E Street musicians got their start in various shore bands like Little Melvin & The Invaders, The Downtown Tangiers Band, The Jaywalkers, Steel Mill, and Dr. Zoom & The Sonic Booms. Springsteen himself cut his teeth in The Castiles, Steel Mill, and even played with Chuck Berry, who toured without a band in the early '70s to save money. He would pick up local musicians at each tour stop to do a show or two, and Springsteen performed with him when he came to New Jersey.
During lulls in E Street activity, and during the 10 years between the band's dissolution and 1999 reunion, all the musicians kept themselves busy. Drummer Max Weinberg, of course, led the Max Weinberg 7, the former house band on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. He was also a session drummer on Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell (E Street pianist Roy Bittan also played on the album) and played on "Bat Out of Hell," "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth," and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," which gives him the honor of keeping the beat on two of the best selling rock albums of all time. He's also performed at the 1993 and 1997 Presidential Inauguration Galas, the 1995 Grammy Awards, the dedication of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and on albums by Sting, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Ringo Starr, and Barbra Streisand.
Steven Van Zandt took the role of Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, released some solo albums, hosts the syndicated garage rock radio show Little Steven's Underground Garage and, in 2006, assembled, and directed an all-star band to back Hank Williams, Jr. on the recording of "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" for the season premiere of Monday Night Football that included Little Richard, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, The Roots' Questlove, and Bootsy Collins. Van Zandt was also the director of the music selection committee that picked the songs for the video game Rock Band.
Before his death in 2011, Clarence Clemons made a brief foray into acting and appeared as one of the "Three Most Important People In The World" in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and made a guest appearance on Diff'rent Strokes as a saxophonist who helps Arnold Jackson learn to play. He also appeared twice on The Wire as a Baltimore youth-program organizer. During the '80s, he also owned a Big Man's West, a nightclub in Red Bank, New Jersey.
5. OH, AND WHY IS HE "THE BOSS"?
Well, when Springsteen was playing with the E Street band in the early days, he was the point man for the band's money. He was in charge of collecting whatever the band was owed and distributing to everyone afterwards. Hence, he became, quite literally, The Boss. Of course, being a boss goes against what most of his songs are about, so Springsteen isn't too keen on the nickname.