Child + Steel Mill
After the Castiles broke up, Bruce began to play regularly in a little club in Asbury Park called "The Upstage". It was opened in 1968 by Margaret Potter and her husband Tom. It was located atop a Thom McAn shoe store at 702 Cookman Avenue. You had to go upstairs to the second floor to enter the Green Mermaid cafe or “up” further to the third floor room where they had a dance hall (that's where the name comes from). There was a stage with a wall with amplifiers, a drum set, a keyboard and other onstage equipment. This was a great place for young musicians like Bruce who had the chance to get their first stage experience there. The Upstage used to open twice a night, the first time from 8pm until 12 midnite when people under the age of 18 were allowed to stay. There was a coffeehouse restaurant on the second floor called "The Green Mermaid" - where you could here folksingers play without a cover charge. There were also jams on a smaller scale there. You had to pay a cover charge to go up to the third floor.
That was the time when Margaret Potter's band The Distractions used to play. At midnite, the Upstage closed for one hour until they re-opened for the next session from 1am -5am. This was the time when local musicians came to the club to jam together until dawn. All you had to bring was your instrument and plug into the built-in system that Tom Potter had installed. A lot of young musicians used hang out there together. For example, Vini Lopez was one of them . He played the drums in a band called "Moment of Truth" together with Garry Tallent and others. When the band broke up, he wanted to form a new band that played original songs. In an interview with Robert Santelli he remembers:"I had heard about Bruce, so me and a friend went to this place called the I.A.M.A., an Italian American club where Bruce was playing with his band Earth. I introduced myself, and told him I was thinking of putting together an original band, and invited him down to the Upstage club to jam". One month later, in May 1969, Bruce and Vini played together for the first time in the Upstage and decided to start a new band by the name of "Child". Other original band members where Vini Roslin (bass) and Danny Federici (organ) who was brought to the band by Vini Lopez. In November 1969 they heard about another band from Long Island that was also called "Child" so they decided to rename the band "Steel Mill" First changes in the band line-up were done in late 1969. Steve Van Zandt replaced Vini Roslin on the bass. Steven was originally a guitar player who taught himself to play the bass. Vini Lopez left the band for about a month in September of 1970. David Hazlett took the job of drummer during this time. David had played in a band called "Mercy Flight" from Richmond,Virginia,with singer Robbin Thompson. Bruce later asked Thompson to join Steel Mill in November of 1970. Bruce wanted another singer and songwriter in the band at this point in time. Robbin left Mercy Flight and stayed with Steel Mill until it's end.
Steel Mill was a harder rocking band than "The Castiles". It was supposed to be a mix of Blues and what would later be called "Heavy Metal". He always closed the show with "I'm Going Home" by Ten Years After. They also played original material, written by Springsteen, but the songs were much more guitar oriented. The new songs did also have a much more topical and political content. "Resurrection" for example was one of these songs. In the editors opinion this was one of the best songs Steel Mill played. It has some parts that criticize the Catholic church in it: "Take me to church on Friday, and we confess our sins, special low price, three Hail Mary's and my soul is clean again". Bruce went to Catholic school as a young boy. All the songs contained more adult content and were more melancholy than everything before. The band often played in little shore clubs around Asbury Park, so they had to do 3 or 4 sets every night. Bruce had the idea that one or two long songs instead of a lot of short ones could fill a complete set. That's why Steel Mill songs often went over 10 minutes of playing time. Some songs were up to 20 or more minutes like "Garden State Parkway Blues", a song that tells the story of a whole day in a Jersey guy's life. Eventually Steel Mill became a band that only played concerts due to the efforts of their manager, Tinker. He not only promoted the concerts but provided all the sound system through his company C-West Sound. One of the most legendary Steel Mill gigs took place at the Clearwater Swim Club on September 11, 1970. The concert nearly reached it's end when the police suddenly stopped the show and attacked the crowd when the band tried to do an encore. For more information about this gig read our interview with David Hazlett, who was playing the drums then.
Carl"Tinker" West managed Steel Mill. Tinker, an electrical engineer, was the owner of Challenger Surfboard Co. He booked the gigs and did most of the commercial stuff for the band. He designed and built his own concert sound system that he hired out. Perhaps with a wise foresight he refused a recording contract with Bill Graham, an important step in Bruce's career. If Tinker would have agreed with Bill Graham, Bruce may have never found his way out of the band. In January 1970 Steel Mill was invited to play some gigs in San Francisco at the famous club "The Matrix". They played on January 13 and February 12 and 14. Phillip Elwood a reporter from the "San Francisco Examiner" had seen the gig on January 13 and wrote a very positive review for the band. The set included classic Steel Mill songs like "He's Guilty" and "Going Back to Georgia" which where regularly played in those days. It also contains some rare songs like "The Train Song" which was only played a few times in early 1970. After playing the Matrix, Bill Graham invited the guys to record a single at his own recording studio in San Francisco called "The Fillmore Recording Studio". Three songs were recorded there on February 22, 1970: "The Train Song","He's Guilty" and "Going Back to Georgia". There were only a few copies made of this single, but just like the first single from Bruce's former band "The Castiles" it was also published on a bootleg . Today this stuff is available on different bootleg releases. An original issue of this single would be the ultimate collectible for every Springsteen fan.
Steel Mill returned to New Jersey and played around the shore area after that. They added Robbin Thompson in late 1970. At Christmas time Bruce always visited his mother in California. When he came back he announced that Steel Mill was over. He would try a 10 piece band like the one he had seen with Van Morrison when he was in San Francisco. The Bruce Springsteen Band was next. Or, was it ? See: Dr.Zoom and the Sonic Boom.
This site is a part of Castiles.net (The history of Bruce Springsteen)
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