This week, we pay tribute to ‘The Boss’- Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen (born September 23, 1949), nicknamed “The Boss”, is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who records and tours with the E Street Band. Springsteen is widely known for his brand of heartland rock, poetic lyrics, Americana sentiments centered on his native New Jersey and his lengthy and energetic stage performances, with concerts from the 1970s to the present decade running up to an uninterrupted 250 minutes in length.
Springsteen’s recordings have included both commercially accessible rock albums and more somber folk-oriented works. His most successful studio albums, Born in the U.S.A. and Born to Run, showcase a talent for finding grandeur in the struggles of daily American life; he has sold more than 65 million albums in the United States and more than 120 million worldwide and he has earned numerous awards for his work, including 20 Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes and an Academy Award as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him as the 23rd Greatest Artist of all time, the 96th Greatest Guitarist of all time on their latest list and the 36th Greatest Singer of all time in 2008.
1962–1972: Early years
Springsteen had been inspired to take up music at the age of seven after seeing Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show. At 13, his mother bought him his first guitar for $18; later, she took out a loan to buy the 16-year-old Springsteen a $60 Kent guitar, as he later memorialized in his song “The Wish”.
In 1965, he went to the house of Tex and Marion Vinyard, who sponsored young bands in town. They helped him become the lead guitarist and subsequently the lead singer of The Castiles. The Castiles recorded two original songs at a public recording studio in Brick Township and played a variety of venues, including Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. Marion Vinyard said that she believed the young Springsteen when he promised he would make it big.
Called for induction when he was 18, Springsteen failed his physical examination and did not serve in Vietnam. In an interview in Rolling Stone magazine in 1984, he said, “When I got on the bus to go take my physical, I thought one thing: I ain’t goin’.” He had suffered a concussion in a motorcycle accident when he was 17, and this together with his “crazy” behavior at induction and not taking the tests, was enough to get him a 4F.
In the late 1960s, Springsteen performed briefly in a power trio known as Earth, playing in clubs in New Jersey. Springsteen acquired the nickname “The Boss” during this period as when he played club gigs with a band he took on the task of collecting the band’s nightly pay and distributing it amongst his bandmates. Springsteen is not fond of this nickname, due to his dislike of bosses, but seems to have since given it a tacit acceptance. Previously he had the nickname “Doctor”.
New Jersey beach towns such as Asbury Park inspired the themes of ordinary life in Bruce Springsteen’s music.
From 1969 through early 1971, Springsteen performed with Steel Mill, which also featured Danny Federici, Vini Lopez, Vinnie Roslin and later Steve Van Zandt and Robbin Thompson. They went on to play the mid-Atlantic college circuit, and also briefly in California. In January 1970 well-known San Francisco Examiner music critic Philip Elwood gave Springsteen credibility in his glowing assessment of Steel Mill: “I have never been so overwhelmed by totally unknown talent.” Elwood went on to praise their “cohesive musicality” and, in particular, singled out Springsteen as “a most impressive composer.” During this time Springsteen also performed regularly at small clubs in Canton, Massachusetts; Richmond, Virginia; and Asbury Park and other points along the Jersey Shore, quickly gathering a cult following.
Other acts followed over the next two years, as Springsteen sought to shape a unique and genuine musical and lyrical style: Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom (early–mid 1971), Sundance Blues Band (mid 1971), and The Bruce Springsteen Band (mid 1971–mid 1972). With the addition of pianist David Sancious, the core of what would later become the E Street Band was formed, with occasional temporary additions such as horn sections, “The Zoomettes” (a group of female backing vocalists for “Dr. Zoom”) and Southside Johnny Lyon on harmonica. Musical genres explored included blues, R&B, jazz, church music, early rock ‘n’ roll, and soul. His prolific songwriting ability, with “More words in some individual songs than other artists had in whole albums,” as his future record label would describe it in early publicity campaigns, brought his skill to the attention of several people who were about to change his life: new managers Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, and Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond, who, under Appel’s pressure, auditioned Springsteen in May 1972.
Even after Springsteen gained international acclaim, his New Jersey roots showed through in his music, and he often praised “the great state of New Jersey” in his live shows. Drawing on his extensive local appeal, he routinely sold out consecutive nights in major New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York venues. He also made many surprise appearances at The Stone Pony and other shore nightclubs over the years, becoming the foremost exponent of the Jersey Shore sound.
1972–1974: Initial struggle for success
Springsteen signed a record deal with Columbia Records in 1972, with the help of John Hammond, who had signed Bob Dylan to the same label a decade earlier. Springsteen brought many of his New Jersey–based colleagues into the studio with him, thus forming the E Street Band (although it would not be formally named as such for several more years). His debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., released in January 1973, established him as a critical favorite, though sales were slow. Because of Springsteen’s lyrical poeticism and folk rock–rooted music exemplified on tracks like “Blinded by the Light”, (which would later be a hit for Manfred Mann and go to No. 1, making it the only time Springsteen had a No. 1 single as a songwriter), and “For You”, as well as the Columbia and Hammond connections, critics initially compared Springsteen to Bob Dylan. “He sings with a freshness and urgency I haven’t heard since I was rocked by ‘Like a Rolling Stone, ‘” wrote Crawdaddy magazine editor Peter Knobler in Springsteen’s first interview/profile, in March 1973.