Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Boot Tracker and This Train Double Shot; The Castiles

"Marion and Tex Vinyard... They opened up their home to a bunch of rock and roll misfits and let us make a lot of noise and practice all night long." - Bruce, at his 1999 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech

Tex Vinyard is the man responsible for kick starting Springsteen's career or at least got Bruce in the recording studio for the first time. At the time Bruce met Vinyard, Tex was a factory worker on strike who had just kind of stumbled into managing the Castiles. Tex alledgedly lived next door to George Theiss, lead singer and guitar player of the Castiles, named after a brand of soap Theiss used for his hair. Tex went over to ask them to turn the noise down, but wound up becoming their manager. The first thing Tex did was whip the band into shape and started firing members who failed to show up for practice, opening up a few spots in the band. George told Tex that there was this kid playing guitar at his school and promised Tex to ask if he was interested. That kid was Bruce Springsteen. As it turns out Theiss wasn't all that interested in the skinny little guitar slinger, but had an eye for his sister, Ginny. Theiss was so smitten with her that he forgot to tell Bruce the Castiles needed a guitar player.

By the time Springsteen finally joined the Castiles he was a 15 year old kid, obsessed with R&R in a way his peers were obsessed with cars and girls. As the story goes a copy of the "Introducing the Beatles" had made it into the Springsteen household which caused Springsteen to bully his mum into buying him an $18 guitar at the pawnshop for Christmas. By the time the Beatles appeared at the Ed Sullivan show, the little skinny kid was already strumming along. Bruce tried his hands at the R&R group thing shortly after that for the first time with the Rogues, this group was short lived however. So when Theiss failed to ask Bruce, the zit infested kid took matters in his own hand and knocked on George's door offering his services. By that time Tex had already 'hired' the 25 year old Frank Marziotti who had an important edge over Springsteen, he owned an amp, a hot commodity for a starting band. So Tex turned Springsteen down, telling him to come back when he had mastered five new tunes. Bruce was back the next day and baffled Vinyard by playing lead on five songs he had heard on the radio and mastered over night. Springsteen blew Tex and the Castiles away. Frank was asked to pick up the bass and Springsteen got the lead guitar spot. An intimidated George Theiss had to specifically ask Tex if he was still the lead singer in the band, afraid he might be sacked.

Soon Tex had the kids booked for their first gig at the West Haven Swim Club. Tex had whipped the band into shape by allowing them to practice in his living room. The Vinyard home became sort of a refuge for the young Springsteen, "[a] place where I could sit down and play, play the guitar and get away from the house" he recounted some thirteen years later during his first Madison Square Garden gigs. Through hard practice the band was more than ready for the Jersey shore club circuit, where R&R bands like the Castiles were quickly becoming an important means to fight of the boredom. There was one last glitch however, Frank's amp broke down. Tex, already deeply into depth because of the continuing strikes, came to the band rescue by hocking an amp at $11 a month. The band found themselves playing their first gig, all three guitars plugged into a a beautiful new Danelectro 310 complete with reverb. The gig made the band their first $35 dollars. Part of the set were the popular tunes of the day like Glen Miller's "In the Mood," first betraying the jazzy approach Springsteen would take to R&R on his first two albums.

Aside from doing the popular covers of the day, the Band soon started to write their own material. A Rock & Soul type number called "Sidewalk" got so popular in fact that the local teenagers were petitioning for a recording of the song. Oddly enough when the band stepped into the studio for the very first time, the song didn't make the grain. Around the time the band penned "Sidewalk" the Mad-Lads had a hit with "Sidewalk Surf." I have often wondered if part of the reason why they elected not to record the song was because of the Mad-Lads' success with a similar (named) tune. I have no way of knowing if it was. no recordings of "Sidewalk" have ever surfaced. The songs the Castiles did record at Mr Music studios on May 18th 1966, "That's What You Get" and "Baby I," betray little of what was to come. Both tunes are R&R throw aways George and Bruce allegedly wrote in the car on their way to the studio. "That's What You Get" sounds like the boys' take on the Byrds, who were then one of the hottest bands around. "Baby I" was an odd mix between the Beatles and surf guitars. The songs were recorded in an hour for a mere $50, but were never released. The only sources that survived are an unknown number of acetates. Allegedly there was no master tape, the songs were cut directly to disc, hence the weak sound.

There is very little known about the recording sessions. But the line up had already changed that that time. The original drummer of the Castiles, Bart Haynes , had already been replaced by Vinny Maniello, when the first was drafted for service in Vietnam. Bart would not make it back, he died there October 22nd 1967. His death in the service is often viewed as a key moment in Springsteen's life and would later become an important factor for his open support Bobby Muller's organization the Vietnam Veterans of America. The bass player who had brought in the Castiles first amp was replaced by Curt Fluhr. It does seem however that the Castiles had yet to add an organ to the line up in May 1966.

Doc Holiday, who was an engineer at Mr. Music at the time, later said he never expected much to come of the band or its members. However he does remember Springsteen fondly, saying he was one hell of a guitar player. It was the guitar playing, not the song writing, that hinted at bigger things to come. Doc recently recounted a scene on the Backstreets forum that possibly later became the basis for "Jungleland." The experiences Bruce soaked himself into in those very early days found their way to his first three albums and would prove instrumental in his later career. To stand out on that Jersey shore you better had to be good or they'd cut you up, Doc remembers.

I do remember that Eugene Gulash a guitar player for Joey Page and the Page Boys out of Brick town was always trying to out do Billy Ryan and then all of a sudden came this 16 year old kid out of nowhere that played guitar, named Bruce Springsteen, that blew Eugene's doors off, I can remember sitting in one of the halls or back of one of the clubs one night and Eugene was there and said to me & Norman "I'm gonna cut this kid up" meaning he was going to out play him and him & Bruce were just sitting there with guitars in their hands face to face and I remember Eugene saying to Bruce how about a little Hendrix, then Eugene played the riff from "Purple Haze" and Bruce played the solo and torn him a new asshole, then Eugene said how about a little Wes Mongomery and then Eugene played a little octave jazz run and Bruce came right back and once again torn him up, from that day on Eugene forgot all about Ryan and focused on Bruce, (Bruce , remember that night?) I'll tell you that kid (Bruce) was one hell of a guitar player back then, and of course Eugene never did cut him.

Doc stressed that above is a true story. Tapes of an early Castiles performance from September 16th 1967 seem to back up Doc Holiday's story. The set from that September 1967 show is mostly built up out of the popular rock songs of the day, your average cover band it seems. The Springsteen original in the set, written with new band member and organ player Bobby Alfano, "Mr. Jones," is nothing spectacular again, but his guitar playing is on fire. There is a considerable shift in sound from the '66 studio session however, the Beatles and popular R&B tunes started to get replaced by the power rock sound of Hendrix and Cream that were very much in vogue at the time. Springsteen was reaching into new territory. So even though according to Alfonso in an NPR interview the band was making good money at the time, the band fell apart because Springsteen was ready to move on. Alfonso moved on with him, playing organ in the short lived Earth. With Earth the emphasis would increasingly shift to original material. If the Castiles had been Springsteen's high school, Earth and later Child and Steel Mill would prove to be his university of R&R.

"That's What You Get"

MP3 File

"Baby I"

MP3 File

Download the '66 studio sessions and the '67 show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

With many thanks to Doc Holiday and Earthslayer.
Sources: "Two Hearts" by Dave Marsh and

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