The E's are the backing outfit of Bruce Springsteen
, and worthy of mention in their own right. The band was hastily formed in 1973 to back Springsteen on his debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
. At this point, the band had a loose, raggedy sound courtesy of drummer Vini Lopez
. His counterpart in the rhythm section was bassist Garry Tallent
. David Sancious
and Danny Federici
played organ and piano, interchangeably, and Clarence Clemons
was on tenor saxophone
. Bruce himself played all the guitars, and sometimes piano.
This incarnation of the E's lasted until 1974, working on two albums, "Greetings" and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. They can also be heard on various bootlegs of Springsteen's excellent unreleased work from the same period. I have a 6-song boot called Forgotten Songs that encapsulates these songs far better than any record-company product that Springsteen has authorized lately.
In 1974, Vini Lopez was fired, and replaced by Ernest Carter, who played on exactly one song in the studio, ever... it was Born to Run. After the recording-- made almost a year before the album proper-- David Sancious was offered his own recording contract, and took Carter with him. The E's were made over into their more familiar incarnation with the addition of pianist Roy Bittan, drummer Max Weinberg, and rhythm guitarist Steve Van Zandt. This band played on Born to Run (the album), Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The River.
While the E's at this point were no longer a flashy band, there is a lot to recommend about their sound circa 1975-80. Roy Bittan's lyrical, melodic piano lines are instantly memorable, shown to best effect on Springsteen songs such as Backstreets, Jungleland, and Born to Run, and on Bob Seger's Against the Wind. Max Weinberg's drumming is tasteful-- he plays simple and effective drum licks in exactly the right places-- and he is easily Vini Lopez's equal as a drummer. The band relies a little too heavily on Clarence Clemons's sax as a lead instrument, but he, too, has his moments.
Unfortunately, under the Jon Landau regime, the E's didn't get a chance to stretch out and show what they could do too often. Steve Van Zandt, in particular, was under-utilized; he was at least as good a guitarist as Springsteen, but his parts are rarely audible on Bruce's records (he's the brief mandolin lick in Glory Days), and was used more often to arrange horns. Bob Dylan's collaboration with the E's, the alternate take of When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky, is a recommended listen. Dylan let the E's out of their arena-pop box, and gave Van Zandt a blistering guitar solo as well.
In 1983, Van Zandt left during the Born in the U.S.A. sessions, and was replaced by Nils Lofgren, formerly of Neil Young's bands, and his own solo career. Lofgren was even more overqualified to be Springsteen's waterboy. After the smash success of "Born in the U.S.A.", Springsteen made one more record with the E's, 1987's Tunnel of Love. The E's weren't used on many of the songs, and it was no surprise when Springsteen disbanded them the following year.
Recently, Springsteen has re-formed the E's, and used them as backing on his last two albums. Lofgren and Van Zandt are both in the band now, as well as Springsteen's wife Patti Scialfa, who was briefly a member of the E's as a backing singer in the 1980's, before her marriage to Springsteen.
Many of the E's have gone on to successful solo careers, in one way or another:
Steve Van Zandt-- Worked with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, writing their 1976 hit I Don't Want to Go Home. Moderately successful as a solo artist in the 1980's, and was the driving force behind the anti-apartheid Sun City benefit. Continues to record-- he's actually quite good-- but, more famously, plays Silvio Dante on The Sopranos. Session credits include Lone Justice, Jimmy Cliff, Brian Setzer, and Meat Loaf.
Max Weinberg-- Became the drummer and bandleader for Conan O'Brien's house band, The Max Weinberg Seven. Once "shot" Conan during a bit, and was in turn shot by Andy Richter. Drummed for Meat Loaf.
Clarence Clemons-- had a hit in 1985 with You're a Friend of Mine. His session credits include Aretha Franklin, Twisted Sister, Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker, Roy Orbison, Jim Carroll, Great White, and Luther Vandross.
Roy Bittan-- session work for David Bowie, Jackson Browne, Meat Loaf, Peter Gabriel, Dire Straits, Stevie Nicks, Bob Seger, Tracy Chapman, Chicago, Lucinda Williams, and others.
David Sancious-- recorded several albums under his own name.
Nils Lofgren-- started out working with Neil Young in 1970-- he plays piano on Southern Man-- later formed Grin and released several records with them, as well as under his own name. Session work for Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, and Carl Perkins.
Patti Scialfa-- recorded an album called Rumble Doll that I believe was produced by Bruce, in or around 1993. Once was a backup singer for The Rolling Stones.
Garry Tallent-- spent the 1990's producing records, for Steve Forbert, among others. Session work for Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings.
Chris-O has challenged me to provide the nicknames of every E Streeter. While I think not everyone had a nickname, I will give it my best shot.
Roy Bittan-- The Professor
Ernest Carter-- "Boom"
Clarence Clemons-- The Big Man
Danny Federici-- Phantom
Nils Lofgren-- Lefty, Crazy Horse
Vini Lopez--Mad Dog
Patti Scialfa-- Red
Garry Tallent-- Scooter, The Tennessee Terror
Steve Van Zandt-- Little Steven, Miami Steve
Max Weinberg-- Mighty Max