Flashback: Bruce Springsteen Debuts 'Tom Joad' on Leno - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: Bruce Springsteen Debuts ‘Tom Joad’ on Leno

Tony Danza had a front row seat for one of the first live performances of Springsteen’s 1995 classic

Very few people have anything but a vague recollection of Tony Danza’s 1995 sitcom Hudson Street. The ABC show featured him as a detective that falls in love with a crime reporter played by Full House’s Lori Loughlin. It was his third straight network sitcom where he played a Tony (after Taxi’s Tony Banta and Who’s the Boss’ Tony Micelli), but this one didn’t connect and it was yanked after a single season.

The show did bring him to Jay Leno’s couch on November 27th, 1995, right before Bruce Springsteen came out to perform “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” the title track to his album that hit just five days earlier. Danza was pumped. “I’ve seen him a bunch of times,” he told Leno. “And let me tell you, he puts on a show. He puts on a show! Bruuuuuuce!”

Danza stood up to cheer like he was about to see him play “Glory Days,” but this was a very different Springsteen than the one he remembered from the 1980s. He had little more than an acoustic guitar, a harmonica rack, a receding hairline and a stunning new song about the urban homeless. He debuted the tune less than a month earlier at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit. The single wouldn’t even dent the charts, but it would have a very long afterlife and get covered by everyone from Rage Against the Machine to Pete Seeger.

The Tonight Show performance came near the end of a very bizarre year in Springsteen’s career. It began with him picking up three Grammy’s for “Streets of Philadelphia” and reforming the E Street Band to cut new songs for his Greatest Hits album. They played a handful of promotional shows that had fans salivating over the idea of a reunion tour, but when he finally went on the road in October it was as a guitarist in his buddy Joe Grushecky’s band. When he could have been playing multiple nights at Giants Stadium he was at the 600-seat Nick’s Fat City in Pittsburgh.

Just weeks after the brief run of Grushecky shows, he began the solo acoustic Tom Joad tour that would take him to theaters all over the world until May of 1997. By that point, Tony Danza was gearing up to go back on the air with The Tony Danza Show. This time around he played Tony DiMeo, a sportswriter and single father of two young daughters. They filmed 14 episodes, but NBC pulled it after just four. 


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