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The Boss at 70: A Look Back at Bruce Springsteen’s Early Years

By Tim Gray

LOS ANGELES (Variety) – In a March 6, 1973, review of Blood, Sweat & Tears at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Variety briefly praised the opening act: Bruce Springsteen was “a young man with a hot guitar from Asbury Park, N.J.” If you substitute the word “ageless” for “young” — the Boss turned 70 on Sept. 23 — the description still fits. 

Springsteen’s first mention in Variety (Dec. 13, 1972) occurred when reviewer Fred Kirby caught a 65-minute set at Kenny’s Castaways in New York and accurately predicted, “, 22, appears ready to make his impact.” Just three years later, Variety noted that the singer-songwriter “hits it big with front covers this week on both Time and Newsweek. It’s the first time in recent memory that a pop artist has been doubly front-paged.” Springsteen’s documentary “Western Stars” debuted Sept. 12 at the Toronto Film Festival, and Warner Bros. opens it wide Oct. 25.  

In Variety’s Jan. 7, 1976, anniversary issue, Kirby summed up the prior year in music by naming some of the breakout performers of the past 12 months, including the Bay City Rollers, the Captain & Tennille, KC & the Sunshine Band, Melissa Manchester, Queen, the Ritchie Family, Gil Scott-Heron and Patti Smith.

He added: “The top new name of 1975 was Asbury Park’s Bruce Springsteen, although his first Columbia album came out early in 1973. He had become a fave in the New York area by the next year and 1975 saw him break out. His promotion as a new ‘Messiah of rock’ drew charges of hype, but Springsteen, known for his two-hour-plus rock sets, has kept the SRO crowds happy.”

The phrase “two-hour-plus” was an understatement. For his debut in the U.K., he played for 3½ hours at the Hammersmith Odeon. In the Dec. 3, 1975, concert review, Fabienne Lewis noted: “Bruce Springsteen, touted here as the latest rock phenomenon from America, did in fact live up to the publicity that preceded his first British concert. He played to an SRO house Nov 18. … Aided by the E Street Band, surely one of the best units around, Springsteen gave a powerful, mesmerizing performance that left the audience jamming the aisles.” Lewis singled out Clarence Clemons on sax and Roy Bittan on piano, and noted that the top ticket price was $4.40.

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