By Jon Bream
At age 18, Jay Weinberg is the youngest member of the E Street Band.
Springsteen fans can probably imagine the introduction from the Boss:
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, ye of great faith and ye without any faith, tonight I’ve come to tell you that the E Street Band is pulling a rock ’n’ roll first. Never in the history of this great calling has a band replaced one of its living members with that man’s — or woman’s — own progeny.
“Because tonight, ladies and gentlemen, in the spirit of Wally Pipp to Lou Gehrig, Pete Best to Ringo Starr, Richard Nixon to Gerald Ford, we are making the switch on the drums — from Mighty Max Weinberg to Joltin’ Jay Weinberg.”
To hear Max Weinberg tell it, well, it has been a “total out-of-body experience. For the first time in — I’ve been with Bruce for 35 years — I’ve been able to go out in the audience and enjoy a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert.”
Weinberg, 58, has two bosses — Springsteen and Conan O’Brien. When the comic takes over “The Tonight Show” on June 1, Springsteen has concerts booked in Europe. So the Boss — “Bruce always looks for homegrown solutions,” Max says — turned to the younger Weinberg, an 18-year-old college freshman.
“Jay is an incredible metal drummer in the style of groups like Lamb of God, Mastodon, Slipknot,” his dad explained this month while driving from New Jersey to New York City. “He was able to integrate that polyrhythmic dexterity with the sort of old-school drumming that his old man does, which grew out of big bands of the ’50s and rock of the ’50s and ’60s — and add his own spin to it. He worked it out all by himself. The other night, he played half the show. He’ll make his debut on May 21 in New Jersey.”
Jay took up the drums a mere four years ago just for fun. The self-taught teen ended up in groups that played metal (Chaosis) and punk (the Reveling).
Last fall, Springsteen came up with the idea of Jay filling in for Max. The youngster has been traveling on the current tour, sitting in on a few numbers each night.
“Of course, he grew up sitting on the side of the stage watching and absorbing everything we did,” said Weinberg. “Jay’s not mimicking me. He’s bringing his own thing to the E Street Band with the understanding of where the music comes from. It feels right.”
Jay isn’t the only replacement on this tour. Keyboardist Charlie Giordano, who played with Springsteen in the Seeger Sessions Band in 2006, has taken over for Danny Federici, who died of cancer in April 2008.
“You don’t take the stage without thinking of Danny,” Weinberg said. “Nobody can play like Danny. But it’s hard to imagine anybody but Charlie just sliding in so well.”
Weinberg, who has been working with O’Brien since 1993, when the E Street Band was disbanded, is trying to prepare for his move to “The Tonight Show” in Los Angeles. (”I may leave New Jersey to work but I always come home to New Jersey; I’ll never sell my house in New Jersey.”)
Will there be changes in the Max Weinberg 7 for this more high-profile gig?
“I think it will be somewhat different,” he said. “We have a brand-new studio, where Jack Benny’s show broadcast for many years. It’s three times as big as our [New York] studio. We’re looking at opportunities to expand; we haven’t made a final decision yet. I bought a whole slew of new suits, I can tell you that.”
Will Springsteen and the E Street Band play on the show? “That would be great,” Weinberg said. “There are no plans for it.”
If they did, who would be the drummer — Max or Jay?
“That’s never happened, where I played with my band on television and the E Street Band. So possibly I’d have Jay play with one or the other. He’d have to put on a tie to play with my band; I don’t know if he’d go for that.”
Weinberg reports that there have been some other changes on Springsteen’s current tour.
“We’re doing things that I as a concertgoer have never seen and the same can be said of the people who attend these shows,” he said. Fans hold up signs requesting their favorite songs, obscure outtakes, B sides and covers — and the band plays them. “Lately, it’s taken on the flavor of Johnny Carson’s old ‘Stump the Band,’” Weinberg said. “We play songs that we haven’t played in 25 or 30 years or pull something out of the hat.”
Among the requests accommodated have been the Clash’s “London Calling,” the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” and ZZ Top’s “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” as well as Springsteen’s “Rosalita” and “Kitty’s Back.”
The requests will present extra challenges for Jay Weinberg. But thus far, Max Weinberg has been elated with how his son has handled himself.
“The pride you feel in your child accomplishing anything that’s a challenge is so tremendous,” Weinberg said. “What’s amazing to all of us is his ability to feel the music as Bruce feels it, and that’s the job of any band member, particularly in the E Street Band.”
There’s only one way in which Jay hasn’t quite fit in with the E Streeters, his dad says: “He looks like he should be in the Foo Fighters.”