(Ed part 1 of this article appeared in the last edition of Yo Frankie in June 1998 and ever since people have been telling me they were disappointed they could not read the follow up. Now exclusively The Dion Information exchange after much research is able to Bring you part 1 and Part2 - but if you want Part 3 you will need to mail me and let me know your thoughts on it )
by Paul Trimble
As one of the early rock 'n roll pioneers Dion, both as a solo artist and with the Belmonts, had an enormous influence on the subsequent generations of musicians - Runaround Sue and The Wanderer immediately became rock 'n' roll standards for bands through the 60s and were successfully revived in the 70s. Dion's streetwise "Bronx Blues" brand of cool set the tone for Lou Reed and countless other performers. A definite original.
Born in Freehold, New Jersey on 23rd September 1949 young Bruce Springsteen grew up listening to the classic rock 'n' roll of the 5Os and early 60s. Seeing Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 was a pivotal event in his young life and from then on he knew what he wanted to be - a rock 'n' roll singer. Having achieved that goal, signing with the CBS/Columbia label in 1972, another pivotal event in his career occurred after a concert with the E-Street Band in Cambridge, Massachusetts on 9th May 1974 when the most influential rock critic in the country Jon Landau, wrote a review for Boston's 'The Real Paper and put his finger on just what makes people care so passionately about Bruce's music.
"Its four in the morning and raining. I'm twenty seven today, feeling old, listening to my records and remembering that things were different a decade ago." "But tonight there is someone I can write of the way I used to write, without reservations of any kind. Last Thursday at Harvard Square Theatre I saw my rock 'n' roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock 'n' 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 first time".
That review couldn't have come at a better time -it gave the struggling band a boost of confidence after their second album had sold poorly and it gave the record company renewed faith in the band which it had considered dropping. Their next album was the breakthrough 'Born To Run'.
The connection which both Bruce and Dion share is actually longtime friend to both Steve Van Zant - a name which has most recently cropped up in Dion circles as the writer of the sleeve notes to Ace's 'Best Of The Gospel Years' compilation. Perhaps before getting down to the main part of the story a little background detail would be in order to set the scene.
Growing up near Asbury Park in New Jersey Steve Van Zant's musical inspiration came after seeing the Rolling Stones on television on one of their first U.S. visits. He spent the next couple of years playing guitar in various local bands, frequently joining in the all-night jam sessions in a local club called the Upstage along with another guitar player named Bruce Springsteen. A couple of years later, in March of 1970, when Bruce's band Steel Mill needed a bass player - Steve joined them. Despite a great deal of critical acclaim Steel Mill folded in January of 1971 and Steve followed Bruce into Dr Zoom And The Sonic Boom and then the Bruce Springsteen Band in early 1972.
Following the success of Abraham Martin and John and the Dion album on the Laurie label Dion's manager. Zach Glickman, negotiated a new recording contract for him with Warner Brothers Records in 1969. Over the next two years three albums and a handful of singles were released to very little chart success but Dion really didn't mind. Having kicked his drug habit and found salvation he was content with a low-key profile and released music with some very autobiographical songs. As he says in his book "It was the music of a mellow Indian summer, soft and balmy, sometimes wistful, sometimes buoyant"
Meanwhile the Bruce Springsteen Band was having trouble finding enough paying gigs and most of its members had other projects on the side. - Bruce was playing solo and sharpening his songwriting skills while Steve was moonlighting with the Sundance Blues Band. Through Steel Mills former manager, Tinker West, Bruce was introduced to Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos of the Laurel Canyon Production company who promptly dazzled the somewhat naive Springsteen and he quickly signed a long-term management contract on top of his car bonnet in the unlit car park of a local bar. In 1976 this contract would be the subject of a bitter ten month legal battle but for now all was well. Mike Appel arranged for Bruce to have an audition with John Hammond, the legendary talent scout for Columbia - the very man who had introduced Dion to blues music back in 1963 - and he was signed to the label on 9th June1972, exactly a week after the Dion and the Belmonts Reunion Concert in Madison Square Garden.
This event was something Dion had initially been very reluctant to take part in. According to Stan Beckers sleeve notes to the CD release - "In the early 70's the first wave of rock revival shows were in full swing, encouraging many of the old groups into reforming. A series of historic sellout shows took place in New York's Madison Square Garden. Despite numerous overtures Dion would not take the bait. He wouldn't become a sideshow opportunist, not for the money, not for anything He had done too much and come too far. He was an original, free at last. Singin' his blues and making his records his own way, thank you very much. He had made it all the way in, and out, of the game. If he had to shout it out with the neighborhood boys again it had to feel right; it had to be a celebration and an affirmation. It did, and it was ..."lt was like an earthquake, you could literally feel the stage shake" - Billy Vera, guitar player and leader of the band.
It is interesting to note that having auditioned solo and then signed to the label, Columbia/CBS viewed Bruce Springsteen as a solo act, a singer/ songwriter in the popular trend - just what Dion was doing for Warners. Bruce however had other ideas and, anxious to get started on his first album, assembled as many of his Asbury Park buddies as possible - soon named the E-Street Band after the Street in Port Pleasant, New Jersey where they rehearsed - and commenced recording through June and July 1972. From what we know of the sessions Steve for some reason, perhaps he already had the regular job referred to later, didn't actually play guitar and, in fact, his sole contribution would seem to have been to punch an amplifier head to produce a blast of feedback on a song called 'Lost In The Flood'. Released in January 1973 with high hopes. Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey sold poorly despite some good reviews.
Despite the recording contract the 1972/73 version of the E-Street Band was still very much a small-time outfit, trekking around the country, playing tiny venues and making very little money. With debts mounting Steve was forced to put his music career on hold and find himself a regular job, operating a jackhammer with a highway repair crew.
Dion's 1972 album Suite For Late Summer featuring a more orchestrated sound than his previous Warners albums, didn't sell terribly well either. Dion talks about it in his book - "I put together a couple more albums, including a concept thing called Suite For Late Summer that picked up one more time on what had become my favorite themes - gratitude, safe harbor and second chances. None of the stuff was streaking to the top of the heap, but if I even noticed, I sure didn't care."
During 1973 the E-Street Band recorded and released a second album, The Wild, The Innocent And The E-Street Shuffle, without any contribution from Steve and as before sales were poor - CBS couldn't even find a track on it they could release as a single. Meanwhile there were two albums featuring Dion released thro' the year. Both looking backwards. His new album from Warners was the live album Dion And The Belmonts Reunion - Live At Madison Square Garden 1972. Released in March it made #144 on the US charts-ironically enough out selling any of his other Warners albums. Ever ones to seize an opportunity Dion's previous label - Columbia! -released Dion's Greatest Hits in April which struggled to #194 on the charts and is, as far as I know, actually the last Dion album to make the US charts.
By the time 1974 rolled around Steve had, at least partly, returned to a musical career accepting the position of band leader in the group backing the Dovells, a popular early 60s band whose hits included 'The Bristol Stomp' and 'Can't Sit Down'. The band were out on tour doing the "Oldies circuit", taking part in Dick Clark's package shows and playing Holiday Inns around the country, playing the hits night after night
At some point along the way Steve met up with Dion, though exactly where I'm not sure as details are vague and contradictory. In Dion's book he mentions that by 1975 he had already played in Las Vegas as part of a Dick Clark package and a couple of pages later states "I'd known Steve since he played guitar for me back in Vegas which would tie in to the l974 time period without any problem. However reliable Springsteen sources claim that the two met first in Miami when the Dovells decided to take a break from the road after a show there. Both being big blues fans they hit it off straight away and even discussed putting a band together. These sources cannot confirm that Dion and Steve did actually play together at this time and apparently Steve returned home in January1974 telling Dion to give him a call if he was serious about putting a band together. Back in Asbury Park, Steve was given the nickname "Miami Steve" as, apparently, he continually complained about the cold!
Dion's only record release of 1974,was the Warners single 'Richer Than A Rich Man' backed with 'New York City Song'. It didn't make the charts. Bruce and the E-Street Band had a tentative song listing for their third album in early 1974 but were faced with a severe lack of confidence from Columbia. Jon Landau's review in The Real Paper gave the band an enormous boost and a new song, supposedly played fort he first time at that concert in Cambridge attended by Landau, was quickly recorded and sent out, at Mike Appels insistence, to various disc-jockeys who had supported the band. The title of that song was 'Born To Run' and it became a massive underground hit. Columbia, now sensing that Bruce Springsteen might actually be able to write a hit record, started the wheels in motion for a huge commercial push to begin in january1975.
As we'll see in the next chapter of this article 1975 would see Bruce and Dion meeting for the first time and new album releases from both, but with very different results.
An advertisement in the village voice turned up their replacements Roy Bitten on piano and Max Weinburg on drums and after intensive rehearsals they made their live debut on 18 September . Also joining the band was Suki Lahav , wife of recording engineer Louis Lahav who had worked on the first 2 albums .
Suki added some haunting violin to the dramatic songs on stage and gave a romantic and intellectual feel to the shows. This line up of the Band was touring when Steve Van Zant arrived back in Asbury Park from Florida in January 1975 . Parading round town in a Hawaiian shirt he was quickly nicknamed "Miami" Steve!
Steve began to sit in with "Southside" Jonnie Lyon (another Asbury Park music seen veteran and fellow member of Dr Zoom and the Sonic Boom back in 71-72 ) in the Blackberry Booze Band and was soon talked into joining full time .At this time the Blackberry Booze Band had the regular Sunday night spot in a recently opened bar called the Stone Pony and under Steves direction the band became an increasingly popular audience draw with a potent mixture of Rythum'N'Blues , Rock and Blues with Steve and Jonnie sharing lead vocals . By March of 1975 the band had been re-christened the Asbury Jukes and their Stone Pony residency soon stretched to 3 nights a week as their popularity grew.
Meanwhile Bruce and the E street Band continued their string of concerts until the beginning of March - allegedly Bruce was so desperate to get back to the studio that a couple of dates at the end of the run were cancelled. The recording really began in earnest . However progress was slow . The 1 track they'd completed was felt to be too long and Bruce Just couldn't seem to get what was in his head down on tape.. Seeking outside opinion Bruce invited Jon Laundaw to a couple of sessions and was very impressed by his suggestions . After nailing the arrangement for Thunder Road Landau came officially on board as the albums co-producer with Bruce and Mike Appel. At Landau's insistence they moved from 914 studio's , where the first 2 albums had been recorded , to the more advance Record Plant near Time Square. Suki Lahau decided to return to Israel after completing a stunning violin part for the dramatic "Jungleland" which had been perfect on tour. The days turned into weeks but Bruce would not be rushed . New songs were written and then re-written . The wordiness of the first 2 albums was pared down and the songs became sharper and more focused as recording continued .
And what was Dion up to while all this was going on I hear you ask? Well sometime early in 1975 Warner Bros signed a new star to their roster , legendary producer Phil Spector , giving him his own record label and an open deal to produce any artist they had under contract . He chose Dion as his first project and arranged to get together with him and discuss what direction they'd be taking. As Dion relates in his book "They flew me out to LA and I drove out to Spectors sprawling mansion in the Hollywood Hills to talk about making the musical masterpiece that would hitch my wagon to his star". Dion goes on to relate they're very bizarre first meeting. and then talks about the first recording sessions- "the next month we went to A&M studios to start work on the album. Its like he'd called the union and asked them to send out every off duty studio cat in town. There were 10 guitar players , as many backing singers , 2 drummers 2 bass players 2 violinists and even more people in the control booth!".
The first fruits of this partnership arrived in June 1975 with a single on the Warner/ Spector Label in the US and the Phil Spector International Label in the UK. The A side was Make The Woman Love me an unremarkable ballad listing Spector as producer , Nino Tempo as arranger and the wall of sound as accompaniment. Feature on the flip side was Running Close Behind You a re-recording of a track from Suite for Late Summer album. Interestingly on the US single Dion is listed as producer of this track while the UK version credits Spector(Ed I hate to disagree with my illustrious writer but both versions above show the same producer - perhaps there was another?) . However despite the high hopes for this single it sells poorly and fails to chart.
.Back in New York recording continued . Miami Steve dropped by the studio to see what was happening and was asked to lend a hand with horn arrangements for Tenth Ave. Freeze out. Having arranged this type of Stax-style sound for the Asbury Dukes steve sang the horn players their part with the timing and inflection perfect. With the next take the song was in the bag and Bruce delighted with his old friend , immediately offered him a place in the band.
Now completely involved in the recording with the E Street Band Steve was forced to pull out of the Asbury Dukes and so Southside Jonnie took over as full time band singer and bandleader . They continued their stone pony residency on through 1975 , steadily building their reputation , eventually leading to record company interest.
By mid-July the basic recordings were finally completed for the new album. It had gone right to the wire with Bruce scheduled to begin touring again before the end of the month. As the final vocal tracks were being recorded mixing was going on in another room and the tour was being planned in a third. The first show to feature the now definitive line-up took place in Providence on 20 July -the initial batch of shows were close to home , allowing Bruce to travel back and fourth to supervise the final mixing . Thanks to the Columbia promotional push the first 2 albums finally made the Billboard album charts on 26 July and a series of shows in the Bottom Line in NYC boosted the bands popularity to fever pitch.
Born to Run the album is finally released on 1 September and was an immediate smash hit.. On the east coast its advanced sales are greater than any album in history . Radio stations began to play Born To Run without waiting for the single release and the album shot to #3 , quickly went gold and began heading toward platinum level sales. There is an extraordinary amount attention with almost every newspaper and lifestyle magazine in the country running a piece and trying to outdo each other in their praise. Perhaps Greil Marcus summed it up "like a 57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records ". Bruce re-counted on many occasions that he wanted to write like Bob Dylan sing like Roy Orbison , the guitar sound like Duanne Eddy and the whole production sound like Phil Spector.
While all this had been going on Dion had taken a break from recording to go on the road with Dick Clarks Caravan of Stars headlined by the legendary Jackie Wilson . On 29 September they played a sold out show in the Latin casino in Cherry Hill NJ and all went well until midway through Lonely Teardrops when Jackie suddenly collapsed on stage . Dion ran on from the wings and tried to prevent him swallowing his tongue until the ambulance arrived . Jackie had suffered a massive heart attack but events took an even more tragic turn when the oxygen system in the ambulance malfunctioned , resulting in permanent brain damage . After coming out of a coma weeks later he was unable to walk , talk or feed himself and remained in a nursing home in South Jersey until his death on 21 January 1984.
Dion took over the closing slot for the remainder of the tour but everyone was shaken by what had happened to Jackie - for the second time Dion had experienced a friend death on tour . When touring was complete Dion returned to Hollywood to resume work on the Spector produced album.
Bruce and the E street band arrived in LA for a series of shows on 16-19 October in a club called the Roxy . Dozens of celebrates attended the shows and the early shows and the early show on the 17th was broadcast live on K-West radio to further fuel the hysteria. It must have been shortly after this series of the early shows that Dion first met Bruce (ED Dion timeline states Springstein met Dion on 19 and 25 October 1995) . The next concert wasn't until 25 October in Portland so Bruce hung around LA for a few days. Dave Marshes book Born to Run describes it -"Spector invited Bruce to visit a session he was producing Dion . It was a more relaxed encounter although describing anything about Spector risks over-statement . Iovine who had worked with Spector on Lennons records was in town. (Jimmy Iovine had engineered Born to Run and was supervising the sound of the tour ) and Miami Steve knew Dion well from the oldies circuit . The session lasted 5 hours peppered with wisecracks from the maestro :'OK fellas Bruce Springstreet is here . He's on the cover of Time and he's born to run . So lets show him how to make a record'.
In his book Dion talks about the meeting -"Little Steven member of The E street Band came by with Bruce Springstein (actually Miami Steve wouldn't be re-named Lt Steven until he split from the band and released his first album with the Disciples of Soul in 1982). I'd known Steve since he'd played guitar for me back in Vegas but it was the first time I'd ever met Bruce . He loved the Spector sound and just enjoyed being close to that magic. The boss was pretty tolerant of Spectors behaviour that night .Phil was a little threatened , I think by the Springstein cover story in time that had come out in the week".
Bruces simultaneous appearance on the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines was a massive co-incidence (Ed according to his Springsteins ex-manger it was his marketing strategy ) but a huge publicity coup. The Time article was very favourable , the one in Newsweek less so. Both compared the sound of Born to run to the classic Spector productions of the early 60's . Perhaps what had annoyed Spector so much was the inference that his best work was long past , who knows?
At last the Spector sessions jumped to their conclusion . Dion sums it up in his book- "The circus in the studio went on for weeks as we staggered through the album and for all the energy we put into it it's a shame none of it ended up in the groves. Produces and Directed by Phil Spector Born to be with you sounded to most people like a dirge , despite some pretty good material from me Gerry Goffin and even Phil himself. In the end Spector only had it released in England . I just walked away happy to be in one piece".
In the reference material I have Born to be with you is listed as released in October 1975 but since the session with Bruce present took place towards the end of the month then this release date must be wrong or the session was for Baby lets stick together - released on a single in 1976 - or another unreleased song.
Spencer Leigh sums the whole thing up in his 1984 Record Collector Article "Spector himself was not happy with the outcome as the album release was delayed and it has still to appear in the US. As with the ill fated collaboration between Phil Spector and Leonard Cohen the parties threw mud at each other which prompted Mike Short a member of Dions Streetcorner Band to write to Crawdady saying "The frustration of both parties is understandable because they worked long and hard to make the album as great in reality as it was in concept".
In contrast the Born to Run tour continued triumphantly through to the end of the year. A number of shows were recorded in December for a possible live album but the only track to actually released was a version of Santa Clause is coming to town on a promo single to radio stations during the Christmas season. Ironically Bruces live version is based on Phil Spectors arrangement of the song for the Crystals . The tour ended with 4 shows at the 3000 seat Tower Theatre in Philadelphia . For those shows the ticket application totalled 90,000!
So 1975 ended with Bruce Springstein now a superstar . But when he and Dion met again the following year things were a lot different.
THE END OF PART 2
As The final para of Pauls second article makes clear Dion and Bruce went on to meet of several future occasions.
However Paul tells me he is reluctant to put in the time and effort when his work, does not seem to be appreciated . I think in that one respect Paul is wrong - both his previous monumental work on Dions Columbia sessions and now this 2 articles show he is a much appreciated writer in this field.
Paul is not on the net but if you want to mail your appreciation back to me I will make sure it is passed to him , along with a request that we are waiting with bated breath for the concluding section.
Can anyone assist?
The article talks about "Dions Streetcorner Band" and a letter the Crawdaddy from Mike Short presumably between oct 75 and Feb 76 ? Has anybody else heard of this Band? A copy of that letter would be appreciated. and what was the letter in response to ?