Who’s the boss? Garry Tallent.
He may be the OG of Bruce Springsteen’s mighty E Street Band, but when the multi-instrumentalist affectionately known as The Tennessee Terror tours in support of his 2016 rockabilly album, “Break Time,” there is no doubt who’s in charge.
“I started thinking about it several years ago,” said Tallent, when asked what made him want to venture out from the comfy confines of E Street stardom and do a solo project. “There was no big storm of people waiting for it, but it was something I wanted to do.”
Living in Nashville when he’s not on tour, Tallent had been writing songs for other people on his “break time” from E Street, and he thought he’d release his own versions. “Part of it was trying something different,” he said. “Getting out of your comfort zone, keeping it interesting.”
“The Break Time” tour will take Tallent (plus drummer Jimmy Lester, bassist Dave Roe, pianist Kevin McKendree, guitarist Eddie Angel and guest vocalist Kristi Rose) around the eastern U.S. and over to Ireland and Great Britain. But the band’s stop in Bethesda—the hometown of fellow E Streeter Nils Lofgren—to perform at AMP powered by Strathmore will be a special date.
“We’re very excited to be coming,” said Tallent. “It’s kind of a hometown for a couple of guys in the band: We have Kevin McKendree who’s from Fairfax, Va., and Eddie Angel who has spent a lot of time there—he played with (Springfield, Va.’s) Tex Rabinowitz. We all have links to the area.”
Of course, the area Tallent is most closely associated with is Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he’ll perform just prior to the gig at AMP. But he was born in Detroit, and that is where his lifelong love affair with rock and roll began.
“My mother played guitar—not real well, but she enjoyed it,” he remembered. “She would sing World War II songs and country songs; she was a big fan of Hank Williams. So, I grew up with that, and I liked that. I still remember all those songs.”
When rock and roll hit in the mid-1950s, however, Tallent became infatuated with it. His mother had taken him to his first concert. Hank Thompson & His Brazos Valley Boys made a big impression on the youngster, with their business suits and flashing guitars. “It wasn’t rock n roll, necessarily, but it was honky-tonk music,” he said. “It had the basic rhythm, and I just remember loving the show, loving the pizzazz and the guitars.
“I was a goner from then.”
A couple of years later, Tallent received a guitar for Christmas. He had started studying music at school, starting with flute, clarinet and violin and always coming back to the guitar for the sheer fun of it. Then the family’s move to Neptune, New Jersey, when he was 14 changed his life in significant ways—and it all started with the tuba.
“They didn’t have a string orchestra at my high school in New Jersey,” said Tallent. “They had a marching band, and they needed a tuba player, so the smallest guy in the whole class is playing the biggest instrument!” He laughed. “That’s what they needed, and so I learned to play the tuba.”
The skill would serve him well, and not just for his tuba solos on Springsteen classics like “Wild Billy’s Circus Story.” Tallent said playing tuba was the key to finding his place in rock and roll.
“When the British Invasion hit, nobody really knew what a bass guitar was supposed to do in a rock and roll band,” he said, noting the similarity between tuba and bass. “Being a tuba player and playing a little guitar, I could be in any band I wanted to be in because I had an inkling of what I was supposed to do.”
Five decades later, he still knows what to do, and in his solo endeavor, Tallent has put together a band where he plays electric and acoustic guitar.
“When I decided to do a record, I wanted to pay homage to what got me excited about music in the first place,” he explained. “That was the ‘50s, what I listened to as a child: Elvis and Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry and the whole gang of pioneers. It was just a really exciting time for me.”
He has always loved the rockabilly sound, always had an affinity for it, so Tallent decided he would record original songs that fit with that genre, and a few classics, too.
“I’m already working, in my mind, on the second album, which will be completely different,” he said. “I really want to do more of a ’60s thing, the whole British Invasion; that was the next step in my musical growing up.”
Until then, it’s country-soaked rockabilly as he brings “Break Time” to the people.
“The music is what I feel strongly about,” he said. “The band is terrific and I’m just enjoying being backed up by them and seeing how the music goes over, finding the balance that works for me—no big message, just fun rock n roll feel-good music.”
Tallent knows that a lot of Springsteen fans might come see his shows just out of curiosity—and that’s just fine by him. “I’m sure that it opens the doors,” he said. “I don’t know what people are thinking, but sure, there are a lot of E Street fans that want to see what I am doing.
“I appreciate them, whatever the reason they come by!”
Garry Tallent and his band perform at 8 p.m. Sunday, May 14, with opening act guitarist Shun Ng, at AMP Powered by Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Ave., North Bethesda. Tickets are $30-$40. Call 301-581-5100 or visit www.ampbystrathmore.com. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.
Video: “Stay Away” single from LP Break Time by Garry Tallent