"Bruce is the main noise," former Bruce Springsteen drummer Vini Lopez tells Rolling Stone backstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame following the E Street Band's performance. "You don't watch the main noise, you're not going to get far."
Lopez – who was wearing a Steel Mill lapel pin, a reference to an early band he played in with Bruce – played in the E Street Band from 1972 to 1974, and said the group's performance was just like old times. Except instead of following the main noise, he was also following the racket E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg was making, since it was the first time he'd played in a two-drummer version of the group.
"When it was my turn to bop, I bopped," he says. But even while keeping up with Weinberg, he still had Springsteen to look to. "When you've got Bruce in front of you, you have to watch him," he says. "When I was playing in the band a lot, we didn't know what we were going to do or where the hell we were gonna go. If he hit a note in the middle of a song, you knew it was going to go somewhere else."
Springsteen began his speech with the line, "In the beginning, there was Mad Dog Vini Lopez," and Lopez was indeed grateful to be included in the induction. "This changed me," he says. "Just getting to say a few words up there was really something. When I got to speak I was getting to the 'Abba-dabba' point."
"It's totally surreal," says piano and keyboard player David Sancious, who played in the group through 1974 and has since gone on to play with the likes of Sting, Eric Clapton and Peter Gabriel. "We were teenagers when Bruce was coming up. I was 15 and dropped out of high school. I didn't know you guys. I was from the other side of the tracks. And I came here to dance my brains out. [E Street bassist] Garry [Tallent] was the first musician I met, and we actually played and the rest is history."
Both musicians agreed that going right back to rehearsals for Thursday night's performance, the spirit of the E Street band was still alive and well within them. "We're just telling jokes," Lopez says. "Same stuff we always used to do. The E Street spirit is something that I will always have. I don’t care what band I play with or jam with – I play it the best I can."
"Whether you're listening to it or you're playing it, it's a very subjective thing," Sancious says. "It's full of emotion. You become the instrument."
"When I get up there, I'm a whole different person," Lopez says. "The music flows through you. Everybody on that stage, the music just kind of flows through them. The basic thing with the E Street Band is we're blood brothers – young ones, new ones, old ones, it don't matter. We all respect each other."
Lopez and Sancious both have touring plans this summer, though not with each other. "I'm going to be touring a little bit with Peter Gabriel," Sancious says. "Then I'm going to be around."
"I'm playing all summer with License to Chill," Lopez says. "We'll be playing teeny bars all over the Jersey Shore. We're going to do some CDs. We're working on it."
Additional reporting by Patrick Doyle