'High Hopes' Songwriter Tim Scott Explains His Springsteen Connection

'Disarming' superstar came backstage to praise the song 20 years ago, he says

Bruce Springsteen performs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Yasuyohi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images
November 20, 2013 1:45 PM ET

Yesterday, veteran songwriter Tim Scott learned that Bruce Springsteen has cut a song of his, "High Hopes," for the second time. He found out through his manager, who saw the news on Twitter. Springsteen recorded the song once before, for the rare 1996 Blood Brothers EP; that time Scott found out the old-fashioned way.

"I actually read it in the paper," he tells Rolling Stone from his home in Norway.

See Where Bruce Springsteen Ranks on Our 100 Greatest Guitarists List

Scott has paid his dues in the music business, and then some. He joined the Rockats, the pioneering rockabilly revival group featuring Jerry Nolan (ex-New York Dolls) on drums, in 1979. He signed a solo contract in the Eighties, then created a major-label bidding war over the Havalinas, a raucous roots band who dressed like L.A. outlaws and once toured with Bob Dylan. With standup bass player Smutty Smiff (who'd also been in the Rockats) and drummer Charlie "Chalo" Quintana (Social Distortion, Cruzados), they released their debut record in 1990, which opened with the track "High Hopes."

Scott first met Springsteen in 1991, at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, when he walked offstage into the darkness and held out his guitar for the band's road manager, as he always did. This time, though, the guy who took the guitar from him turned out to be Bruce.

"He was an endearing guy," Scott recalls. "He has a goofy laugh, and I do, too. He was very disarming – he brought you right down." When he met Springsteen all those years ago, Scott enjoyed how the superstar showed up backstage unannounced and unassuming. "I appreciated that," he says, laughing. "I'm a private fucker, too."

They talked backstage for about an hour, Scott says, mostly about Springsteen's praise for "High Hopes" and Scott's interest in his visitor's Nebraska album.

"It had this real lowdown sound,"  Scott says, who occasionally recorded using his full name, Tim Scott McConnell, and has lately been performing as Ledfoot. "I'm a southerner – I grew up on that rootsy country-folk stuff. He was talking about how he walked around with [the Nebraska demo] in his back pocket for a month before he decided to do something with it."

Springsteen apparently recorded "High Hopes" earlier this year in Australia, while Tom Morello was filling in for Steven Van Zandt. It's a rattling call-and-response-style barnburner offset by lyrics that border on desperation ("Give me help, give me strength/Give a soul a night of fearless sleep"). Scott credits the song to the "chain-gang tradition."

Scott says he's never seen any royalty statements from the first Springsteen version, not that he's complaining. "I don't measure my accounts that way," he says. The recognition has value of its own.        

"I'm 55, man," he continues. "I've been doing this since I was 15. Somewhere around 35 or 40, I stopped looking for that overnighter, that magic kinda thing."

Scott's next release is as Ledfoot — a new album called Black Valley Ballads, and it's due out in Germany in January — just in time to coincide with Springsteen's own heavily rumored next record, which could include "High Hopes." 

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