Now for something completely different....
The Art of the Cover Band
The E-Street Band could, and probably should put out an album of covers. Tonight, we got the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love,” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” Instead of being distractions, they were highlights. -- Evan Schlansky, AMERICAN SONGWRITER, April 18, 2018
It's hard to think of something as silly as seeing someone as neglected by the critical public if they're members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But, there are two bands with their front men who are in fact neglected, at least in awareness, of their absolute mastery of the heart of Rock and Roll. Cover songs. I'm talking about Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Every musician in the worlds of Rock and Roll, Country, Bluegrass, Folk, Blues and on and on began doing this stuff because they wanted to sound like someone else, because they wanted to play something and affect people the same way other people they heard or saw or heard about did. It's really that simple.
I've joked that every boy who ever picked up a guitar in the 60s did so because they wanted to get girls. That's true to a point, but a lot of girls picked up guitars. It's more primal than that -- someone said something, sang something played something that resonated totally with you, and you just wanted to be able to recreate that and maybe get other people's attention, respect and love. Yeah, love. Music is about vanquishing demons and reaching out for the other side, and I can't think of a better definition of love.
Again, we are always, at heart and on some primal level, 15 and two young to drive. We seek an escape and a way of transcending our mundane existence. I did it by writing in a cynically idealistic style and learning to play the guitar because I wanted to hit that emotion I grasped in listening to "Like a Rolling Stone." We all began -- pros, amateurs, weekend musicians and woodshedders -- trying to capture somebody else and subsume them. Along the way, interesting things happen. The comment has been made by numerous critics and historians and commentators that the Velvet Underground only sold about 68000 original recordings of their first album, but everyone who bought one started a band. In my experience, that's actually pretty close.
So, Tom Petty and Heartbreakers wandered out of Gainesville, Florida and went out to California in the early 70s, calling themselves Mudcrutch. Got a contract and the band then went sideways and went back to Gainesville to refit, recruit and recharge, staying away from the Cypress Lounge of course.. They went back to California, were labeled kind of punk-new wave but what they really were and are is the traditional, American Kosmic Music that Graham Parsons proclaimed with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Rock and Roll with country, blues, and R&B influences.
Of course, we need to remember, they began playing in somebody's garage, graduating as all great bands do to playing parties and then high school dances, and then bars. Bar Bands and High School bands don't get work because they do such great original stuff; they get gigs because they played stuff that was popular with the crowd. In Florida that would be Rock, Rhythm and Blues with a strong Country and Pop.
The E-Street Band came up on the tough streets of Asbury Park New Jersey, beginning with a spark in Bruce Springsteen's eyes and the response from the grin of Steven Van Zandt, Little Steven of The Sopranos, Wicked Cool Records, Lillehammer and Lead Guitar with Bruce and the boys for 45 years. In fact, Steven is so busy that he has to occasionally have a substitute while he's being a TV star in Norway or scoring a James Gandolfini and that role is being filled or supplemented with Tom Morello, Harvard Poly Sci graduate, Rage Against the Machine Graduate and Political Activist. Interesting tidbit I overheard listening to Van Zandt's radio show on his XM Network, Underground Garage, is that Asbury Park banned Rock and Roll music in public during the 50s...and he chuckles.
Their bread and butter was New York and Philadelphia based Rock, R&Bs and the Bar Music Scene. You can't hear a chord from this band without hearing that sound. When Courtney Love chose not to scratch out Dave Grohl's eyes at Nirvana's induction at the Rock Hall, she then babbled that while she likes Bruce Springsteen, "saxophones don't have a place in Rock and Roll." That's kind of like saying banjos don't have a place in country music. Before electric basses were the standard, sax and the stand-up along with the drums were necessary to lay down rhythm. The Sax is a key part of R&B music; it's key in jazz. Heck, Mark Linsday of Paul Revere and the Raiders was recruited to do vocals and play SAX, and is a sought after session musician in New York and New Jersey for that reason.
There’s nothing like going to a live concert. It’s not like going to the bank. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Everybody’s in a great mood and there to have a good time. No one’s fighting with their significant other, no one looks bored or impatient. Everyone is focused and in the moment and smiling. Or, as was the case during last night’s acoustic show-closer “Thunder Road,” rocking out in their own private bliss and singing along. --Schlansky, 4-18-14
The piece in American Songwriter struck me because of the material mentioned by Evan Schlansky. I haven't heard a lot of people cover Satisfaction in a satisfactory way -- actually, nobody, except for teenage bands on stage at various dances in the 60s. The Stones don't even play it correctly on stage and haven't for years. It's one of the first songs in the garage rock logos, along with Louie Louie, and everybody learns it, usually incorrectly, early in their playing career. So, while I'd put even money on this one being staged, the little blonde with the Rolling Stone logo on her sign requesting Satisfaction is right in keeping with the history. I'm pretty sure Springsteen and the Salamaders or whatever he called his first band played this one. WE ALL PLAYED THIS ONE, just normally not well. Someday, someone will do it as a ballad, because it's as poignant and angry for a middle aged man as it was for a teenager in 1965. This captures it really well...and, it's really close to the original, if they'd done it with three guitars, piano, keyboards, drummer and sax.
I've never heard the Heartbreakers cover any Rolling Stones. Not sure why in some ways; the Stones may be the Master "Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World!" but they were a bar cover band doing rhythm and blues based largely on Chuck Berry and the Chicago music scene. I first heard this one, Carol, on "Get Your Ya-Yas Out!" a masterpiece from the Stones 70-71 tour that was so overshadowed by Altmont. The Stones do an incredible job on it, as they did on their original "England's Newest Hitmakers, The Rolling Stones" in early 64. It's also the song that Chuck Berry tormented Keith with in Hail, Hail Rock and Roll. Richards is on the record repeatedly saying that Chuck Berry caused him more pain and agony than Mick Jagger ever thought of...but he also inducted Berry into the Hall of Fame, saying it was very hard to induct Berry because he'd stolen every lick Chuck wrote.
This version was done a couple of years ago in Cologne. Petty's nasal draw really fits and reminds you of Chuck Berry and early rock and roll. Benmont Trench the band's keyboard player is an exceptional contributor here. Berry had a great pianist named Jimmie Johnson, and during the filming of "Hail, Hail.." Richards learned that Berry had screwed Johnson out of songwriter credit and royalties for his contributions. Johnson was the stereotypical illiterate bluesman who had a piano instead of a guitar. Richards did some things to help the guy out.
In a cameo in "Hail, Hail..." Bruce tells the story of the night the E Street Band got to play backup for Berry. This was the dream gig for an established bar band, backing a musician who toured incessantly and played with whomever the promoters stuck in front of him. This is why a lot of videos lifted from TV performances of people like Eddie Cochran have the musician playing in front of a band of pimply faced parochial high school backups, or so it seems. Anyway, Bruce said it was an amazing experience,about the time of "Greetings from Asbury Park." When they arrived and set up, Chuck showed up just as the show was supposed to start, stuffing money into his pockets (Berry always demanded being paid in advance when he arrived, in cash!) and just nodded at the Band and said "Johnny B. Goode." That was how the show went, he'd call out the song and expect them to play along for him. Usually not knowing the key, which could be a challenge. Berry has monstrous hands and primarily uses barre chords, and thus likes to play in some really strange keys. A#minor for example...for Roll Over Beethoven. So the E-Street Band was there, no idea what was coming next and no clue what key while he did his 50 minute set and duck walked off into the sunset. Here they are with Berry, about 20 years later --and, about 20 years ago.
The article mentions that the Bruce and the band did "Shout', by the Isley Brothers. The Heartbreakers have a pattern of doing cover songs as their encores, and Shout works exceptionally well. I think it may be the southern bar scene, beach music flavor of the song. It could just be that it's a great Call and Response, driving party song, and really fits well as the band ramps the crowd up for a final good night. This performance is actually kind of raw, 1978, because it pre-dates the "Damn the Torpedoes" explosion of the band and its leader into the mainstream. But, it's a great example of an excellent bar band doing it's thing in front of a big crowd, having fun and dragging the audience in. At it's best, transcendent and isn't that what we're all seeking?