Bruce Springsteen Has reached a musical crossroads. After sixteen years with the E Street Band, he has served notice to the band members that he will not be working with them on his next album, fueling speculation that the maturing rocker's next recording may show a substantial change in direction.
Since his involvement in last year's Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour, Springsteen has expressed a desire to expand the scope of his music. That, combined with his rapid rise to superstardom and very public divorce from Julianne Philips, may have caused a kind of midlife career crisis. He has no firm plans to begin recording, and his next album may be a long time coming.
"You always have to grow and go through changes," says Nils Lofgren, guitarist with the E Street Band. Lofgren, like the other members of the band, got a call from Springsteen in October, informing him of Springsteen's recording plans. "Right now he's just a little . . . he's searching. He's allowed to be confused. He specifically said, 'I'm just gonna do some experimenting and try recording some songs with some different players.' " Lofgren adds that Springsteen has written "a couple" of new songs.
Jon Landau, Springsteen's manager, says Springsteen hasn't actually begun to record but has been "giving some thought to what approach he might want to take musically."
Since the Amnesty tour ended in October 1988, Springsteen has been on a sabbatical from touring and recording. He has spent much of that time in Los Angeles, where he is rumored to be producing a solo album for girlfriend Patti Scialfa. Two tracks are known to have been recorded by Scialfa: a version of Nanci Griffith's "Gulf Coast Highway" and the Springsteen song "Burning Love." The latter track has already circulated among Springsteen fanatics.
Springsteen has recorded his own version of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas" for an all-Elvis compilation that will be released in England in February to benefit the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Foundation, which aids autistic and other severely handicapped children. None of the E Street Band members appear on the recording. Springsteen's backing band – which was assembled by producer Chuck Plotkin, a longtime associate, and Toby Scott, his engineer – is made up of a number of West Coast session all-stars: former Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro, bassist Bob Glaub and keyboardist Ian McLagan. Landau stresses that the "Viva Las Vegas" band is not Springsteen's "new band."
Springsteen has long encouraged the members of the E Street Band to pursue individual projects. After the Amnesty tour, bassist Garry Tallent moved to Nashville, where he is active as a producer; Lofgren and saxophonist Clarence Clemons recently toured with Ringo Starr, with whom they hope to release an already-recorded live album and then cut a studio album. The outlook for the E Street Band members' solo recording careers is a bit cloudier, though: Clemons's Night With Mr.C, his third solo album for Columbia Records, was a flop, failing to even make Billboard's Top 200 album chart, and it appears unlikely that the label will want another album. Lofgren played several East Coast clubs with his brother's band in December but has been unable to find a label for his next solo album. In addition, he and pianist Roy Bittan are coproducing sessions in Los Angeles for actress Stepfanie Kramer, the star of the TV show Hunter.
Max Weinberg, who reenrolled last year at Seton Hall University, in Orange, New Jersey, graduated in December with a degree in communications and plans to go to law school. But he remains hopeful that Springsteen will reenlist him as his drummer.
"You can never be sure what Bruce is gonna do next," says Weinberg, who joined the band in 1974. Although Weinberg says he's "not waiting around," he also adds that he's "not packing away my drums."
Springsteen's relationship with the E Street Band has been ambiguous since 1982, when he decided that the demo tapes he recorded by himself for Nebraska were better than the band versions of the same songs. After that album was released, according to Dave Marsh's Springsteen biography Glory Days, Springsteen considered making another album without the band. Tunnel of Love, his most recent record, was made with minimal input from most of the band members.
But the pivotal factor in Springsteen's reevaluation of the band may have been the Amnesty International tour, which was the first time he'd toured with other musicians since 1973. "In rock & roll, you work in a very isolated environment," he said when the Amnesty caravan began. "You move from town to town, but you're basically with the same group of thirty people. I wanted to look outward."
During the tour, Springsteen formed a friendship with Sting, who, he once joked, "tutors me on what's wrong with my music." Subsequently, Springsteen showed signs of broadening his musical horizons. Sting often dueted with him on "The River," a song that also featured Shankar, the Indian-born violinist from Peter Gabriel's band. Branford Marsalis, Sting's saxophonist, joined the E Streeters, along with percussionists from Gabriel's and Youssou N'Dour's bands.
"The end of this tour marks my graduation of sorts," Springsteen said a year ago. "And I hope that I will be able to go back home and in my music write about a different sensibility that I felt on this tour."
This story is from the January 11th, 1990 issue of Rolling Stone.