Bruce Springsteen, My SRT101, a Few Rolls of Film and Me…

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

I started listening to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as they became more popular in the early 1970′s. At that time I was still living in my parent’s home in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. My best friend was a musician and had a few bands and probably got me listening. At the time we were both students at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta and had both volunteered to be DJs on the college radio station, WRAS. This was back in the day when DJs actually could greatly influence their audience with the music they played. Sadly we now have most of our music stations owned by big corporations with programing decided elsewhere. I remember the station’s studio, it was in the basement of the building where the student center was, a place for students to hang out and I think there were some administration offices on the upper floors. My friend Ed and I both got horrible graveyard shifts to start with since we were the new guys. We had to both take some kind of FCC test and were given some guidelines for what not to play such as The Rolling Stones “Star Star” because of all the F-words. Other then that we were pretty much allowed to play whatever we wanted. But being in the “radio business” as we were, we got to listen to a lot of new releases. I remember several times sitting around in one of the small recording studios they had for the occasional interview or live studio performance and queuing up different new albums. I remember everyone being excited when we got Born to Run. Most of the other DJs liked it very much. There was one guy though I remember didn’t think much of it. He was an older guy who had the afternoon drive time shift and was into the Carpenters, John Denver and bands like Chicago and Three Dog Night. He didn’t think this new band was going anywhere!

I first saw Bruce and the band at Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom in August of 1975. My best friend, Ed and I had gone to Europe as a senior graduation trip; we both graduated in 1974 and had saved up for this trip. We had been in London and Paris and seen so many concerts, Elton John, Patti Smith, The Rolling Stones and some other groups. We got back home to Atlanta in late July and got tickets for Bruce’s Atlanta show, I think we only went to one show out of the few nights he played. I imagine we paid $10 or so for each ticket, back then tickets were so cheap. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera at that time, mine had been stolen and I was saving up for a new one before heading out to California the next year to go to photography school in Santa Barbara. To be honest, so much time has passed I don’t remember much other then it was near the Fox Theater which was considered at that time to be in a bad section of Peachtree Street in Atlanta. Our parents were worried every time we went to THAT section of town. About all I remember was it was an energetic show that got us introduced to Bruce and the band and the style of performance that we would all come to know and love as the years went on.

August 1975 Atlanta, GA, Bruce’s intro to “She’s the One”
“Here’s something that’ll be on the new album that should be out in a few weeks…it’s called “She’s the One”…”

I left Atlanta in the summer of 1976 for Santa Barbara and I saw Bruce and the band 4 times while on the west coast. I had only been there a few months when they played the Santa Barbara Bowl which was an outdoor amphitheater on a smaller scale then the Hollywood Bowl. I didn’t get a ticket but I remember some friends and I were able to find a spot on a street a few blocks above the Bowl and see part of the show from there, Santa Barbara is very hilly as you get away from the coast and a lot of people would just find places to sit outside the theater property and listen or get a partially obscured view of whatever was playing there. One thing that I do remember was Bruce had to cut the encores short as the Santa Barbara Police were summoned on a noise complaint and I remember him laughing about it on stage, apologizing that they would only do one more song to finish the show that night!

The itinerary I looked at for Bruce’s 1978 concerts with the E Street Band show them making 3 different swings through California during that year for the Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour. They played San Jose, Berkeley, Inglewood and the Roxy in West Hollywood. I am pretty sure I saw him at one of these shows, the Roxy still seems to ring a bell in my memory cells but I really can’t say for sure. I saw a fair number of shows there over my years on the West Coast; I remember seeing Leon Russell and some other groups there. I definitely remember seeing Bruce and the band both nights they played the Winterland in San Francisco in December 1978, just before Christmas.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

My friend, Ed was attending school in San Francisco and I had just finished my semester at school in Santa Barbara. I remember driving up to stay at his apartment and we had tickets for both shows, December 15th and 16th.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

We both planned to fly back to Atlanta the day or so after the concerts for our Christmas breaks as our parents still had homes there, Ed and I had been friends since 8th grade and attended the same high school. I arrived early to get in line ( as we were in the general admission floor area with no seating as I recall and we wanted to get as close to the stage as possible. San Francisco in December is a damp and dreary place when the fog and wintertime rain comes in from the Pacific Ocean. It was drizzling and cold as the line began moving. Winterland had a huge sign that you could see from a few blocks away, it was red with big white letters going down from the top that said WINTERLAND and then it had the typical sign where they just change out the letters to say who is playing.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

As I recall it was at Post and Seiner streets and was not very far from The Fillmore and the area known as Japan Town and the Western District. About 15 blocks to the east is Union Square with all the nice hotels and stores, and the area known as the Tenderloin was also to the southeast, that was one bad neighborhood back then.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

I took a lot of pictures both nights at those shows and I recall the energy that Bruce was well known for being evident. (We always wondered how could he put out so much with all his running around the stage and climbing up on the stacks of speakers and jumping back off down to the stage. On the first night we were able to get pretty close to the stage and really enjoyed the show. On both nights I can remember as Bruce and the band went into their mutli-song encore that the crowd began stomping to the music and the entire floor, which was an old hardwood floor, began to shake with the rhythm. I was a bit concerned as to whether the old building would collapse and we would all end up in a pile in the basement. 

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

After both shows there was just a lingering feeling of energy for all of us as we made our way out into the foggy damp San Francisco night. Our ears were still ringing from the sounds and being so close to the stage and there were lingering memories of each song. As we walked back to where ever we had parked the car I can remember each of us occasionally bursting out with a line from Thunder Road or Born to Run. The next day we had to get to the airport and catch a flight home for the holiday. We both felt so exhausted from those 2 shows at Winterland.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

I had been taking concert photographs since the early 70′s. I shot David Bowie, Todd Rundgren, The Rolling Stones, Yes, Elton John, Genesis, and others. I used a Minolta SRT101, which in my opinion was a pretty darn good solid camera back then. No motor drive or anything special and my only telephoto lens was the classic Vivitar Series 1 which was a 70-210mm with macro. As I became more familiar with shooting concerts I started to buy bulk rolls of Ectachrome film. The camera shops only had 200ASA film speed for the fast stuff and I would push the hell out of it. After a concert I always had 5-10 rolls to process, sometimes if there were multiple shows happening in a month that we had tickets for I would try to save up enough because once you started mixing up the chemicals and using them their quality decreased in a short time.
When I went out to Santa Barbara a lot changed. I still had an enlarger in my apartment for B&W work, we did pretty much only B&W in our first year of school assignments. But the school did have a full color lab and I could get my work done there and later worked in the lab and processed my own film in a big Calumet dip and dunk system.

Looking back and thinking about favorite shows or sequences is hard since it was just so damn long ago. I do remember it was always a struggle to get close to the stage. Some shows had a big general admission area on the floor and you just pushed and shoved and tried to wiggle your way up to the stage. Later on a lot of bands got the idea to sell more expensive general admissions tickets for the area closest to the stage and fence it off with a barrier of some kind and station security bouncers to try to keep others out. That made it a lot harder since you probably would get booted out if caught jumping the fence but we did it a few times. I just think the things I liked most about seeing Bruce and the E Street Band perform was the energy they put out, lots of running around and interplay.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

Bruce was always telling stories as he led into songs and when he got going with the music he always hammed it up with Clarence or Steve. Depending on the venue they were performing in, Bruce began putting little sections of the stage that went out into the crowd and he would stroll out on each one which was great for different angles, that usually happened more at larger stadium type shows where they built an entire stage more then the clubs or theater type venues. And there was always lots of jumping up and down on the piano or on and off of stacks of big speakers. And one thing that he and a lot of other performers were getting into was having really good lighting for the solos and group songs, in the early days they seemed limited to just some simple stage lighting and a big spotlight somewhere out on a balcony but in the later tours they all seemed to have the huge racks of lights with fantastic colors geared to each song. That is probably why I enjoyed shooting so much color film.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, San Francisco Winterland, December 1978

Over the years I have still gone to see Bruce in concert. After those shows in the 70′s I saw the River Tour when it came to Houston and then again for the Born In The USA tour in 1984. Sadly if I took pictures I have no idea what became of them but at that time I was married with kids so I probably couldn’t afford the best seats. I introduced my second wife to his music and took her to the Reunion Tour; it played at Houston Compaq Center which was the basketball arena. Funny but that place is now a mega-church and Compaq computers are no more. I did see him and the band one more time in Atlanta in 2008 or so, I was there helping out my elderly parents before they died. My old best friend Ed and I went, I think it was at the Philips Arena. Sadly my friend died a few months later. I still follow Bruce and the Band when they are in the news, I hope to see them again but they have made it a lot harder to take pictures other then with a cell phone which isn’t worth it.

Chris Summers
Kingwood, Texas
January 26, 2016

Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The book focuses on Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s iconic 4th album and 1978 concert tour. Read about the live concerts from fans who were there.
The Light in Darkness
I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to, supported and purchased the Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness. Thanks to you it’s been an incredible success and we are completely sold out.

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