Having grown up in Jersey, it pains me to think of all the times I could have seen Bruce Springsteen live before the September 1975 night when I was finally won over at The Bottom Line. However, none of my misses trouble me more than the one I made in 1974 when he played the student lounge at my college (Seton Hall) one Sunday afternoon for free! To think how I could have seen the band in in those early days with David Sancious and Vinny “Mad Dog” Lopez. This is still a tough one for me to swallow. I would have also gotten to see Max Weinberg play drums with the opening act, the Jim Marino Band, on the day he first met Bruce.
But it wasn’t all my fault. In 1973, there was no YouTube or Spotify. If you wanted to hear a band, your only choices were on the radio or by buying the record. Back then, New York City radio wasn’t playing Bruce, and I couldn’t afford to spend money on a record that I hadn’t heard, especially one that the press back then for the most part wasn’t saying much good about.
I never really understood why local radio, in particular, my home station of WNEW-FM, wasn’t playing anything from Springsteen’s first two records. The only things that would make sense were that either the DJs didn’t like them, or the DJs weren’t being treated nice by the folks at Columbia Records.
Things wouldn’t really change until the station got the early copy of the “Born to Run” single which they quickly began to repeatedly play along with a live version of “Jungleland.” Eventually, songs like “Sandy” made their way onto the station’s playlist, and after those Bottom Line shows forget about it. Bruce was now every New York DJs’ favorite local hero.
Much of the music press I read about the first two records labelled Bruce as a “so-so Dylan-wannabe” which didn’t get me interested at all. That unfortunately became my excuse to stay home from school on that Sunday afternoon. (I didn’t live on campus.)
But, like those WNEW DJs, the “Born to Run” single knocked my socks off. I quickly scrapped up the dough to buy the first two albums (on 8-Track of course) before seeing The Bottom Line show that would change my life. And, thanks to the luxury back then known as college concerts, I would soon get my next chance to see Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at my school, just before we went out on Christmas break.
By now, Springsteen had been on the cover of Time and Newsweek and locally was the hottest thing going. The news of this show got students extremely excited and lining up one morning to get tickets instead of going for class was a given.
At this time, I had just started writing about rock music for the Setonian school paper for the simple reason that nobody else was. It was a given that it would be my story to cover, but the sad reality was that there would be no paper over Christmas break and my editor didn’t want to publish old news when we got back. Still, this situation left me unfazed. I was the school’s music writer, and I would instead try and get an interview with Bruce.
A few weeks after Bottom Line show, I was at The Other End in the Village to see folk duo Batdorf & Rodney. Waiting for the men’s room, the guy in front of me was wearing a Springsteen tee-shirt which was quite odd since rock shirts hadn’t yet become a thing, and Bruce had yet to sell his first one.
We chatted about Bruce, and he gave me his card and the promise of sending me a shirt (pictured below) which he kindly did. The name on the card read Sam McKeith of the William Morris Agency. When I got home, I saw his name getting “very special thanks” on the Born to Run album cover. So, when it came time to try to arrange an interview, I gave Sam a call, and he gave me the phone number I knew I needed—that of Mike Appel, Springsteen’s manager.
Still living at home and seeking some privacy, I went to use the phone in my parent’s upstairs bedroom rather than the one in the kitchen. I closed the door much like I would do if I was shyly calling a girl for a date. Surprisingly, I easily got Appel on the phone.
After making my request, he quickly came back with a polite but stern “Bruce isn’t doing any interviews. Right now, he’s said everything he needs to say and is letting the music speak for itself.”
In response, my next move was to play the “I’m cool” card by mentioning I saw The Bottom Line show. Appel came back with “Wait until you see how he works the larger stage.” and our call came to an end. In retrospect, I’m proud to have tried and can say that I once talked to the legendary Mike Appel without whom there would have been no “Lawsuit Tour” by Springsteen in 1977.
Appel and Springsteen in 1975: Photo by Eric Meola
So, the show at the old Seton Hall Walsh Gym (pictured below) took place without the opportunity for my review or interview. It was nonetheless an incredible evening that I enjoyed from up front after spending most of the day waiting to get in.
A not-so-great audience recording (not by me) exists of the show which was quite notable for Springsteen’s covers of “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” and “Party Lights.” There was also the surprise of hearing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” for the first time. News travelled slow in those pre-internet days, and none of us knew he had done the Phil Spectorized version of the song at his last few shows. Just to think that the famous live recording of this song could have been from that night at my school.
The show however didn’t go uncovered by the school and in the spring, the great write-up and amazing photos presented below appeared in the 1974 Galleon yearbook. It wasn’t my year to graduate and I only happened upon getting the book a few years ago after searching for one on E-Bay. I’m happy to now share these with Springsteen fans.