Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music

By Gene Santoro | Go to book overview

22
Bruce Springsteen

HEAD UP I-95 THROUGH CONNECTICUT, pass through the I-95/I-91 linkup and on out of New Haven toward Hartford, and the clustered cityscape and small suburban sprawl slip away after a few minutes. By the exit for Wallingford, about halfway between those two ethnically divided and economically blighted urban centers, the landscape is almost pastoral: open fields dotted with lakes and rimmed with hills, darkness deepening under a rising moon. On September 18,1996, I'm driving that way, for the second show on the second leg of Bruce Springsteen's acoustic tour—a tour that, by year's end, will land in 33 cities around the Northeast, Midwest, and South.

For this swing behind The Ghost of Tom Joad, his thirteenth album, Springsteen is packing a 6- and a 12-string guitar and a box full of harmonicas and neck racks. He's been at it on and off since the disc's release the preceding November, hitting 20 US cities, swinging over to Europe for 35 dates, taking a break for summer, then back on the road, where he's been hustling for 30 years now.

I turn off I-91, part of a small line of cars snaking through the hilly plain, past open fields and a sudden construction-equipment-clogged acre, looking for the Oakdale Theatre. After curves and climbing appears first a spreading parking lot, then a complex. Until recently, the Oakdale Theatre was a supper club, home to tired acts like Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Now it's a 5,000-seat venue with clean sightlines and good sound, with a 150-degree seating plan on a gentle grade with tight mezzanines that make it feel half its size. It splits its bookings between rockers avoiding hockey rinks and ballparks, and subscription deals like “Family Broadway,” which includes Grease and Hello, Dolly. Like politicians and everybody else in show biz, its owners are trying to cobble together several audiences, chasing the vanishing masses in the age of fragmentation.

The venue is as welcoming and intimate as a mini-arena can get. Still, several folks, from the New Haven Register's Entertainment Editor to a local cop, run variations on a theme for me: “They've sunk an awful lot

-223-

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Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Highway 61 Revisited - The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock, & Country Music iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I: Avatars 5
  • 1: Louis Armstrong 7
  • 2: Woody Guthrie 17
  • Part II: The Postwar Jazz Era 31
  • 3: Mary Lou Williams 33
  • 4: Max Roach 37
  • 5: Sonny Rollins 49
  • 6: Chet Baker 64
  • 7: Miles Davis 68
  • 8: Herbie Hancock 80
  • Part III: Rebirth of the Blues 91
  • 9: The Gospel Highway 93
  • 10: Chess Records 99
  • 11: The Folk Revival 104
  • 12: Willie Nelson 119
  • 13: Lenny Bruce 124
  • 14: Sweet Soul Music 135
  • Part IV: In the Garage 151
  • 15: Bob Dylan 153
  • 16: Electric Blues Revival 171
  • 17: Buffalo Springfield 179
  • 18: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris 185
  • 19: The Grateful Dead 193
  • 20: The Band 204
  • 21: The Firesign Theatre 216
  • 22: Bruce Springsteen 223
  • 23: Tom Waits 235
  • Part V: Possible Futures 241
  • 24: Ken Burns, the Academy, and Jazz 243
  • 25: The Politics of Music Don Byron and Dave Douglas 257
  • 26: Cassandra Wilson 265
  • 27: Marty Ehrlich 278
  • 28: New Jazz Fusions 283
  • 29: Ani Difranco 297
  • Index 302
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