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Springsteen at His Best

I met my wife in New Jersey in the spring of 1973, and one of the first things she did was play me an album by a Jersey kid named Bruce Springsteen. He only had one album at the time, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. — his second album, The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, wasn’t released until September of that year. I was, of course, impressed, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Bruce Springsteen is one of those artists for whom I like their early stuff the best.  Eric Clapton and Joe Walsh are a couple of others that come to mind.  Some artists seem to do their best work when they’re young and hungry.  Springsteen’s Born in the USA album marked his ascent to the top of the music world; for me it’s a line of demarcation — my favorite stuff of his is what came before that.

My all-time #1 concert was when we saw Bruce and the E Street Band at McDonough Arena, Georgetown University (Washington DC) on December 6, 1975.  The show was part of the Born to Run tour (it had been released that summer), and they played songs from the first 3 albums. They were AMAZING.

Three weeks or so prior to that, Bruce and the band played their first-ever show in London, at Hammersmith Odeon on November 18. For those of you up on your Springsteen lore, this was the night he spent some time tearing down ‘Finally London is ready for Bruce Springsteen’ posters before the show. The band was as excellent as I remembered them from the show we saw. There’s some extended jamming like they didn’t do in later years. Ever want to hear an extended solo from Roy Bittan on piano or Bruce on guitar? Check out Kitty’s Back.  The show starts with the acoustic version of Thunder Road, with just Roy on piano and Bruce on harmonica.  When Bruce played at London’s Hyde Park in 2012, he opened with the same song, and introduced it as the first song he ever played in London, referring to this show.

A DVD of this show was included with the 30th anniversary release of Born to Run in 2005, and the concert was then released as an audio CD in 2006.  When I want to listen to some Springsteen, this is usually the one I turn to. I found the video on YouTube, so I include it here for your enjoyment.  It’s a must-see for Springsteen fans, and also for those who want to know what’s the big deal about this guy.

Rock at the Movie Theater

My wife and I recently spent two enjoyable evenings attending rock-related events at our local movie theater. The first event was the showing of the documentary Springsteen and I; the second was for Grateful Dead Meet Up at the Movies 2013 for the showing of the concert film Sunshine Daydream. The really big screen and a pretty good sound system made for an enjoyable viewing experience.

Both events had extra material in addition to the primary films. Plus, before the shows, instead of the usual promos for movies you couldn’t pay me to see and other commercials, they had things that were relevant to the show we were about to see. (Amazing!) Among other things, before the Springsteen show they had a video of the band in concert and before the Grateful Dead show they had a film of some amazing tie dye fabric with the band playing in the background.

Springsteen and I

Springsteen and I was put together by Ridley Scott Associates. They sent out a request to fans to make a film about what the music of Bruce Springsteen means to them. The film is made up of films that were submitted in response. It’s primarily aimed at fans, and my wife (the Jersey girl) and I, having first seen him in 1975, would certainly qualify. We loved it. Here are some reviews. Searching for “Springsteen and I” on YouTube will find many of the submissions.

The emotions run the gamut from heartfelt to hilarious. There are people who talk about how Bruce has provided the soundtrack to their life. There’s one from a woman who danced on stage with Bruce during Dancing in the Dark. I liked the one from the mother who, when she’s chauffeuring her kids around, will only play Springsteen. The funniest one was from a guy who went to a show in Philadelphia dressed as Elvis, and was pulled up on stage to do an Elvis song with the band. Then there was the English guy who went to the shows because his wife is a fan, and complained that the shows were too long.

The documentary is about 1:15. After that, they showed some concert footage and then some additional film of Bruce meeting with a few of the people whose films were included in the documentary (including the guy who thought the shows were too long and his wife). A wish-that-were-me moment.

The concert footage was of 6 songs from the band’s show in Hyde Park, London, in the summer of 2012. Apparently it was televised in England and, as a result, the performance is available on YouTube. The highlight, by far, comes when Paul McCartney joins them to do a couple of Beatles songs at the end. I know that, for most of you, it’s just a couple of old guys playing. Bruce was about 14 when the Beatles first came out, so he had a ‘that’s what I want to do’ moment as a young kid watching them. When introducing Paul, he says that he’s waited 50 years to do this. The set list:

  • Thunder Road (with just Roy Bittan on piano and Bruce on harmonica)
  • Shackled and Drawn
  • Because the Night (has an amazing guitar solo from Nils Lofgren)
  • We Are Alive
  • I Saw Her Standing There (with Paul McCartney)
  • Twist and Shout (with Paul McCartney)

Sunshine Daydream

This is a film of part of a Grateful Dead concert that took place on August 27, 1972 in Veneta, Oregon. The concert was staged as a benefit for the Springfield Creamery, which was owned by the family of author Ken Kesey. The friendship between the Grateful Dead and Kesey and the Merry Pranksters is well-documented (particularly in Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).

Since it was a relatively primitive time technologically, and due to cost, the show was recorded on 16mm video. They didn’t get the whole show, including the end because the sun went down and they weren’t able to film after sunset. Recently, the video and audio have been cleaned up using modern technology and they salvaged more of the video; that’s what we saw at the movie theater. In addition to the concert film, they also showed a documentary called Grateful Days, which talks about how the show was put together and has a number of interviews with people who were there that day. They are now selling this revised film at the Grateful Dead’s website, along with a 3-CD set of the complete concert, plus the documentary.

They may not have the whole concert on video, but what they do have is outstanding. The band was in fine form that day. The only gripe I have is that since filming ended because of darkness, we don’t get to see Sugar Magnolia, Casey Jones and One More Saturday Night. The other thing you get from the concert film plus the documentary is a sense of the culture that the Grateful Dead were a part of. The Springfield Creamery was part of the then-new organic food movement, and you see how caring for the earth is part of the movement too.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the (complete) show. This is from the Grateful Dead Internet Archives, which has two types of recordings — audience microphone and sound board. The link is for a sound board recording, which can only be streamed. If you want to download the show, search on the site for “1972-08-27” — there are also audience recordings of this show. And, in case you are wondering, the site has a recording of just about every show the Grateful Dead played during their 30-year career.

I also found an older video of Sunshine Daydream on YouTube, which is linked below. It is definitely worth watching, but it’s less than what we saw in the updated version that was shown in the theater. There’s at least one more song that they were able to restore in the revised version of the film, and, while I didn’t watch every minute of the YouTube version, I didn’t see any of the “naked hippies dancing” part. You can still see and hear how great they were that day. We’ve ordered the DVD/CD package.

Great Moments in Rock – La Bamba (Richie Rosenberg)

Anyone who is a fan of the Conan O’Brien TV show (link for original show here) is familiar with trombone player Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg. You may not know about his history before the show. He got started as a member of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The Jukes were part of the New Jersey scene that included Bruce Springsteen (who gave La Bamba his nickname). In fact, E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt was a member of the Jukes in the early days. That also explains how La Bamba knew E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, who recruited him for the Conan O’Brien Show band.

Below is a link for the Jukes’ song When You Dance, written by Springsteen and Van Zandt, which first appeared on the 1977 album This Time It’s For Real. This shows that La Bamba had a flair for comedy 35 years ago. At the beginning of the song the band is chanting “La Bamba, La Bamba, …” while La Bamba does a crazed elephant impersonation on his trombone. It’s hilarious and it’s a great song; give it a listen:

Click here to listen

My Favorite Singer

My favorite singer is the answer to an interesting bit of trivia — In all of the Led Zeppelin albums, there is only one song that has a vocalist from outside the band. The singer is Sandy Denny and the song is The Battle of Evermore. As I stated in my Introduction to this blog, I listen to the voice as an instrument, and I think Sandy Denny’s voice is just beautiful. Listen to her duet with Robert Plant:

Sandy Denny was best known as the lead singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention (she was a member of the band from 1968-70 and 1974-75). Fairport Convention are, according to their Wikipedia biography, “widely regarded as the most important single group in the English folk rock movement. Their seminal album Liege and Lief is generally considered to have launched the electric folk or English folk rock movement, which provided a distinctively English identity to rock music and helped awaken much wider interest in traditional music in general.”

Here are videos for two traditional folk songs from Liege and Lief that showcase her wonderful singing. The first is English folk ballad Matty Groves, about an adulterous affair that ends badly:

Tam Lin is a Scottish ballad about a man who is a captive of the faeries and the woman who rescues him:

Sandy Denny was also an accomplished songwriter and musician. Best known of her compositions is Who Knows Where the Time Goes, which was a hit for Judy Collins and has been covered by many others. Here’s a video of Sandy performing her song:

I didn’t find a lot of live footage of her, but I did find this clip of her performing 3 songs while accompanying herself on piano and guitar — North Star Grassman and the Ravens, Crazy Lady Blues and Late November. The first song is the title of one of her solo albums.

Sadly, she died young, at 30. She left behind an impressive body of work, and that wonderful voice that we can listen to.


NRBQ was a band that could play a little bit of everything, from rockabilly to Beatles-influenced pop to jazz and blues. They were what I think of as a musician’s band — no great commercial success but popular with other musicians (Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney were fans). They were famous for taking requests from the audience and playing ANY song that was requested. In my opinion, the best bar band ever. They flirted with widespread recognition on several occasions, but never quite got there. Get That Gasoline Blues reached #70 on the Billboard charts in 1974, their only appearance in the Hot 100.

NRBQ stood for New Rhythm and Blues Quartet during most of the band’s existence, but the “Q” originally stood for Quintet, since they started out in 1967 as a 5-piece band.  A handy abbreviation I would say. From 1974 to 1994 the band members were Terry Adams (keyboards), Joey Spampinato (bass), Al Anderson (guitar), and Tom Ardolino (drums).

The following video of them performing the rockabilly classic I Got a Rocket in My Pocket shows some of their strong points. You can see them careening back and forth between order and chaos.  Terry Adams demonstrates that the piano can be a percussion instrument.

The song Me and the Boys was one of their most popular. It was covered by Dave Edmunds, Bonnie Raitt, Thin Lizzy and Twisted Sister, among others, and the Dave Edmunds version was used in the movie Spring Break. Here’s a video of NRBQ with the Whole Wheat Horns (who doubled as the band’s roadies). Donn Adams (Terry’s brother) on trombone does a fine impression of a car taking off at the end.

This next song, Ridin’ in My Car, should have been a hit. It’s a terrific song that has all the ingredients for a great pop song. Here’s the video:

The song was recently covered by She and Him. Here’s a video of them doing the song along with NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson (who wrote the song).

One more great pop song — Magnet — which is one of my favorite songs ever.  I love the lyric “You’re like a magnet, I’m like a piece of steel, the way you break my will”. This is the only video I could find with NRBQ’s version of the song:

Meat Puppets

My wife and I have found a number of bands over the years by taking a chance — we’ll read a favorable review and say “let’s try them”. (We’ve also ended up with a few ‘I can’t believe I bought that one’ albums.) That’s how we stumbled upon the Meat Puppets. Pre-Internet, it wasn’t easy to check out bands before buying, so you had to plunk down your money and hope for the best. My wife decided that good review + weird name = let’s buy it, so we got our first Meat Puppets album in the mid-80s. It turns out that they’re a great band that has produced a lot of terrific music.

The band was formed in 1980 in Arizona, by brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood (with Curt on guitar and vocals and Cris on bass) and drummer Derrick Bostrom. They started out as a hardcore punk band, and later added psychedelic rock and country elements to the mix. They have disbanded a couple of times and then re-formed. They are currently together (as of January 2012), and released the album Lollipop in April 2011.

Curt Kirkwood is one of the best guitarists I’ve heard, and that, more than anything, is why I’ve followed their career and bought several of their albums. I think that their taste for the bizarre and macabre in song lyrics and images in their videos is the main reason why they remain relatively obscure. In a previous post, I talked about how, for me, the lyrical content of a song isn’t very important as long as the music sounds good. The Meat Puppets are a good example of a band where this comes into play. If lyrics matter a lot to you, or if you’re looking for an emotional lift from a song, you probably won’t think too much of the Meat Puppets. I love them because their music sounds so good. As an example, here’s a video for the song Orange from last year’s Lollipop album:

One of their best-known songs from the early days was the title track of their third album, Up on the Sun. Here’s a video that includes some of Kirk’s improvisation:

The band reached their peak of prominence in the early 90’s. The members of Nirvana were big fans, and they invited the Kirkwood brothers to appear with them on their legendary 1993 appearance on MTV Unplugged, where they did three Meat Puppets songs in their set. The Meat Puppets’ next album, Too High to Die, released in 1994, was their most successful, and the single Backwater made it onto the charts. Here’s a video of them playing Backwater:

Here’s another great song with huh? lyrics, Scum, from their 1995 album No Joke (“Under the stone, we find the scum”):

To conclude, here’s one more video, for the song Vile from 2011’s Lollipop album, which I want to include just because it’s a damn good song:

Neil Young

Neil Young is an amazing musician, a master of several styles of guitar playing. In addition to being the godfather of grunge rock, he’s also outstanding playing folk and country, and has challenged himself by playing with a wide variety of people through the course of his career. He’s also as good at songwriting as he is at playing. In another post, I recommended his film Rust Never Sleeps. In the film, he does the same song two different ways — folk and grunge — demonstrating his mastery of both styles. Here are videos (not from the film) of both versions:

Hey Hey My My (Out of the Blue) is the folk version, performed on acoustic guitar with harmonica. This version is from from Farm Aid 1985:

Hey Hey My My (Into the Black) is the grunge version, performed with Crazy Horse. This version is from the Phoenix Festival in 1996:

He first became known in the US as a member of the short-lived but highly influential band Buffalo Springfield. Here is a video of them doing Neil’s song Mr. Soul at the Hollywood Palace in 1967:

Neil collaborated with Crazy Horse many times over the years. He’s playing with them in the grunge version of Hey Hey My My (above), and he played with them in the film Rust Never Sleeps. His first collaboration with Crazy Horse was the album that established his prominence, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which was released in 1969. This trailer describes the effort in 1997 to restore and release five tracks from the band’s March 1970 performance at Fillmore East. Here’s one of those tracks, Cowgirl in the Sand:

Neil and Steven Stills were both members of Buffalo Springfield, which led to Neil playing with Crosby, Stills and Nash on occasion through the years. Here are Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performing Ohio on 3/30/2000 in Toronto:

Neil played with many musicians over the years. For example, he recorded his twenty-third studio album, Mirror Ball, in 1995 with Pearl Jam as his band. Here they are playing Rockin in the Free World:

I’ll freely admit that I like his rock music the best, but I also like his acoustic music. For the last twenty-five years, he has held an all-acoustic benefit concert for the Bridge School in Marin County, California. The list of performers over the years has been a “who’s who in rock and roll” (look at the list of performers in the history section of the website). He’s made an effort over the years to include younger artists. Here’s a performance from the most recent concert in October 2011, with Neil and fellow Canadians Arcade Fire doing Helpless:

Here’s another performance from the same show, with Neil doing Pocahontas with Beck:

As with some of the other artists I’ve written about, it’s hard to decide where to stop. I hope I’ve given you motivation to go find more about this great artist, and some clues as to where to find it.