Friday, October 15, 2010

Springsteen drummer on the E Street Band: We're like a mist that coalesces into liquid

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Max Weinberg is having a ball.

There have been the 36 years as Bruce Springsteen's drummer, the 17 years as Conan O'Brien's band leader and the eight months that have passed since his open-heart surgery that he said has given him a new lease on life.

"I feel better now than I ever did and because of that, I play more vigorously. When I get behind the drum set, I always tend to act like a 12-year-old. Now I feel like a 12-year-old. So on that count, everything is OK," said Weinberg, describing his 15-piece band, as having a "muscular" approach.

"That's one of the hallmarks of my drumming; I take no prisoners," he said. "This is not sitting back in the dark clubs and snapping your fingers. This is full-body shaking music."

Throughout his career, the drummer, who Springsteen dubbed "Mighty Max," has proved his mettle - delivering the percussive beating that lead into the "Badlands," gunning the cymbals to let listeners know they were entering "Candy's Room" and providing an all-out assault on his drum kit, while still keeping time, during the anthemic "Born in The U.S.A."

Weinberg grew up admiring Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich and other musicians he would see performing on variety TV shows in the 1950s and 60s.

He was considering a law career and pounding out beats in an orchestra pit on Broadway for a theatrical run of the musical "Godspell" when he answered an ad search for a drummer in The Village Voice that launched his career on E Street in 1974.

A newly released documentary marking the historic return of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band to the recording studio in 1977 brought some memories of those early days back to the forefront.

"We were really young kids," said Weinberg, whose youthful face is curtained by a five o'clock shadow in the "The Promise," which is currently airing on HBO.

"When I see this documentary it feels like I'm looking at my son," said the 59-year-old drummer."

"It was an incredibly fertile time in music, outside even of what we felt we were doing," he said, rattling through a list of then-young bands that included The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Police, Elvis Costello and Graham Parker.

"There was, of course, The Ramones and all the New York groups that were very prolific, in punk. We were definitely touched by that scene. We kind of even looked a little like a punk band at times. We played like a punk band - the idea of raw, stripped-down rock 'n' roll was a sort of antidote to the excesses of the mid-70s and what rock 'n' roll presentation had become," Weinberg said. "It was very present in what we were doing and the things that we liked going on around us."

The documentary is a prelude to the release of a multi-disc issue chronicling the band's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" era.

"It's really a fascinating document. You have two full CDs of unreleased material that were recorded during those sessions - any grouping of which could have been a fabulous album- but it wasn't what Bruce wanted to hone in on at the time. It's great that they're seeing the light of day. There's also a wonderfully shot, I think brilliantly performed, current-day version of the entire album that we did in a theater with no one in it. Just us, playing the ‘Darkness' album, front-to-back."

A student of the history of the instrument, Weinberg is quick to credit William F. Ludwig's invention of the bass drum pedal as the catalyst for the emergence of musical combos and points to pre-rock 'n'roll percussionists like Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton for possessing powerful almost rock-like drumming execution.

While he moved in a rock ‘n' roll direction with his drumming, Weinberg was always a big fan of that big horn sound. The titles matter little.

"Music is the kind of thing that is completely open-ended. You never stop learning; you never stop digging deep if you care to. And in a nutshell, I care to," he said.

Time and touring has not faded the memory of a performance with the E Street Band in Saratoga  during the summer of 1984..

"I absolutely remember that show we played at SPAC. It was raining. We played (John Fogerty's) ‘Who'll Stop the Rain,' and miraculously, it stopped raining. I can attest to that."

Weinberg said his long-term professional goal is simply to keep playing as much drums as he can. Regarding future projects with the E Street Band, Weinberg said, "I'm very much looking forward to that, but we keep it really loose. It's sort of like a mist that coalesces into liquid.

"I think the band has played as well if not better than we've ever done in the past. The fans certainly seem to still enjoy it. So, why not?"

His open-heart surgery, which entailed mitral valve and tricuspid valve repair was conducted in February at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. The result has left him feeling "terrifically healthy," he said.

"It is amazing what they can do today, it really is. They can stop your heart, they can take it apart and they can put it back together again," Weinberg said.

"I really do have a new lease on life. While I've always been someone who has smelled the roses, when you're laid up like that your physicality is so out of your reach that it does change you. It changes you spiritually, it changes you emotionally."
- Thomas Dimopoulos, interview with Max Weinberg, 2010.


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