Before They Were Stars!

Note 1 –  I was never a big Rush fan as I found their music too “arena-rock” sounding for my tastes. And Geddy Lee’s voice never worked for me. But they seemed like nice guys (because they were Canadian, of course) and I always respected their musicianship. RIP Neil Peart.

Note 2 – I’m doubtless the very last blogger to note that Rage Against the Machine is re-forming this year, at least to play Coachella. There is a rumor they will headline Boston Calling but it is only a rumor at this point.

Every once in a while we grow up with a band or an artist seeing them in their various incarnations as they mature. But as often as not, we jump on the band’s train somewhere along the way, never really hearing their early stuff.

Fortunately, this is why we have recording equipment so we can hear bands from back in the day, warts and all. I picked a couple of bands to feature. Some of these you may well have heard as these tunes have been released or re-released. But they’re fun as hell so let’s enjoy them one more time.

Wikipedia: Steel Mill was an early Bruce Springsteen band. Other members of the band included three future members of the E Street Band – Vini Lopez, Danny Federici, and Steve Van Zandt. (To the best of my knowledge, Van Zandt is not on this featured tune, having joined later.) They opened for acts such as Chicago, Boz Scaggs, Grand Funk Railroad, Roy Orbison, Ike & Tina Turner, and Black Sabbath.

Springsteen did just about every freaking genre of music you can think of before he became big – British Invasion-style rock, Allmans-type Southern rock (he opened for them once), bluesy rock – you name it. This tune -“He’s Guilty (The Judge Song)”*  was featured on the album Chapter and Verse which was a companion to Bruce’s autobio. It definitely kicks some ass and has some killer (if sometimes sloppy) guitar playing by Bruce. From San Francisco’s Matrix, 1970.

Spotify link

Fourteen-year-old Billy Joel saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in February of 1964 and like just about every other young person back then was totally blown away.

“That one performance changed my life … Up to that moment, I’d never considered playing rock as a career. And when I saw four guys who didn’t look like they’d come out of the Hollywood star mill, who played their own songs and instruments, and especially because you could see this look in John Lennon’s face — and he looked like he was always saying: ‘F— you!’ — I said: ‘I know these guys, I can relate to these guys, I am these guys.’ This is what I’m going to do — play in a rock band.”

Joel started out his career in a band called The Echoes which played – what else – British Invasion covers. (If you were in a rock band in the Sixties and couldn’t play those tunes, better find another hobby.) Long Islander Billy eventually found himself in the LI-based The Hassles. (Pictured on top of post.)

Despite having little commercial success, these guys managed to stay active for five years from 1964 to 1969 and even released two albums and a handful of singles. One of those tunes – Isaac Hayes’ “You’ve Got Me Humming” – managed to make its way to the Billboard charts.

This tune sounds – to me – like another New York band, the Young Rascals. NOTE – No Spotify version. I can find NO Hassles up there at all. Billy did a live solo version of this song on the B-side of the great “Tell Her About It” but I can’t find it.

I’ve already featured the Nazz’ “Open My Eyes” when I did a brief series on Todd Rundgren. But now it’s also up on Spotify. Back then I said this in reference to the Nazz:

“But the song I know (and have always dug) by them the best is called “Open My Eyes” from their self-titled first album. Rundgren was Nazz’s chief songwriter and he wrote this rockin’ little number. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the psychedelic effects, well, it’s 1968. Todd admits he borrowed some of the intro from The Who’s “Can’t Explain.”:

This tune rocks and it’s got a killer riff:

Spotify link

Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Todd Rundgren all released their debut solo albums in the early ’70s.

*Rock impresario Bill Graham dug Steel Mill and offered them a contract for a retainer of $1,000 (about $7,000 today). They rejected it as the terms and conditions sucked.


19 thoughts on “Before They Were Stars!

  1. Rundgren got big pretty quickly compared to the other two, even though he’s probably sold way less records overall. He changed from wanting to be The Who to wanting to be Laura Nyro for his solo career.


        1. Didn’t know that one. Nice. Very soulful. I see that Bobby Womack sings on it as well. Go to my search widget for more on Todd. Thanks for stopping by. Welcome and come back early and often.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly my point. What the hell were these “overnight sensations” doing before they got famous? Likely as not working their asses off in clubs night after night. And yeah, that Steel Mill tunes is a cracking good one. Look up the Castiles some time if you want to hear Bruce’s British Invasion period sometime.


  2. Fun idea for a post. It’s the reverse of a feature I recall VH1 had in the ‘90s, called “Where Are They Now?” All of these songs nicely rock. I guess the Springsteen tune would be my favorite.

    BTW, did you know that Little Steven put out a box set last November, which among others includes very early, previously unreleased material with Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes? It’s called Rock & Roll Rebel: The Early Work. I started listening to some of it the other day, and sounds really cool.


  3. Good choices, Sir. Many moons ago I had a cassette of early Joel stuff including that cut and something called Hour of the Wolf – the name of that one sticks in the mind – from ‘68:

    Springsteens and odd guitar player – I don’t think he’s technically amazing and is often sloppy but it’s all about feel and when he’s in the groove he gets it right


    1. “Hour of fhe Wolf” came up in my research. Listening to the the YouTube link now. Length notwithstanding, it’s very Billy. Bruce was considered THE hot guitarist in Jersey once upon a time. I still think his intro to “Kitty’s Back” is a great bluesy solo. And I dig when he and Van Zandt jam on “:Prove it All Night” live.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When I got into Bruce I always wanted to hear his early bands work. He would pull out cuts in concert. There were bootlegs kicking around but I never got into that. You know I always dig his guitar playing. I layed into it on my ‘Darkness’ take.
    I like both the other cuts. Yeah Rascals sound for sure. I never hung with Billy for long. Never gave old Todd much time. So much other music that grabbed me.


    1. I’ve gotten some pleasure from both Billy and Todd’s stuff over the years. I’ve been toying with seeing Billy when he comes to town. Don’t know if I want to spend the money anymore. And I’m no longer sure if Todd is doing the stuff that got me into him in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Todd just wasn’t om my radar. I do like some of Joels work. Hard guy to categorize but he is talented. Songs like New York State of Mind’ and others have a good sound to me. I like that album Piano Man was on.


        1. I can’t listen to Piano Man anymore. Interestingly, TicketBastard keeps sending me pre-sale notes about a Rundgren show next year. Also, stay tuned for Part Two of my Teaser series, “Where in the world is Doc going?”

          Liked by 1 person

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