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E Street Band bassist returns to his Detroit rock roots
Garry Tallent’s first solo album, “Break Time,” got him back to his ’50s rock ’n’ roll roots.
And those are rooted in his days growing up in Detroit.
“That’s where I heard (Elvis Presley’s) ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ on the radio for the first time,” Tallent, the bassist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, says by phone from his current home in Nashville. “I was walking to school, and there was a record store that had speakers outside and I went like, ‘Wow, that’s different.’
“Even a 6-year-old kid could tell, ‘Hey is there something going on here?’ It just piqued my interest. I listened to the radio, and I had an older brother who brought record into the house, so it was all part of my childhood, I guess. That’s what started it all.”
Tallent — who attended Neigebaur Elementary School in (then) Warren Township — moved with his family from the Detroit area when he was 8 years old, but he never lost that enthusiasm for music, even as his musical path took its own twists and turns. He lived in Virginia and Delaware before landing in New Jersey during 1964 and had switched to bass after learning tuba in school. He quickly became part of the local Jersey Shore band scene and started playing with Springsteen in 1971, shortly before the E Street Band came together.
Tallent, 67, has been the group’s resident ’50s rock aficionado ever since. A 1978 story in Rolling Stone magazine described the bassist as “a consummate rockabilly who looks the part. He’s been know to wear Brylcreem — recently.” That made him the right guy to produce artists such as Steve Forbert and Jim Lauderdale, as well as Marshall Crenshaw’s version of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” for the “La Bamba” soundtrack.
So when it came time for Tallent to finally step out with his own solo album — a prospect he calls “frightening and thrilling” — there was no question what it would sound like.
“I figured it was my first solo album so I just wanted to start at the beginning of the music that moved me to try to make a career of music, and that was ’50s rock ’n’ roll,” says Tallent. “I really tried to make a record that sounds as if it might have been made in 1959” — which included using vintage microphones, amplifiers and other gear and guests such as Duane Eddy and Doug Kershaw.
“It was all kind of done as if it were an older record,” he says. “I’m not really obligated to sound current. The idea IS to sound retro, so you record it like they did in 1959 with everybody in a room, a couple of microphones and play live. There’s no computer-based dance beats or anything like that; It’s all just spontaneous and more about the feeling than anything else.”
Tallent does, of course, enjoy some notoriety from being in the E Street Band, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, separately from Springsteen, in 2014. But “Break Time” is giving him a chance to stand out on his own.
“The whole idea of the album was the answer to the fans who say, ‘Well, what do you do when you’re not with the E Street band?’” Tallent explains. “I think people think they just put me in cold storage somewhere and I sit there until it’s time to go out again, y’know?”
He’s actually out now, with his own band. Tallent planned to tour in support of the album last spring, when it was released, but Springsteen extended his 2016 tour plans deeper in the year, forcing him to shift gears. Now that he’s doing it, the bassist has been braced for Springsteen song requests and maybe even some bellows of “Brooooooce!” from the audience.
“That’s part of the experience,” he acknowledges. “I’m sure, especially when we get to places like the Stone Pony (in Asbury Park, N.J.) there are going to be some people there in case Bruce might show up.
“But I shouldn’t let that keep me from going out there and doing it on my own. I’m hoping for the most part that people are there with an open mind and hopefully we can win them over with our show.”
Meanwhile, Tallent has plans for even more of his own music to follow. The next album, he says, will move into another decade — specifically 1966, “more of the garage (rock), the farfisa, Vox organ, fuzztone genre, like Syndicate Of Sound or something like that; more raw.” He has about half of the songs written for that album, but pushed his timetable back a bit to accommodate last year’s touring delay.
“I want to give (‘Break Time’) its best shot before I start on the next one,” he says, “but I am kind of foaming at the bit to start on the next one. This has been a great experience. I’ve waited “
If You Go:
• Garry Tallent and Shun Ng perform Tuesday, April 25 (doors open at 8 p.m.), at The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Tickets are $20. Call 248-544-1991 or visit themagicbag.com.
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