A blog post from Music Enthusiast, who rightly noted the ’60s were more than just The Beatles and psychedelic music, prompted me to look for a great soul tune. While there are so many fantastic soul songs that were released in the ’60s, one of my favorites has always been In The Midnight Hour.
Co-written by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper from Stax Records house band Booker T. & The M.G.’s, the song was originally recorded by Pickett in 1965 as the title track of his second studio album. It also became his first no. 1 single on the U.S. R&B charts.
The above clip is from Bruce Springsteen’s 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance. The song has also become a staple during live concerts with The E Street Band. In fact, I was fortunate to witness a Springsteen gig in Germany (I believe it was 1988), where the second part of the show almost entirely consisted of ’60s soul covers – a real treat!
This great clip was captured Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, where Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt joined Paul McCartney on stage during the encore of McCartney’s sold out show there. These guys had so much fun that they literally did the song twice – priceless!
It doesn’t even matter that McCartney’s voice sounds a bit strained. According to setlist.fm, the back-to-back performances of I Saw Her Standing There were tracks 36 and 37, so it must have been well over two and a half hours into the show. Plus, the song that immediately preceded this was Helter Skelter. To me it is just amazing how strongly Sir Paul is still going at age 75. I saw it myself last July and posted about it here. This clip with The Boss makes me want to see him again – and while we’re at it, Springsteen as well!
Penned by McCartney and John Lennon, I Saw Her Standing There was the opener to Please Please Me, the studio debut by The Beatles, which appeared in March 1963. The tune was also released separately in the U.S. as the B-side to I Want To Hold Your Hand, the Fab Four’s first U.S. single that came out in December that year.
World’s first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar continues to be popular to this day, more than 65 years after its introduction
Similar to the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul, which I covered in previous posts here and here, I could have called the Fender Telecaster the quintessential electric guitar. After all, that model predated the Stratocaster and the Les Paul by three years and one year, respectively. And while Paul Bigsby built the first solid-body for country and western artist Merle Travis in 1948, it was the Telecaster that became the first such electric guitar that was manufactured on a substantial scale.
But the truth is “quintessential” is largely in the eye of the beholder. I always loved the seductive shape of the Stratocaster. I also thought Mark Knopfler created such a cool signature sound with it on Sultans of Swing, Once Upon a Time In the West and other early Dire Straits classics. Ultimately, that’s why I feel the Strat is THE electric guitar and wrote about it first. On to the Telecaster.
The Telecaster was developed by inventor Leo Fender, the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Company. He built the first prototype in the fall of 1949 and introduced it to the market in 1950 as the Fender Esquire, a solid-body with one single-coil pickup. But the Esquire was hampered by quality issues, especially around the guitar neck that easily bent, so it was only produced in limited numbers.
Fender addressed the lacking neck stability with the placement of a tross rod. He also added a second single-coil pickup to the guitar and renamed it the Fender Broadcaster. That name was very similar to Broadkaster drum sets made by Gretsch, so needed it be changed. The Broadcaster became the Telecaster in 1951, and the guitar has been sold under that brand name ever since.
The Telecaster featured several innovations and used production techniques that made manufacturing and repairing the guitar more cost-effective compared to models from Gibson and other manufacturers. Rather than constructing the Telecaster individually, Fender introduced the production of components that could easily be put together into the finished product on an assembly line.
Unlike the traditional glued in neck, the Telecaster had a “bolt-on” neck. Not only did this make production easier, but it also allowed for faster repair or replacement of the neck. Additionally, the neck on the classic Telecaster was made from a single piece of maple without a separate fingerboard.
Moreover, the bodies of the Telecaster were built with solid pieces of wood instead of being hand-carved individually. The Telecaster also featured easily accessible electronics. This was made possible through a removable control plate. In contrast, the electronics of the then-predominant hollow-body electric guitars could only be accessed through the soundholes.
Unlike the Stratocaster, which got a lukewarm initial reception from many guitarists, the Telecaster was an immediate hit. This can be explained by the guitar’s distinct properties, which according to Reverb include: “A bridge pickup tone like to no other. The definition of twang when clean. The definition of rock when dirty; Liberating simplicity. Two pickups, two knobs, six strings, no frills. It forces you to be a better player; Surprising versatility. Across three pickup positions, different tone knob positions and varying levels of gain, the Tele is capable of an unexpected number of voices.”
I think it’s mainly the guitar’s versatility, which has made the Telecaster a staple in country, electric blues, rock & roll and other music genres. Like in the case of the Stratocaster and the Les Paul, several customized versions of the Telecaster have appeared over the decades. These variants feature different pickup configurations like a humbucker in the neck position, dual humbuckers and three single-coil pickups. There is also a semi-hollow version called the Telecaster Thinline.
Now comes the part of this type of gear-focused post that excites me the most – a list of musicians who have championed the equipment.
American guitarist James Burton, who has performed with Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison and many others, has played a Telecaster since age 13 and is considered to be the most visible Tele player in the late ’50s. Here’s a great clip of Burton performing Johnny B. Goode and Blue Suede Shoes live with Presley, playing his Paisley Red Tele.
Also known as Mr. Telecaster, English guitarist Albert Lee has played a Telecaster since 1963. Here is a cool live clip from the early ’70s of Lee performing Country Boy with British country rock band Heads Hands & Feet – holy moly!
American electric blues guitarist Albert Collins was called The Master of the Telecaster. The Fender Custom Shop offers an Albert Collins Signature Telecaster, which is based on his 1966 model featuring a humbucker pickup in the neck position. Here is a fantastic clip of Collins playoing Iceman, the title song of his tenth and final studio album released in March 1991, two and a half years prior to his untimely death from lung cancer in November 1993 at age 61.
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has used a variety of Telecasters throughout his long career. The most famous one is a ’53 Tele called Micawber. According to the Fender website, Richards got the Micawber from Eric Clapton as a present for his 27th birthday in 1970. At the time, the Stones were gearing up for Exile On Main Street. Shortly after the band’s ’72 tour, Richards replaced the single-coil pickup in the neck position with a ’50s Gibson PAF humbucker for extra bite. Here’s a clip of Richards in action with his Micawber, together with the Stones: Brown Sugar, from the 2016 concert in Havana, Cuba.
Blues guitar legend Muddy Waters played a red ’57 Telecaster. Until 2010, Fender offered a replica as part of its signature series, the Muddy Waters Telecaster. Here is a great clip of the maestro and his red Telecaster, performing I’m A King Bee, captured during ChicagoFest in 1981.
Of course, this short list of Telecaster champions would be incomplete without The Boss. Bruce Springsteen’s iconic guitar, which is pictured on the cover of the Born To Run album from 1975, is not a pure breed Telecaster. As Bobby Owsinskiexplains on his Music Production Blog, it’s actually a hybrid from at least two other guitars: a ’50s Telecaster body with what looks like a ’57 Esquire neck, which Springsteen purchased at a guitar shop in Neptune, N.J.
Before selling it to The Boss, store owner Phil Petillo removed the two additional pickups that had been added to return the guitar to its original Telecaster configuration. Over the years, Petillo made significant additional modifications requested by Springsteen, including triangular Precision Frets, a six saddle titanium bridge, as well as custom hot-wound waterproofed pickups and electronics, so the guitar could better withstand Springsteen’s marathon shows. In 2005, he retired his beloved instrument from live shows and has since played clones of it during tours. Springsteen continues to use the original for studio recordings. Here’s a clip of the mighty Born To Run, which is from a 1978 show and presumably features Springsteen’s original Telecaster hybrid. Man, watching this footage makes me want to see The Boss again!
Sources: Wikipedia; “Telecaster Buying Guide,” The Hub, March 2017; “Statocaster vs. Telecaster: The Differences That Matter,” Reverb, Nov 2016; “Interesting Mods: Keith Richards’ ‘Micawber’,” Fender website; “The Story Behind Bruce Springsteen’s Iconic Hybrid Telecaster,” Bobby Osinski, Music Production Blog; YouTube
Bruce Springsteen delivered four hours of non-stop rock & roll to an ecstatic New Jersey audience.
Yesterday (Aug 30) finally was the night I had been waiting for all summer long: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were playing MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ – the third performance of their three-show run at the venue as part of 2016 River Tour.
From the first song, New York City Serenade, to the final tune, Jersey Girl, The Boss gave it his all, delivering four hours and one minute of non-stop rock & roll – I did not stop the time but actually read that on Springsteen’s official web site. The duration of the concert meant Bruce broke his own record from previous week in the same venue yet another time!
In many regards, it was as if time would have stopped since 1988/1989 when I saw Bruce for the first time in Frankfurt, Germany in a comparable size stadium. He had not lost any of his intensity in almost 30 years, and you could be forgiven for not noticing he is now well into his 60s! The Boss also clearly seemed to be energized to play in front of a home crowd that knew all of his songs by heart.
The set list included 34 songs and drew heavily from Bruce’s first two albums from 1973 and Born in the U.S.A., the 1984 album that became his most commercially successful record and one of the best-selling albums ever with more than 30 million copies sold.
Songs from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. included Blinded By The Light, Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street, It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City and what I thought was one of the highlights of the show – a particularly spirited version of Spirit in the Night. From The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle Bruce played the strong show opener, New York City Serenade, as well as 4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy), Kitty’s Back, Incident of 57th Street and Rosalita, which remains a big crowd pleaser.
I’m Going Down, Darlington County, Working on the Highway, Downbound Train, I’m on Fire and Glory Days were songs from the Born in the U.S.A. album, as was Dancing in the Dark – another highlight of the show. During the performance of the song, Bruce invited various people from the audience on stage to, well, dance with him! I thought it was telling that Bruce did not play the title song of the album. I once read he had gotten tired of the song and how many people completely misunderstood or ignored the lyrics.
There were only two songs from The River album, Hungry Heart and Out in the Street, which I felt was remarkable for a tour billed The River Tour. That being said, I had read that Bruce had started to deviate from the original tour concept to play all or most of the album’s songs. Still, I wish he at least would have performed the title song, which remains one of my favorite Springsteen tunes.
Other songs that stood out to me were Born to Run and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. During the latter, historic footage was shown on the large stage video screens of the amazing Clarence Clemons, The E Street Band’s former saxophonist who sadly passed in June 2011.
Just as he did back in 1988/89, Springsteen also played terrific cover versions of various great songs, which most notably included Twist & Shout, Shout and Summertime Blues.
This blog post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the amazing E Street Band. Stevie Van Zandt (guitar, background vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, background vocals), Patti Scialfa (acoustic guitar, background vocals), Max Weinberg (drums), Garry Tallent (bass, background vocals) and Roy Bittan (keyboards) all did an outstanding job to back up the Boss.
Among the additional musicians, Jake Clemons, the nephew of Clarence Clemons, must be mentioned. He literally had big shoes to fill playing Clarence’s saxophone parts and did so beautifully. I’m sure his uncle would have been proud of him!
The Springsteen concert was my last (commercial) summer concert. It was a great way to end my series of summer shows this year. Just like the previous Springsteen concert in Germany in the late 80s, I have no doubt this show will stay in my memory.
I’ve been looking forward all summer long to seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band next Tuesday at MetLife Stadium as part of The River 2016 tour. So it’s perhaps not very surprising that I’ve been listening to The River, Bruce’s 1980 album the tour celebrates.
I suppose like many people who grew up in the 80s and listening to music from that time, Born in the U.S.A. brought the Boss on my radar screen. When that album was released in 1984, I think the only other Bruce Springsteen song I knew at the time was The River, an instant favorite.
When Bruce came out with the Live/1975-1985 compilation and I noticed it included a significant amount of material from Born in the U.S.A. and the song The River, I decided to put it on my Christmas wish list for 1986. Santa was kind, and as I started listening to the 3-CD set, I quickly realized there was much more to Springsteen than Born in the U.S.A, Cover Me, I’m on Fire and Bobby Jean.
Among others, I discovered Hungry Heart, which I think is safe to assume is the best known song from the album, apart from the title track. Additionally, I started appreciating other Springsteen classics, such as Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Thunder Road. I also had no idea that songs like Spirit in the Night, Because the Night and Fire – which I had known because of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Patti Smith and The Pointer Sisters, respectively – had all been written or co-written by the Boss!
So while Born in the U.S.A. and Live/1975-1985 introduced me to Bruce Springsteen, made me buy some of his other albums he released thereafter and see an unforgettable Springsteen show in Frankfurt, Germany in the late 1980s, it didn’t lead to more exploration of The River album. Given the upcoming concert, which is going to be my second Springsteen show, I wanted to change that – which finally brings me to the album.
The River is Springsteen’s fifth studio album. Initially, it was supposed to be a single album called The Ties That Bind. But Bruce had written more material than would fit on one record – at last at the time – so it ended up being two records called The River – his only double studio album to date.
According to Bruce’s official web site, The River is “split evenly between huge house-party numbers (and a wealth of live staples) and darker, real-word tales.” It was reflective of Bruce being “out to explore the emerging dualities of his music.” During an interview referenced in a 2004 Springsteen biography by Dave Marsh, Bruce explained, “Rock and roll has always been this joy, this certain happiness that is in its way the most beautiful thing in life. But rock is also about hardness and coldness and being alone … I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them.”
Two songs from The River illustrate the above: In Cadillac Ranch, Bruce sings,
Long and dark, shiny and black
Open up your engines let ‘em roar
Tearing up the highway like a big dinosaur
Contrast that with Point Blank:
You grew up where young girls they grow up fast
You took what you were handed and left behind what was asked
but what they asked baby wasn’t right
you didn’t have to live that life,
I was gonna be your Romeo you were gonna be my Juliet
These days you don’t wait on Romeo’s
you wait on that welfare check
and on all the pretty things you can’t ever have
and on all the promises
The album generated three U.S. singles – Hungry Heart, Fade Away and I Wanna Marry You – and four additional singles that were released in the UK only: Sherry Darling, The River/Independence Day, Cadillac Ranch and Point Blank. Hungry Heart became Bruce’s first top ten single on the U.S. pop singles chart, climbing up to number five.
The River has become one of Springsteen’s best-selling albums after Born in the U.S.A. and Born to Run. It has been certified quintuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
In addition to the title song and Hungry Heart, my favorite tunes from the album include The Ties That Bind, Independence Day, Out in the Street, Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch, Ramrod and The Price You Pay.
Four members of the current E Street Band were on the original recording of The River: Roy Bittan (piano, synthesizer, accordion), Garry Tallent (bass), Steven Van Zandt (rhythm guitar, lead guitar, background vocals) and Max Weinberg (drums). Perhaps the one missing member I’m going to miss the most is Clarence Clemmons, the band’s amazing saxophonist who passed away in 2011. Intriguingly, his nephew Jake Clemons took over “The Big Man’s” part in 2012 – big shoes to fill, literally!
I can’t wait to see these guys and Bruce bring The River to life and play many other great Springsteen songs next Tuesday at MetLife Stadium. Are the going to match the record four hours they rocked there Thursday night? Okay, I don’t want to get too greedy here – anything more than 2.5 hours is pretty remarkable these days, especially for an artist of Bruce’s caliber!