This is the first installment in David Hewitt’s guest blog series chronicling his legendary career working with some of the biggest names in music.
Tales of Recording Bruce Springsteen Live (Part One)
In the prehistoric (pre digital) era of live recording, you needed to lug a lot of gear around to the musician’s location. As multi track recording became popular, it required specially built trucks to carry it all and provide an area for the console and a place to monitor the music. My first “Remote” involved schlepping a new 650 lb. Ampex MM-1000 16 Track Recorder and way too much gear in cardboard boxes, to record a demo for what would become the feature film, The Buddy Holly Story. I was working for the late Joel Fein at Regent Sound Studios in Philadelphia at the time.
When it came time to record a big live TV pilot with a 26-piece orchestra, electric rhythm section and vocalists, I hired the Record Plant NY Remote Truck. I was amazed at how fast and efficient the crew set up and solved the many problems of a one off complex live recording. Very impressive to this studio guy!
The tables were turned when I visited Record Plant Studios in early January of 1973. Frank Hubach, who was running Remote Operation then, saw me in the hallway and hired me on the spot to join him recording the Mahavishnu Orchestra in Buffalo, NY. There was some new Rock Band opening for them called Aerosmith. We then drove directly to Boston to record the Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra. RCA issued it in the Quadradisc format. Discrete four channel vinyl! Try finding a phono cartridge for that now. There were a lot of competing Quad formats then, a story for another time.
Then it was a rush getting back to New York for Bruce Springsteen at Max’s Kansas City, where he was the opening act for the singer Biff Rose. If you played Max’s in those days, you were definitely on your way! I had heard of Bruce, but had yet to see him play live. What an incredible show he put on! That was to be one of the first King Biscuit Flower Hour live radio shows. In those days, radio was the main source for your music. Television was just beginning to air live music, and of course, there was no Internet. The cassette had not yet arrived either, so no copies, unless you owned an expensive reel-to-reel tape recorder!
I would see a lot of Bruce in the next few years, as he spent endless hours recording his albums Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town at the Record Plant NY. I think he still holds the record for the number of 2” tapes used. Thus began the rise of Jimmy Iovine from assistant to engineer and then producer and finally, mogul. Before Interscope, Geffen A&M Records and the rest, he was just “Jimmy Shoes.”
One Springsteen show we recorded was particularly memorable for the practical jokes that used to go down on the road. I happened to be walking by the production office, when I saw the entire E Street Band waiting outside with a huge Styrofoam cooler. Mike Appel, Bruce’s Manager at the time, comes out of the door and gets the cooler full of ice water dumped on his head!
A look inside the Black Truck
The next Bruce recording that I recall took place in our new “Black Truck”, with a (huge at that time) 44 input API console and two Ampex 1200 24-track recorders. It took place at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ. This was a great old 1930s venue where so many rock shows happened back in the day. Being New Jersey, it was a sold out hometown crowd with no opening act. Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus were engineering on the Black Truck with me. During the intermission, they decided to grab a hot dog from a vendor out on the sidewalk. He had a little radio tuned into WNEW for the live broadcast and they were listening to the intermission DJ banter, when all of a sudden the band starts playing! Jimmy and Shelly came screaming back into the Truck, where I had the mix covered. Well, the crew thought it was pretty funny! Jimmy…not so much.
Check back soon for David’s next entry featuring more behind the scenes stories from his time on the road with Bruce Springsteen.
Photos courtesy of David Hewitt