It was originally conceived as a quick, one-month jaunt to battle boredom and frustration and to tighten up for the next album. But it's become a two-month, 38-date extravaganza that answers the question: "Whatever happened to Bruce Springsteen?"
The tour, which began March 25th, takes Springsteen into the South, parts of the Midwest and Pennsylvania. He will become the first hard-rock performer to headline the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, and he is booked at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "He's very popular here," said George Fink, president of West Point's Dialectic Society, which invited Springsteen. "They call him the second coming of Bob Dylan, and the way he sings . . . he sings things like they are."
It's a strange tour, coming at a time when most major acts are planning Bicentennial blitzes of ballparks and festivals in all the largest cities. But Springsteen had not planned a tour at all. Most of January was a break from a year on the road. At home in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, he began preparing for the followup to Born to Run. It would, he said, be a heavily lyrical album that he now expects to record in June at New York's Record Plant.
By late February he was reportedly entangled in a contractual fight with his manager, Mike Appel. Neither man would be specific about it. "It hasn't been ironed out," said Appel, "and I don't want to send out any misinformation." Springsteen got restless, and his band was bored. "It's a lot easier for me than the rest of the guys when we're not playing," said Springsteen. "I've got my piano at home, so I can write." But with the album slow in being written, Springsteen and his band decided on a solution: a tour.
To get ready, they began jamming at the Stone Pony, a bar in Asbury Park. On March 21st, a Sunday, Springsteen decided a full show was in order. Phone calls went out to friends, and by midnight the Stone Pony was packed with 300 people. The band's hour-long show included most of Born to Run, as well as a reworking of Eddie Floyd's "Raise Your Hand," which may well replace "Rosalita" as Springsteen's set-closer.
Three days later the band was back on the road. Born to Run has sold almost a million, but Springsteen's basically Spartan approach hasn't changed much. They travel in a Greyhound bus equipped with eight beds. And being on the cover of Time and Newsweek hasn't had much effect. The band's camaraderie remains impressive. And in Atlanta, when a DJ asked the question, "How does it feel to be compared to Bob Dylan?," Springsteen responded, "How does it feel to get a punch on the lip?"
At Duke University, in a town Springsteen had never played, the audience seemed to know all the moves, cheering in anticipation when he went into the slow break at the end of "Spirit in the Night." The show was in a 6000-seat basketball arena, the largest hall in which Springsteen appeared.
For the first time, the band played every song from Born to Run in one set, and at show's end, "Raise Your Hand" did its job: everybody stayed up through the three-song encore that ended with "Quarter to Three."
This story is from the May 20th, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.