The late Warren Zevon is on a lot of people’s minds this week, since after he was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it was announced on May 3 that he will not be one of the inductees.
He was a kindred spirit, in many ways, to Bruce Springsteen, and I wondered if I could find — as I’ve done before, with pairs of artists such as Springsteen and John Mellencamp, and Springsteen and Eddie Vedder, and Steely Dan and Elvis Costello — enough connections to put together a post.
And I could! Some are obvious. Some, pretty obscure.
So here they are, in chronological order: 10 times that Springsteen (or, in a few cases, E Street Band members) figured, in some way, in the Warren Zevon story. Or vice versa.
According to the Brucebase website, the only known instance of Springsteen and Zevon performing together onstage took place at the Paramount Theatre in Portland, Ore., in 1978, when Springsteen made a surprise appearance. According to Brucebase, he played guitar and harmonica and sang on a “wild, extended version” of Zevon’s “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as the show’s final encore. No video exists of that performance but here is the song’s original studio version, from Zevon’s self-titled 1976 album.
In 1980, Zevon included a song co-written with Springsteen, “Jeannie Needs a Shooter,” on his album, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. Zevon took Springsteen’s title, adapted the chorus, and wrote verses of his own. Springsteen didn’t release his own version, titled “Janey Needs a Shooter,” until his Letter to You album in 2020. Here are both versions.
Here is a video of Zevon, at the Capitol Theater in Passaic in 1982, performing Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch.”
Go to the 1:28 mark of this live version of “Werewolves of London,” from the same Capitol Theater show, to hear Zevon sing “Little old lady got mutilated late last night/I think it was Clarence Clemons again … werewolves of Jersey.”
In 1988, Zevon and Clemons both appeared at an event that celebrated the sixth anniversary of the talk show “Late Night With David Letterman.” It took place at Radio City Music Hall in New York and was taped for a prime-time TV special. Zevon, on piano, and Clemons, on tenor saxophone, were part of the band that backed Cyndi Lauper, Ben E. King and Billy Joel (also playing organ) on a medley of soul songs. Others in the band included Joe Walsh, Duane Eddy and Robert Cray on guitars, Carole King on synthesizer, David Sanborn and Freddie Hubbard among the horn players, and Roberta Flack, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson as backing vocalists. (The musical segment begins around the 1:20 mark of this video.)
E Street Band member Roy Bittan played keyboards on Stevie Nicks’ cover of Zevon’s “Reconsider Me,” which she recorded in 1984 but did not release until her 1998 boxed set Enchanted. Bittan also played on Zevon’s 1987 “Reconsider Me” single though not on the version that was released on Zevon’s Sentimental Hygiene album.
Springsteen was a guest contributor to Zevon’s incredible 2003 album The Wind, recorded after Zevon had been diagnosed with lung cancer and released two weeks before his death. Springsteen played lead guitar on “Disorder in the House,” which won a Grammy in the Rock Vocal (Group or Duo) category.
Springsteen also sang backing vocals on another track from The Wind, “Prison Grove.” Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, Billy Bob Thornton, David Lindley, Jorge Calderón and Zevon’s son Jordan are also credited with backing vocals. I assume that’s all of them together, on the parts that sound like a ghostly choir.
In September 2003, three days after Zevon died, Springsteen honored him by performing “My Ride’s Here” (co-written by Zevon and poet Paul Muldoon, and the title track of a 2002 Zevon album) to open a concert with the E Street Band in Toronto. The live recording also was included on the 2004 multi-artist compilation album, Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon.
Springsteen played five Zevon recordings — “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” “I Was in the House When the House Burned Down,” “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Mohammed’s Radio” and “Ourselves to Know” — on the “From My Home to Yours” shows he did for SiriusXM satellite radio in 2020 and 2021. Most powerfully, perhaps, in May 2020 he played “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” after criticizing President Trump for not taking COVID mitigation efforts seriously enough.
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