Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Down The Tracks; Jesse Malin, On Your Sleeve

"Down The Tracks" is a new feature I'm introducing to the blog. I like many more things than just Bruce Springsteen and would like to make this blog just a tad more eclectic. So in "Down The Tracks" I will review items that I think Springsteen fans might enjoy or are related to Springsteen. I promise I will try not to stretch the relationship too much.

Jesse Malin is very much linked to Springsteen. The Boss clearly has a weak spot for this, not so young anymore, New York City singer song writer with Punk and Glam sensibilities. Malin shared the stage with the Boss quite a few times and he was gracious enough to feature in Malin's "Broken Radio", one of 2007's better single releases. Malin has been struggling to get his career floating for quite a while now. The Ryan Adams produced "The Fine Art Of Self Destruction" got him a lot of press and gave him a pretty solid core audience that is quite taken with him. To me Malin has always been a mystery. A very solid and exiting live performer with a nasal tone to his voice that rubs me the wrong way after a while. I enjoy his records as long as I take them in controlled doses. "On Your Sleeve" is his latest release, a cover album. A sympathetic effort with mixed results. I've got to hand it to Malin, he doesn't go for the obvious picks. Aside from the infectious "Me & Julio Down By The School Yard", big and well known hits are few on this album. Cover albums are a rarity these days anyways and I applaud Malin for trying. The result however is not much more than entertaining. There are a few songs that come of rather nicely, but the album steers off the track just as many times. Malin's take on "Walk On The Wild Side" for example misses the perverse sexuality of Lou Reed's original and Tom Waits' "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" proves that being a fan doesn't always make you the right person to cover a song. Malin's wheezing and nasal voice just gets on my nerve too much in both. Neil Young's "Looking For A Love" or Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" are quite enjoyable. Maybe because Malin shares his nasal undertones with Young and wheezing always tends to work quite well in Country songs.

Me & Julio Down By The School Yard

MP3 File

3 out of 5

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Boot Tracker, April 13th 1976, University Park, PA

Joe Kivak certainly got around. The more Rob Oslan from Fanatic records releases in collaboration with Mister Anonymous, the more envious I get. Kivak got to be at some prime shows in Springsteen's career. It is often said that Springsteen is an artist who allowed you to watch him grow up. Joe Kivak did just that. He was there to witness the start of Springsteen mania in the Bottomline and he was there to see him make the transition from clubs to theaters and arenas, seeing some amazing shows down the line. This University Park show is no exception, it may be because I'm a fan boy, but it seems that Springsteen gave few mediocre shows in his career, let alone bad. So this April 13th show is an average show only by his standards, still pretty amazing. According to the original review in the Collegian Springsteen drove the audience into a frenzy despite the bad acoustics.

Unfortunately it are those acoustics that mar this otherwise fine tape. Especially at the start of the tape the sound sounds cluttered. In the more subdued parts Springsteen's voice comes out just fine. The story introducing "It's My Life" comes out especially nice on this recording. A fine performance of that song, though not as climatic yet as it would be a few months down the road. "Night" opened the show and hearing it on this recording now it doesn't surprise me that it is still frequently part of the opening set up till today. "'Cause you work all day, To blow 'em away in the night", what could set the mood better for an evening of R&R at break neck speed. And that's exactly what this show was. The tape may be muddy, but it is hard not to get caught up in the exitement of this particular show. Although the set slows down at times for an especially moving "Frankie" and a few others, Springsteen is on an high testosterone roll here. No wonder he would start warning for the health risks of his shows later on in his career. This stuff is not for the faint of heart. Especially the high energy encores, featuring "Raise Your Hand" together with the "Detroit Medley" and "Twist and Shout", are not for the weak. So maybe we are fortunate that the tape cuts off two minutes into the last song, or else we might not survive our exitement getting the best of us.


MP3 File

Download the full show here.

Sound: 2,5 out of 5
Show: 4 out of 5
Artwork: 4 out of 5

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Boss Tracks, A Love So Fine, The Chiffons

"A Love So Fine" is the bookend of a bona fide Doo Wop trilogy, the legendary three strikes of the Chiffons. The song was a staple in Springsteen's sets in '74 and '75, further cementing my theory that Springsteen was as much influenced by early Pop records as he was by the British Invasion bands. Springsteen turned the sweet harmonies of the Chiffons in a R&R blow out with Clarence raving on the saxophone. In Springsteen's hands "A Love So Fine" proved a very effective show stopper filled with raggedy harmonies and high energy R&R. The song was a hit in 1963, but as so many of these glorious R&R stories it almost never happened. The Chiffons' manager Ronnie Mack had boasted he had a mighty fine girl group for production company Bright Tunes to produce. Bright Tunes was run by the Tokens, who had their own immortal smash with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", one of those songs that unfortunately won't ever die. In truth the Chiffons had never scored a hit and not without reason, they lacked a powerful lead singer. Mack scrabled and found one, Sylvia Peterson, who in turn came from Little Jimmy & The Tops. With that group Sylvia's only claim to fame had been the Doo-Wop ditty "Puppy Love", a regional hit but nothing big.

With Sylvia in the Chiffons, they scored their first 'fine' hit with "He's So Fine". The song soared up the charts, making it all the way to the number one spot on the Pop charts. When their next single flopped they tried it with the second installment of what would become their trilogy, the Carole King and Gerry Goffin penned "One Fine Day" and struck gold again. The Tokens realized they ad a regular money making machine at their hands and tried to milk it all they could by having the Chiffons record on under another name as well, The Four Pennies. In the days before videos such a plot was still conceivable. The ploy worked, because under that name a few minor hits were scored as well. As I said before "A Love So Fine" was the book end to the trilogy in 1963. Within one year the Chiffons managed to get quite a bit of chart action with those 'fine' songs. After the third installment the Chiffons would push on for a few years, but they finally disbanded in '76. In the thirteen years between the great trilogy and their last recording they would score exactly one hit, also in 1963 with "I Have A Boyfriend". In the year that followed the British would take over causing this fine girl group from the Bronx to be out off vogue overnight.

The Chiffons

MP3 File

Bruce Springsteen

MP3 File

Boot Tracker, April 25th 2008, Atlanta

After listening to the excellent Orlando tape, Atlanta is a tough nut to crack. I was expecting something much better since the taper promised us a nice clean tape in the liner notes. I think our friend might still have been on a high from witnessing the show. This recording takes you back to the time of cassette recording. It is filled with warts and disruptive audience noise. Unfortunate enough the taper has his recording levels up to high as well. Springsteen's voice and the band are filled with nasty peaks and static. I don't enjoy saying this, but the recording is a disappointment, only of interest for those who were there and those who want to have an complete overview of the Magic tour. But if you're able to pierce through all of this you'll find that this is a highly enjoyable show indeed. Atlanta, compared to the nights before, is a bit less surprising, maybe even a more "common" show, but still the Boss and the band are in excellent shape. The taper of this show hadn't seen Springsteen in 28 years, he had this to say about it:

Almost 28 years! has passed since my last Springsteen "revival" in Austin TX (11/09/80, to be exact), and other than the fact that the hair on the crowd has gotten thinner and much grayer, last night was just like I remembered the last one. A non-stop, in-your-face, high-energy, sing-a-long to some of the greatest songs in the soundtrack of my life.

And that folks sums it up perfectly for me. Many life long fans who did multiple shows tend to forget that in the past the summers always seem warmer. So it is refreshing to me to read a comment by someone who makes a direct comparison to the River tour and finds himself being as awed as he was back then, by, again, what seems a more average show in the Magic tour to me. That said, there are plenty of gems in the set. The show opens with "Reason To Believe". Unfortunately that performance has been cut by Springsteen and is slowly moving out of the show all together. A shame really, in the first two legs of the tour this really was a show piece on par with "Prove It All Night" from '78. Atlanta also got a train wreck delight with "Blinded By The Light" for Danny and another very good performance of "Point Blank". Even with a more average show this is still the hard rocking, earth quaking, booty shaking, E-Street Band!!!

"Murder Inc."

Download the full show in mp3 here

Sound: 2,5 out of 5
Show: 3,5 out of 5
Artwork: none

Boot Tracker, April 23th 2008, Orlando FL

Orlando is the second very good recording in a row, just a notch below the excellent Tampa bootleg but certainly a little more than just enjoyable. Orlando was the second show since Danny's passing and as it should there seems to be as much grief as celebration. This is a very special show indeed. Bootlegs, in my view, shouldn't be judged on the circumstances, but should simply be judged on the quality of the show and the sound. This show is excellent, somehow they seem to be getting better and better. With Danny's passing in mind I find this applauding, I wonder if I would be able to push on with so much resolve, so much dedication, if I had just lost the friend with whom it all started. Springsteen had been on stage with Federici for 40 years, since he was eighteen. As Springsteen's moving eulogy testifies, that means you shared just a little more than just the music. Danny and Springsteen were integral parts of each other's life, music being the glue that kept their friendship together through good and bad.

Orlando opened with a highly emotional "Blood Brothers", a hard rocking version of the song grabbing you by the throat instantly. Luckily it is followed by a cathartic "Night". Overall the show finds a good balance between high strong emotion and breezy moments. There's Springsteen forgetting the lyrics to "Spirit In The Night", proof that he doesn't rely on his teleprompter with every song, and a delightful rendition of "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street". Again Springsteen proves he is able to awe and surprise even on the staples of his repertoire. "The River" has a moving piano intro that for a while there keeps you in the dark on what's coming and "Prove It All Night" is simply on fire this show, the best version I've this tour. If we could leave the '78 intros out of the equation for a moment, it might even be one of the best versions in his career. This band is still proving it all night, night after night. That all that hard work of the past 40 years payed off becomes apparent when Roger McGuinn from the Byrds joins in for two tunes in which the two giants pay their mutual respects. This tour had a few amazing guests spots and this is one of them. As with almost every song of the night the band nails "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Hey Mister Tamborine Man". I'm starting to believe the Boss when he claims that the band never played better.

"Blood Brothers"

Download the full show in mp3 here

Sound: 4+ out of 5
Show: 5- out of 5
Artwork: none

The story behind the McGuinn guest spot.
Orlando Sentinel review.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Boot Tracker, October 27th 1976, The Spectrum, Philly

Fanatic records is on a roll again, this time with Joe Kivak tapes from '76. According to the description of this recording Rob Oslan from Fanatic was present at this show. Maybe it is because of the memories he has of this show that he feels this is an excellent recording. I feel I have to disagree with Rob, the recording is nice to good, excellent isn't a term I would use to describe it. There's some slurring in the old cassette and Bruce's voice or Max's drums fail to fly at moments. Bruce's belting is trapped in that weird echo that comes with arenas at times and Max sounds like he's drumming on cardboard boxes padded out with pillows on occasion. Overall the sound is quite good and an excellent representation of a fantastic show. A few years back a soundboard recording surfaced from this very same show and I dare claim that this tape is an upgrade from that recording. This Kivak master doesn't have the cuts and drops the soundboard recording had and is a complete tape of the show. The soundboard missed the closing "Born To Run". This audience tape is pretty consistent on the whole and really gives you the impression that you are there in the audience. If only because of that rather noisy public guest appearing on the tape. Even in '76 there was chatter and beer runs, long before the "Born In The USA" days.

This October show is a very different one from the August show released by Fanatic earlier this week. Dropping "It's My Life" in favor of "Incident On 57th Street" makes this show a decidedly more romantic one, less somber, more dreamy. The '76 versions of "Incident" often rank amongst my favorite, despite the sometimes odd high pitched background vocals, the guitar solos would never again be so atmospheric and Bruce's humming near the end of the song gives it an ad libbed feel. Compared to the '75 shows Springsteen is undeniably a more confident performer a year down the line. Gone is some of the boyish charm, Springsteen knows he's arrived, able to draw a crowd. The new found machismo in his attitude is striking. Of course an Arena like the Spectrum doesn't quite allow the same intimate demeanor as the smaller venues he still played in '75. In order to come across you'll have to boast, and boasting he does. Though the band is undeniably tighter, quite a few show pieces are still in development. "She's The One" is already stretching out in this show but isn't quite yet the slick R&R performance it would become in '78. The "Growing Up" story is developing nicely, but the young Bruce Springsteen has yet to piss in his desk or become a werewolf at night. '76 is Springsteen in transition and let me tell you, few artists are as exiting trying to find their groove as the Boss. Springsteen made the jump to large arenas only a month before this show and it is astounding to hear how fast he adapted to them.

High lights of this show includes a rare and stunning performance of "The Promise". At that time still introduced as a song that's going to be on the new album, "That I will get out" he boasts hopefully. Springsteen was still caught up in his legal difficulties with Mike Appel at this point, a battle that would stretch out till May next year. In the two years that it would take for the new album to see the light of day "The Promise" was dropped and shelved until it was re-recorded for "Tracks". And then there are the Miami Horns of course, legendary in their own right, working Rosie into a sweat and bringing that fine fine girl home.

The Promise

MP3 File

Download the full show here

Sound: 3,5 out of 5
Show: 4 out of 5
Artwork: 3,5 out of 5

Friday, April 25, 2008

Boss Tracks, Chain Of Fools, Arteha Franklin

Another Boss Track missing in action. According to the Killing Floor data base, Springsteen performed this song once in his career, with South Side Johnny while guesting at one of his shows in 2001. I asked around and got confirmation that the show was taped, but the taper allegedly doesn't want to share this one. And here I was thinking that these not to be shared tapes were a myth, urban legend. Apparently I was wrong. I hope the taper will change his mind some day, I would love to hear South Side's and Springsteen's take on this gem by the Queen of Soul, miss Aretha Franklin. Aretha was a preacher's daughter. Baptist preacher and civil rights activist reverend C.L. Franklin raised Aretha and her sisters, Erma and Carolyn, in church, honing their singing skills in the Gospel choir. Though all three sisters would score recording contracts, Erma and Carolyn would never achieve quite the same status as Aretha did. The two would later often feature as background singers on Aretha's singles, "Chain Of Fools" is one of them.

Aretha was first discovered and signed on Columbia by John Hammond in 1960, the same who would sign Springsteen about a decade and change down the line. Aretha's Pop orientated outings on Columbia wouldn't prove all that successful and are largely ignored by fans these days. When Atlantic released her first single in 1967 her fortunes changed overnight. Aretha started a string of Gospel infused Soul hits that would eventually make her legendary. This particular single is taken from the aptly titled "Lady Soul" album. Her third, following her lack luster sophomore album. "Lady Soul" would firmly establish Franklin's reputation as a Soul singer and stands as one of the greatest Soul albums of all time. According to the liner notes of the excellent compilation "Theme Time Radio Hour", based on Bob Dylan's successful Sirius show, the track was originally written by Don Covay, a Soul legend in his own right. Covay had written the song as a Blues shouter about life on the chain gangs. Franklin's producer Jerry Wexler asked Covay to do a re-write, originally with Otis Redding in mind, and Don made it into the masochistic greasy Funk monster it is today. As with most of Aretha's classic hits, the Muscle Shoals rhythm section were the musicians of choice with one Joe South added on guitar. Dylan fans may know South for his work on the "Blond On Blond" album, but South did some solo recording in his days as well. Scoring his own hit with the Grammy-winning "Games People Play" in 1968. The opening lick to "Chain Of Fools" however, may be one of the most memorable of his career.

Chain Of Fools, Arteha Franklin

MP3 File

Boot Tracker, March 29th 2008, Seattle WA

With the flood of bootlegs coming out constantly, the latests Ev2 releases from the Magic tour almost slipped past this blog. The first release was the Vancouver show, we reviewed here earlier. Since both the Ev2 release of this show and the original tapes are fine recordings indeed, I'm letting that one pass by. They are basically interchangeable, there's no need for an upgrade when it comes to that show. Seattle is a different case. The Ev2 version of that show stands as one of the best recordings I've heard from this tour. Crystal clear sound at points, working especially well on the softer more brooding tracks. This Ev2 release features the best version of "Devil's Arcade" I've heard so far. The organ opening sounds nice and full, a clear fiddle sound for Soozie, Max's drums have that big sound the song needs while the subtle rim shots come out equally nice, great stuff. Ev2 outdid himself on this re-master.

The show features a fairly rare performance of "Your Own Worst Enemy" that is worth the admission price alone. The songs from "Magic" really benefit from the subtle mastering on this boot. There are few boots where the material from the latest album come out quite as nice. Every single one of these are good contenders for a live compilation of the album, should somebody want to make one. March is also the month where Springsteen slowly started to shake things up in the set list, so that gives this recording some extra leverage as well. The set isn't yet as surprising as it would become a few days to weeks down the road, but there are some fine gems here. The high light of course is the fantastic performance of "Point Blank", a song that seems to be getting better performances in recent years than it did during the River Tour, and that is saying something. But classics like "No Surrender" and "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" find mighty versions here as well. "Because The Night" maybe benefits from the excellent sound on this recording, few bootlegs have Nils' solo screaming out of your speakers quite as well. Stevie's not so sweet but oh so soulful vocals on "Long Walk Home" rarely sounded as powerful on earlier recordings. Highly recommended.

"Devil's Arcade"
Download the full show in mp3 here

Sound: 5- out of 5
Show: 4+ out of 5
Artwork: 3,5 out of 5

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Boot Tracker, August 2nd 1976, Monmouth NJ

After the three tapes from the Bottomline in '75 it is fast forward to 1976 from bureaus of Fanatic records. This Monmouth tape is what I would like to call a scholar tape. The sound of the tape is a too tough a nut to crack for the casual listener. Transferred from a cassette to digital format the recording sounds distant and has an annoying metallic static that comes with old tapes sometimes. Time can be very unkind to cassettes and this tape did not age like a fine wine to say the least. Soundwise this really is a recording for fans who want to collect them all. That is not to say these weren't great shows. As with quite a few Fanatic releases, anybody willing to bite through the hiss and the static, will find pure gold and an opportunity to track Springsteen's development as an artist.

The contrast between those '76 shows and the '75 shows is startling. By that time Springsteen was knee deep in the big muddy of his lawsuits with Mike Appel. As well known Appel was preventing Springsteen from entering the studio with Jon Landau again. A month before this show Appel had send Springsteen a formal letter stating such, citing a contract Springsteen had signed on the hood of a car. That formal letter would lead to the two gentlemen filing suit and counter suit. Springsteen hit the road again to finance his legal battles. Even without a new album to support the tour was a big success and Springsteen took the opportunity to test the waters for a couple of new songs and introduced new covers. This recording here is the second show of what would become know as the Lawsuit Tour.

The feel of the '76 tour is decidedly more somber than the '75 tour. In '75 Springsteen had been on a high, his hard labor seemed to be paying off at last. So the legal difficulty with Appel must have felt like slamming into a brick wall. After all this hard work it was uncertain if he could cash in on his success and make it into a viable career. The trouble with Appel also caused Springsteen to reflect on his relationship with his father more. I think this really was a period where Springsteen struggled to find a way to take his life into his own hands. Throughout his youth and now with Appel, he had to deal with father figures that sooner seemed to be out to break his spirit than give him the support he needed. But then again, R&R thrives on strife, so in a sense Springsteen owes both men a few of his greatest artistic triumphs. The cover of "It's My Life", originally by the Animals, debuted on this tour. As did his own compositions, both on this recording, "Something In The Night" and "Rendezvous". Especially the first two were glum, brooding pieces. In the intro to "It's My Life" Sprinsgsteen would recount his violent and destructive relationship with his father, often choosing the small claustrophobic kitchen of their family home as the scenery. Unfortunately, that story id difficult to decipher on this tape. "Something In The Night" is a song that breathes unease and restlessness, stripped of the promise and youthfulness that so much of his earlier music held, here in a version with very different lyrics than the take that eventually would make the "Darkness" album. Gone were the grand tales of the Cosmic Kid in these new pieces, they are replaced with songs on adolescent angst. But maybe it is because of that angst that the encores in these shows seem so much more cathartic, proving the power of R&R to exorcise demons, night after night.

"Something In The Night"
Download the full show in mp3 here

Sound: 2- out of 5
Show: 3,5 out of 5
Artwork: 4- out of 5

Boot Tracker, April 22nd 2008, Tampa FL

The Tampa recording found its way to the Internet lightening fast. Usually that is not a good sign. It means that the recording got a quick edit and was simply thrown out there. The quickies are not rarely mediocre recordings. Tampa is an exception to that rule. For a raw audience recording the sound is superb. A nice mix between the audience and the band, with the band coming out especially good. The recording performs consistently well on both the highs and lows, with excellent instrument separation. With a little tinkering this tape could be one of the best of the tour. The angels were looking favorably on the taper this momentous evening in E-Street history. Momentous for lack of better words, I'm struggling to describe this evening. How do you rate a show in which a band says adieu to one of its key and founding members. Should I even want to, what could I could I possibly add in words to the band's tasteful tribute.

You've got to hand it to the man, the Boss' got class, he's got style. After a video tribute with the band, sans Charlie on stage, they tore into an especially fine performance of "Backstreet". A lonely light shining on an empty organ stool, Charlie was asked to wait behind the curtain. This gesture emphasized the hole the Phantom's passing tore into the band. Springsteen's vocals are crystal clear on this recording, you can hear every broken note, every swallowed tear. This clearly is the most emotional night in his career. With Giordano on stage the band ripped into "Radio Nowhere" with resilience, making clear that this tragedy isn't going to stop them dead in their tracks. Quite a few moments in this show though get an extra emotional dimension. "No Surrender" especially seems all the more meaningful this night, this band isn't going to let itself beat down easily. "We better get this one right, there's somebody watching" Springsteen tells the crowd before he meet up with Sandy in Asbury Park once more, the place where it all began, Danny's signature song. If he was watching I'm sure he was smiling. In "Growing Up" the Boss and the Phantom meet for the last time in a one time revival of the mid song story, looking down from the hills of Flemington NJ, looking back at their journey together.

The looking back didn't dominate the evening however. Springsteen and the band seemed more determined to honor the Phantom by passing on. "Maybe everything that dies someday comes back" from "Atlantic City" sums it all up, the E-Street Band may have died, in Tampa they were back in full force, chronicled on this fine tape. Max's drums are full of thunderous force, Roy delivers one lush line after another, the guitars pierce the night and Clarence sax solos fill the arena with renewed life. This is one of those shows where everything seems a high light. Patti was present to bid her farewells as well this evening, so there was an especially nice performance of "Brilliant Disguise". For all the criticism Patti gets from fans, on songs like this their harmony sounds like a match made in heaven. The following "Racing In The Street" proves that Charlie is going to give it his all to be worthy of following in Danny's shoes, featuring an especially moving solo by Roy. One of the better versions ever performed of the song. The encores opened with a well chosen "I'll Fly Away". The arrangement is upbeat, mournful and celebrating at the same time. Exactly what this recording feels like, a celebration of a great man, a celebration of his life and achievements. A more than worthy goodbye.

"Growing Up"
Download the show in mp3 here

Sound: 4,5 out of 5
Show: Off the chart
Artwork: none

A review from Tampa Calling.
The review from Tampa Bay Online.
The review from


The already excellent Tampa recording I reviewed here was recently upgraded by Ev2. This version is the one you want to go for. Thanks again for the team at BTX for the links.

Download disc 1 here
Download disc 2 here

Danny, Charlie and an E Street Forever Changed

The band is in transition right now, Charlie Giordano suddenly found himself being the permanent replacement for Danny Federici after the latter's tragic passing. Guest writer Ally tries to put a few things into perspective for us.

I was doing a little reading on Charlie Giordano the other day, who is sitting in for Danny Federici. Charlie is now introduced as "filling in for Danny Federici, Charlie Giordano" by Bruce in their first concert at Tampa, Florida since the passing of Danny. I initially was hesitant to write my thoughts but then again why not? It cannot be easy to replace a founding member of any institution let alone a founding member of the E Street Band. What Steven Van Zandt said about Charlie, "Charlie has got the impossible job of trying to come in and replace the irreplaceable", is what I would fully expect any longtime member of a group like the E Street Band to say about any other longtime founding member who is no longer there. I wrestled with how to say that and then I thought - just say it Ally, just say it darn it! I am trying to look at this objectively without being offensive, insensitive or otherwise about the passing of Danny.

It is very true that Danny is irreplaceable from the perspective that his keyboard playing was uniquely and identifiably his signature sound and his alone. His sound was one of the foundations of the E Street sound. No one can ever replace that. When Danny and Roy were playing they had a chemistry and bond that only comes from years and years of playing together. That is irreplaceable chemistry. Musicians that have been playing that long together instinctively 'know' where each other is going to go in their playing and they blend in or create some color over the other's passage within the framework of the song. It's what I would call telepathic in a sense (no pun intended). But then again it is like a sixth sense. It's powerful. Any fan who goes to a concert can feel if the band is clicking and again you can feel when it's at another level entirely or something very special. Magical. As one person wrote the other day, "Danny was essential to the E Street sound, he brought layers of color with his organ" and "I truly think him and Roy are what defines the E Street sound." I think that describes it very nicely. Layers of color with his organ. I've heard that "color" thing applied to many keyboardists, and other musicians, over the years and it is perfect.

With that in mind Charlie is the replacement for the irreplaceable. Charlie has been 'himself' interpreting the music, within the framework of each song, as relating to the keyboard parts, since leg two of the tour. He's done a great job and I think we can all agree he will continue to do so. He doesn't have the keyboard Danny-ism's, or color, that were unique to Danny. He has his own Charlie-ism's that we all now need to identify with and hear his unique color. My husband and I travelled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see the Magic show and I saw a very BIG binder on Charlie's organ. I suspect that that is The Bruce Springsteen Song Book with all the music notation, chords and lyrics for all of Bruce Springsteen's songs. Charlie was flipping through it as the night went on. You can see the Big Book on Charlie's organ on the Bruce Springsteen web site picture where Bruce is leaning on Clarence (Montreal 2008-03-02, top of the page). For you musicians out there that Big Book looks like all the various Fake Books available at music stores. They have them for all types of music. In a nutshell Fake Books have all the music notation, chords, lyrics and any notes written in them for each song in the book.

I know that what I'm about to say are two COMPLETELY different situations. One having a tragic ending and the other just retired after a brilliant career - I know and fully understand - it is a huge difference. So with that in mind, I love American football and I look at what Steve said as kind of similar to what they all (in the NFL, fans, sports writers and analysts) are saying about the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre and how irreplaceable he will be. No one is going to come in and do what Brett Favre did for so many years and likewise no one is going to come in and "fill Danny's shoes" either. So in "that sense" it is a true statement for both Danny and Brett. They are irreplaceable. People talk about how in the business world that everyone is replaceable. That's true about an accountant, an IT analyst, a shoe salesman and many other jobs but this isn't the business world in that sense. It is the music industry where creativity rules the roost and creative types are not replaceable the way they are in the traditional business world. No one replaced Jimi Hendrix. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a great, great guitarist and songwriter who died way too soon as well. After his death the band ended. I know, he was the leader of the band, as was Jimi, and that is different than this situation.

I hope you get the point I might be struggling to make. They weren't replaceable. It's in that same musical, creative and colorful sense Danny is not replaceable. No one can sit-in and play Danny. It is like The Who minus Keith Moon or Led Zeppelin minus John Bonham. Those drummers were not replaceable as there personalities and their 'sound' were key ingredients to their respective bands. Those two were HUGE foundations. The Who recorded a couple of albums with other drummers. Both bands toured with other drummers, but the original drummers were never really replaced, and the replacements could not fill the huge voids that were left by the original members. I mean no disrespect, insensitivity or in any way to take away from the drummers that filled in because they are, in their own right, really, really good drummers and songwriter/singers (Phil Collins).

Charlie has done just fine. He has thus far hasn't he since leg two of the tour? The guy is a terrific player. I loved his playing during the WSO-SSB tour. He's been involved with many projects over the years from rock'n'roll, jazz, blues, R&B, zydeco, cajun. Charlie has pretty much played it all. Danny's place is being chaired by a perfectly capable and highly talented keyboard player who is in the same relative age group as Danny and the rest of the group. Charlie being born in 1954 in Brooklyn, NYC. Will it be the same? No and we should never expect it to be. It can't be the same because we are talking two different keyboard players with different playing tendencies, stylings, sound and different musical upbringings. I really wouldn't want to see Charlie try to be Danny cause that isn't going to work. In the same sense that the next QB cannot try to be Brett Favre because he will fail. I hope my bringing up Brett Favre in comparison doesn't rattle feathers out there - it's not meant to. I wouldn't want it to be the same. Charlie will add his "Charlie-isms" to every song he plays within the framework and context of any given song. With Charlie they all have to develop a new chemistry together. Looking forward into the bands future I wonder how Bruce will have the band do the next recording sessions for whatever E Street Band project comes next. Did the band perform some songs while Danny was still with us for a future release? Clarence Clemons says he has "heard" that there is another E Street Band album ready for release (see URL below). Beyond that possible release will Bruce just go with the remaining band members? Or will Bruce add Charlie in the same way he added Soozie? Playing a couple of songs as she did on the Rising, WSO-SSB and Magic. I hope that I have not offended anyone or was insensitive or disrespectful. I welcome your thoughts.

Below are somelinks that I would like to share with you. One is an interview with Charlie. Another has some examples of Charlie's playing accordion solo.

Here is a link to Charlie's web site, not much there, oh but wait a second, there is a lot of accordion playing there, there is one page with Charlie playing 22 different accordion songs:

Here is a very good article, and interview with Charlie, from Keyboard magazine:

Another Keyboard magazine article with samples of Charlie's playing:

And to finish it of, a Clarence Clemons article

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Boss Tracks; I'll Fly Away, Albert Edward Brumley

As a tribute to the Phantom Springsteen played “I’ll Fly Away” last night in Tampa. There are few songs in the great American song book that could have been a better tribute to the man. Albert Edward’s Brumley’s hymn dates back from 1929 and is one of the most sung and well known spirituals of all time. The simple lyrics and melody are easy to connect to, giving the song a universal appeal that reaches far beyond the sacred. “I’ll Fly Away” seems to be a song that speaks to people regardless of their believes. The song is filled with promise, with a firm believe that there’s a better life beyond this one. A very comforting thought to anyone who has ever dealt with the loss of a loved one. Something we all have dealt with or have to deal with at some point in our lives. Not surprisingly the hymn has known countless commercial releases over the years, and countless more live performances, often in very different arrangements.

“Some bright morning when this life is over, I'll fly away” the song opens. That line not only implies that the reward awaits us in the here after, but also that our passing comes as a release of suffering. A theme that’s repeated through out the song. Such a song could only have been written by someone with Brumley’s background. Born in 1905 to a family of sharecroppers in Oklahome, Albert was no stranger to hardship. As an agricultural system sharecropping stood somewhere between slavery and medieval feudal practices. Sharecroppers needed something to cling on to in order to face a life that was often filled with poverty. Some found faith at the bottom of a bottle, some in church. Albert’s parents were of the second category, highly religious people. Story goes that, for a sharecropper, Brumley was exceptionally frail and tender. He never buffed up like most farmer boys did from working in the fields and is characterized as shy in the biographies I found.

A text book case of shallow waters being deep, Brumley was drawn to music and wanted to be taught in the craft. Age 26 he left home penniless and headed for Hartford, Arkansas where, so he heard, the Hartford Music Company, provided the training he so desperately wanted. HMG owner E.M. Barlett gave Brumley his boarding and education for free, moved as he was by this skinny and shy fellow that appeared on his doorstep telling him "Mr. Bartlett, I hear that you'll teach a fella how to sing and how to write music. I've come to learn and I understand I don't have to have any money." Without Barlett’s charity “I’ll Fly Away” would probably never have seen the light of day. Ironically, Albert himself, called the song most associated with his career “a funny little ditty”. He never really thought it anything special, but it is probably because of its simplicity and directness that the song became to have such a lasting appeal. Only a few years back it became a centre piece in the Coen brother’s “O Brother Where Art Thou” in an especially moving rendition by Allison Krauss.

Thematically the song sits well in Springsteen’s canon. Taking from it’s religious context the lyrics speak of hope of resilience. “I’ll Fly Away” is the perfect metaphor for change, of struggling to improve your life. The song can easily be interpreted as leaving behind your old life, breaking the cold iron shackles of your old existence, crawling out of the shadows into the light of a new life. Metaphorically it is a song about transition, about reaching for something better. In Tampa last night however, we should take the song in its literal context. The Phantom passed on, where ever he went, we’ll comfort ourselves with the thought that it’s a better place.

"I'll Fly Away"- Bruce Springsteen, Tampa 2008
Courtesy of Gina Giambone

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Boot Tracker, April 14th 2008, Houston TX

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a mighty man with a voice that could shake the nation to its foundation. This man traveled with a band of brothers, all of whom possessed Magic powers. They had guitars flashing with lightning, they had drums thundering through the night, a fiddle that could tear souls, an organ that could heal them, last but not least, they had a giant playing the sax that could transform darkness into light. Each night they tore the house down, leaving joy and exhilaration in their trail. If you listen closely you can still hear them, far, far away. Unfortunately some bootlegs sound like that, no matter how much you crank up the volume, the mighty E-Street Band stays in that land, far, far away. To my regret, Houston is such a recording. Tapers have a difficult job, they constantly have to fight the acoustics. A taper cannot tap freely into a sound board and create a mix that makes you feel you're up on front row. Most good tapes have you sitting a few rows back, up on the rail of the pit, but unfortunately, some have you up in nosebleeds. Houston is up in the top.

That's a shame, because it sounds like yet another excellent show in the Magic tour. Springsteen and the band were cooking on those last few performances and we can only hope that this is the start of a trend. Dallas and Houston were just a few notches below the mind boggling Anaheim shows, so the signs are good. Houston, in my book, is definitely the better of the two Texas shows. "Reason to Believe" was dropped for the second time this tour, along with "Gypsy Biker", but they were replaced by so many surprises that you'll hardly miss them in the set. I'd highly recommend listening to the bootleg without the track listing, guess what song the intro after "Magic" leads into, allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised to hear what double punch follows "Promised Land". The flow of the show is exhilarating and in the distance you can tell Houston got a treat.

The emotional high of the show undoubtedly must have been "Terry's Song", especially for those who knew what that song stands for. Hearing it now, days after Danny's passing, it gives me chills down my spine. This has not been an easy year for Springsteen, you'll have to give the man credit for pushing on like he does. Exorcising his grief on stage and, in Houston, possibly his fear as he must have known that Federici wasn't doing well. I cannot help but hearing the duet with Alejandro Escovedo in a different light as well, sounds like balm for the soul after a week like this. A perfect upbeat opening in the encore in this set, followed by another guest surprise in the guise of Joe Ely to do "All Just To Get To You" just one more time with the band. A very fine show indeed.

"Terry's Song"
Download the full show in mp3 here

Sound: 2+ out of 5
Show: 4+ out of 5
Artwork: none

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Boot Tracker, August 16th 1975, Bottomline

By now the regular readers will know how much I enjoy those '75 shows. So today is a good day for me. Rob Oslan just released another gem on his Fanatic records, his third release in line from the Bottomline series. And as it should be, Rob saved the best for last. The description for this tape on BruceBase didn't bode well, but as promised in the liner notes to this recording the sound is excellent! Dare I say near perfect, especially for an audience tape. There are a few minor drops in sound, a few moments of static and two or three small cuts but nothing shocking, save for Rosie missing a limb. None of these tapes are without warts. Other than that you could have tricked me into believing that this is a lost FM broadcast. Yes folks it is that good! I know I'm biased when it comes to this period, but really, this is good good stuff! The quality of this tape becomes especially apparent during "The E-Street Shuffle", when the band goes real quiet and there's almost nothing more than the Cosmic Kid's faint murmur and Max's soft rim shots, the taper is there to catch them for all eternity. Even on the FM broadcast those moments are lost to static. I doubt this recording will ever make it on any top 55 or top 75 list. The August 15th's historical relevance casts a shadow over all the recording of the Bottomline stand. But as, especially this third release, testifies that really is a shame. The Bottomline broadcast was instrumental in getting Springsteen's career on track, but that doesn't necessarily make it a very enjoyable bootleg with all its hiss and clicks. Fanatic's recent releases, taped by the now immortal Joe Kivak, have, one for one, been much more enjoyable bootlegs. And this last one really is the icing on the cake. Historical relevance be damned!

Of course, as with the previous shows, Springsteen really still needed to hone a lot of his skills. "She's The One" is no where near the impressive performance it would become in the years to come. But the sheer enthusiasm and looseness of these shows is highly contagious. You can almost see the mesmerizing effect Springsteen had on this crowd of 500. During his raps it almost seems he's talking to close friends. No wonder he shied from talking in London when he took the show across the pond for the first time, he was amongst strangers there, you don't talk as freely with strangers, they don't share the same inside jokes and mannerisms as your friends back home. The show is once again filled with some great covers, as if Springsteen is in his living room, spinning old 45s for his buddies. Except the Boss gives a highly original spin to some of these. "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" is slowed down by the band and almost sounds as if Springsteen is trying to convince himself he's really going to make it, really going to hit it big with this record. "Sha La La" is testimony of how well the E-Street Band works as a bar band. There's little snippets here and there again, the Cosmic Kid humming the lines to "Pretty Flamingo" before he gives us a beautiful rendition of "Thunderroad", reworked before the album even was released. Once again history in the making, highly recommended all three of these Fanatic releases, but if you want to stick with just one of them, its this one. And just chuck your old FM broadcast out the window, you won't need it any more. A thriller indeed!

"Sha La La"
Download the full show here in mp3

Sound: 4,5 out of 5
Show: 4,5 out of 5
Artwork: 4,5 out of 5

Boot Tracker, August 20th 1981, L.A.

A Night for the Vietnam Veterans is an absolute land mark show in Springsteen's career. Somewhere around the recording of the River album Springsteen's political awakening started, coached by Jon Landau. One subject that hit close to home for Springsteen at the time was the Vietnam war. Springsteen had been drafted for the war but got out of it by claiming he was gay, amongst other things. He got 4-F on account of a motorcycle accident in which he had badly injured his leg and acting as crazy as he could. Others around Springsteen weren't so lucky. The drummer of the Castiles went and came back in a body bag. That experience and Ron Kovic's book "Born On The Fourth Of July" about Kovic's life as a Vietnam veteran, are well known to have had a major effect on Springsteen. Initially Vietnam didn't have a political meaning for Springsteen. He admits in Marsh's book "Two Hearts" that it was a pure street thing, he simply didn't want to go, "We didn't even know where Vietnam was when I was eighteen". His awareness on what the war symbolized or said about America, how it opposed what he felt were important American values, didn't come until much later. When it did Springsteen asked Landau to explore the possibility of doing something for the Vietnam veterans. Landau eventually got in touch with Vietnam Veterans of America president Bobby Muller. Through the VVA Muller, himself a paraplegic veteran, fought for the rights of the Veterans, whom governmental agencies seemed to have forgotten. Although Muller was able to get considerable media attention and access to key political figures, the VVA was lacking in funds. Muller couldn't even afford to hold an office. The R&R establishment at the time was highly affiliated with the anti-war movement, who basically equaled the Veterans with the corrupt politicians who initiated the war. It was not uncommon for Veterans to referred to as baby killers. Springsteen's commitment to the VVA can arguably be seen as one of the key events that slowly changed that perception of the Veterans.

In the days before the show Springsteen had visited a local veterans center, an experience that kept him awake through the night. He made sure the veterans were able to attend the show, addressing them at the evening of the show he later admitted, had been one of the hardest things he ever did. Springsteen's opening speech lacks the customary boasting of his song introductions, he sounds nervous, earnest, struggling to find the right words. "Vietnam turned this whole country in a dark street", reading that speech now Springsteen's constant rallying against the Iraq war, or his endorsement of Obama, hardly seems surprising. To Springsteen Iraq is a repetition of the Vietnam tragedy. Clinton from that perspective, is tainted. In 2002 she voted to authorized the invasion. Obama wasn't in the Senate at the time, so we are unsure how he would have voted. But not carrying the burden of having voted in favor, probably is one of the reasons why he is such a attractive candidate for Springsteen. After the invasion in Iraq "Who'll Stop The Rain" suddenly reappeared in his Rising tour sets. That Creedence Clearwater Revival song had been adopted by the Vietnam veterans as their anthem and was the first song Springsteen played on this highly emotional show. It was one of three carefully picked covers. He also used Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land". Guthrie always intended that song as an answer to Irvin Berlin's "God Blessed America". Woody's version came out more inclusive, as an anthem for the disenfranchised as well. On A Night for the Vietnam Veterans Springsteen gave that song renewed meaning. Third was "Ballad Of Easy Rider" taken from Dennis Hopper's anti-establishment film "Easy Rider". It is Springsteen's only performance of the song.

A Night for the Vietnam Veterans is one of the main reason why I feel the Darkness tour is overrated to some degree. Had this show been a radio broadcast the River tour might well have been held up to the same esteem as the Darkness tour. This show, along with a few others, rank among the best shows Springsteen ever gave in his career. But you'll have to be willing to put up with audience tape quality. While the sound on this recording isn't bad at all, especially not on the Ev2 remix, it still isn't the near album quality of the infamous '78 FM broadcasts. Even with Ev2's remixing skills the sound stays a bit on the muddy side, the guitars remain tinny, Max's drum doesn't pack quite the wallop it should. On the whole the recording sounds a bit distant. Soundwise it is nice recording for an audience tape, something you do need to have the stomach for and not every fan does. Even though this is a fantastic show, A Night for the Vietnam Veterans is relatively underplayed in my collection. Something that would undoubtedly be different if the recording was better. I feel that during the River tour Springsteen struck a great balance between his more heavy handed material and great and exhilarating R&R tunes. Songs like "Ramrod" or "Out On The Street" took the function the cover tunes used to have in the old sets, to strike a balance with his own big sound and images. Some of these images come across twice as hard in this show, rarely will you hear Bruce putting so much emotion into "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" and I can imagine that a line as "keep pushing till its understood, these bad lands start treating us good" rarely found more understanding ears. A Night for the Vietnam Veteran needed those light and upbeat Rock and Rollers from "The River" as an exorcism for the emotions those songs from "Darkness" no doubt set loose. This is a must have show, if only because Bobby Muller later admitted that the VVA would never have made it without Springsteen's effort that night, they would have been bankrupt. I know we often say that the Boss gives it his all every night, but it was never truer than on this night.

Download the Ev2 mix of the show here.

Sound: 3+ out of 5
Show: 6 out of 5
Artwork: 4,5 out of 5

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Boss Tracks; Stay, Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs

"Stay" is a well known cover done by Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne, officially released on the No Nukes LP as a registration of the Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) shows. The shows marked Springsteen's first overt political alignment in his career, so I figured it would be a good single to take a look at in the week of Springsteen's endorsement of Obama. The MUSE shows were put together after the Three Mile Islands nuclear accident. A near meltdown of a nuclear reactor caused widespread panic in the media. Partly because of of public ignorance concerning nuclear energy, partly because of very misty communication from the power plant and the local government on the matter which only fed public fear. The activist group founded by Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt was part of the public reaction that caused to stop the further development of nuclear energy in the US dead in its tracks for quite a while. The reasons why Springsteen chose to become involved have always been a bit unclear. It is questionable how much of an understanding Springsteen had of the incident and unknown what his personal views on nuclear energy were. Springsteen chose to let the music speak for itself and didn't comment in public on his involvement. It could very well just be that he was simply doing Jackson and Bonnie a favor. How very different from these days, when the Boss seems to grab every opportunity to make his political views and his dissatisfaction with president bystander known. With MUSE Springsteen's most controversial statement was a pie he threw in the audience. Ironically, it is Springsteen's little outspoken involvement in MUSE that made the shows a financial success in the end. No Nukes did a five night stand at Madison Square Garden in September 1979, but only the nights on which Springsteen would do his hour long set sold out. Bonnie Raitt and Chaka Khan opened for him, the Bruuuuuuuuuucing during their sets must have been daunting I'm sure. The movie that came out of the MUSE project would be the first official release of Springsteen live on film.

"Stay" was the only single Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs ever had popular success with. Williams had written the tune when he was 13 years old about his girlfriend. R&R lore has it that she and Maurice were out on a date together cut short by the curfew imposed on his girlfriend by her parents. Maurice cut a demo of it and then shelved it because he personally didn't think much of the song. Some seven years later Williams was flipping through his demo tapes playing them for his girlfriend, still the same one, and her younger sister. They loved the song so Williams decided to cut what he felt was trash with his Zodiacs. It would become Williams only hit under his own name and a whopper at that. On its initial release "Stay" became a number one hit single, with 1 minute 40 the shortest song ever to top the charts. Henry 'Shane' Gaston's incredible falsetto blasted through every transistor radio in the country and eventually world wide. Although the Hollies, Jackson Browne and the Four Seasons all had big hits with the song, these days "Stay" is mostly associated with Patrick Swayze's muscular torso from the movie "Dirty Dancing" in which the song was prominently featured. In the oldies revival that followed that movie "Stay" was re-released, selling a whopping 10 million copies. Maurice Williams never scored another hit after "Stay" but that one song proved successful enough to keep his career afloat. These days he even has not one, but two official web sites! He even cut an album not to long ago, "Back To Basics", but I doubt it will bring him any success remotely as big as this classic 45.

"Stay" - Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs
"Stay" - Bruce Springsteen & Jackson Browne at MUSE

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Know It's Only Rock & Roll But...

This morning when I read that Danny passed on, I was suddenly at loss for words. Something that doesn't happen to me quite often. Sad and numb I just flipped through the message boards as the condolences pored in. Hundreds of them, all beautiful personal messages. A poster who calls himself Blue Guitar wrote a beautiful eulogy, Gina put up a lovely shrine up on her site and Dave Metcalf shared a heart warming personal memory. Those were just a few samples of what I let pass before my eyes in those first few hours of the morning, trying to make sense of my own feelings, with the help of some coffee and way to many cigarettes. When I stepped out the door to get some fresh air, the Stones popped into my head. You'd think I'd be playing Sandy over and over, but in the back of my head there was Mick blaring "I know, it's only R&R but I like it". I've always felt that was a weird song and today the why of it fell into place.

No matter what that line implies, for the average R&R fan this music isn't trite, isn't "just" Rock & Roll. Especially not for those who frequent E-Street. For that type of fan R&R is like going to church, a live show their congregation. Fans of this band see their hopes and fears reflected in the music, they relate to it on a highly personal level. The E-Street Band offers songs that are dreams to cling to when the chips our down, prayers in time of need and of course hard rocking, pants dropping, booty shaking, earth quaking Rock & Roll exorcisms. The band celebrates life with you through good times and bad. Hell, their front man was even heralded as a savior, though only of R&R. So when an apostle of this church passes on, it's personal.

Danny's romantic phrasing on "Sandy" took me to a better place when I needed one, made those pier lights and fireworks come to life, transported me to a mythical version of Asbury park. His funky organ solos on "Kitty's Back" found me slipping and sliding through my own living room more than once, to much amusement to anybody who might have been looking through the windows I'm sure. His solo to "You're Missing" tore into my heart when I needed tearing. Live in Chicago last year he really put the spirit in the night. I've never met the man, but still he was a big part to my life, or at least the soundtrack there off.

R&R tends to do that, it tends to crawl under your skin in a way no other art form can. Paintings are too much frozen scenes of life, books take too long to unravel and neither of those can be played in the background as your sound track. Jazz has too much of a distant cool, Opera I simply don't get, with R&R records three minutes is all it takes.

My heart and thoughts go out to your friends and family Dan, but first and foremost I want to thank you. Thank you for being such a big part of my sound track, thank you for some of the music that helped me bear and celebrate my life. And celebrate we will!

Rest in peace Phantom, but be sure to haunt our stereos from time to time.

Danny's passing in the NY Daily News.
The NY Times on the Phantom.
"Sideman Provided Signature Sound" form the Courier Post
Rolling Stone

Phantom Dan: At The Heart and Soul of the E-Street Band

I just read the news on Backstreets that we lost one of Rock and Roll's finest today. I'm at at loss for words. So I'll just let an old article speak for me I wrote a while back on the Soul Shack when news first got out Danny was ill. Though I never knew Danny personally, he symbolized something important to me and a lot of fans out there. My heart and thoughts go out to his family and friends. Goodbye Phantom Dan, you're on E-Street always.

On November 21 an official press release was issued from the E-Street camp that Danny Federici has to take a leave of absence from the now rolling Magic tour. Danny has been diagnosed with Melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Sessions Band accordionist and organ player Charles Giordano will replace Danny Federici for the time being. Even though Charles will undoubtedly be up to the task at this stage in the history of the E-Street Band replacing members is tricky business. Ever since the band Reunited in '99 fans have been able to experience what I like to call the mythical incarnation of the E-Street Band. Even though the boys never played in that particular combination before, each one of the members on stage in '99 was an essential part of the history of the band. Danny's leave of absence now is different from earlier personal changes in many ways. It is true that Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez was replaced by Ernest "Boom" Carter in '73. Vini was fired on account of his erratic behavior. It is true both Boom and David Sancious left in '75, right before Bruce Springsteen would bust wide open. The band at the time wasn't making any money and both gentle men had the opportunity to build a career else where. Little Steven left the fold, in a temporarily lapse of judgment, right before the "Born in the USA" tour started. Steven wanted to pursue his solo career and there were some rumors he wasn't all to happy with his role in the band. Steven was replaced by the over qualified Nils Lofgren.

Both band members and fans were shocked when Springsteen disbanded the E-Street band in the late eighties. Springsteen needed a break from the band, needed to see if he had viability beyond the E-Street band. He was arguably going through a personal as well as creative crisis at the time. Touring with another rock band in '92, during the Luck Touch tour proved however what an essential ingredient the E-Street Band was to his Rock sound. As early as '95 Springsteen began researching a reunion with the sessions for the Greatest Hits album. At the time things didn't sit well. But after gaining critical acclaim with a solo tour promoting the "Ghost of Tom Joad Album", Springsteen was ready to get the boys back together. The band that reunited in '99 consisted of all the members that played an essential part in building Bruce's career and had become a legendary entity of it's own in the intermittent years. This was the Band that played on Springsteen's break through album, this was the band that rocketed Springsteen to unimaginable heights in '84.

The E-Street band became more than a band in '99. They became a symbol. The E-street Band signified the promise of R&R. A genre that has been band based since the British Invasion. R&R holds that romantic notion where you can get your friends together in your garage or basement and make your way up to the top. R&R success has to do with more than simply scoring hits, it has to do with the ties that bind, it is that idea of lasting friendship. The E-Street Band is one of those rare examples that such a bond is possible, one of the few bands that managed to stick together with everybody alive and well. Springsteen may have proved his merit as a solo artist but when touring with the boys he is as much a member of the band as he is the main attraction.

Danny Federici is at the heart and soul of that band. With bass player Gary Tallent, Danny always played a background role. So its easy to understate his significance to E-Street. He isn't up front wailing his sax and doing silly dances with Bruce like Clarence Clemons, he isn't up blaring in the microphone with his arm around the Boss like Little Steve, nor is he dueling in solos like Bruce likes to do with Nils. Yet in more than a few songs Danny is an essential part of the foundation the Band needs for its theatrics. Listen to the band rip into "Glory Days" or "Ramrod" and hear Danny's raucous organ laying down the ground works. Listen to "The Fever" with the Band going into wailing blue eyed soul mode, Danny's there providing the essential texture. Listen to "Lost in the Flood" or the quintessential Danny song "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and he's there to provide the the very heart of those songs.

Danny Federici is a rarity in R&R. He is one of the few examples of an accordionist working in a R&R bar band. Starting out on classical accordion from the age of seven, Danny was converted to the Gospel of R&R when he heard the Beatles. Like many boys from his generation Danny was pulled into R&R hearing "Twist & Shout" coming through the radio. For that generation R&R was a revelation. Even though initially he made the transition into Jazz and Blues from there, as admitted in a 2002 interview, he soon found himself playing in a New Jersey Garage band, the Storytellers. Through the Jersey shore scene he met Bruce Springsteen in '67, who was playing in the Castilles at the time. As early as '69 he found himself playing with the Boss in the short lived band Child. That band eventually evolved through Steel Mill and Doctor Zoom and the Sonic Boom into the E-Street band. It was in these early, pre-E-Street days that Danny would earn his nickname Phantom Dan. When a riot broke out during one of the Steel Mill shows sound equipment fell on the local chief of police. Danny fled the scene like a ghost.

Danny's affiliation with the Boss dates back for a rough 40 years. Few friendships survive that long a stretch, certainly not when friends form bands with all the tension the road brings. Listen to those early Springsteen albums today and it is apparent that Danny played an important part in Bruce finding his initial voice. "Wild Billy's Circus Story", "Sandy" and "Kitty's Back" are a few examples that stand out. Danny provided some of the jazzy and romantic touches that made those songs into the early Springsteen classics they are today. Danny would find himself playing an equally essential role throughout the history of the Band. Without him E-Street would have been a very different place in R&R indeed.

The Boston show of November 19th will be the last show Danny plays for a while as he goes into treatment. The set very featured a prominent "Sandy" with Danny shining on the accordion. I'm sure it wont be the last time around for Danny on E-Street. Dates for 2008 have already been announced. As I cannot imagine Springsteen and the boys continuing as the E-Street Band without Phantom Dan, I take it as a sign that Danny's recovery will be swift and to good health. My thoughts are with him and his family and I want to use this place to thank him for all he's contributed to the E-Street Band over the years. Take care and we'll see you on the road Danny.

Contribute to the Melanoma Research Foundation.

E-mail your best wishes to Danny at

Listen to Danny live in action with the band here:

"Wild Billy's Circus Story from '74"
"The Fever from '78"
"Ramrod from '80"
"Glory Days from '03"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Boss Tracks; Down By The River, Neil Young

I just came across a live performance of Neil Young and Springsteen doing "Down By The River" together in 1985. A very good reason to pull out one of my favorite albums, I was a Young fan before even listening to Springsteen, and take a further look at it. "Down By The River" is one of those songs that isn't available on 45 rpm but might as well have been. As a Rock song it proved to be highly successful and memorable. It might never have been on the Billboard charts as a song, but it still is a hit in my book. Neil Young had every right to use it as the opening track of his "Greatest Hits" compilation a few years back. The song closes side A on the legendary "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" album that marked the birth of Crazy Horse. One of the few backing bands, even though they did record a few records without Young, that can compete with the E-Street Band in terms of status. Even though Young strays from them from time to time, he always winds up going back.

"Everybody Knows" was Young's second solo album, released four months after his ill received debut. The approach was strikingly different. While his first album had been a true solo effort, focusing on the songwriting, his second was a real band effort filled with long stretched out jams, fully show casing Crazy Horse. Danny Whitten's (guitar), Ralph Molina's (drums) and Billy Talbot's (bass) road to Crazy Horse had been a strange one, filled with unsuspected turns. The trio started out in an obscure vocal in the early sixties group called Danny & the Memories. An act modeled to the sweet Doo Wop acts of the fifties. Not really roots you'd expect from one of Rock's loudest and meanest outfits. After that they formed Psyrcle and had some music recorded and produced for them by none other than Sly Stone! The material was unfortunately never released. The trio added some guitars to the mix and a fiddle and started calling themselves the Rockets in 1968. An album was released, long since forgotten, but the band didn't last too long. Young was impressed by what he heard on the Rockets' self title album and invited the core trio to record and tour with them, dubbing them Crazy Horse. If the remaining Rockets ever felt any hope of them recording a second album, those hopes were dashed when they saw the back sleeve of "Everybody Knows". Smack dab in the middle of side two there was "Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)". The band died a quick death for all the world to see.

Crazy Horse is linked to Springsteen in more ways than one. Their debut as a self contained band in '71 featured the young Nils Lofgren on guitar, also contributing two songs. Nils had earlier played piano on Young's "After The Gold Rush" and used the exposure he got from being affiliated with Young to get his band Grin signed. That band hopelessly failed, but it did result in Lofgren's solo contract for A&M. Springsteen took notice of his first two albums released in the in the mid seventies, just as he was finishing "Born To Run". When he was shy a guitar player a few years down the line Springsteen simply snatched Lofgren from Young who had just finished up his "Trans" tour with Nils in the band. So the least the Boss could do was pay Young his respects by joining him on stage March 22nd 1985 when both men found themselves in Sydney touring.

"Down By The River" - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
"Down By The River" - Young & Springsteen