One musician was on the rise, the other at the peak of his popularity. And one night in the mid-1980s, their worlds collided, as Dan Zanes, leader of the up-and-coming band The Del Fuegos, shared the stage with superstar Bruce Springsteen.
Dan Zanes: “It was right after our first record [1984’s The Longest Day] came out. We were down in North Carolina playing at the Rhinoceros club, and [Springsteen] was playing the ‘enormo dome’ The next night. It was his Born in the U.S.A. tour, and he was the biggest rock star in the world at that point.
“As we were getting ready for our set, we saw [E Street Band guitarist] Nils Lofgren milling around the club, and we asked him if he wanted to play a tune with us. He said yeah, so we went back to the dressing room and stood in a circle going over ‘Hang on Sloopy’ so we all had the same version in our brain.
“Then the Boss walked in, and he said, ‘Hey, you guys are great. I really love your album.’ We couldn’t believe that he had listened to the record, and he mentioned the song that he liked. It was outrageous.
“So we asked him if he wanted to do a tune, and he said yes. We went over ‘Stand by Me’ and ‘Hang on Sloopy.’
“[Springsteen] watched the set, and it was the only time in my life I had ever seen the audience on a horizontal plane rather than a vertical plane. It was a very small club, and people were climbing on top of each other to watch him play [‘Hang on Sloopy’] with us, so all we could see were faces from the floor to the ceiling.
“He was just as generous as he could be, and he gave us all a hug at the end of the night. I can’t remember that I ever hugged a guy before.
“Then we got in the car at the end of the night, and they were talking about it on the radio. We called all our friends in Boston and said, ‘You’re not going to believe what happened to us.’
“It was a great night, and also it was something that people talked about for a long time. And in a way, for a lot of people, it was kind of an endorsement from the Boss.”
* Dan Zanes will be among the performers Jan. 14 during The Nebraska Project, a concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album taking place at Manhattan’s World Financial Center. The show will mark the opening of this year’s New York Guitar Festival, which runs through Feb. 8.
Zanes’ new album, Catch That Train!, featuring Natalie Merchant, among others, is due April 4. His official site is www.danzanes.com.
— By Chris M. Junior