‘Springsteen: Liberty Hall’ photo book captures Boss and band in their ‘early innocence’

by JAY LUSTIG
nicki germaine

NICKI GERMAINE

Bruce Springsteen and his band (not yet known as the E Street Band) in front of Liberty Hall in Houston in March 1974 (from left, Ernest “Boom” Carter, David Sancious, Garry Tallent, Danny Federici, Springsteen and Clarence Clemons).

There is no image of Max Weinberg in “Springsteen: Liberty Hall” (168 pp., $65), a book of Bruce Springsteen and his backing band (not yet called the E Street Band) onstage and hanging around at Liberty Hall in Houston in March 1974. Weinberg would not join the band until September of that year. But he contributes a blurb to the book that really sums it up best.

“From the first picture I felt like I was breaking into Tutankhamen’s tomb and finding the treasure,” he writes.

NICKI GERMAINE

A 1974 photo of Bruce Springsteen, from the book “Springsteen: Liberty Hall.”

Before Springsteen’s Born to Run-fueled breakthrough, in 1975, he and his backing musicians were not very thoroughly documented via photographs or video. It is possible that some Springsteen fans have never seen photos of the band, for instance, with drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter, who was a member from February to August 1974 (and played on the studio version of the song, “Born to Run”). But there he is in some of these 95 photos, part of Springsteen’s backing quintet of the time that also featured saxophonist Clarence Clemons, keyboardists David Sancious and Danny Federici, and bassist Garry Tallent.

Germaine was 26 at the time of the seven Liberty Hall shows — which took place over four consecutive days — and working for a commercial photographer in Houston, with a freelance photography business on the side. She had never heard of Springsteen before, but was invited to the opening show. After it, she arranged to shoot the other shows as well, and do a photo shoot with the band during the day.

As the book shows, one of the photos — of a shirtless Springsteen backstage, holding some sort of dark liquid in a clear plastic cup — was used with a Rolling Stone article titled “Bruce Springsteen’s Lone Star Promenade.” But the vast majority have never been published before. They were “tucked away,” Germaine writes in the book, until she got “a surprise call” from Tallent in 2011, saying that someone was writing an article on the Liberty Hall shows.

Tallent asked if she still had her pictures. After she sent him what she had, he said, “you have something with these!”, Germaine writes in the book. It didn’t happen immediately, but she started thinking about publishing them; when Springsteen saw them, he offered to help.

NICKI GERMAINE

A backstage photo of Clarence Clemons at Liberty Hall.

Springsteen and Tallent ended up writing essays for the book, as did Springsteen expert Robert Santelli, who adds valuable historical perspective about where exactly Springsteen and the band were, in the course of their career, at the time of the Liberty Hall shows, how the shows themselves came to be, and what they were like.

Springsteen writes that these shows marked the beginning of “a love affair between E Street, New Jersey, and Texas” and also vividly describes the circumstances that led to the photos being taken:

“Luckily someone was there to capture all of the early innocence and nonchalance of the ’74 E Street Band. No one knew who the photographer, Nicki Germaine, was, but in those days that did not disqualify you from getting close to the band. We had no minders, no buffers, and she was just a cute gal with a camera. Shoot away! She caught a very unique incarnation of the band, with Davey Sancious and Boom Carter. We were in our pre-Max and Roy (Bittan) days and just letting it all hang out. We were still nobodies, very street, hanging and living with the locals while in town. … These are photos from ‘before.’ It wouldn’t last much longer, but here it is.”

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band perform at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, Aug. 30 and Sept. 1 and 3 at 7:30 p.m.; visit ticketmaster.com.

Germaine will do a book signing at Spring-Nut Serenade 5, a Springsteen fan gathering (organized by the Spring-Nuts Facebook group) that is taking place at Redds Restaurant & Bar in Carlstadt, Aug. 31 from 5 to 11 p.m., with proceeds benefiting WHY Hunger; visit eventbrite.com.

For more on the book, visit springsteenlibertyhall.com.

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