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Let me ask you about when you first joined the E Street Band. You had to learn an incredible of amount of material all at once, but how long did it take you to start putting your own imprint on the songs?
“It took a while. I got the job with the E Street Band a month before the opening night of the Born In The USA tour, so I didn’t have the time I would have wanted. That was nobody’s fault. So I did a cram course and got a ledger book of all the songs. There were all the chords, but there were also harmony parts, along with notes of where I'd stand and various ideas. It was just a place to start.
“I’d been to see the band throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s – I just really loved them. I didn’t worry about getting my own parts in there, though; I just wanted to cover the parts and lines and harmony parts that Steve [Van Zandt] did. Bruce got Patti [Scialfa] in the band to help with the higher harmonies that I couldn’t nail.
“You can’t replace Steve. He’s got his own sound and look, the way he sings and especially the way he plays. Bruce and Steve are like Mick and Keith, two rough R&B-types. They have that nailed. But initially, I just tried to cover those parts, and then once that was nailed I threw in my own little turns and ends and stuff. I just wanted to get the job done. I wasn’t worried about solos – I do a million solos in my own show. I love playing rhythm guitar, and of course, when Steve got back in the band it was a big plus. It was great to hear him sing those songs.”
It’s a big guitar army now with you, Bruce and Steve all on electrics – and sometimes Tom Morello is playing with the band.
“Yeah, once Steve came back in, and you’ve also got Patti playing rhythm all the time, we didn't need four guitar players in the band. I talked to Bruce about it, and then I went off and challenged myself a little bit. I learned pedal steel guitar, Dobro, bottleneck, lap steel, six-string banjo. Mike Auldridge in Silver Springs, Maryland, is a buddy of mine, and he’s one of the great Dobro players. He put some lessons on tape of Dobro and pedal steel. I took it on the road and got an old pedal steel from Larry Crabb, my buddy, who is Neil Young’s guitar tech. He helped me get going. Mark Muller, another great guitar player who was with Shania Twain, and another pedal steel guitarist in Jersey, gave me a crash lesson in mid-rehearsal. I just wanted to add some other sounds in the E Street toolbox.”
You have two ’61 Strats that you’ve always used, but are there any guitars that don’t work with the E Street sound? Bruce and Steve are usually on a Tele and a Strat…
“I wouldn’t say something won’t work, but to me it’s redundant to pick up another Tele or Strat. I picked up an old Jazzmaster that I have, and I put on the heaviest strings you can buy – they’re like boards. I found that was a nice sound, marrying the Strat and Tele with the Jazzmaster. I got a bunch of them because I have different tunings and capo positions for certain songs. Every time those two guys have those guitars on, a Jazzmaster with heavy strings adds a warmer electric sound that really marries their tones together in a nice way.”