Gig Journal #1: Feeling Sorry For Bruce Springsteen

bruce-springsteen

I’ve easily played 2,500-3,500 live gigs over my career, I can’t accurately count.  For a number of years during the mid-to-late 1970s I was living and Boston and played 250-300 gigs a year, all across New England and well beyond.  Those gigs ranged from performances at the Hatch Shell in Boston before 7,000 people to hideous, interminable gigs at total shit-hole bars under bizarre circumstances.  I many times played for a rapt audience of 2,000 people one night and the next night might find myself slogging it out in some bar where people would ask the bartender if I would stop playing so they could watch the TV.  I kept somewhat active Gig Journals during those years, and they record some remarkable experiences.  Many of these journals were written shortly after the gigs; others, years later.  Many of them are, I think, utterly hilarious.  Some are horrifying.  A few might even be called inspiring.  If I can figure out a way of someday turning this into a blog where other musicians can post their own recollections, I’d like to do that.  Some of the wildest stories I’ve ever heard are from fellow musicians.  I wish I could share just a few of the stories sidemen have told me about being on the road with famous musicians, but that would surely lead to multiple lawsuits.  It’s a book no one can ever write, but it’s an amazing one.

I have tons of Gig Journals.  Here’s one of my very favorites.

Union College — October 19, 1974

My band’s Boston agency, Lordly and Dame, booked us a couple of nights in upper state New York, at Union College.  We were booked to play Friday night “unplugged” at the Union College Coffee House, and then the following night we were to play full band in the Union College Chapel, as opening act for an up and coming singer-songwriter named Bruce Springsteen.  He had recorded a couple of albums but I had never heard of him.  He seemed to be more of a local New Jersey phenomenon.

We had a blast on Friday night at the Coffee House gig.  It was really nice and intimate, maybe 100 people there.  We joked with them about how we had just come off several gigs opening up to the Jefferson Airplane offshoot band Hot Tuna, and how during our sets their fanatic fans (more than once) were screaming “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna!” 

The next afternoon we did a sound check and then Springsteen’s band came in for theirs.  They seemed kind of disorganized.  All they did was a quick run-through of about one-third of “There Is A Rose In Spanish Harlem” and they split, apparently satisfied.

Not knowing anything at all about them, I thought maybe they were a cover band.  They were traveling in some kind of shitty tour bus.  I wasn’t paying too much attention to them, but it didn’t seem like they were living in the lap of luxury, just like us.

Our opening set that night was really kick-ass, and it was obvious we had a lot of fans in the audience, because more than once we heard friendly voices taunting us with “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna!”  After we received our third encore, though, I suddenly worried about the Springsteen guy.  I was hoping he would be able to put on a decent show and win over the room, because at that moment it seemed to be totally ours. 

We off-loaded our gear into our van because we had at least a 6-hour drive ahead of us going back to Boston, which meant we would arrive home around 4 in the morning.  As the other guys were finishing up the load and warming up the van, I slipped back into the Chapel for a moment to check out Springsteen’s scene.  I took a seat at the very back of the Chapel.  It is a beautiful room, I’m guessing 800 seats or so, classic New England elegance.  What I heard blew my mind.  To the best of my recollection, Bruce opened up with a ballad.  I recall at one point he was down on his knees.  Regardless of what he was doing, it was an utterly transformative performance, and he had the whole room in his hand.  So incredibly powerful and human and vulnerable.  An astoundingly happy musical moment for me.  And far as I could tell, our band was immediately forgotten!

I was around Bruce a couple of times after that and I neglected to ever ask him about that gig and about that opening song.  Soon he would become “The Boss” and 10 years later when I had moved to LA and saw him perform at the LA Coliseum, it seemed like all he did was high octane material.  I wish all my friends could have been with me that night in Schenectady all those years ago. 

Good luck to you, Bruce!  Hope your career turned out great!  Feel free to post a Gig Journal here any time you want.  Sorry our keyboardist walked off with your dopp kit!

Postscript:  It tuns out, that concert was legendary to many Springsteen fans.  There are a number of bootlegs available from evening and many testimonials online, none of them mentioning “Tuna.”  For an example, see http://brucespringsteenserenade.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/excerpts-from-glory-days-a-history-of-bruce-springsteen-in-the-capital-region/

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Sufis

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All this talk of Sufis, reminds me of jazz guitarist Mick Goodrick, who came along at an interesting time in my life and who reinforced a lot of my own feelings about music and musicians.  In 1976 or thereabouts, while I was living in Boston, I studied for a year or more with Mick, with whom I developed a really special friendship as well.  I didn’t really “study guitar” with Mick.  Mostly we talked about purposefulness and watchfulness.  I brought my demos over and Mick played guitar solos on them.  We talked about a myriad of things, including the music we liked and why.  (I read a great Jazz Guitar Life Mick Goodrick interview recently where he mentioned that Mike Stern “studied” with him a few times during that same period, where the two of them mostly just talked about psychology, which sounds a lot like what my “lessons” were like.)

I still recall the day I arrived at Mick’s house the first time.  I found myself in a dark room in the middle of the afternoon, with Mick leaning back in some kind of Lazy-Boy recliner in the far corner.  I said “I’m Bill Gable, I called you on the phone, I’m really interested to see what I can learn from you,” to which I think Mick responded “If you’re at all confused about what you need to learn, why are you here?”  And so our friendship began.

Mick was reading a lot of Sufi stuff those days and some of his music and thinking was probably influenced by it. I’m thinking of his wonderful composition “Mevlevia,” off the Gary Burton Quintet “Ring” album (with Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, Bob Moses and Eberhard Weber). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mevlevi_Order. For another great example of Mick’s writing and playing during those days, check out his extraordinary ECM record “In Pass(s)ing,” with Eddie Gomez, Jack DeJohnette and John Surman.

During those years I was playing over 250 gigs a year and keeping fairly active “Gig Journals.” Mick and I used to often talk about how the most interesting aspect of playing live gigs was watching what was going on around us in the room.  Sometimes I would recount to Mick things I had seen at gigs and we would crack up together. I plan on sharing the occasional Gig Journal on this blog over time. (As an odd aside, during breaks at gigs during those years, I read the entire Will and Ariel Durant “The Story of Civilization” series. I basically can’t remember any of it now, which I must agree is not an altogether good sign for what may lie ahead.)

Watching the Sufi concerts night after night at the Fes Festival, I often found myself wondering why on earth Sufis have been so persecuted, often for their ecstatic music, including in recent times by the Taliban. http://freemuse.org/archives/1721.  In the room pictured above, I began writing lyrics to a song called “All Are One” that wound up on “No Straight Lines,” inspired by Rumi and Hafez, two of the greatest Sufi poets. My favorite verse, which I later was forced to take out because the song was getting too long, was:

if it’s my time I’ve had my say / I’ve had my fill of music already / So take me now oh and by the way / Do you know the changes to Rock Steady?

I’d put Aretha up against the Taliban any day.