Story 2011-03-00 Renegade Nation Studio, New York City, NY

Our Musical Roots

Thanks to our friends at the Underground Garage, this is the official unedited transcript of the conversation between Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt originally broadcast in edited form over three episodes in April 2011. Here Bruce and Steve focus on their primary influences and in so doing give a potted history of Jersey Shore music, trends and influences between 1963 to 1969.

Bruce Springsteen: (playing music from his laptop)- Do you know this one ? This is “Hosanna “by The Darwin’s Theory. Its incredible ! At least, it sounds pretty good once it gets going.

Steve Van Zandt: Let me guess- its from 1966 ?

Bruce Springsteen: 1965. Lets talk about our actual immediate roots. For me, it’s the British invasion. Period- that’s it. Yes, there were things that lit a small fire when I was 9 or 10 –Elvis and all that but that soon past because we were young and just kids. But the real explosion was the British invasion and literally everything I thought about and wrote about came out of that. Period.

Steve Van Zandt: Yeah, me to. Up until then you would hear songs and you would like them. I remember hearing certain singles like Duke of Earl but I never thought of doing it. I never knew anything about the 50’s-nothing. It might have been different for you.

Bruce Springsteen: Well, I did see Elvis and so we went out and rented a guitar. I didn’t want to buy one because what were the chances of me using it two weeks after I got it. I wish I kept it-its probably a 1959 Gibson J200- a classic or something. So I brought it home and tried to play it for two weeks. But that was it –period –until February 9, 1964. So it was a 5 year gap from the point of desire to actual ignition. The first record I bought was an EP by Dusty Rhodes covering four Elvis songs. Remember in those days they would make EPs of four top singles that you could buy for 59c instead of 99c and you would get four songs instead of two.

Steve Van Zandt: So you had no guitar lessons and just started playing ?

Bruce Springsteen: No- I did take a lesson but they were horrible in those days. The first thing they wanted you to do was to read music but I needed instant gratification. I needed to rock now ! Not later- not after I learned the scale; not after I learned those notes with the names. I am not buzzing on the B string- I need to make an horrific meal right now ! No one could teach me that in those days. Mike Deal, the guy in “Deals Music” in Freehold was clueless as to the power of the instrument he had in his hands and he had no way of transmitting its significance to an incoherent nine year old ! So the whole thing was ass backwards and wasn’t going to work but I took a shot at it at nine years old.

Steve Van Zandt: Do you remember the singles you purchased in between ?

Bruce Springsteen: I bought the Elvis EP but I don’t remember really buying any records before the British Invasion. I might have bought a couple of Beach boys singles during the surf music craze. Maybe Dick Dale “Miserlou” and there was also the Four Seasons. I bought their singles-they had incredible productions.

Steve Van Zandt: Yeah, “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe.

Bruce Springsteen: Yeah- Gaudio and Crewe. I bought all of those and then I bought “South Street” by the Orlons because I lived on South Street. “Where do all the hippies meet ? South Street”. That’s my house- there were no hippies there-just my Mom and Dad and my kid sister. But that record added cache to the address. I also bought “ Don’t hand up for love”. The Orlons were cool-they had some great stuff.

Steve Van Zandt: That’s part of the Cameo -Parkway gang. Very under rated.

Bruce Springsteen: A great record label.

Steve Van Zandt: They had all the dance records. Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharpe, Mashed Potato Time. They also had the Dovells.

Bruce Springsteen: I also bought James Darins “ Goodbye Cruel World” which I just bought again on ITunes the other day to see if it still held the same buzz for me. You see, what you are interested in when you are young are novelty records. My kids are interested in novelty records. So at that time, there was that strange place where pop records crossed over into novelty music. So I bought things like “Purple People Eater” and I spent hundreds of my Mother’s dimes trying to hear “Purple People Eater” over and over again. Or Lonnie Donegan- “ Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost…” I would stay up all night to hear a Lonnie Donegan record. When I was young, that’s what initially caught my ear. What’s the first record you bought ?

Steve Van Zandt: Mine was “Tears on Your Pillow” by Little Anthony.

Bruce Springsteen: You started very high end here. That’s a serious piece of music.

Steve Van Zandt: Yeah, I don’t know why. And I also remember my Aunt bought me “Poison Ivy” by the Coasters when I was a kid. The Coasters wrote the book on novelty records. And I bought “the Duke of Earl’, Palisades Park ”, You Cant’t Sit Down”, “Bristol Stomp”….

Bruce Springsteen: Philadelphia was influential. We were in New Jersey and we were half way to Philly. On our television we got all the New York stations and we got 3 and 6 and we also got all the Philadelphia stations. I used to see all of the Philadelphia tea shows- Jerry Butler, Steel Pier from Atlantic City. Lloyd Thaxton

Steve Van Zandt: Its amazing how much rock’n roll was on TV in those days.

Bruce Springsteen: I might have bought a Beach Boys album before the British invasion. All of that stuff was very influential along the Shore.

Steve Van Zandt: Lets get to the most important album we ever owned…

Bruce Springsteen: Meet the Beatles

Steve Van Zandt: Yes, which we thought was their first album but it was the second. But everything changed. That was the beginning. We saw them on Ed Sullivan, February 9.

Bruce Springsteen: Oh yeah. That was it. Battle lines were drawn in 68 South Street on February 9, 1964.

Steve Van Zandt: And at 263 Wilson Avenue also. You see I never had the thing of wanting to be in the business until that moment. It was the band thing that appealed to me. Individuals didn’t appeal to me in the way that I wanted to do it. I liked them and I bought occasional records but it wasn’t until the Beatles came that it happened.

Bruce Springsteen: That’s right. The folk music boom happened pre –British Invasion. That was stirring and I had some interest through my cousin Frankie . There was the Hootenanny Show on prime time television and folk music became completely main stream and it was huge. My cousin initially played the accordion and then bought a guitar and I remember going over his house and he was playing the New Christie Minstrels and those groups were having hits at the time. The Roof Top Singers –“Walk right in, sit right down”

Steve Van Zandt: We had never heard of Bob Dylan.

Bruce Springsteen: No –we had heard the song. Peter Paul and Mary….

Steve Van Zandt: Yeah, the most money he had ever made. That’s how history gets made because he later went down to the Byrds rehearsal to talk them into doing “Mr Tambourine Man” which they didn’t want to do.

Bruce Springsteen: I tried the accordion one Christmas- that’s was impossible so I said “Forget it”. So my cousin gave me a lend of his guitar and he gave me a book called “100 Greatest American Folk Songs” and that was the first thing I ever tried to play before “Twist and Shout”.

Steve Van Zandt: Did you go back to lessons again ? How did you learn to play chords.

Bruce Springsteen: I went down to Western Auto and bought a $18 guitar . It was barely playable but that’s what I scrubbed out all of my early chord progressions on.

Steve Van Zandt: How did you play it ? How did you know ?

Bruce Springsteen: At first I didn’t. I just bought it home and played it “as tuned’ which was not tuned at all. So I taught myself a variety of “ear things” on a completely untuned guitar. I then made the mistake of taking it to my cousin Frankie who tuned it so now everything I had learned was useless. He said, “See where those little dots are ? That’s where you put your fingers, you idiot!” So he gave me the book and I went home with the chord charts. How did you start ?

Steve Van Zandt: My mother’s father, Grandpa Lento showed me some songs from his village in Calabria. And we then discovered an acoustic guitar in my father’s mother’s attic. So Grandpa Lento started teaching me folk songs from Italy. And I got about a year’s jump before The Beatles hit. So I was 13. I started taking lessons- “Old Macdonald had a farm”- I learned the notes….and the guy said. “Gee, you have natural talent” And I said “ Good- Why did I need you for then ?” But I wasn’t interested in “Old Macdonald Had a farm”. I wanted to learn The Beatles but that was hard to learn.

Bruce Springsteen: It was. In a small town, there was no music school or music teacher who even thought about teaching rock’n roll music. You had to learn scales, then maybe notes and then I you were lucky, they might teach you a chord.

Steve Van Zandt: Looking back, what were they actually grooming you for ?

Bruce Springsteen: A wedding band – that’s what they were grooming you for.

Steve Van Zandt: So The Beatles hit. What was the first Beatles song you heard ?

Bruce Springsteen: Well, going back to the what they were grooming you for –they were NOT grooming you for when lightening strikes. They wanted you to read music. They wanted you to be able to sit with other musicians and to have a musical language. Whereas rock’n roll was lightening and there was no way you could groom someone for that to occur. So there was a completely different mind set.

Steve Van Zandt: Now that you mention it. I think chords were the last thing you learned.

Bruce Springsteen: You learned notes first. You learned the building blocks of musical language first with the idea of learning something in a sane, constructive manner. Whereas rock was the opposite. It was three chords and “.Get me on this now !” The immediacy of rock was thought of as something sloppy.

Steve Van Zandt: Its funny how chords were not part of the lessons. Why would you want to play chords ?

Bruce Springsteen: My own kids now –the first thing they learn is chords and start to strum a song that they like. But in those days- no. I don’t even want to begin to think how long it would have taken to get to the three chords of “Twist and Shout” at the rate I was learning.

Steve Van Zandt: Now lets discuss the single record that changed the world. “Twist and Shout” was the first one I heard.

Bruce Springsteen:Me too.

Steve Van Zandt: What did you think ?

Bruce Springsteen: My world changed. Literally. I mean it. My world changed. It didn’t sound like anything you have ever heard before. When you hear something like that, your hair stands on end and on your arms. It has some strange and voodoo like effect on you. You can’t figure it out. All I remember, is that I heard it in my mother’s car and I ran straight to the bowling alley to call my girl friend . I said to her “ Have you heard this song called “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles . It stopped my day when it hit and that was even before I knew what they looked like.

Steve Van Zandt: It got leaked to radio just after Christmas ’63 and we would see them five weeks later on Ed Sullivan. We had never seen anything like it.

Bruce Springsteen: It was guitar based in an unusual way. If you think about music at that time,with a few exceptions, the self contained group did not exist. In The Beatles, everything had to be done with two guitars, bass and drums and then the integration of the two guys doing the singing and the writing. The sound of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand is fascinating. If you remove the voices it is unique of itself.

Steve Van Zandt: I guess they were influenced to some extent by the Crickets-that’s where they got the name from. But uniquely they also had four lead singers and that would prove to be unusual even later. If you look through the whole history of rock’n roll there have only been a few groups that have that phenomenal harmony. It always came from multiple lead singers singing harmony.

Bruce Springsteen: Did you buy the Tony Sheridan records ?

Steve Van Zandt: Yes

Bruce Springsteen:Before The Beatles records were available, there were the Tony Sheridan records.

Steve Van Zandt: We thought it was them !

Bruce Springsteen: Yes, we did. It was billed “Tony Sheridan and the Beatles”. I guess they were backing him. There was a version of “My Bonny” and “ Ain’t She Sweet”

Steve Van Zandt: It was confusing there for a while and then, all of a sudden, all the singles started coming out. We didn’t know that there first four singles were turned down over here.

Bruce Springsteen: I’m glad the first one I heard was “ I Wanna Hold Your Hand” because that was for me a nuclear explosion. What were the other early singles ? “Love Me Do”, I guess?

Steve Van Zandt: The first single was “Love Me Do” and then “Please , Please Me”.

Bruce Springsteen: Oh-My God ! Whoa ! Wait a minute.

Steve Van Zandt: Yeah-they had it right from the beginning.

Bruce Springsteen: That’s right, I could have went with those.

Steve Van Zandt: Then “From Me To You”

Bruce Springsteen: Oh- that could have been nice. That is still one of my favourite ever records.

Steve Van Zandt: And then there was “She Loves You”. That’s no slouch !

Bruce Springsteen: What ! That was before “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. Whoa- we would have been alright ! But “From Me To You” and “Please Please Me” are both still two of my favourite ever things.

Steve Van Zandt: Del Shannon covered “From Me To You” . He had toured with them and grabbed the song.

Bruce Springsteen: Great version. Fabulous. What was next ?

Steve Van Zandt: The Dave Clark Five were next.

Bruce Springsteen: That’s right. That’s what caught my attention.

Steve Van Zandt: They were a very interesting and unique band being a throwback and maybe a little influence on us by having a saxophone.

Bruce Springsteen: They had a little more 50’s element to what they did as a result of the saxophone and then they covered “Do You love Me”. But what stood out for me was the incredible sound of those records. They were some of the best produced “small band” records that I have ever heard. You put those records on and they just roar.

Steve Van Zandt: It was interesting because a few of the groups-and they were one of them- would not make the transition into later 60’s rock success.

Bruce Springsteen: It is interesting. I don’t know why that was. If we looked at it- they had a moment which probably lasted a year at best. We tried to play “Anyway You Want” live once and we just couldn’t pull it off. Its such an incredible sounding record.

Steve Van Zandt: The next big group was actually “Herman’s Hermits”. Again the novelty thing comes up again here with Henry the Eighth and it hurt their career. I remember Frank Barcelona telling me that their producer Micky Most did not want that song released because it would hurt their career.

Bruce Springsteen: Well, they got stuck in a situation and had to create endless novelty records. But things like “I’m Into Something Good” is a phenomenal song and they made a beautiful record of it. They had a lot of hits over a short period.

Steve Van Zandt: I think Peter went with the novelty factor . I think he had been a child actor but in the end this hurt their credibility which was unfair I think. Because they were a terrific band live. But to this day, they have trouble getting into The Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame because they are not taken seriously.

Bruce Springsteen: It was very connected to the British Music Hall tradition. And it was almost a pre-rock throwback. I remember the night I aw them in Asbury Park they were the headlining Act with The Who and Blues Magoos. It was a wild night. No one knew that Pete Townshend was going to smash his guitar and beat the Hell out of the amps at the end of the show. Shock and awe wne t over the Jersey Shore ! We couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.

Steve Van Zandt: Now- get ready- we come to The Animals.

Bruce Springsteen: They were truly apocalyptic to me. “House of The Rising Sun” is still one of the great apocalyptic rock records of all time. When that thing comes on-it is still a very dark and great, great incredible record. And they had a lot of them. They were also the first real, flat out class conscious white rock artists. “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “In My Life” and “Outside looking In”. It was all very class conscious pop. It was always pop’s undercurrent-“Down in the boondocks” “The Poor side of town” – it is a recurring them in rock but they did something with it. They made it grow up. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” is a work song. What do they yell ? “WORK !, WORK !. WORK!”. That’s the chant. For me those records are way, way influential. Beyond that- way, way up there. To this day it remains. In “Darkness On the Edge of Town” in both Prove It All Night” and in “Badlands”, I tried to rip off “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. If you play the intros side by side, you will see the similarities. That was still my model in 1977

(Bruce uses guitar to demonstrate the similarities between “Prove It”, “Badlands” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. )

Bruce Springsteen: So there you –these are songwriters secrets ! I wrote both of them on the piano. I flipped them from minor to major. Close-but not close enough to give you legal problems ! . Another thing is, everyone of The Animals records had the big presentational opening riff. It announced its presence.

(Bruce plays the riff to “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place”)

Bruce Springsteen: they all started off with “Here it comes”. And Eric’s voice. It was never a young man’s voice. What was he- twenty years old the time ? Where that voice came from at the time, I don’t know. To me it is still one of the great voices of rock’n roll and it took that kind of writing to a very mature level. You cn just go down the list- “I’m Crying”, “Don’t Let Me Down”- I love ‘em.
That’s how its done kids- that’s all you need to know. Go to your rooms-find a riff you like –flip it from minor to major- and you are on your way !

Steve Van Zandt: Now- The Kinks and the invention of the hard rock riff.

Bruce Springsteen: “You Really Got Me” - and ironically, it was written on the piano. I have privileged insider information on this, having sang on the recent Ray Davies record a few months ago. I went to those sessions and I said- “ All I want to know is how did you come up with this ?” (Bruce plays the riff) Ray said- “I wrote it on the piano!” It was the end of some song that Dave had been writing which is why is it goes to “A” next, which is a move you would make on the piano but not on the guitar. So the ironic thing is that the invention of guitar riff rock began on the piano. You have heard that riff played a thousand other times but it has never sounded better than on that Kinks record. We need to find out what guitar they was using because in my opinion no guitar has ever sounded better than on those early Kinks record like “All of the Day and All of the Night”.

Steve Van Zandt: They were an interesting mix because they didn’t quite break through. They were quite big and they had four or five hits but they had management problems and union problems and immigration problems .

Bruce Springsteen: What the Kinks were unique for was that they combined incredible primitivism with sophistication. If you go into the structure of those songs (he plays “All of the day and all of the night”) you go through two key changes…

Steve Van Zandt: And the melody just blasts through the two changes without regard.
That’s the point where Ray invented the stupid melody.

Bruce Springsteen: Exactly-that’s where you sing the notes of the riff which The Troggs then took to fabulously absurd new lengths on many of their records.

Steve Van Zandt: And The Kinks manager became their producer. But in lesser hands, the “stupid melody “ would have remained stupid but in this case with a genius like Ray, it became a primitive cry of desperation.

Bruce Springsteen: they always had an intelligence and sophistication that shone through that stuff which was an interesting blend on all of those early Kinks records. They truly did have both things- think of “Till The End of The Day” – incredible.

Steve Van Zandt: Phenomenal. And “Tired of Waiting for You”- such an important song and Dave added that riff on the bottom.

Bruce Springsteen: “Till the end of the day”- (he plays it on his laptop)

Steve Van Zandt: The Yardbirds introduced us to a whole new level of guitar playing .

Bruce Springsteen: I had a religious experience related to that recently at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame where I saw Jeff Beck’s Telecaster which for me is the Holy Grail. Fo some people it is Hendrix’s Stratocaster or Eric Clapton’s Les Paul and Neil’s got the black Gibson but for me Beck’s guitar was everything I thought was the essence of the rock’n roll guitar post surf guitar . I used to buy surf magazines just to look at the Fender guitar ads . Those magazines would have beautiful three part adds where they would have color photographs of a Stratocaster, a Jazzmaster and a Jaguar guitar on a double page. They didn’t even think of putting the Telecaster in there because it was the low rent model. But they used to put these beautiful guitars on the beach somewhere. and I would have thrown out the Playboy magazine just to keep those Fender guitar ads which I stared at every night. I had all of the fun I needed to have just looking at that thing. Night after night it was like, where is a world where a man could own those three guitars. But then came Jeff Beck’s guitar because you and I had the luck of going to the city and seeing Teddy Spealios who had, at that exact moment, mastered a lot of Jeff’s style and technique so we could go and sit two feet from the guitar player and he was incredible.

Steve Van Zandt: He was in a group called The Source who recorded as “Kangaroo” and they also included Congressman John Hall in that band. But even though we were only two feet away we couldn’t figure out what he was doing.

Bruce Springsteen: We didn’t know what the Hell was going on. We came all the way from New Jersey on the Lincoln Transit Bus arguing who was better Led Zeppelin or Cream. Two weeks ago I was in the village in that part of town where you have dinner and exactly on the opposite corner was where I played 45 years ago. So I said, I am going to go downstairs and see if it is still the same and I did and it was EXACTLY the same ! They had changed nothing –Steven believe me- it was THE same as it was in 1966 when we were there. But you know, you and I used to sit in front of Teddy and ask him how he got that amazing sound.

Steve Van Zandt: Yeah and one day, we worked up the courage to ask him and he said –“You turn it up “.

Bruce Springsteen: But we didn’t know how to do that because we went straight home that day and we turned it up and it sounded like Hell.

Steve Van Zandt: It wasn’t until you found this amazing guitar…

Bruce Springsteen: The first distortion on the Shore !

Steve Van Zandt: Yep- Which was actually a bass but we didn’t know it and we used to wonder why the strings didn’t fit.

Bruce Springsteen: I got it from an ex marine who told me he had a guitar in the garage . He said “..Its got a long neck but no strings. “ So I said, “It looks kinda strange. Its got no strings and only one pick up. So I put the guitar strings on it and the thing that surprised me was that they just barely made it on and you didn’t have to cut them !. But when I plugged that thing in – whoa ! (plays “Sunshine of Your Love”) I was suddenly Eric Clapton overnight !

Steve Van Zandt: And the reason was it didn’t have the trebles or the highs to feedback –it could only feedback in a good way !

Bruce Springsteen: Exactly ! So you could turn the damn thing up and it was the exact sound from “Sunshine of Your Love” .

Steve Van Zandt: We had hit oil – the Holy Grail ! You played that crazy thing for a long tie didn’t you ?

Bruce Springsteen: I did. Until a kid came up to me and said, “ That’s cool, man. That’s pretty smart- stringing that bass with guitar strings.” I said, “yeah, that’s right…” And I turned away and thought “ Shit –I’ve playing the bass guitar for the last year- strung like a bass.”

Steve Van Zandt: Major brakethrough there. Major breakthrough which led directly to our success today.

Bruce Springsteen: So The Yardbirds –God – “Heart Full of Soul”- we played the Hell out of that. They brought in that Gregorian Chant thing –“For Your Love” was amazing. And of course, “Under Over Sideways Down”, I’m a Man and then of course, the ultimate test for any guitar player –Could you play “Jeff’s boogie “? And the answer was “No”. You could fake your way through Jeff’s boogie but you could not play it. That was a touchstone back in the day. Everybody was taking their axe to that thing.

Steve Van Zandt: Yeah – You would slow down the turn table to try and understand how to play it.

Bruce Springsteen: Yeah –I feel sorry for the young guitarists today who don’t have turntables .But in the old days, there was a disc that turned and that disc could be slowed down to a variety of speeds -78, 45 and 33 and that’s how I learned “Jeff’s boogie” -at 33 and a third. (sings it)

Steve Van Zandt: Of course, we didn’t realize he was paying two guitars at the time !

Bruce Springsteen: No wonder I couldn’t play it.

Steve Van Zandt: Then The Hollies –Is there anything any better than “Look through Any Window ?

Bruce Springsteen: No, no. My God.

Steve Van Zandt: One of those riffs that to this day, we would have difficulty playing.
Your using open strings at first and then it modulates.

Bruce Springsteen: That was a problem. Once that modulation hit –you were swimming in deep water.

Steve Van Zandt: So for about a year and a half from February 1964 it was all the British Invasion until then the Americans took the charts back with The Byrds and folk rock. And they introduced Bob Dylan. I guess we always knew that it was a Dylan song.

Bruce Springsteen: No –I didn’t know that “Mr Tamborine Man was a Bob Dylan song. I did’nt listen to any of the Dylan folk albums.

Steve Van Zandt: None ?

Bruce Springsteen: None at all. The first Dylan record I ever heard was “Like a Rolling Stone””. But I was strictly “hit radio” and hit radio was the British Invasion. And the only folk stuff I heard was on hit radio at the time or because it was on hit television. I had no other musical background. I was strictly pop charts and I never heard any Dylan music until I heard “Like A Rolling Stone”. Later on , I went back and listened to all of his records but before that I was strictly top 40 rock’ n roll music. You knew when you were hearing “Like a rolling Stone” that it had a breath and depth that you just knew it was another revolutionary moment.

Steve Van Zandt: In top 40 terms, he was saved by The Byrds because top 40 radio would not have played Bob Dylan. He did not have a top 40 voice and I think The Byrds sets that up. And then, out of that, all of a sudden explodes “garage rock.” Which was a sort of combination of the British Invasion and folk rock.

Bruce Springsteen: Another enormous influence on both of us was then Motown and Stax and they go hand in hand with our British influence. In terms of arrangments and putting a band together, that’s the other side of the scale.

Steve Van Zandt: The British Invasion would put a lot of people out of work. Little Richard, Bo Diddley and all the pioneers. So ironically, they put their own heroes out of work.

Bruce Springsteen: Mowtown, Stax, The Beach Boys – they survived.

Steve Van Zandt: The Beatles and other guys had hits with some of their songs just months after they were released. So soul music survived.

Bruce Springsteen: The Beatles covered The Marvelettes and Please Mr Postman. The Beatles covered a lot of Motown with a tremendous amount of love.

Steve Van Zandt: And The Stones did “Hitchhike” and “Can I get A Witness.” We haven’t talked about the Stones yet. And so there is Motown with that ridiculous roster of great acts –The Temptations, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye.

Bruce Springsteen: And then the songwriters -incredible record production and songwriting.

Steve Van Zandt: Whats funny is you go back and look at some of the old TV shows which we were very lucky to have so many of- on comes The Beatles followed by Marvin Gaye, on come The Stones then come The Chiffons.

Bruce Springsteen: It was that moment when it all co-existed.

Steve Van Zandt: everyone of those shows had soul music right there-every other act.

Bruce Springsteen: Absolutely.

Steve Van Zandt: And that combination is what we grew up with. And you can hear it in our stuff today. I think that for me, the Rolling Stones were my real entry into the business because I saw The Beatles and they opened up this whole new world to me but they were so alien and so perfect and talented that I never thought I could do that even my greatest fancy.

Bruce Springsteen: when you saw The Beatles you said- “OK- there are four guys in the world that can do that. And there they are- that space has been taken. But there was something when you saw The Stones- there was something of “the wreck” about them. Ad you said- “Well, maybe ..I don’t know..I think I could find a spot there somewhere. “

Steve Van Zandt: What was the first Stones thing you remembered hearing ?

Bruce Springsteen: I went out and bought “Not Fade Away” backed with “I Wanna Be Your Man”. I hadn’t heard it. I bought it because of the sleeve. I went to the first Mall anyone had ever seen (now they would call it a “strip mall”) and it was put up just outside of town. We had never heard of such a thing so we went out to see what it was. One of the stores was a Department and it had a little record shop and I saw that beautiful photo of the Stones in their vests. So I took it home. The Stone had the experience of not being a success straight away. They were very different to The Beatles. They were working stiffs for a while in the USA. People either didn’t like them or didn’t know what to make of them. They never had that – boom ! – single like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” that was galvanizing straight out of the box. So they had a very different introduction to the American audience.

Steve Van Zandt: When you look back on it , I don’t remember ever seeing before a singer in show business who didn’t smile. I don’t remember ever seeing that before. They were serious. The Beatles projected a certain joy as did Sinatra and everybody.

Bruce Springsteen: So you are making a pitch that The Stones invented the solemn faced rock star ? You might be right.

Steve Van Zandt: You got a little smile, ironically, from Brian Jones and Keith was having a good time but Mick- look at that film clip of “Little Red Rooster” on “Ready Steady Go !”

Bruce Springsteen: You might be right. They had a certain image of themselves and this combined with their comparative lack of early success -came the idea of remaining uncompromised. Blues musicians had very different roots from The Beatles in that sense.

Steve Van Zandt: Just imagine it- a time when “Little Red Rooster” was a number one hit.

Bruce Springsteen: In the States ?

Steve Van Zandt: No, in England.

Bruce Springsteen: That would be right.

Steve Van Zandt: But you look at his performance- he was so serious.

Bruce Springsteen: Well, for young people that’s cool. What do you want to be more than anything else ? COOL ! And do there was a detachment to it- a certain imperiousness that, if you were a young man was- yeah- just cool. And they wore street clothes. Before the Rolling Stones no one wore street clothes.

Steve Van Zandt: There you go.

Bruce Springsteen: that was revolutionary. The battles we had with our first manager, Tex with our faux snake skin vest and our ruffled shirts…when the Stones came along..

Steve Van Zandt: It was a good look !

Bruce Springsteen: Yes it was and we probably made a mistake. I have pictures of me dressed outside the Café Noir in a grey striped sweater and immediately, the Stones were your visual holy grail. It as saying we are trying to bring you something more authentic..

Steve Van Zandt: And it was less intimidating to a kid because show business is intimidating .

Bruce Springsteen: And the idea that you have to dress up. In forty five years I have never worked that out ! I used to say that I just can’t dress up- I don’t know how to do it. We took the shirts off and it was done for the next forty years.

Steve Van Zandt: The Who- For me their first album remains their best album. Its amazing.

Bruce Springsteen: Its’s a hell of a sounding record man. Its explosive-its combustible-the sound of those few instruments-amazing.

Steve Van Zandt: A whole new composition of how instruments sounded. Never had drums been part of the composition with Keith Moon. But aside from that, starting with their second album, Pete Townsend invented the concept album. Now I have come completely full circle on that and we only play three minute records on here.
Bruce Springsteen: The thing about The Who that has always fascinated me was the incredible violence of the instrumentation complete with beautiful Beach Boys harmonies. I wonder how much was Keith Moon’s influence because he was the Beach Boys freak. I wonder how that happened in the studio because it was a beautiful characteristic of those early recordings. You have the violence of the instruments combined with those wonderful squeaky Brian Wilson harmonies.

Steve Van Zandt: That’s true. I asked Roger Daltry about that first album and I said “Roger, you sing differently on that” And he said, “ Well, `I was just trying to sing like Johnny Cash”.

Bruce Springsteen: Really ?

Steve Van Zandt: And if you do listen to that first album, the singing is very low.

Bruce Springsteen: `(sings ) “the good’s gone…” That’s low. I never saw the association but now that you mention it.

Steve Van Zandt: Yeah – that violent vocal with that stoic deep lead vocal. He known for being a little bit histrionic later with that “Won’t Get Fooled Again” type of vocal but here he was very serious and –well, cool. He was a mod.

Bruce Springsteen: Yeah and once again, the perfect rock record of “I Can See For Miles”. It doesn’t get any better than that. I was completely into that first record because we were seeking out anything at the time but –wow- “I Can See For Miles” is a fantastic record.

Steve Van Zandt: Lets get into the next generation -this is only a year after the British Invasion and this is the garage rock years that started in 65 and went to about 67. I remember you played some unusual songs with your band.

Bruce Springsteen: Lets talk about “Them”. You see, we busted our ass in a battle of the bands to get the key slot as support act for “The Rascals” and we played our show stopper which was “Mystic Eyes”. We kicked the Hell out of that thing. Yet this was a cross over moment on the Jersey shore because there were a lot of Doo wop acts still there. But I was a huge “Them “ fan.

Steve Van Zandt: How did you discover them because they didn’t have that many hits in the America if any. The Shadows At Night at covered “Gloria” and had a hit with it.

Bruce Springsteen: I used to buy things on instinct. I think I did that. I might have liked the cover. I bought Steve Earl’s “Guitar Town” when I saw the title. – “I’m having that- and took it home ! ”. But Them also had “Here Comes the Night” with that great riff- I loved that record. And then the phenomenal cover of “Its All Over Now, Baby Blue”.

Steve Van Zandt: And then they had the great garage classic “Gloria” which together with “Louis, Louis” are THE garage anthems.

Bruce Springsteen: Oh yeah- if you didn’t play it you would not get out alive. If you couldn’t play it, you couldn’t get a gig. They would ask you if you could play a certain handful of songs like “Satisfaction” and “Gloria” and if you couldn’t play them, you didn’t get hired.

Steve Van Zandt: I think their ultimate moment was “I Can Only Give You Everything”.

Bruce Springsteen: Oh Man !

Steve Van Zandt: It wasn’t a hit. Who knows how that can not be a hit ?

Bruce Springsteen: I think it was too aggressive. It had that wild fuzz Gibson Maestro Fizz Tone which gave you the sound of a kazoo on hallucinogenics.

Steve Van Zandt: That was commercial after “Satisfaction” –look at the “Psychotic Reaction”.

Bruce Springsteen: That was the sound. That’s why is should have been a hit.

Steve Van Zandt: Maybe “Management” again. Anyway, we did also get the blues sound from England as well but over here we also had groups like Paul Butterfield and they were very important. Mike Bloomfield and that…

Bruce Springsteen: Well, I think you had your first wave –the Stones and those guys to hip everyone to the blues which 15, 16 and 17 year old kids knew nothing about. I knew absolutely noting about the blues and had no connection with it until it came through The Rolling Stones. Then there was your second wave like Mike Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield and people who studied it and loved it. And the Blues Project.

Steve Van Zandt: And Taj Mahal.

Bruce Springsteen: And that was when we went back and got into Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf. And suddenly we went back and studied all the original blues artists and we covered them as best we could. Of course –you were one of the first artists on the Jersey shore who played in a regular blues band and also in a country rock band.

Steve Van Zandt: Its hard to imagine now but things changed very quickly in those days and in a very short period of time. Over six months or so an entirely new trend would come in and we would follow it because we didn’t know who we wanted to be.

Bruce Springsteen: You were exposed to music both new and pre-existing in such a condensed period of time. I’d say between 64 and 69 what happened was that you went backwards and forward in time and every year was a completely different development. If you had the same band, you would have moved on to a completely different type of material in a short time.

Steve Van Zandt: Or you would have a different band .

Bruce Springsteen: Yes- In my band “The Castiles” we had an unusual situation going because we were together for three years which was an enormously long time to be together with the same guys. But we went from the early British groups to when we were over acid rock and The Doors. There was a moment when, guess what ? Everybody had to find a keyboard player. Initially you did not because all the groups on the Shore were guitar based. But probably because of The Animals and Alan Price and suddenly you needed an organ. You had to get some guy who had thrown out that friggin accordion and had a mother who would be him a Farfisa ! Then you had to get the B3 –which was a monster –you had to carry that thing !

Steve Van Zandt: But very few people could afford one.

Steve Van Zandt: You saw it was The Rascals, and the Spencer Davis Group -the “Give Me Some Lovin” riff. Mitch Ryder oddly enough, featured it on the records but not live.

Bruce Springsteen: The answer is really simple. There were two types of instruments. One kind was meant to travel while the other kind was meant to sit in the corner in your Church or your home and not move at all. In other words, it was furniture and suddenly you were in the friggin furniture moving business. When I was with Steel Mill I busted my ass carrying B3s up and down stairs of clubs all over the United States from the late 60s to the early 70s . If the organ wan’t bad enough, you had to lug the Leslie which was like a refrigerator. So along with your guitar and amps you were playing with the accoutrements of your living room ! The B3 sounded great but it was a bitch.

Steve Van Zandt: The fashion part of rock n roll was extremely important. Neil Young wearing that old Western jacket in Buffalo Springfield- iconic, man. It was the old west-it was rock.

Bruce Springsteen: I saw that a week ago in Cleveland. That place is a fetishist’s dream. The spirit power of those items – Jeff Beck’s guitar or a certain jacket holds a mystical power that holds me to this day. If I go up there and I see the notebook sheet for “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” because in the end it’s a magic act because you are taking something out of the air and making it physical and its real. So the physical totems of it –the shoes or the jackets –they old such unusual power in your imagination.

Steve Van Zandt: Because what we communicate is more than just the music. It is the lifestyle, the attitude.

Bruce Springsteen: I was reading an essay on Tolstoy the other day. But it applies to music as well. A great record just makes you love life. And at the end of the day that’s what we are trying to pass on. The richness of experience and getting in touch of that part of your self that loves life.

Steve Van Zandt: The psychedelic era was largely a West Coast thing. We were prejudiced against it at first in my neighborhood. I think you appreciated it quicker.

Bruce Springsteen: I appreciated it enough to go out and buy a smoke bomb and a vase of flowers. I bought a strobe light, and at the school dance at St Rosa High School I turned it on, and I set off my smoke bomb and I then got up on my amp and smashed the vase of flowers at the end of the evening. And the teachers said , “Thank you Bruce, that was……very nice”. People were transformed that night, I tell you.

Steve Van Zandt: But we never really understood the rise of so called progressive music.

Bruce Springsteen: No. But the point was that you had been originally hired as a dance band for a few years and with the rise of the psychedelic era, it became “a concert” or music to be listened to. It was a different experience. That was quite revolutionary locally. For years, the people came into the venue and stood in front of the band and danced. Now, they came into the venue and sat in front of the band and sat down.

Steve Van Zandt: And then with that music came the drug culture which had the effect of closing down venues.

Bruce Springsteen: Yes, when we were 16 or 17 there were five or six venues where we go and play dance music. All High school dances were live bands with singers and speakers ! There were surf clubs and all of that.. There was Freehold, Middleton and Asbury Park . There were two teen clubs operating in Freehold on a weekend- the Left foot and The Hullabaloo. I was at the beach last year and ran into the drummer from the Chevelles and he would sing one song a night without a microphone. He would get up just shout it out into the gymnasium. It was a mighty effort ! You had to have a microphone and you had to have a PA system. Previously, you just needed amplifers but you wouldn’t hear a word out of them all night except (Bruce plays surf music on his guitar) –Pipeline and all the rest-huge hits and all rock instrumentals.

Steve Van Zandt: I guess it was a big, big moment when – I guess it was a liitle bit before The Beatles but that really was the fault line.

Bruce Springsteen: Oh yes- and once the singing started. If you didn’t sing, you were out of a job. That was it- you went home and it all happened within the space of a month or so. And it was the bands from overseas that caused it.

Steve Van Zandt: Things happened so quickly in those days. And most of the sax players, if they didn’t have a singer-they were out of work. Because up to that moment, every band had a sax player. Every record had a sax solo.

Bruce Springsteen: And locally- the Motiff- there was Walter from out your neck of the woods up Middletown.

Steve Van Zandt: Johnny Wisedorf and The Rogues.

Bruce Springsteen: That’s right and The Mods.-they brought the singer in.

Steve Van Zandt: The last surprise the sixties had for us was that the psychedelic area would yield groups Traffic and Procol Harum, Jimi Hendrix who became the force of the big four – Page, Beck, Clapton and Hendrix. I remember walking down the street with you here in the Village and we had no idea how Hendrix did what he did.

Bruce Springsteen: There was no precedent for it. Not even Link Wray did that. You were at a loss. There was a moment when you said- “Ok-the weekend is coming. How am I going to make that sound ?” You had your fuzz tone but it really didn’t really quite work.

Steve Van Zandt: I guess that the end of the decade would coalesce into Hard Rock with Cream, the Jeff Beck Group which we should talk about because in its day it was one of the greatest things I have ever seen.

Bruce Springsteen: In any funny way, things gravitated slightly back towards the instrumental. You would certainly say that with those two groups that you just mentioned, the thing you think about is the playing. You don’t necessarily think of the songs, even though there were some great songs. The return of the guitar hero was return, at least to some degree, to the instrumental.

Steve Van Zandt: With the Jeff Beck group’s introduction of Rod Stewart as vocalist you had the birth of the singer/guitarist relationship that would be the model for every hard rock group since including Led Zeppelin who pretty much copied that model a year later. We all knew Rod Stewart was black- we didn’t think he was black- we knew it ! We never heard anyone sing like that and when you combine that with Jeff Beck- that was quite a band.

Bruce Springsteen: That was a tough game ! You know, what have we discussed- about six a year period and what’s that ? The difference between 2006 and now ? You know what I’m saying ? We lucked out because we were around at the invention of something. When you think about it, we have been musicians throughout all this time from the British Invasion and right through to Pink Rock with the reinvention of amazingly vital bands and it has been a great period to be alive and to be making music. And the stuff that happens between the ages of 14 and 20 –those are imprinted on you. It’s the fundamental vocabulary of what we have done. You add to it something that may have come from the 1920’s or the 2010s - well, it all just makes you happy to be alive and want to pick that guitar up and play boy play ! And that hasn’t changed. Well listen, we have been talking about sitting down and talking about our main influences for the past two or three years and its been fun doing with with my life long compadres, Little Steven who has been a pal for me to journey from the teenage years when the world was just sitting around waiting to be born. We have been best friends for such a long time to sit down and talk about the music that means so much to me and you. I think you my friend .

Steve Van Zandt: We needed each other as kids.

Bruce Springsteen: Oh yeah- they thought we were freaks and it was a great privilege.

Steve Van Zandt: And you were always inspiring but at the time we got it together, I thought it was all over. I thought the renaissance was over and we had missed it. And you were the one who knew better. Maybe we can add something to that !

Compiled by : Underground Garage
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