For the past 46 years, bassist Garry Tallent has been the backbone of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. He's the sole remaining member of the original lineup, appearing on every album and never missing a single concert. Throughout that whole time, he's been content to stand on the side of the stage and cede the spotlight to his more charismatic bandmates, but that will finally change in late May when he launches his first solo tour that will take him to clubs and theaters around Europe and the USA.
"I never really thought of myself as a singer or a frontman," he tells Rolling Stone by phone from New Zealand, where Springsteen and the E Street Band are wrapping up their River tour. "I don't exactly have a great voice, but I love to sing. I felt like it was time to get out of my comfort zone. It should be fascinating."
The tour is in support of Break Time, his solo debut that came out a year ago. "I started this 20 years ago as far as writing songs and figuring some day I'd do it when the time was right," says Tallent. "The name of the album is the answer to all the fans that always ask me what I do during the breaks. Do I just get put on ice somewhere and wait for the next tour? This is the answer. One reason I'm finally doing this is I always tell me kids to follow through things they start."
Tallent cut the album at Paul Burch's Pan American Sound in Nashville with a small band that included drummer Jimmy Lester, bassist Dave Roe, pianist Kevin Mckendree and guitarist Eddie Angel. It's unapologetically retro, essentially a tribute to the music Tallent loved when he was a kid. "The whole album is supposed to be something that could have been made in 1959," he says. "There's a little bit of New Orleans, a little bit of deep-down Delta Cajun and some rockabilly and 1950s pop." Guitarist Duane Eddy guests on "Promise It To My Heart." "I was going to do my Duane Eddy guitar part and I was like, 'This is pretty silly. Let me call Duane and have him come over,'" says Tallent. "Sure enough he did."
The tour was supposed to kick off soon after Break Time came out last year, but then Springsteen decided to promote his River box set with a U.S. tour. "That was supposed to be 23 shows and here it is a year later and we're still doing it," he says. "It's hard to make plans sometimes." The venues are infinitely smaller than the ones Tallent plays when the E Street Band tours. "That makes me a little more anxious because they're so intimate," he says. "You're right there with the people. When the E Street Band played clubs it was always more of a party. Now it's a huge event, but not necessarily a party."
The setlist for the show is still in flux, but Tallent expects to play nearly everything from Break Time along with other songs he's worked on over the years, like the version of Buddy Holly's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" he cut with Marshall Crenshaw for the 1987 movie La Bamba and tunes from the Sonny Burgess record he produced in 1996. Break Time guest vocalist Kristi Rose will be on the road with Tallent alongside musicians from the album. "I want to give everyone a solo spot," he says. "We might pull out some early instrumentals by the Ventures and the Shadows."
Outside of "Tiger Rose," a song that Springsteen contributed to the Sonny Burgess record, fans coming to the show hoping to hear Bruce tunes will likely be disappointed. "I don't want to give away any secrets," he says. "But there's always going to be someone that's going to expect to hear 'Jungleland' or 'Thunder Road.' They're not going to hear those. I am working up a version of 'The Ballad of Thunder Road' by Robert Mitchum, so if anyone expects to hear 'Thunder Road,' they will hear 'Thunder Road.'"
Garry Tallent U.S. Tour Dates
April 21 – Edwardsville, IL @ Wildey
April 22 – Milwaukee, WI @ Shank Hall
April 25 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Bag
April 27 – Three Oaks, MI @ Acorn Theatre
April 28 – Kent, OH @ Kent Stage
April 30 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Hard Rock Café
May 3 – Pawling, NY @ Daryl's House
May 4 – Fall River, MA @ Narrows Center for the Arts
May 6 – Somerville, MA @ The Rockwell
May 7 – New York, NY @ The Cutting Room
May 11 – Philadelphia, PA @ Ardmore Music Hall
May 12 – Asbury Park, NJ @ The Stone Pony
May 14 – Bethesda, MD @ Amp by Strathmore
May 16 – Richmond, VA @ Tin Pan