More Springsteen, plus: GOP Cover-Up, Fred Hampton Film, Gillian Welch
And fun from Colbert and "SNL."
Yesterday my piece on riding with then-unknown Bruce Springsteen for a gig in my hometown of Niagara Falls in March 1973 attracted wide attention and more than a hundred new subscribers. So, welcome newcomers to this daily adventure, launched just three weeks ago, which on most days mixes snappy takes on politics with music clips and memories (some from my days at Crawdaddy) plus film picks and more. On the weekend we go longer and lighter. And since there are so many new Boss fans on board, here’s some bonus content especially for you below (and watch for more in the weeks ahead). Plus: some GameStop humor and a preview of the murder-of-Fred Hampton movie, as Gillian & David look at Miss Ohio. Then maybe subscribe, it is free!
You Reddit Here First
The Colbert show responds to GameStop frenzy with takeoff on The Wolf of Wall Street below. And here’s the opening of last night’s SNL Weekend Update and their own GameStop take with Kate McKinnon. Plus: a very pointed and controversial Covid-19 segment on an Israeli humor show. Meanwhile, we noted a few days ago that the San Francisco school board, due to racial concerns, will likely strike names such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Dianne Feinstein and, yes, Abraham Lincoln. Now they are considering naming one after…Jerry Garcia. Would have to be: Jerry Garcia High.
Mad Cogs and an Englishman
It was early 1976. Bruce Springsteen’s pal, Southside Johnny, had just signed his own recording contract at Epic Records (with The Asbury Jukes), and since I was pals with both of them I was invited to a Sunday recording session at the Record Plant in NYC that would feature two legends, Ronnie Spector and Lee Dorsey, with “Miami Steve” Van Zandt producing. Joe Cocker happened to be cutting an album in the next studio.
Joe, to say the least, was not at his best.
The scene: A long couch in a corridor between the two studios. I sat down at the far end. Then Cocker and famed session drummer Bernard Purdie joined me, with Joe in the middle. Joe appeared drunk or stoned, his hair a mop. Purdie told him, flatly, “Joe, you’re a mess.” Cocker replied, “I’m all right.”
Purdie: “You’ve been ‘all right’ for years.” One couldn’t help but recall that one of Joe’s earliest hits was “Feelin’ All Right.” Now he needed a little help from his friends. Still in a daze, and perhaps forgetting I was there, Cocker placed a finger on one side of his nose—apparently getting ready to snot lustily out of the nostril facing me. Well, you never saw someone jump off a couch so fast, and I escape unscathed.
Just another day at the office.
Southside and Steve, who I had first met in December 1972, were a fun pair to interview about the Jukes. Steve claimed they were nothing like the E Streeters. “We have five horns, Bruce only has one,” he boasted. Johnny interjected: “Cause he’s cheap!” Then they reminisced about one of “the 48 bands” they were in with Bruce. In the Sundance Blues Band, Steve played lead guitar “and we only gave Bruce a lick once in awhile,” Johnny said. Steve added: “And I don’t think we let him sing one song.”
Then, a few minutes later, we all had the thrill of watching at close range the elfin Lee Dorsey, just up from New Orleans, croak out a Van Zandt tune, “How Come You Treat Me So Bad?” Steve, behind the mixing board, screamed at the end, “I think I’m going to die!” Dorsey, the voice behind “Working in a Coal Mine” and “Ride My Pony” (see below) and other NOLA classics, told me he hadn’t been in a studio for three years and recently sold his bar in NOLA after getting held up one too many times. Now he was running a body shop with his son—and just the day before had found someone under the hood of one of the cars, trying to swipe a battery.
“Next legend!” Van Zandt ordered, and soon Ronnie Spector waltzed through the door. Still her sassy self, Ronnie (now separated from crazed gun-toting husband Phil) arrived in painted-on jeans, suspenders and a tight red t-shirt. She told me she was coaxed into the studio because the track, “You Mean So Much to Me,” was written by Springsteen. Bruce was tinkling the ivories when she walked up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Nice to see ya,” Bruce responded but, seemingly intimidated, he didn’t say a word to her the rest of the night.
By now, Joe Cocker had staggered down the hall to watch. After a terrific first vocal take by Ronnie, Steve announced, “We still need some whoah-oh-ohs at the beginning.” Ronnie replied: “I know whoa-oh-ohs.” An understatement. “Whoa-oh-ohs are my life.” When they recorded the take she threw in a “sock it to me,” sending Springsteen into convulsions.
Watching Ronnie, Steve and Southside huddled in a corner, I asked Bruce, now a star after Born to Run, if he’d ever imagined he’d one day survey this tableau. “Nowadays,” he answered with a chuckle, “I believe anything.”
That much-awaited movie Judas and the Black Messiah, about the murder of black activist Fred Hampton, starring Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, and directed by Shaka King, is coming to HBO Max and theaters on February 12 (after debuting at Sundance), and here’s the trailer. Playing wildly against type: Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover! And we got to love the original title for the film: Jesus Was My Homeboy.
Of course, I am old enough to remember when the Chicago Black Panther leader was shot and killed in his bed, which we suspected from the start was a case of police/federal execution. Hampton also had an ahistorical cameo in Aaron Sorkin’s recent The Trial of the Chicago 7, another Oscar contender this year.
Song Pick of the Day
I was a Gillian Welch-David Rawlings fan right from their first album—hell, from Emmylou’s cover of “Orphan Girl” even before that—but I drifted after awhile, so coming across their fabulous “Look at Miss Ohio” last year was quite an ear-opener. Now they are releasing official “bootlegs” of their unrecorded tunes and much of it is terrific. Here’s “Miss Ohio” live with a couple of guests named Isbell and Shires.
Greg Mitchell is the author of a dozen books, including the bestseller The Tunnels (on escapes under the Berlin Wall), the current The Beginning or the End (on MGM’s wild atomic bomb movie), and The Campaign of the Century (on Upton Sinclair’s left-wing race for governor of California), which was recently picked by the Wall St. Journal as one of five greatest books ever about an election. For nearly all of the 1970s he was the #2 editor at the legendary Crawdaddy. Later he won more than a dozen awards as editor of Editor & Publisher magazine. He recently co-produced a film about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and now has written and directed his first feature, Atomic Cover-up, which will have its American premiere at a festival this spring.