Bruce Springsteen’s Future E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg answers an ad for a band needing a drummer. “No junior Ginger Bakers.”

MAXmax1 I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Max Weinberg three times now.

First at the NAMM show in Anaheim back in January of 2010. There’s my buddy John DeChristopher, former Vice President of Artist Relations & Event Marketing Worldwide at Zildjian Cymbals with me and Max. He and Max go waaaaaay back.

Check out John’s blog. He worked for Zildjian for a bazillion years. He’s a drummer. He loves music. And he has some incredibly cool friends on speed dial….

max2Next we met up at Regatta Bar, when he brought the Max Weinberg Big Band to Cambridge. We got to grab a quick dinner before the show too. Here’s a shot of the group and Max after his show. L-R: Joe Testa (Director of Artist Relations – Vic Firth), John DeChristopher (former Vice President of Artist Relations & Event Marketing Worldwide – Zildjian), Andy Zildjian (wife of the late Armand Zildjian), Max Weinberg, Debbie Zildjian (Vice President of Human Resources – Zildjian) and me.

IMG_8208And last when Max came back to MA to play at Showcase Live in Foxboro. We hung backstage both before and after the show with my wife and Johnny D.

IMG_8455max3I’ve been a Bruce fan since the early E Street Shuffle and Asbury Park days. But became a life long fan once I heard Born To Run back in 1975. I was 20 years old and couldn’t wait to grow a beard and wear my leather jacket over a white torn t-shirt. Here’s some info and background on the great Max, as well as some rare goodies from my Bruce collection.


Me with my backstage pass to the Wrecking Ball tour when it hit Boston. Guest of Harry McCarthy, Max’s long time drum tech.

Max Weinberg (born April 13, 1951) is an American drummer and television personality, most widely known as the longtime drummer for Bruce Springsteen‘s E Street Band and as the bandleader for Conan O’Brien on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.

Weinberg grew up in suburban New Jersey and began drumming at an early age. He attended college planning to be a lawyer but got his big break in music in 1974 when he won an audition to become the drummer for Springsteen. His powerful but controlled playing on albums such as Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. stabilized the E Street Band sound and Weinberg became a mainstay of Springsteen’s long concert performances. Springsteen dissolved the band in 1989 and Weinberg spent several years considering a law career and trying the business end of the music industry before deciding he wanted to continue with drumming.

In 1993, Weinberg got the role as bandleader of The Max Weinberg 7 for Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Weinberg’s drums-driven jump blues sound and his role as a comic foil prospered along with the show, giving him a second career. In 1999, Springsteen reformed the E Street Band for a series of tours and albums; Weinberg worked out an arrangement that allowed him to play with both O’Brien and Springsteen. In 2009, Weinberg moved to the short-lived Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien as leader of Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band. After that ended, he formed and toured with a new ensemble, the Max Weinberg Big Band, and in 2010 chose not to follow O’Brien to the new Conan show.

Here’s some of my Bruce stuff.

Screen shot 2012-04-05 at 5.26.17 PMScreen shot 2012-04-05 at 5.26.38 PM

Success with the E Street Band

Weinberg was still living at home when he met Bruce Springsteen on April 7, 1974 when his band, The Jim Marino Band, were Springsteen’s support at Seton Hall. Springsteen had parted ways with his drummer, Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, earlier that year, and the replacement, Ernest “Boom” Carter, lasted only six months before leaving with pianist David Sancious to form Tone. Weinberg answered a Springsteen Village Voice newspaper ad that famously requested, “no junior Ginger Bakers,” in reference to Ginger Baker‘s reputation for long drum solos. Weinberg auditioned with Springsteen and the core E Street Band in mid-late August of that year at the SIR studios in Midtown Manhattan, bringing a minimalist drum kit with him. He knew one Springsteen song from the Marino band, “Sandy“, and played it. His drumming on the Fats Domino song “Let the Four Winds Blow” sealed the position as his. A week later he was offered the $110 per week job and he quit college immediately, about six academic credits short of a degree. Weinberg’s first public performance came on September 19, 1974, at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

bruceimage_3 image_4IMG_4389Weinberg rose to success as the drummer for Springsteen’s E Street Band, as his powerful yet controlled beat solved the E Street Band’s drumming instabilities. On 1975’s Born to Run, Weinberg’s drumming evoked two of his idols, Ringo Starr and Levon Helm, and he covered his snare drum with heavy paper towels to capture some of the Memphis soul sound. While traveling on tour, Weinberg became known for his exact requests, such as specifying the particular brand of paper towels to use for his drums or the standards for his hotel rooms. Weinberg never adopted the “rock and roll lifestyle”; he treated his music seriously and kept to the mantra, “Show up, do a good job, and give them more than their money’s worth.One compromise Weinberg did have to make was sometimes playing on the High Holy Days. During shows, Springsteen built up the personas of his bandmates, and Weinberg was frequently referred to as “the Mighty Max”. Weinberg started a long practice of keeping his eyes on Springsteen every moment during the show, as he never knew when Springsteen would change a tempo or suddenly deviate from the set list. Decades later, E Street guitarist Steve Van Zandt would say of Weinberg, “What nobody understands is that not only is Max a great drummer, Max reads Bruce’s mind. You can’t learn that.” During his tenure with the E Street Band, Weinberg’s gaze remains locked on Springsteen throughout each show.

IMG_0753Tempos slowed to an oft dirge-like pace on the 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town; Rehearsals and recording of the album stretched out over a long period, with Springsteen and bandmate and co-producer Steven Van Zandt experiencing a prolonged frustration over their inability to capture a more resonant drum sound. Weinberg soon regretted not playing faster on “Badlands“, and tempos did speed up on that number and some others during the accompanying Darkness Tour. The River Tour Springsteen and E Street Band shows that opened New Jersey’s Meadowlands Arena in 1981 became one of the top highlights of Weinberg’s career.

IMG_5796Weinberg suffered an acknowledged “drumming slump” around 1980, and his time-keeping skills were criticized by Springsteen. What could pass unnoticed in concert became apparent on record, and Weinberg practiced drumming components for months in order to regain a fine sense of timing. Weinberg also suffered from repetitive stress injury and tendinitis, eventually requiring seven operations on his hands and wrists. He studied for a while with noted jazz drummer Joe Morello; Weinberg credited Morello for helping him to learn how to play with the tendinitis. Weinberg’s gear included Ludwig and Pearl Drums and Zildjian cymbals; he subsequently switched to DW Drums. His setup was always simple: “I’ve got four drums. Anything more is redundant. Besides, I tend to trip over things.”

In 1981, Weinberg married Rebecca Schick, a Methodist who had grown up in Tinton Falls, New Jersey and whom he had met through a mutual friend. Springsteen and the band played at their wedding, which was officiated by the same rabbi he had growing up. Becky Weinberg worked as a high school history teacher. In 1984 they bought a 5-acre (20,000 m2) farm in Monmouth County; after feeling taken advantage of in the deal, Weinberg became a scrupulous researcher in real estate matters, often spending days at town halls looking over obscure zoning regulations. While on tour he studied books about architecture, and dreamt of building houses in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright or Richard Meier. They had two children, daughter Ali (born c. 1987) and son Jay (born 1990).

He made a full recovery from his injuries in time for 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., which featured an aerobics-timed beat on some tracks that also owed something to the popular Phil Collins drum sound. Weinberg’s own experimentation since the Darkness days had also led to a more reverberant sound. Overall, Weinberg’s more fluid drumming combined with Roy Bittan‘s use of synthesizers and better overall production to give Springsteen a more modern sound, resulting in the album becoming Springsteen’s best-selling one ever and spawning a record-tying seven Top 10 hit singles. Springsteen later said of the album, “Max was the best thing on the record.” Weinberg’s most well-known drum part came on “Born in the U.S.A.“, where his snare drum paired against Bittan’s signature synthesizer riff on the opening and throughout the main part of the song. The recording then descends into improvised chaos; Springsteen had told Weinberg, “When I stop, keep the drums going.” Upon the restart, intentional drum breakdowns matched bass swoops and guitar feedback; Springsteen subsequently said of the performance overall, “You can hear Max – to me, he was right up there with the best of them on that song.” Weinberg said it was one of his most intense musical experiences.

FullSizeRender_1Rare “Cover Me” promo blanket. Only one I’ve ever seen.

Picture 5 Picture 6image_6On the subsequent Born in the U.S.A. Tour, Springsteen generally interspersed hard-rocking song sequences after every three or four numbers in order to give Weinberg’s hands a chance to recover. Weinberg’s wife Becky unintentionally triggered one of the tour’s most celebrated episodes. She was a fan of the This Week with David Brinkley television program and invited panelist George Will to the Washington-area Capital Centre show. After seeing the band perform, Will became convinced that they were exemplars of hard-working patriotism and traditional American values; he wrote, “… consider Max Weinberg’s bandaged fingers. The rigors of drumming have led to five tendonitis operations. He soaks his hands in hot water before a concert, in ice afterward, and sleeps with tight gloves on.” Will further decided that Springsteen might endorse Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential campaign and talked to the campaign, which later led to Reagan’s famous extolling of Springsteen at a stop in Hammonton, New Jersey and Springsteen’s subsequent negative response.

For his efforts, Weinberg was named Best Drummer in the Playboy 1985 Pop and Jazz Music Poll and Best Drummer again in Rolling Stone‘s 1986 Critics Poll. The adulation got to him a bit as he aligned with the Mighty Max persona and went to fashionable parties.

Weinberg had a reduced role on Springsteen’s 1987 Tunnel of Love album, replacing Springsteen’s drum machine parts on a few tracks, but the full band was in place for the 1988 Tunnel of Love Express and Human Rights Now! tours. Weinberg called the latter tour’s visiting of many third-world spots around the globe one of the most rewarding things the band had done.


FullSizeRenderIMG_5777IMG_6567In 1984, Weinberg published The Big Beat: Conversations with Rock’s Greatest Drummers, a series of interviews conducted over two years with drummers from various eras, including Starr, Helm, D. J. Fontana, Charlie Watts, Dino Danelli, Hal Blaine, and others. The book captured drummers revealing more about their musical approaches than they normally did to the press and was thus considered an important addition to the rock literature. In 1986, Weinberg began taking a one-man show “Growing Up On E Street” to college campuses around the country. It contained some short films that Weinberg produced as well as a question-and-answer session.

Greenberg-Max-9Here’s Max Speaking at Syracuse University.

On October 18, 1989, Springsteen unexpectedly called Weinberg to say he was dissolving the E Street Band. As Weinberg later said, “That’s why they call him the Boss.”

Reformation of the E Street Band

Springsteen reunited the E Street Band in 1999 on a more lasting basis, for the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Reunion Tour. This posed a dilemma for Weinberg, whose greater loyalty was to O’Brien and NBC. Indeed, up until then Weinberg had never missed a Late Night show, appearing in over 1,000 in a row. However, allowing Weinberg to tour for one of the highest-profile reunions in rock history was thought to be of long-term benefit to the television show’s appeal, and an arrangement was worked out wherein Weinberg took a leave of absence from Late Night in order to go out on this and subsequent tours. When he was tied up with Springsteen, drummer James Wormworth took his place, and the band was led by Jimmy Vivino (“Jimmy Vivino and the Max Weinberg 7”). When the Reunion Tour was extended in length, shows were generally restricted to weekends, so as to permit Weinberg to fulfill his Late Night responsibilities. At NBC, the coexistence between the drummer’s two bosses was known as the Weinberg-Springsteen Rule, and was not typically extended to other talent at the network.

While Weinberg did not forget the breakup and long separation, he viewed it as “at the same time the most horrifying experience I’ve ever been through and the most liberating.” In any case, he immediately felt comfortable playing with Springsteen once more: “Right from the first downbeat of the first rehearsal, it was there again.” His drumming for the E Street Band was more relaxed and mature than before, showing more confidence and finesse, and his hands and fingers were in better shape for having done the daily Late Night work. When the tour concluded with ten shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden, on several days Weinberg taped the Conan show at Rockefeller Center in the late afternoon, put his hands in ice and changed from his suit into jeans and a vest, and played with Springsteen at night. The experience of doing both left him “professionally speaking, as alive as I’ve ever felt.”Of his position on the drum platform behind Springsteen, he says, “I have the best seat in the house.” His energy level was no less, as he could be seen jumping a foot off his seat during some songs. His daughter Ali joined the band on keyboards several times during the tour.

Weinberg’s steady drumming helped power Springsteen’s 2002 comeback album, and the first E Street Band studio recording in 18 years, The Rising. Weinberg took more time off from the Conan show to participate in the long and successful 2002–2003 Rising Tour. In the early 2000s, Weinberg was at the center of annual holiday benefit shows at Asbury Park Convention Hall, billed as Bruce Springsteen, the Max Weinberg 7 and Friends.

Weinberg was a member of the board of trustees of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation and won a conservation award in 2002. Nevertheless, during 2002 and 2003 he got into a prolonged local controversy over his plans to subdivide a portion of his 65-acre (260,000 m2) Middletown Township, New Jersey property into lots for new homes. Some of his neighbors strongly protested the move, and they and some in the press accused him of hypocrisy; Weinberg defended himself by saying the conservation foundation was not against all development, just thoughtless development. A scaled-down version of the plan was approved by the town’s zoning board, and in 2008 Weinberg went ahead with plans to sell the lots.Weinberg generally avoids political comments,but did campaign for John Kerry in the United States presidential election, 2004.

Springsteen himself also made appearances on Late Night in 1999, 2002, and 2006. Weinberg participated in the 2004 Vote for Change tour then drummed on Springsteen’s 2007 album Magic. There he was part of a core rhythm section comprising himself, Springsteen, bassist Garry Tallent, and pianist Roy Bittan, who did the tracks first; other members’ contributions were added later. Weinberg then took more time off from the Conan show to do the 2007–2008 Magic Tour. Weinberg repeated his role in the core section in recording Springsteen’s Working on a Dream album. Weinberg also fulfilled a long-time dream by going to Super Bowl XLIII in February 2009 with Springsteen and the E Street Band’s half-time performance, where he was joined by some of the other members of the Max Weinberg 7.

After many years of collecting I’m proud to finally add a signed Max drum head to my growing collection. Keep hittin’ it Max.


Gary Rocks

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