The story behind the shot

By Barry Schneier

In 1974, I met Ira Gold, a Boston-based music promoter who worked with Bonnie Raitt's management team in producing local concerts. Ira's goal was to team up established headline acts with interesting, lesser-known artists in order to give them some exposure within the talented and competitive music scene of the 1970s.

I soon became the photographer for his company, Windowpane Productions. I enjoyed coming by during soundchecks, hanging out and taking pictures in a casual environment before the paying crowds filled the venue's halls. Whether it was Jackson Browne meeting Bonnie Raitt, or Boz Scaggs warming up in a smoke-filled dressing room, there was a feeling of openness and accessibility that is hard to come by in present day. 

There are many stories and folklore of how things materialized during those early days of the Boston music scene. Stories of how Van Morrison came back to pay respect to a town that gave him a new start in his darkest days. How legends and newcomers would collide on stage. Or how a young, skinny kid from New Jersey would get a chance to strut his stuff in a larger venue on an evening that, some say, changed Rock and Roll forever.

In 1974, my roommate played me "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle." The word was that this guy was pretty good and the record backed it up. We decided to go see him at a small bar in Cambridge; Charlie's Place. The band was tucked into a corner, no stage to speak of. All the gear packed tight against the wall, leaving just enough room for the band members to perform. 

Looking around, I couldn't help but notice that the bar's booths were practically overflowing. I commented that I was surprised at how crowded it was. A man overheard my comment and simply said, "I'm from Philadelphia and I've been following him up the coast. Just wait..."

What I remember, once the drums kicked in and this little-known group tucked in a back corner of a packed bar began to play, is hearing music that changed my life. A brand of music that, frankly, I didn't know existed until that very moment.

The very next day I called Ira Gold. My message was simple: Put this guy in a show. If nothing else, I just needed to see Bruce Springsteen again. 

Ira came up to my apartment and I played him the two albums Springsteen had out at the time. Ira liked the music and borrowed the albums to play for his production partners. They followed up with a visit to Charlie's and after his set was through, sat Bruce down and offered him the opportunity to open for Bonnie Raiit at the Harvard Square Theater.

Fast forward to May 9th, 1974.. Music historians have commented that Springsteen knew that he had a special opportunity and was determined to make the most of it. As I arrived in the afternoon for soundcheck, I could sense it. The way he directed the band through rehearsal and the way they responded... this was a man on a mission. A man with a purpose that the band wholeheartedly understood.  He was there to do a show that evening, not just play a set list.

Throughout the night I worked the room the best I could. Shooting from the front of the stage and in the wings. The theater wasn't all that big, access to good vantage points was limited, but the camera never left my eye. Halfway through his second set, I decided that I was through shooting for the night. I was there to enjoy the music as well. So, I sat myself down on the drum cases, just inside the wings on stage right. Then it happened.

The band got up and began to walk off, Bruce following them. Then, as the E Street band stood in unison by my side, Bruce  took a seat at the piano. About four feet in front of me. His fingers stretched out, beginning a haunting melody. At first I didn't recognize the song, but one impulse quickly took over me: reload the camera and shoot away. This was a prize moment. My own private shooting session with a musician that I believed was embarking on a journey to potentially becoming one of the greatest artists of our time.

It didn't take long to find the framing. And then through the lens, I let the action dictate the shooting. Part of the magic of capturing a live performance is being part in the song and part in the camera, always anticipating that moment when it all comes together.  When I printed the contact sheets later, I knew I had the shot. I just hadn't realized how good it truly was. It was a perfect moment, a "decisive moment" to quote the great photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

It was past, present and Rock and Roll future, all within the opening and closing of a shutter.