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What’s It Like to Join the E Street Band? Morello Looks Back at His Time With Springsteen

On Bruce Springsteen’s 71st birthday, the Rage guitarist recalls his time on E Street

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band performs in concert during their ‘High Hopes Tour’ at Hershey Stadium on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Hershey, PA.

Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP

For anyone who lived through the Nineties, it’s still absolutely wild that the guitarist of Rage Against the Machine joined the E Street Band for a while, even considering Rage’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” cover. Tom Morello’s first collaboration with Bruce Springsteen (who stars in our latest cover story) was on a live revamp of “Joad” that they performed multiple times, and eventually committed to record on 2014’s High Hopes. When guitarist Steve Van Zandt was busy filming his show Lilyhammer in 2013, Springsteen enlisted Morello to fill his slot for a series of shows. Springsteen started adding in spotlights for Morello (even, of all things, a cover of Van Halen’s “Jump”), and wound up featuring his playing extensively on High Hopes.

“The E Street Band is a pretty big house,” Springsteen told Andy Greene in 2013. “But he builds on another room… With that idea in mind — that I had another architect — I re-looked at the music that I had and said, ‘Let me run this one through Tom.’ So that’s what I started to do. His influence is very noticeable on maybe half the [tracks].”… I’m not sure if the record would exactly exist without his influence. He really allowed me to tie it all together, in a way that I’ve been looking for that I hadn’t found. He just really brought that stuff to life.”

On Springsteen’s 71st birthday, here’s what Morello had to say about his time with him in a recent interview that appeared on Rolling Stone Music Now and as an episode of our RS Interview: Special Edition video series.

To hear the entire episode, press play above or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

“It’s part of the bizarre and incredible mosaic of my creative life. Really, Bruce is probably the only person where I would be a sideman in their band. I don’t feel like I’m kind of built that way. I love Bruce Springsteen. He’s the only friend I have that I subscribe to a fanzine about.  That’s kind of rarefied air there.  The last tour that we did in in North America, it was 34 shows and 182 different songs. And I never had the jukebox gene which a lot of musicians have, who played thousands of cover band club dates. I never had that. So, for me, it was work. I learned about 250 songs before the first show, because I wanted to be ready! I didn’t want to be the problem.”

“You know, the E Street band had been great for over 40 years without me in it. So that is first of all, don’t cause no harm. You know, and then secondly, when Bruce gives the nod, you know, try to blow the roof off the place with some crazy solo that E Street fans would not be expecting. I’ve found so much inspiration in Bruce’s work, and to be able to be a part of it for a period of time is something that’s such a fulfilling and wonderful thing to have happened. I know that some of the non-traditional elements of my guitar playing may have divided some of the faithful, but Bruce asked me to play like me.”

“Watching him work on a daily basis was very inspiring. He was, as a friend and as a person, absolutely as advertised. And grounded and committed to excellence in every aspect. And, you know, we would play shows in Johannesburg and in Peoria, and some of the same fans are in the front rows of those shows! And they’re very excited to see Bruce Springsteen. But no one’s more excited to be in the room on that night than Bruce Springsteen is. He has that kind of commitment to, ‘I’ve played shows for 42 years and tonight’s going to be the greatest show.’  It was inspiring to be around that. And honestly like every night I might give myself 15 or 20 seconds, maybe during ‘Born to Run,’ to just stand there and look over and trip out: “I am rocking ‘Born to Run’ with Bruce Springsteen.’”

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From Rolling Stone US