Everett Bradley: Springsteen's Live Percussionist

everett bradley

Yes, you can describe Everett Bradley as a percussionist. In fact, as a full member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, he has one of the higher-profile percussion gigs in the world. But those congas, shakers, and tambourines he plays with the Boss reveal just one of his many parts.

He is, for example, a keyboard player and saxophonist too. He’s a playwright, currently putting final touches on Vices: A Love Story with three co-writers and looking for a regional theater where it can take its first step toward Broadway.

Speaking of Broadway, he performed with the cast of Stomp, where he learned basic stick technique on the job from fellow cast members. And he garnered six Tony Award nominations as co-creator of the musical extravaganza Swing.

Stay with us; we’re just warming up.

Bradley has created music for video games. His single “I Luv U Baby” topped the European dance charts. He’s a session player and record producer who has logged studio time with David Bowie, Jon Bon Jovi, improv vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin, and Irish fiddle whiz Eileen Ivers, among many others. Previous gigs included leading Carly Simon’s band and gigging for four years with Hall & Oates. He donates his services as music director of the Our Time organization, dedicated to inspiring confidence through music at a camp for young stutterers. And during breaks from the road with Springsteen, he’s singing, dancing, and emoting at New York’s Brooks Atkinson Theater in the Cotton Club fantasia After Midnight, under the musical direction of Wynton Marsalis.

You can also find him each year around Christmas wearing an outrageous white wig, spangly white slacks, ringmaster-red jacket, Bootsy Collins shades and 6" heels, burning through P-Funk arrangements of holiday songs in his Holidelic show. But that’s another story entirely; we’ll touch on that shortly.

New Jersey Connection

For now, let’s focus on Springsteen – or, specifically, on how a tap-dancing, play-authoring multi-tasker wound up on E Street even though he admits to not being that aware of the Boss as he was growing up in Muncie, Indiana.

“Honestly, I didn’t really open my eyes to Bruce until Born In The USA,” he says, just a little sheepishly. “I’d obviously heard about him for years, but when I heard that record in particular, it spoke to me.”

Long before getting that message, Bradley was building his musical foundation with piano lessons, starting at age ten. Saxophone lessons followed in elementary school. He didn’t really get into drums until joining the marching band in high school.

“The drum section needed an extra drummer,” he says. “The band director knew that I had a good sense of rhythm, so he strapped on those Tri-Toms and I learned how to play them. Then in college, I was in a funk band. When I wasn’t singing, they wanted me to play a percussion instrument, so I went out and got a set of congas. I did take a couple of lessons, but mostly I just invented my own way of playing them.”

After studying at the Indiana University School Of Music, Bradley had his Springsteen epiphany when he picked up a gig with New Jersey rocker John Eddie, who some were saddling with expectations of being “the new Springsteen.”

“That was in the late ’80s. I was hanging out in the Jersey area a lot, and through playing with John I spent a lot of time at the Stone Pony,” he remembers, noting the fabled Asbury Park club where Springsteen launched his career. “I met various artists who played with Bruce. I heard stories. John used to cover some of his songs as well.”

They finally met when Springsteen returned to the Stone Pony to headline at a benefit performance. “He hired a musical director, who hired me to be in the band,” Bradley explains. “We ended up onstage, and when he decided to put his band together and try a percussionist, he had his manager seek me out.”

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