The Roots Report: An Interview with Max Weinberg

Okee dokee folks… Max Weinberg, drummer for Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien fame will be bring his Jukebox Show to the Greenwich Odeum On Thursday, May 16. I had the opportunity to speak with Max by phone and talk about the show and whatever came up. Read on…

Max Weinberg: Hello, John, how are you? Good to talk to you! What can I do  for you today?
John Fuzek: Well, I wanted to talk about you and your show coming up at the Odeum in East Greenwich, RI and whatever else you’d like to talk about!
MW: Well, I’m happy to tell you about the Jukebox Show, it’s a lot of fun, we played there once before and it was a blast, I have a long history with Rhode Island, a large group of my family lives in the Providence area and it was fun to get back to that area
JF: I did not know that, cool!
MW: That’s right, they go back to the 60’s
JF: Are they all Weinbergs?
MW: They are my older sister’s extended family and there’s a lot of cousins and nieces and their children so I expect some of them will be coming to the show, it’s a fun show, it’s all audience requests of 60’s and 70’s material, music that I grew up listening to and in many cases may have learn to play the drums from listening to this music and it’s quite a lot of audience participation
JF: When you say “audience requests” how do they go about requesting it, is it in advance or at the show?
MW:  At the show they yell out their songs and we do our best to play them, we have our revolving, what I call our “video menu”, a revolving list of about 300 songs and, everything from the Beatles to the Stones to Springsteen to the English invasion, Beach Boys, you name it, it’s a cross section of everything that was popular in the 60’s and 70’s, yeah, they just raise their hands and I just pick them out and, like I said, it’s very interactive,  it’s a different kind of concept, years ago Elvis Costello did a thing where he had a spinning wheel tour, where he had a roulette wheel, but it was all his songs, i believe this is the first time that someone has other people’s songs where it is completely spontaneous, it’s a different show every night, we’ve done about 120 shows in just about two years, about 6 or 8 times a month, so it’s not a tour per se, we fly in, fly back, I live in Florida so you can get pretty much anywhere
JF: You live in Florida these?
MW: I do, I have been down here for about five years
JF: No more New Jersey?
MW: Well, I still have real estate interests in New Jersey but I am a full time resident of Florida and of course this is the time of the year to be there and it’s beautiful and it’s always green
JF: What part of Florida are you in?
MW: I live in Southeastern Florida
JF: I read that you were really interested in law
MW: I come from a long line of lawyers in my family, I have been interested in all aspects of, my personal life and career of, staying very true to my method of due diligence, but I think I will leave the “lawyering” to the lawyers and I’ll stick to drumming
JF: It said that you you interested after the initial E-Street Band break-up
MW: Yes, I went to law school briefly in 1991 and it was actually very educational, when I met Bruce in 1974 I was in my last semester in college and I was planning on going to law school at that time,  but I didn’t follow through on that plan, obviously, I joined the E-Street Band in 1974
JF: And that obviously changed your life
MW: It certainly did, for the better, I’ve enjoyed being a drummer all my life and into my adulthood, I was 68 on Saturday
JF: Well, I hope that you had a good birthday!
MW: Thank you! I feel that anytime I can do anything continuously for 3 or 4 hours without getting tired is a good day for me, my Jukebox show is about 90 minutes
JF: I was going to ask you about that, you’re 10 years older than me and I perform, I am physically exhausted after a show, and I don’t know how you can do it
MW: Well, it’s really all about relaxation and it’s kind of  like whatever level you are doing it at it’s about staying focused and relaxed and particularly drumming, all instruments, all endeavors, look at Tiger Woods, yesterday, the experience, the ability to play beyond, what you think you can do and you often have reserves that sometimes you didn’t even know were there, it’s willpower, it’s experience, it’s finesse, and it’s relaxation where, in the example of drummers, you don’t grip the sticks tightly and you keep your hands really loose and by doing that you maintain a center and you also your muscles don’t get that tired, that’s not to say that you don’t get tired but you’re able to persevere through the feat
JF: One thing i remember about you, I used to watch Conan (O’Brien) all the time, and I saw how you evolved into kind of a foil for Conan after Andy (Richter) left, there was a lot of stuff that you did that was way out there! How did you feel about doing that?
MW: Well, it was a wonderful experience, for 17 years I was late night television, the writers work so hard, all day and virtually all night sometimes, that you want to give them the best that you can do, previous to getting that job I had never done anything like that, for me it was an on the job learning experience, but you want to give them what they need and all of that material was largely scripted, anything that comes out of Broadway Video, which is Lorne Michaels, is all on cue card, occasionally you go off the card but very rarely, and that’s a whole technique of sketch comedy that is a lot of fun and actually in my Jukebox Show, I use the experience that I got doing the late night programs, I am able to really talk to the audience, a song will prompt a memory and maybe when I heard it first or when you heard it first, you develop all sorts of chops, I was very fortunate in spending all of those years at NBC when it really was “Must See TV”, we were on kind of late but we had a good sized audience, plus I had a wonderful group of musicians working for me and that was a real pleasure
JF: Yes, I used to watch it quite often and it seemed like you wound up the butt of a lot of the jokes, there was one video, and it’s so weird, not sure why I remember it, it was you superimposed over you and you were making love to yourself, it was very bizarre!
MW: Yeah, that was called “Max on Max” and they played that a LOT, that became, that they call “evergreen”
JF: And you went along with it and you were a good sport for doing that! It was funny but seemed so out of character for you
MW: It’s just like drumming, you play for the music and whatever the music presents you have to somehow figure out a way to do it, I played with the Buddy Rich Orchestra last week in NYC and that’s music I haven’t played in a long time but you develop your own personality and I go from rock, hard rock with the 60’s with my quartet, quintet rather, five piece band, but it’s not about playing one style of music it’s about playing one style of drumming in all phases of music that is presented to you and I guess that comes with continuously playing for 60 plus years, like I said before it’s the experience, the opportunities that present themselves and you want to do as good as you can
JF: What does your band consist of for this Jukebox Show
MW: It’s a classic line-up of two guitars, bass and drums and guys that I’ve played with through the years, from the Jersey Shore, NYC, it’s bit of a revolving cast of characters, the commonality is that we love this music and we respect its arrangement, all the little guitar and drum things that made these records, to us as musicians learning how to play, these arrangements made the songs come alive, it’s not a tribute band in any way sense and you see a lot of tribute bands out there, which today is a very interesting phenomenon because a lot of the original bands aren’t playing but the music lives on and it’s the music, once you take away the personalities, that still has life, it’s an amazing thing to me, 60-70 years after the beginning of the rock era, so when we play a soul song or if we play a, well, they didn’t call it “garage band” back then, but something by the McCoys like “Hang On Sloopy”, we try to play it like the record, and that’s what we were trying to do 50-60 years ago, just play it like the record, and I think people appreciate that
JF: Do you have all these songs in memory or do use tablets or is it just off the tops of your heads when you’re playing it?
MW: I know all the songs in my brain, I have that kind of memory gene, we have teleprompters for lyrics because there’s so many songs but we know these songs inside and out, we’ve been playing them all our lives, in clubs, in various platforms, if it’s not a song that we haven;t played in a long time I’ll have to do a quick think about it but it does come back, it’s pretty amazing, I have that kind of memory, in the E-Street Band there’s probably a book of hundreds of songs and at any moment you could be called on to play them and that’s not even including the sort of oldies that we do from time to time, you don’t want to be caught flatfooted
JF: I’ve seen the E-Street Band a few times,  I saw you a few years ago in Boston, it was still the 3 1/2 hour show, and I know for a drummer that’s hard, it’s a long time to sit in one spot,
MW: Yeah, but I don’t get tired for some reason, I’m not quite sure why that is, like I said earlier, I don’t get tired but also as I’ve gotten older, in drumming, I have gotten much, much more efficient and my the way I set up my drums very ergonomic and it allows me to use the minimum amount of movement and get the maximum amount of impact and power, you’re also very engaged in the music, there’s no break, in our show, Bruce and the E-Street Band I don’t get a break, I do a little drum solo between songs while their holding court or getting a drink of water, so you figure these things out as you go along
JF: No back problems? I know a lot of drummers get those
MW: I had two unsuccessful back surgeries back in the 90’s that were the result of a car accident not from drumming, I’ve had operations on my hand due to drumming, many, many years ago, but I’m good, I really stay in shape, I work out 3-4 times a week with a trainer, I watch what I eat, I get a lot of sleep, particularly when I am on the road, it’s easy for me to sleep 14-15 hours and when I am playing with the E-Street Band, I’m very lucky to be doing that when I do it and have it organized after 45 years the way it’s organized, but when I play my Jukebox Show I set my drums up, I tune them, it’s the most mechanical thing that I do but I’ve been doing it since I was 8-9 years old and it feels very, very natural to me, I don’t really get tired when I play the drums, I’m not quite sure why, it may be some kind of body adaptation thing, you know, like all people I have had my health issues  but you deal with them and you move on and I’m strong, healthy, and looking forward to playing all these shows, I’m booked, like crazy booked! I take the first couple months of the year off in Florida because it’s so beautiful and then April through the middle of December I’m quite busy doing this
JF: Are the rest of the guys in your band close to your age or younger?
MW: Some younger, some younger than me, so I’ve got to keep up with the youngsters but I don’t sing, I sing in the shower but I don’t sing on stage, they’re all wonderful singers and players and have great memories and appreciation for this era of music, couple guys in their 50’s and couple in their early 60’s,  as you know as a player you keep playing you stay young, that’s the whole thing
JF: I am curious, was Born To Run the first album that you recorded with Bruce?
MW: Yeah, that was the first record I did with them
JF: That’s quite an album to start off on
MW: It was a good one to start with!
JF: Very good to start with! That was my own curiosity! You are a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member as part of the E-Street Band
MW:  That was a very nice induction ceremony in 2014 it was great to be up there with everybody and you know, what can you say, there are some illustrious people in the Hall Of Fame and it’s an honor to be among them
JF: I see that drumming is in the family, your son Jay is a drummer with Slipknot?
MW: Yes, Jay is the drummer for Slipknot, he’s the actual, real, talented drummer in the family, he’s off the charts, he is considered one of the best guys out there in metal music today, he’s totally self taught, he played ice hockey until he was 15, he was a goalie and that looked like that would have been his future, he was really, really good, and and this was in the 90’s and and he just picked up the drums, started playing and got really good, really fast,  Slipknot was his favorite band as a 9 year old, they’re playing a huge world-wide tour starting in a few months!
JF: Any other musical members of your family?
MW: Well, actually, yeah, my daughter Allie, who is a producer for PBS New Hour specializing in foreign affairs is a phenomenal musician, she was actual the first E-Street offspring to play with the E-Street Band, she’s a keyboardist and singer, she’s performed with my Jukebox many times and she’s played onstage with Bruce a dozen times, and my my wife Becky, actually is a huge, huge music fan, and has been playing harmonica for years, and years, and years, and she joined a rock band  here in Florida a little while ago and she sings, you know she sang with me and played harp the other night, I played in beautiful theater in Del Ray Beach, Florida called the Crest, this past Thursday night, and she did a hell of a job, she’s a great singer and looks fantastic! She plays great, plays harmonica, she plays all manner of blues and rock and that’s a lot of fun, music runs really deep in my family
JF: Well, I have enjoyed talking with you and I don’t want to keep you further, thanks so much, I look forward to hearing the music!
MW: Thank you, John, I appreciate it, have a good rest of the day!

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox will be at The Greenwich Odeum on Thursday, May 16th. For more about the show, Rock-Ola to: GreenwichOdeum.com or MaxWeinberg.com

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

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