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Rock/Pop

Bruce Springsteen

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"I have seen rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen"

Bruce Springsteen is one of the few artists to not only survive the “new Dylan” tag, but to transcend it. A poetic soul married to the charisma and showmanship of a band leader made Springsteen a uniquely talented performer who couldn't be anything but a superstar.

Born in Freehold, New Jersey in 1949, the young Bruce was caught in music’s irresistible pull by the age of seven (thanks to one Elvis Aaron Presley). He was playing in bands by time he hit his teens, most notably with the band Steel Mill, where he joined up with Vini Lopez, Danny Federici and Steven Van Zandt.

Steel Mill split up in 1971 and Springsteen set about assembling a big band, first called Dr Zoom & The Cosmic Boom, then simply The Bruce Springsteen Band. Along with the trio from his Steel Mill days, Springsteen was also joined by David Sancious (piano), Garry Tallent (bass) and Clarence Clemons (saxophone). However, progress was slow and they disbanded, Springsteen instead striking out on his own.

It was as a solo artist that Springsteen was signed to Columbia and joined up with manager Mike Appel. His first act was to get the old band back together (minus Van Zandt, who was busy elsewhere) and set about recording his debut, 1973’s Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. The album was a commercial flop but Springsteen and co. returned later that year with a second album The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. Despite critical acclaim, it too failed to sell and Springsteen found himself on the verge of being dropped by his label.

In 1974, Lopez and Sancious departed the band, replaced by Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan.  Van Zandt returned to the fold and the band was rechristened the E Street Band. Springsteen road tested his new crew before returning to the studio for his last chance to break the big time. Released in 1975, Born To Run delivered in spades. Critics raved (Rolling Stone’s Jon Landau called him “rock and roll’s future”) and the record cracked the top ten, eventually selling over six million copies.

Just when Springsteen looked to have it made, he found himself stymied by a legal dispute with his now ex-manager Mike Appel, from whom he’d parted in order to sign with the aforementioned Jon Landau. It took three years for Springsteen to resolve the dispute and record the follow-up to Born To Run. By then, the wide-eyed Springsteen of 1975 was gone, replaced with a much more sombre, down-hearted version on 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

The double LP The River followed in 1980 and landed Springsteen his first US No.1 album and a top ten hit with Hungry Heart. But rather than compound on this success with another big rock album, Springsteen retreated inwards, instead releasing the stark bedroom demos of Nebraska in 1982. Still, critical acclaim followed and the album hit the top ten.

Van Zandt left the band left the band shortly after, replaced by ex-Crazy Horse guitarist Nils Lofgren. Springsteen returned in 1984 with Born In The USA, and the album sent him stratospheric, with seven top ten singles in the US, his first Grammy and 15 million copies sold. His Live 1975–1985 triple album collection followed it to the top of the album charts.

As was now almost expectedly unexpected for Springsteen, his follow up marked a sharp left turn. Predating his divorce from his first wife Julianne Phillips, 1987’s Tunnel Of Love was a raw, introverted affair about love gone wrong. Soon after, Springsteen and Phillips split. Bruce would soon marry again to E Street backing singer Patti Scialfa.

Towards the end of the decade, Springsteen broke up the E Street Band. In 1992, he simultaneously released two new albums (Lucky Town and Human Touch) with a new backing band. Although both albums went Platinum, they marked a commercial and critical downturn for the first time in his career.

His next outing was the 1993 single Streets Of Philadelphia, recorded for Jonathan Demme’s film Philadelphia, winning Springsteen four Grammys and an Oscar for Best Original Song. Rumours of an E Street reunion tour circulated after the band came back together to record four songs for a Greatest Hits album in 1995. However, in true Springsteen style, he instead followed the collection up with the stripped back The Ghost Of Tom Joad later that year and embarked on a solo acoustic tour.

Following the Tracks box set, which gathered together all the unreleased material Springsteen had accumulated since 1973, he finally got the band back together (this time including both Lofgren and Van Zandt) for his Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 1999. A huge world tour followed, culminating in the Live In New York City double album.

As the band turned their thoughts towards a new album, disaster struck New York. The 9/11 terrorist attacks greatly influenced the tone of the ensuing album, as Springsteen attempted to put voice to a country in mourning via 2002’s The Rising. Once the extensive touring was completed, he again followed a cathartic record with another quiet, downbeat affair, 2005’s Devils & Dust.

Springsteen put together a whole new band for 2006’s We Shall Overcome, a collection of re-recorded songs associated with folk singer Pete Seeger. The E Street Band were back in the fold again for the Grammy-winning Magic in 2007. However, the band suffered the loss of long-standing keyboardist Danny Federici the following year. He was replaced by Charles Giordano.

Following extensive support of Barrack Obama’s presidential campaign, Springsteen released Working On A Dream in 2009. The album, the last to feature Federici, went straight to No.1. Springsteen began working on archival collections of his old records, starting with Born To Run, while simultaneously working on new material, such as 2012’s Wrecking Ball and the odds and sods collection High Hopes in 2014. Sadly, Springsteen’s longtime friend and bandmate Clarence Clemons died in 2011, his last ever sax solo appearing on the High Hopes track Land Of Hope And Dreams.

Springsteen bared his soul for his autobiography Born To Run, released in 2016 alongside a companion record Chapter & Verse. He then adapted those memoirs for the stage, turning them into the one-man show Springsteen On Broadway. The show featured anecdotes from his life story alongside stripped-back performances of some of his biggest hits. A Netflix special was released in 2018.

Following the sweeping, melodramatic Western Stars in 2019, Springsteen reunited the E Street Band again in 2020 for Letter To You. Recorded live in the studio, it showcased Bruce and his cohorts’ undiminished energy, even as they entered their sixth decade together.