May 9, 1974 was the pivotal day in the most pivotal year of Bruce Springsteen’s career. I mention that for two reasons.
One, it’s the 45th anniversary of that day, today.
Two, there’s a new book, “Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Roll Future” (Backstreets Publishing, 152 pp., $50 hardcover), devoted to that day.
I’ll tell you a little about the book first, and then some more about 1974.
It’s a coffee table book featuring photos taken by Barry Schneier on that day, 45 years ago, when Springsteen and the E Street Band opened for Bonnie Raitt at the Harvard Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. Critic Jon Landau, who later became Springsteen’s manager, was in attendance, and raved about the show in Boston’s Real Paper, calling Springsteen “Rock and Roll Future.”
As the book documents, Springsteen’s record label, Columbia, started using the phrase in ads, and other journalists started referring to it, as well, when writing about Springsteen. He still wasn’t selling a lot of records. But his momentum began to swell.
The book features Schneier’s recollections as well as his dramatic photos from that concert (most of which were previously unpublished), plus new interviews with E Street Band members Garry Tallent, David Sancious and Ernest Carter, an introduction by Chris Phillips of Backstreets magazine, and a foreword by Eileen Chapman of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University in West Long Branch.
It’s interesting to see what what E Streeters recall. Tallent remembers seeing a letter from Raitt’s manager to her booking agency, asking that Springsteen never open for her again (presumably because he was so hard to follow).
Sancious remembers the piano the theater rented (“a seven-foot Yamaha … the best one I’d ever played with the band”) and that band members considered the show special because they knew that Landau, who was also writing for Rolling Stone in those days, was coming.
Carter remembers how good Raitt was. “I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It was just amazing,” he says.
One of the coolest things about the book, incidentally, is that there aren’t many other photographic records of the six-month period when Carter was in the band. He had been hired to replace Vini Lopez in February 1974, and left with Sancious in August 1974 when their jazz fusion group, Tone, got a record deal of their own.
So why was 1974 so pivotal for Springsteen?
He didn’t release an album that year: Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle both came out in 1973, and Born to Run wasn’t out until the summer of 1975. But he and the E Street Band toured constantly in ’74 and were able to play bigger and bigger venues, thanks to their growing reputation (fueled, to some extent, by Landau’s quote).
In February, they were still playing for a few hundred people at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr, Pa. By the end of the year, they were playing for thousands at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pa.
Also, 1974 was the year the band’s lineup gelled almost completely — with Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan replacing Carter and Sancious — into the unit that would make Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River and Born in the USA (Steven Van Zandt didn’t come on board until 1975).
Springsteen started work on the Born to Run album in 1974. He also wrote and recorded the album’s title track — the most important song in his entire career — that year. (It’s the only track on the Born to Run album to feature Sancious and Carter.)
It also was the year that The Stone Pony in Asbury Park opened, and became the focal point of the town’s music scene; Springsteen made his first appearance there in September. Springsteen also performed at the Bottom Line in New York and the Capitol Theatre in Passaic for the first time that year.
Overall, it was just a momentous year for Springsteen. And this book take you to the epicenter of the earthquake — or, as Phillips phrases it in his introduction, the “night (that) was the proverbial butterfly that flapped its wings and changed everything.”
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