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The Story of Bruce Springsteen’s Columbia Records Audition

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Given that he still has the energy of musicians half his age, sometimes it’s hard to believe that Bruce Springsteen has been a recording artist for more than 40 years. But it was on May 2, 1972, that a scrawny kid from New Jersey walked into Columbia Records’ office in New York with an acoustic guitar and sang a few songs in front of legendary talent scout John Hammond.

Born into New York aristocracy in 1910, Hammond was turned on to jazz by his family’s African American servants. As an adult, he worked his love of the music into a political philosophy: If more people heard it, he thought — perhaps too idealistically but certainly well-intentioned — racial prejudice in the U.S. would end. In fact, he began his career with Columbia when, during the Depression, he offered to fund the recordings of several of his favorite unsigned artists.

Eventually Hammond broadened his view to encompass blues and folk, and over the course of his career, he either produced or discovered many of the greatest names in the history of 20th century American music, including Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.

Springsteen’s manager, Mike Appel, somehow convinced Hammond to give him a shot, and on May 2, 1972, Springsteen auditioned for Hammond in his office. He played at least four songs: “Growin’ Up,” “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” “Mary Queen of Arkansas” and “If I Was the Priest.” According to Springsteen, Hammond’s response was simple: “You’ve got to be on Columbia Records.”

Still, Hammond wanted to see him in front of an audience, so he quickly arranged for him to open that night at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village. Impressed, Hammond booked time for the next day in CBS Studios, where Springsteen recorded a handful of demos with Hammond producing. Four of those songs from “Job No. 79682″ were released on the 1998 box set Tracks.

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