'The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle'

The weekend Bruce Springsteen loaded into the Armadillo World Headquarters

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A Mad Dog's Promenade

'The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle'
Illustration by Jim Franklin

A September 1974 issue of Rolling Stone tells us that Springsteen opened the first night with "New York City Serenade," the 10-minute opus of classical, folk, and soul that closes The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Pat Knight wrote: "Before the first number ended, the audience was giving Springsteen a standing ovation. Not bad when you consider most of those southern-fried kids had never heard of this boy from the Jersey swamps."

Wilson: Springsteen came out and from the first note just leveled everybody.

John Kunz, owner, Waterloo Records: I remember seeing all these folks from the crowd lining up for these two wooden-style phone booths at the back of the Armadillo, in the back of the hall near the door that led out to the beer garden, right in the middle of the first song. You could see it in their faces as they were talking in the booths to their friends: "You gotta get here right now!" I don't ever recall a situation like that. On the one hand, I felt sorry for those people because they were waiting in a line to call a friend. At the same time, I knew exactly why they were doing what they were doing. Everybody got the message loud and clear. I turned around a little later and thought, "Holy shit. This place went from one-third full to overfull."

Denny Angelle, blogger, 30 Days Out: The Armadillo always put up a bunch of folding chairs in the middle of the hall, and they left the sides open so that all the hippies could sit on the floor. Halfway through "Spirit in the Night," all the chairs got pushed out of the middle.

Priest: All of the cowboys in the room were standing up on their chairs. And I've otherwise only seen this in movies, but they threw their hats. They started throwing their hats. The boys onstage were so excited they didn't know what to do. But everybody's screaming for them, so they played "Blinded by the Light." By the time they finished "Blinded by the Light," the bartenders were standing on the bars. Everybody was dancing. It was uncanny. They blew the lid right off the place, and with an audience full of serious country music fans. But that was when rock & roll was still a participatory sport, before the pot got good and it became a spectator sport. It was actually designed to be a participatory sport.

Twist and Shout

Kunz: The interplay between Bruce and the band, it still exists today, but the relationship he had with those guys .... You just felt like it was a bunch of best friends hanging out with each other, and it made you want to be part of the gang.

Hank Aldrich, Armadillo owner: His obvious connection to community – where, when, and how he and grown up in New Jersey – gave him the quality of a kind of folk music. I agree with Mark Rubin in his definition of what folk music is beyond industry marketing categories. It's the music of a culture, of a community, expressed by those in that community. Springsteen was coming from a place like that. His band was as instrumental as he was at every position. Clarence [Clemons] was their awesome visage, and the power of his delivery on the sax, it was very impressive. It had a very heavy impact. And the fact that he was such a huge guy, and black, in the midst of those smaller white kids, it was a wonderful thing.

Priest: They were just so funny, these little, bitty city boys. It always struck me peculiar back then that we didn't realize the reason English musicians were so little: It's because they come out of a place that had terrible famines. There was no food, so kids got born little. Those East Coast boys were byproducts of that. Here we were all the beneficiaries of bovine growth hormone and adversary nuclear testing and antibiotics all our lives. We were all big, hulking beasts and these guys were little and tiny.

Angelle: You got up close, and you realize they look really badass. Springsteen was the star of the show, and he looked like he slept in the gutter. He was all hair, he was all wiry, and he had busted jeans. But the one thing that stuck in my mind was the dude rocked these Converse black-and-white Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. And he wore the low-tops, which I thought was kind of funny. The next week, I took $13 and went and bought a pair of these Converse Chuck Taylors. And I swear to God that I have never been without a pair since.

Aldrich: Springsteen's energy was fascinating. We'd had a lot of experience with Van Morrison. At that point in his career, Van was hyperactive onstage, almost to the point of being frantic. Springsteen moved on the stage a lot, but it wasn't frantic. It was more like a lion on the prowl, the way a cat looks over in an area to locate its prey. His energy was really high but beautifully focused. Beyond Springsteen, there was the obvious reality that this was a hell of a band, and they were indeed a band. It was not just a bunch of hired guys that were backing the guy that the record company signed. They dug into their material together. All the elements of the way the songs were produced on the record were there, but they stretched the solos. They clearly were a performing band. There was nothing cramped about the way they were going about it.

Kunz: There must have been half a dozen times that I thought he'd break his neck because he would jump up on top of the piano and climb up onto a stack of amps. Then he'd jump from one stack of amps to the next and to the next. He'd have his guitar strapped around him and he'd be surfing on these stacks of amps. He had this shit-eating grin once he had it under control.

Aldrich: There was one moment when Clarence was up there just tearing into this solo, and Springsteen was moving around the stage, obviously driven by the power of this saxophone. He went around behind Clarence, and he's just about gone. He was completely obscured except that Bruce had his arms straight out at his side, and it looked like some weird cross with a black post and white arms. And then he sort of slid down Clarence's back. It was a trippy thing to look at.

Kunz: At a certain point, it almost became like a James Brown vamping thing, like, "I just can't go on any more." But everyone in the room was really amped up, and you just knew he was, too. So he's down on the stage, like "I can't go on any more" and "I should have listened to my doctor. He told me not to do 'Twist and Shout,' but it's all those cheeseburgers I eat. I eat lots of cheeseburgers and they're loaded with cholesterol." And I remember him getting down and then jumping up and saying, "But that's OK. I can do it anyway!" And the crowd's going wild.

Wilson: He had some sort of hassle with the song "The Fever." I guess a bootleg had been put out or something. There was some sort of wrangle going on, and he wasn't supposed to play it. The audience was hollering at him over and over again to play "The Fever," but he couldn't. So there was sort of this long silence and somebody shouted, "Play anything you want!" One of the people there that night was the future Laura Bush, who was there with her best friend Regan Gammon from the fourth grade. Years later, I heard that was something they'd shout at the White House: "Awww, play anything you want!"

Springsteen and the band hightailed it for Dallas Sunday morning, bound for four shows at Gertie's before hitting Phoenix and heading home in April. Preliminary work on third album Born To Run began immediately.

Bruce Springsteen delivers the South by South­west 2012 Music Festival keynote speech at noon on Thursday, March 15, at the Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D. He performs that night at ACL Live at the Moody Theater.

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Bruce Springsteen, Armadillo World Headquarters, Threadgill's, Eddie Wilson, Hank Aldrich, Micael Priest, John Kunz, Alvin Crow, Denny Angelle

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