BRUCE - My MM review from 1974

Talking of Bruce, after I saw him for the first time in January of 1974, I went back to New York and wrote this for the following week’s Melody Maker, reproduced below more or less word for word. I wasn’t the first to ‘introduce’ MM readers to Bruce as Michael Watts had written a long piece about him the previous year but I guess I still needed to lay out the basic facts. Bearing in mind what Springsteen has accomplished in the 40 years since I wrote this, it has a rather quaint and slightly naïve ring to it now. At least I recognised he had a big future.

He stands there looking like a cross between Elvis Presley and a reject from Sha Na Na with faint Dylanesque overtones and a battered Fender Telecaster hung low enough for him to qualify for a place in The Ventures.
         His hair is short and curly and there's a wispy beard that never seems to grow any longer. On his nose rests a pair of square shades which stay in place all the time during the show and which make him look more like Dylan of 1965 than Dylan of 1974 looks today.
         He wears jeans and a red vest and maybe a denim jacket, all of which helps to make him look a trifle like James Dean, only smaller and more vulnerable.
         And he clicks his finger now and then like Presley's supposed to do and like Tom Jones does. He shakes his Fender back and forth and twists his hips around, looking as if he means business. He conducts the band with his fretboard, sometimes grinning and sometimes looking perplexed 'cos he ain't quite sure what's happening next.
         And then he'll surprise you by discarding the guitar and playing a tender love song at the piano. He dismisses the group, who will return later with a change of instruments and take up a stance at the front with the regular bassist playing a tuba and the keyboard man strapped behind an accordion. The tuba makes such a strange deep noise that you don't know whether to laugh or cry.
         After all that seriousness he'll start rocking again, the big black cat on the saxophone coming on as a bass vocalist and singing an old rock and roll number.
         If you're lucky he'll finish his set with a rendering of 'Twist And Shout' complete with the ascending build up between verses that sounds just like John Lennon was standing beside him crouched over a Rickenbacker and yelling his loudest to drown out the screams.
         Sometimes he runs on the spot then dashes about the stage, guitar in hand, like a cat waiting to pounce. Other times he'll just stand there and sing with emotion instead of a funk.
         He's as hot as hell in America right now, but he's having problems because the big bands don't want him as the supporting act in case of any embarrassment over who's the star of the show; and the word hasn't spread around enough yet for him to sell out on his own name except in certain areas.
He also needs a good producer who can do justice to the songs he writes and the music that his band is capable of playing.
         He's put out two albums for CBS. The first was brilliant and the second was just good. Neither has sold particularly well although both have had rave reviews in the US music papers.
         I'm talking about Bruce Springsteen and, as he's never been to Europe, you could be excused for not knowing who he is. In Europe certain reviewers suggested that he was the next Bob Dylan on the release of his first album, and he's never quite got over this rather unfortunate categorisation.
         There is a physical resemblance and they both write songs, but then Dylan's facial appearance could blend into any crowd and lots of young men write songs these days.
         The only other similarity is that they're both pretty good at their craft.
Springsteen comes from New Jersey, the State immediately south of New York, where he has been a musician of sorts since his teens.
         He's 24 now and finally doing what he wants to do most – lead his own band. Although he recorded an album three years ago for Bill Graham's Fillmore label (it was never released, but bootleg versions are circulating around California), his recent Columbia output is the sum total of his recording career.
He played in a couple of bands before the current outfit – Steel Mill which lasted two years and which travelled around America getting gigs whenever they could, and Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, a sort of happy-go-lucky bunch of dudes who played around New Jersey, changing the line-up for almost every gig and adding musicians at a frantic rate.
         At one stage there were as many as 14 musicians in the Sonic Boom, but the regular number was nine.
         Out of this came Bruce, who arrived at CBS's offices with a guitar and an appointment to see John Hammond, the A&R man who actually signed Dylan way back in 1961. Springsteen played a few of his songs in Hammond's office and he was duly signed as a solo artist under the assumption that he would immediately become CBS's new ‘Bob Dylan’.
         But Bruce had never been a solo artist so he used his advance from CBS to put a band together. Previously he'd never been able to afford to run a band, but now he was in a position to get together the best musicians he knew from New Jersey.
         This he did, and today they're one of the tightest little backing outfits on the road in the USA, rivalling Van Morrison's various backup bands for sheer funk and outright competence.
         Star sideman is Clarence Clemons, a huge black cat who plays the saxophone and sings in a rich deep voice. He also wears a bright white suit, printed shirt and white fedora hat on stage – making a strange contrast with small, curly haired Bruce in his faded denims. Clarence's reed work is a gas; not complex but tight and unhurried, flowing when required and rasping at the right moments. He looks great, too, thanks to nature rather than a make-up kit.
         There's Garry Tallent on bass, a skinny long haired guy, who also sings and plays the tuba; Vini Lopez on drums; and a couple of keyboard men: Danny Federici, who contributes a swirling organ and occasional accordion, and David Sancious, who gets a chance to shine with his almost classical piano introduction to Springsteen's very beautiful song, ‘New York City Serenade’.
         The band has been with him since he started out with Columbia although David Sancious quit after the first album to go down south to form his own band. He didn't manage it and arrived back with Springsteen in time to appear on the second album. He was welcomed back with open arms.
         Springsteen's first album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was greeted with wild enthusiasm and showcased Bruce as a singer/songwriter with little attention paid to his backing band. The second The Wild, The Innocent and the E. Street Shuffle, was more of a band album with chunks of solos and ample opportunity for all to shine.
         Springsteen himself insists that it's a band rather than a showcase for himself. He just regards himself as the lead singer/guitar/writer in the group.
And on stage this facet is more pronounced. Although he's the leader, it's more of a situation like Jagger and the Stones: each gets a crack of the whip and the one for-all-all-for-one idea is enhanced when Bruce introduces his band at regular intervals.
         I saw them twice last weekend, both in Virginia, which is the East Coast and fairly hot territory for Springsteen.The first night's show at Richmond was a sell-out, although the crowd seemed less responsive to Bruce's quieter material and anxious to get out of their seats and dance at the slightest provocation.
         Perhaps it was because Bruce sensed this that he included a version of 'Let The Four Winds Blow', the old rocker, which featured Clarence's remarkable bass skat singing.
         At Norfolk, a naval base 100 miles away, the show wasn't a sell-out but the audience response was more respectful. It was the better of the two shows and they included a wild version of 'Walking The Dog', which began as a red hot instrumental taken at furious pace. He also played ‘Pretty Flamingo’ with a trademark monologue as an intro.
         But the bulk of the sets are taken up with Springsteen's own material taken from the two albums which vary greatly in texture from the soft, contemplative 'New York City Serenade', the almost comical 'Wild Billy's Circus Story' to the shuffling rock numbers from the first album which, behind the driving rhythm, also contain sets of brilliant lyrics.
         Bruce doesn't talk much. He's a quiet guy who neither smokes nor drinks. He spends most of his time on the road, but has yet to play outside the USA and Canada. He's hoping for a chance to get to England this year.
         If he makes it, go see him.

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