Ernest “Boom” Carter’s tenure in the E Street Band lasted a mere eight months. He joined on drums in February of 1974, after Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez got the boot; gigged around America with the group; participated in some early sessions for Born to Run; and left with keyboardist David Sancious that October to start the jazz fusion project Tone. Carter played on just one song that wound up on a Bruce Springsteen album: “Born to Run.” In the 2005 documentary Wings for Wheels, Springsteen could only laugh when talking about it. “Boom and Davy recorded ‘Born to Run’ and then left the band!” he said. “I said, ‘Wait! This is the one!'”
There are very few photos of Boom behind the kit at an E Street Band concert, and just a handful of decent recordings from his brief era. The ones that do exist are fascinating, since he’s a jazz-influenced drummer with a completely different style than Lopez or Max Weinberg. Here’s one such recording, taped at New York’s Bottom Line on July 13th, 1974. The bandmates were in the middle of recording Born to Run, but the sessions had left them flat broke and forced to take gigs to pay the bills. Springsteen’s first two records had tanked, and Columbia was on the verge of dropping him. It’s easy to see why Carter and Sancious thought that leaving for a jazz fusion project made sense at the time, though in hindsight it wasn’t one of the smartest moves in rock history. Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan are quite grateful, though.
Here are four highlights from the show:
#0.04 – “Then She Kissed Me.” Phil Spector was a huge influence on Springsteen when he made Born to Run, so it’s no surprise that Springsteen opened the gig with this song that Spector produced and co-wrote for the Crystals in 1963. Like the Beach Boys did in 1965, Bruce switched around the genders. It’s the first known time he covered the song, though it became a regular on the Born to Run tour the next year. It returned to the set via fan request at shows in 2008 and 2009.
#33.55 – “Jungleland.” Not a single person in the club applauds when Springsteen says, “This is something called ‘Jungleland.'” That’s understandable, since the song wouldn’t appear on record for another 13 months. This is an early, messy, crazily long version of the tune – only the second known performance in public – and the lyrics are far from finished. “The streets alive with tough-kid Jets in Nova-light machines,” Springsteen sings. “Boys flash guitars like bayonets and rip holes in their jeans.” Most notably, there’s an extended guitar solo in place of the legendary sax solo. Clemons does play throughout the tune, but the sax solo heard on the album was the product of much studio work that came later. In this show, the band does a seemingly improvised jam at the end that spotlights Sancious and Carter’s jazz chops. Had they stuck around, Born to Run would have been a very different record.
#45.40 – “Born to Run.” “This is our new single, hot off the racks,” Springsteen says. “You can listen for it any day now. It’s called ‘Tramps Like Us, We Were Born to Run.'” He had debuted the tune two months earlier at a Harvard gig (while future manager Jon Landau sat in the audience), and it was already considerably closer to the finished version than “Jungleland,” but it wasn’t quite there yet. “Like animals racing in a black dark cage,” he sang. “Senses on overload/They’re gonna end this night in a senseless fight/And then watch the world explode.” Even in this early, slightly sloppy rendition, it was clear that Springsteen had a classic on his hands, and the crowd seemed to love it.
#1:17:10 – “New York City Serenade.” David Sancious’ greatest contribution to Springsteen’s catalog is the epic piano intro that starts off 1973’s “New York City Serenade.” It’s even longer here, kicking off a gorgeously tender, slow take on the song. The song occasionally pops up at shows these days, but Springsteen and bassist Garry Tallent are now the sole remaining E Street Band members who played on the album where it appeared, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. It’s great to hear this version of the song, with the vast majority of the original crew still onstage. Someday, Springsteen should really invite Sancious to guest with the E Street Band when they play this song. It would be a nice gesture to let Boom play drums on “Born to Run” one night, too, assuming that won’t be too painful a look at a life he nearly lived.