Bruce Springsteen Was Kicked Out of His First Band

Book: Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen

By Bruce Springsteen

Upon reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run, it was shocking to learn that the now legendary rockstar was booted from his first band; not only that but a crew he had put together himself! Thankfully, Bruce was able to take something away from the experience. It motivated him to prove them wrong and most of all, prove himself right.

This story is a classic reminder that the most challenging of times ought to and can be leveraged to one’s advantage in the pursuit of success. Enjoy.

Time For A New Guitar

A young high school teenager growing up in New Jersey, Bruce needed an electric guitar. It was time to graduate from the $18 excuse for a guitar he’d bought from an auto shop. He explained to his mother “that to get in a band, to make a buck, to get anywhere, I needed an electric guitar.” His family didn’t have much money growing up.

The guitar he was eyeing cost $69, a big chunk of change at that time. His mother tells him she’ll put up half the money, however, he has to find a way to come up with the other half. Bruce ends up selling a pool table he had kept in his room for $35 and WALLA! He and his mother go downtown to Caiazzo’s Music Store to purchase the electric guitar, which also came with an amp (not a good one, but still something).

Getting The Band Together

This new guitar allowed Bruce to get better faster. He knew a drummer, Donnie Powell, and they’d start doing jam sessions at his house. They were horrible initially but eventually managed to make some kind of coherent noise and even added a few more local kids to the band.

They called themselves The Rouges. The guys heard of a venue called the Freehold Elks Club that allowed bands to play for free in front of a local crowd of about 70 or so people. At that time, none of the local groups really had singers so The Rogues decided they’d blow away the other performers by having Bruce sing “Twist and Shout!” This marked the first time Bruce Springsteen ever sang for a crowd. When reflecting on the night he describes it as “An embarrassing performance but I felt pretty good about it.”

The Worst Performance Ever

Whatever “it” was…it landed The Rouges a gig at Freehold Regional High School to perform in front of students for a dance. In short, the show went absolutely horribly. To begin with, in his own words:

“Our lead guitarist had forgotten his guitar strap, so he had to play the entire set with one knee propped up on his amp supporting his guitar…not cool.”

“Also, unfortunately our bass player remained unable as of yet to play a note, so he stood, knee up (no strap either) on his amp (the one that got him in the band), with his bass turned firmly off for the evening.”

“What was even worse, we were so excited about acquiring reverb, my lead guitarist and I plugged into our rented amp, turned the reverb on full and reduced our sound to a quivering, echoing mash, a cheese-ball shitstorm of submerged instrumentation that sounded like it was being puked up from the bottom of some dragon-infested ocean.”

He continues saying “It was humiliating. You could tell as it was going by. I stood there head down, red faced, knowing we sounded awful and without a clue as to what to do about it. The crowd huddled close in front of our band expecting…something; we’d been bragging all week. Their faces told the story…’What the fu…?’”

Voted Out Of The Band

He was shortly informed after the gig by his pal that he had been voted out of the band. He was told his guitar was “too cheap,” wouldn’t stay in tune, and that the same piece of junk had been seen in New York City on sale for thirty dollars. He says it hurt him at first. He told his mother he had been kicked out of the band but didn’t have the heart to tell her why. She put everything she had into getting him that guitar and Bruce was determined to make it work!

He says, “That night I went home, pulled out the second rolling stones album, put it on and taught myself Keith Richards’s simple but great guitar solo to ‘It’s All Over Now.’ It took me all night but by midnight I had a reasonable facsimile of it down. Fuck’em, I was going to play lead guitar.”

He’d spend the next few years spending every available hour playing his electric guitar and becoming a student of the craft. Sometimes it’s darkest before the dawn, do not go gentle into that good night.