The writing on (and off) the wall: Springsteen’s L.A. Grammyland tour … so we’ve gone a little long, like his concerts

Tom Hoffarth /

The opening act at the massive downtown L.A. arena once known as Staples Center on Oct. 17, 1999: Bruce Springsteen’s Reunion Tour with the E Street Band.

The first of four shows, before any Lakers, Kings or other sporting event at the $400 million palace, inspired L.A. Times music critic Robert Hilburn to write:

“At a time when rock ‘n’ roll’s future is once again being questioned, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band showed Sunday at lavish new Staples Center just how glorious the music can still be. … By the end of the concert, Springsteen had done more than simply stir us once again with his music. He showed why he is such a major figure in the history of rock.”

Three months later, the Grammy Awards ceremony, which had danced around various venues in Southern California from the 1960s to the ’90s, quickly gravitated to Staples Center for its 2000 show. It has been the home base pretty much ever since, where Springsteen has often been present as a performer, a nominee (50 times since 1981) or an award recipient (20 of them since 1985).

His 2003 show-ending rendition of the Clash’s “London Calling” – a tribute to the recently departed Joe Strummer — with Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl and Steve Van Zandt remains one of our favorite mashups of talent and music.

When the Grammy Museum across the street at L.A. Live cleared the second floor for a new exhibit – “Bruce Springsteen Live!” – it seemed like an appropriate as a way to honor New Jersey’s famous son. Dust off some memorabilia and see how it goes.

It actually goes as far as the mind and heart want it to go.

More than just a glory days tribute, it reconnects one’s soul back to when the connection started — at a live event.

(Such as, maybe, the L.A. Sports Arena in late summer of 1981 … followed up by cutting class to head to the San Diego Sports Arena on Sept. 2, ’81, for a front-row spot … back to the Coliseum, late September of ’85, sitting way atop the upper rim watching the downtown lights of L.A. … Now we’re at Dodger Stadium …)

It may take no more than a half hour to see it all, but circling back to spend time, soak it in and replay memories is worth the excursion.

Displays separated by the decades of the ‘70s through ‘10s, here’s the Top 5 list of things that touched our soul for the display that opened Oct. 15 and runs through April 2023 (with a standard $18 adult ticket admission):

Adele Springsteen’s scrapbook

Doesn’t everyone’s mom have one of these?

The card in the display say it’s memories compiled in the 1970s by his “proud mom.”

Because it’s behind a piece of glass, you can’t flip the pages. One can only imagine what’s in there.

For now it’s opened to correspondence by New York-based managers Bob Spitz and Mike Appel to his parents living in San Mateo.

The left side features a small, yellowed newsprint review of their son’s work from Variety on Dec. 13, 1972, taking into account of about an hour-long performance in Kenny’s Castaways, in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Bruce Springsteen, 22, a composer with a clever string of lyrics, appears ready to make his impact. Springsteen, an Asbury Park, N.J., native, performs with tight combo of organist Danny Federici, tenor saxman Clarence Clemmons, bass guitarist Gary Tallent and drummer Vincent Lopez, the last no relation to the w.k. bandleader. The material consists mainly of rockers as Springsteen plays lead guitar and grand piano. Save for Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” which gets good treatment, Springsteen’s solid but occasionally screaming voice handles originals well. A Columbia album is upcoming. (Signed Kirb.)

Spitz’s handwritten note includes to his parents: “To my surprise, they even spelled his name correctly.”

The facing page has another letter from Spitz to the Springsteens from Jan., ’73 talking about the excitement everyone there has of his first album (not mentioned, but it’s “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” on Columbia, via LP, cassette, CD and 8-track). It would peak at No. 60 in the U.S. and No. 35 in Sweden on the charts.

Spitz says in a type-written note: “I must say that it’s great! You should be very proud of him as we all are here in New York … We have about two hundred copies in the office so … if you would drop me a line and tell me how many you need, I will send them right off to you.”

Taking away, of course, the thrill of going to a record store and find it in the “Rock: S” section.

Springsteen’s modified Fender Telecaster

“Well, I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk.” = “Thunder Road,” 1975

It’s a varnished piece of wood with six strings, a few knobs and a whole lot of wear-and-tear, used from 1972 through 2005.

It might as well be a per-historic billy club.

As seen on the “Born To Run” album cover as well as several others, it has been “played during countless live performances,” the card says. The date of origin: 1953/’54.

No explanation as to how or why it has an Esquire neck on it. Maybe it does in the “Born To Run” bio and we glossed over.

This, and the scrapbook, are courtesy of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey – about four miles north of Asbury Park without getting anywhere near the Garden State Parkway

Danny Federici’s Avanti accordion

A stunningly brilliant musical instrument almost looks like it’s a character from the Disney movie, “Cars.” With all the keys and knobs that control volume, tone and stereo/mono, and a sparkling crown in the middle, note more buttons that can bring in sounds like the clarinet, tuba, bassoon.

Along with it: A black-and-white shot of him from the 1950s posing with his grandmother, who, according to his 53-year-old son Jason, got his dad started on it after “he showed interest in ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’ when he was 5 years old.”

The sound brought a sense of the Jersey boardwalk and atmosphere, maybe featured best in “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).”

A quote from Springsteen is included in the display: “He was the most intuitive player I’ve ever seen. His style was slippery and fluid …”

Danny Federici was most noted for mastering the organ, as well as the glockenspiel (notably on “Born to Run”), playing with Springsteen from his early bands in 1969.

“Phantom,” as he was known for his way of entering and exiting a song, as well as a knack of disappearing after shows, last played with Springsteen and the E Street Band in March, 2008, dying about a month later from melanoma at age 58.

He lived in L.A. for awhile and was the house band leader at House of Blues in West Hollywood, releasing a couple jazz albums. Jason played the accordion live three times with the E Street Band, including twice at the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena in 2016.

Clarence Clemons’ “L.A. SAX”

Most times, the signature sax player sported a bronze-colored piece

This all-black version with a sticker near the end that reads “L.A. Sax” adds another layer of intrigue.

The 1987 instrument, along with its carrying case covered with stickers, comes courtesy of his son, Jake.

He has been a key part of keeping the sound of the E Street Band continuous since the “King of the World, Master of the Universe” died from complications of a stroke in 2011 at age 69, three years after Federici’s passing.

What’s the origin story of this instrument? We don’t know.

But next to it, there is a large stuffed chair, where it is explained: “As Clemons aged and his body wore down, he’d get a chance to rest by sitting in his ‘throne’.”

The posters

They speak for themselves.

And, of course, there’s the encore

In one of several interactive displays, Springsteen explains in a video interview the way he tries to construct an encore set – if you’re known for four-hour-plus concerts, this becomes a built-in feature.

Songs segue from one to the other depending on how the chords ended, he says.

You are now allowed to pick a decade and create an encore set. We took the 1980s and landed on the Oct. 25, 1984 concert at the L.A. Sports Arena. From a list of song, you pick five and drag them over in the order “that you would like to see” in his encore set, having also looking at a setlist from that night (it is 25 songs long, starting with “Born in the USA” and ending with “Rosalita.”)

So if “Devil With A Blue Dress” ends with a “B,” he asks: What sounds good next? “Glory Days,” he suggests. And out of that? “Land of Hopes and Dreams.”

The key and rhythm changes keeps kicking things up and up toward a “Rosalita” crescendo of the regular set. He explains how as the audience gets higher and higher and “hopefully, don’t have much more and we don’t have much more.”

Our five picks from there: “Born To Run,” “Detroit Medley,” “No Surrender,” “The Ties that Bind,” and ending with “Twist and Shout.” From our memory, that’s how it went.

Then the reveal: It was actually “Jungleland,” “Follow That Dream,” “Born To Run,” “Detroit Medley” and “Twist and Shout.”

We can live with that.

More walls of photographs, T-shirts and home-made signs. More shelves of back-stage passes, ticket stubs and other fan memorabilia. More quotes painted on the walls …

It’s like a treasure hunt seeking dates, cities and what album he was promoting to figure out where and when you might have also been connected.

Venture up to the third- and fourth-floors to see more of the place with more rotating exhibits, and there’s a small theater showing Grammy Awards show highlights going back to the 1960s when it finally was televised. The Springsteen-“London Calling” clip is included.

But what also obvious: On a wall dedicated to Grammy Lifetime Achievement recognition. Springsteen isn’t there. Nearly 225 others are. Including Queen, Ramones, Staple Singers, Iggy Pop, Buddy Holly, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, The Funk Brothers, Earth Wind & Fire, Cream, Chicago, The Bee Gees, Black Sabbath, the Allman Brothers, The Temptations and The Doors. And Roy Orbison singing for the lonely.

So perhaps there’s some more work to do on this display. Maybe time it up for the Feb. 5, 2023 Grammy Awards, its 65th rendition, when it returns to the Arena (after a detour to Las Vegas and a COVID version at the L.A. Convention Center in ’21.)

Take the opportunity to see about rectifying this as Springsteen is about to come out and promote his newest (and 21st) studio album “Only The Strong Survive,” his version of 15 soul music titles. It’ll be out Nov. 11. He starts touring again with the E Street Band in February — starting Valentine’s Day in Houston and … back in L.A.?

Someday, we’ll be together.

For the record:

According to, this is the history of Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen playing in Southern California, noting he hasn’t played “Live!” in this area for the last six years:

March 15 and 18: Coliseum
Nov. 18: Shrine Auditorium
Dec. 4: Honda Center in Anaheim
April 27: LA Sports Arena
April 16: Coliseum
April 15: LA Sports Arena
March 8: Staples Center
Feb. 16: Anaheim Convention Center
April 7 and 8: Honda Center
Oct. 28 and 30: LA Sports Arena
June 5: Greek Theater
May 2 and 3: Pantages Theater
Aug. 17: Dodger Stadium
Aug. 24: The Forum
Oct. 17, 18, 21, 23: Staples Center
Aug. 24: Thrill Hill Recording
Aug. 28: The Derby
Oct. 25 and 27: Arlington Theater
Nov. 26 and 27: The Wiltern
Nov. 19: Shrine Auditorium
Sept. 14: The Viper Room
May 22 and June 1: Thrill Hill Recording
April 1: House of Blues
Sept. 24, 25 and 28: LA Sports Arena
Jan. 18: A&M Studios
Jan. 29 and 31: Record Plant
Dec. 4 and 7: Soundworks West
Dec. 6: Record Plant
June 29 and Feb. 27: Oceanway Studios
Jan. 1 and 25, and April 6: Soundworks West
Dec. 1: Soundworks West
May 11: Maple Leaf Club
April 22, 23, 25, 27, 28: LA Sports Arena
Jan. 1, 20, Feb. 1, 22, April 4: Thrill Hill Recording
Sept. 27, 29, 30 and Oct. 2: Coliseum
Oct. 25, 26, 28, 29, 31 and Nov. 2 and 4: LA Sports Arena
Jan. 1, 4, 18, 30, March 1 and May 12: Garage Studios
Feb. 1: The Hit Factory
Aug. 20, 21, 23, 24, 27, 28 and 29: LA Sports Arena
June 14: Hollywood Bowl
Oct. 30 and 31/Nov. 1 and 3: LA Sports Arena
July 7: The Roxy
July 5: The Forum
Oct. 5: Santa Barbara Bowl
Sept. 29 and 30: Santa Monica Civic
Nov. 1: Robertson Gym/UC Santa Barbara
Oct. 16, 17, 18 and 19: The Roxy
Sept. 7: Ya Ya Lounge
Sept. 6: LA Performing Arts Center
July 30: The Troubadour
July 25: Santa Monica Civic
July 27: Ahmanson Theater
March 3: Santa Monica Civic
Feb. 26: Troubadour

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