Springsteen’s Everett Bradley
Finding His E Street Niche
For those born to run to the simple, unadorned but high-impact backbeats laid down by Max Weinberg through much of the Springsteen catalog, it must have been a challenge to prepare for his audition for the gig. But even then, Bradley had an approach to complement the E Street groove.
“First of all, I go back and look at videos of Clarence,” says Bradley, referencing the late Clarence Clemons, whose bull-roaring tenor sax was a definitive ingredient in Springsteen’s music. “Clarence actually played a lot of percussion too. He played a lot of tambourine. He had claves and cowbells. The little things he did added a lot. So I always start by emulating what he did. Then I stay out of everyone’s way, but I find the ingredient in the song that I can latch onto without scaring everyone.”
Bradley laughs, a Clemons-worthy head-turning guffaw. Then he expands on his point: “There are some songs I won’t play if I feel that percussion is getting in the way. Or I’ll sit out a whole section and high-energy things, he has added timbales, just to have that crack once in a while.”
An LP djembe provides the last element in Bradley’s E Street arsenal. In fact, it plays a pretty visible role on Springsteen’s new High Hopes album. “We started doing the song ’High Hopes’ in Australia,” he points out. “He decided that he wanted to start with just acoustic guitar and percussion, so I put on my djembe – I can strap it around my waist – and played it for him. He really loved it, so now we start out front, just the two of us. That shows you how open and willing he is to try new things. That’s how the album opens too.”
Beyond The Boss
Even though the Springsteen gig keeps the percussionist busy, it’s only one piece in a complicated puzzle that makes up Bradley’s multi-faceted career. Before leaving in February with Springsteen for a five-week jaunt through South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, he spent several months onstage with After Midnight, the Cotton Club homage currently running in New York. In preparing for his role, Bradley spent a lot of time investigating the swing era and its music, and learned that it takes as much filtering out as it does bringing in.
“My role is the lead singer of a Mills Brothers type of act that’s featured in the Cotton Club,” he says. “Wynton is a real aficionado on that era and that style of music. He really wanted us to nail the period and sing how they might have sung in that time. All the licks from the instrumentalists replicate the sound of jazz from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.”
He immersed himself in recordings of the period to make sure his performance was completely authentic. “Wynton coached us about the style and certain licks, not getting too gospel but going with the fun and playfulness of big bands and emulating instruments vocally, like Ella [Fitzgerald] did so amazingly.”
But such rules of stylistic purity became less important when Bradley came up with the idea for his annual holiday production, Holidelic. It all began after the 2001 terrorist attacks, when Bradley decided to record Toy, a Christmas album, “which was my way of getting over the tragedy of 911. It made me feel better. All of its songs were original.”
He began performing his new material in an annual stage production of the same Everett Bradley name for a few years, until his drummer came up with an unusual idea. “He said, ’Hey, man, why don’t we do a P-Funk version of this?’ I loved it! I’ve loved [George Clinton’s] music probably since I was around ten. So we transformed everything [into Holidelic]. I actually staged my transformation, where I got a Christmas gift onstage.
I opened it, and inside was this big, white ’fro with Christmas lights and the whole costume. I haven’t turned back since.”
For all the diverse projects on his calendar – he’s got a playing gig on an NBC show scheduled to launch in August too, as well as a Halloween version of Holidelic underway – Bradley takes special pride in his Springsteen connection. He should too; the artist’s website lists a number of players as part of their ongoing tour, but Bradley is included as a full-fledged member of the group.“Well, I don’t have 40 years with Max or Little Steven,” he acknowledges. “But Bruce told me that I became a member when someone in the audience held up my name on a sign that said they wanted to dance with me on ’Dancing In The Dark.’ When that happened,” Bradley concludes with another booming laugh, “he said, ’Welcome to the E Street Band!’”
Everett Bradley's Springsteen Setup
Drums LP (CustomBlack)
1 12.5" x 25" Djembe
2 Generation III Bongos
3 11.75" x 30" Classic Top-Tuning Series Conga
4 12.5" x 30" Classic Top-Tuning Series Tumba
5 14"/15" Prestige Stainless Steel Timbales
6 Roland PD-8 Pads
A 8" Splash Cymbal
B 10" Splash Cymbal
C Timbale Cowbell
D Tapon Cowbell
E Jam Block (High Pitch)
F Sambago Bells
G Jam Block (Medium Pitch)
H LP Cyclops Dimpled Jingle Tambourine (steel)
I Jam Tamb
J 9" Ice Bell
K Aspire LP8 Pro Triangle
L Cyclops Dimpled Jingle Tambourine (brass)
M Black Beauty Senior Cowbell
N Bongo Cowbell
O LP Percussion Table includes Grenadilla Wood Clave, Twist Shaker, Rosewood Double Castanets, Afuche/Cabasa, and assorted maracas, sleighbells, rainsticks, and tambourines.
Everett Bradley also uses Vater T2 Mallets and LP Pro Cowbell Beater.