In an appearance on SiriusXM satellite radio’s “The Howard Stern Show” this week, Tom Morello talked about the first time he performed onstage with the E Street Band, April 7, 2008 at the Honda Center in Anaheim. They performed a revelatory version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” together; you can watch a video of it, below.
Morello — who later became an auxiliary E Street Band member — gave Stern a detailed account of how the collaboration happened:
“He (Springsteen) was making the ‘Magic’ record with (producer) Brendan O’Brien. I stopped by the studio and he said, ‘Tommy, you should come play with the E Street Band sometime.’ He said it as an offhand remark, and I took it as scripture. So the next time they were in Anaheim, I called them up the day before and said, like, ‘Remember when you said I should jam with the E Street Band? How about tomorrow night?’ And we agree on ‘Ghost of Tom Joad.’ Now at the time, the only version of his that existed was the plaintive, minor key ballad, right?
“Now I was as nervous for this as I’ve ever been, for anything in my life. I’ve played many shows, in many arenas and stadiums and things like that. I’ve never been more nervous than prior to this rehearsal.
“I’m over-rehearsed for it. … I get down there. I’m down in catering, I hear the band rehearsing it, and to my surprise, Bruce has raised the key of the song by eight steps. Now I no longer can play it, and I no longer can sing it, ’cause I’ve got this kind of rich, milk-chocolate baritone voice, and it’s too high for me now. So I go up there and I’m onstage, and I don’t know the chords and I can’t hit the notes. And it’s my first time with my favorite artist, on the stage, and it’s not going great.
“So Steve Van Zandt, lovely dude, he comes over and he’s like, you know, the way Steve is, he’s like, ‘Baby, baby …’ I’m like, ‘There’s no “baby.” It’s “bad baby,” because I don’t know how to play the song.’ But they don’t call Bruce Springsteen the Boss for nothing. So Bruce comes over. He recognizes my anxiety. He puts a hand on my shoulder. He says, ‘Tommy …’ … first of all, I think, ‘I love the fact that Bruce Springsteen calls me Tommy, it’s awesome’ … he puts his hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eye and says, ‘We’re gonna do it in this key, and it’s gonna be great.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, okay, thanks, Jedi master Yoda. I still don’t know how to play it or sing it.’
“But it does calm my nerves, and I recognize … there’s like 15 people in the E Street Band. They know the chords. I don’t need to worry about that. Can I sing a song of social justice and mean it? Yes I can. Can I play a guitar solo? I can do that, too. So, they surprised me with the key, so I decide to have a little surprise for the E Street Band. During the rehearsal, on the stage during soundcheck, I don’t give anything away in the solo. I just play straight, like, Chuck Berry blues licks … Downstairs, I’m down there, a half a bottle of Jameson later, it’s my turn to come up. I walk on the stage, and we played a version of the song that really took us all completely by surprise. And it was electric.
“Bruce is very generous in that … I’m playing this crazy solo, and he’s just like, ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going.’ It’s 82 bars. The roof comes off the place. And we looked at each other and I was like, ‘Bruce, uh, you were right about the key after all. It was the right key for the song.’ ”
Morello, best known as a member of Rage Against the Machine, will debut a new SiriuxXM show, “Radio Comandante,” on the network’s E Street Radio channel (channel 20), March 2 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., with replays throughout the week. According to the SiriusXM blog, the show “will focus on the theme of American class consciousness and examine the 80-year history behind Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad.’ ”
“Radio Comandante” will be heard on different channels in subsequent weeks. In an unusual arrangement, the show will air on whichever SiriusXM channel is most appropriate.
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