Charles Giordano had no idea what was in the offing when Bruce Springsteen called the multi-instrumentalist in 1997 to be part of a recording session at his home in Rumson, N.J.
That day yielded a version of "We Shall Overcome" for tribute album to folk legend Pete Seeger. The ensemble recorded a few other songs that day, then re-assembled for one day last year and another earlier this year, all spent recording public domain folk songs popularized by Seeger.
"Then," recalls Giordano, "we were called and asked if we would be interested in doing a tour, and that this was going to be Bruce's next record. It was...surprising."
"This" is "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," the most unusual release in Springsteen's 34 years of recording. It's the first time the New Jersey rock icon has released an album entirely of cover songs, and rather than the tightly crafted, carefully conceived nature of his other albums, it has a loose, ragged and exuberant feel of a spirited front-porch jamboree, employing banjo, fiddle, washboard, accordion and other Americana roots instrumentation.
"I wanted the sound of a bunch of people just sitting around, playing," Springsteen writes in the album's liner notes. "It was a carnival ride, the sound of surprise and the pure joy of playing."
Giordano, 51, concurs with that assessment.
"There was a very kind of informal, spontaneous kind of feeling to the whole thing," says the 51-year-old keyboards and accordion player, who's best known as a member of Pat Benatar's band in the '80. "In this day and age, with computer technology and everything else, you don't often get to sit in a room with people and just play and record and have that be a record, you know?
"I thought it came out terrifically, and there was a real sort of chemistry that was palpable at all three sessions. I could tell that (Springsteen) was really enjoying it, and we certainly were, too."
Springsteen was so happy with the outcome that he decided to put two other projects he was considering -- an E Street Band album and a second volume of his "Tracks" archival collection -- on ice in order to release "We Shall Overcome," which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart in May and at No. 1 on the Pan European chart. The enjoyment is continuing on the road, with the Seeger Sessions Band expanded to 17 members -- including two E Streeters (Springsteen's wife Patti Scialfa and multi-instrumentalist Soozie Tyrell) and horn players (Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg, Ed Manion and Mark Pender) who have toured with Springsteen in the past.
Giordano says the shows, which began in April at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, have been "so much fun," and that, despite its size, the ensemble, "feels sort of like you're on a baseball team or something, and we're winning games."
The songs from "We Shall Overcome" are, not surprisingly, the heart of the shows, but the repertoire also includes some other folk songs -- including topical pieces such as the anti-war song "Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam)," which features some new lyrics written by Springsteen, and "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" And Springsteen has dipped into his own catalog to recast songs such as "Atlantic City," "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)," "Open All Night," "Ramrod," "Devils & Dust" and "Johnny 99."
"He's putting a creative twist on his old songs," Giordano explains, "but it's very casual. When we sound check, Bruce always brings in something to work on; he's such a good band leader that he can take you on a little journey as you're performing the song.
"So the sound checks are not just about sound; they're very creative little sessions that we have."
The Seeger Sessions Band's future once the tour ends on June 25 remains to be seen. Springsteen is clearly in the midst of a prolific but divergent period in his career, jumping from "The Rising" with the E Street Band in 2002 to last year's austere solo album "Devils & Dust" to "We Shall Overcome." Giordano says there are no expectations -- "We're just taking it a day at a time, and we'll see what happens" -- and if this proves to be a short-term endeavor, there's been no shortage of rewards.
"We're all just having a wonderful experience with it," he says. "It's just been spectacular to see the reactions of the people. The world that keeps coming up when you meet some of the fans is it's inspirational. It's an awful nice feeling to be part of something that is having that reaction in people -- and in the musicians, too."
Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $92.50 pavilion, $32.50 lawn; children under 12 are admitted free to the lawn with a
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