Who is the best musician/songwriter ever? Bruce Springsteen, of course. This fact is well-known and undisputed. Nevertheless, many people are ignorant about his early life and rise to fame. Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born in Long Branch, NJ. His parents were of Dutch/Irish and Italian ancestry, and his surname is actually Dutch for “stepping stone.” Springsteen was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school. He was at odds with his religious education early in life, but more recent musical output seems to show he has made some sort of peace with it. His high school teachers say he was a loner who never wanted to do anything other than play his guitar (feel free to hum “No Surrender” here). Though he completed graduation, he skipped the graduation ceremony.
His first small break was thanks to a couple named Tex and Marion Vinyard who sponsored young bands in town. They helped him secure a place as lead guitarist and lead singer of The Castiles. That band recorded two original songs and played a variety of local venues in Jersey. The Vinyards have said that they knew right away that Springsteen would make it big.
The Boss was inducted into the army at the age of 19, but failed the physical examination, so never had to serve in Vietnam. The way he tells the story, he suffered a concussion in a motorcycle accident at 17; that together with his ‘crazy’ behavior at the physical and his refusal to take any test was enough to earn him a 4F.
In the late ‘60s, he performed briefly with a group called Earth, still playing gigs around New Jersey. At this time he acquired the nickname “the Boss” because he took it upon himself to collect the nightly pay and distribute it amongst the other band members. For the next several years, Springsteen played with a variety of different acts, including Steel Mill, Dr Zoom & Sonic Boom, Sundance Blues Band, and finally, the Bruce Springsteen Band, which eventually morphed into the E Street Band.
Springsteen signed his first record deal with Columbia Records in 1972. His debut album was Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and was a success among critics, though sales were slow. The follow-up album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, was also critically acclaimed, but had little commercial success. Later, however, songs from these albums such as “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Rosalita” would become fan favorites.
In the May 22, 1974, issue of Boston's The Real Paper, music critic Jon Landau wrote about a show he had recently seen: "I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.” The band’s next album was Born to Run. The record was an epic struggle to produce, but an epic success as well. It peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200.
More to come!