Free University - November 20, 1969
by Tom "Cool" Yolton
Our first encounter with Steel Mill. Although the poster says Morning Disaster they couldnít make it so Mercy Flight filled in. Lucky for us as we were newly formed and just beginning to play out. This was in the old Free University an alternative to traditional universities for free thinking individuals and a place to try to qualify for a student differment from the Vietnam War. Upstairs was a concert hall. Steel Mill had just changed their name from Child. There was some other band in New Jersey with the same name...oh yeah ...I guess they wrote a song called Thunder Road too. So this poster dates back pretty far in the chronology of things.
Going down in the late afternoon we arrived on the scene just as the band was heaving Danny Federiciís Hammond B-3 organ up the precarious flight of stairs leading to the Free Universityís second floor hall. I remember Springsteen and the rest of the band celebrating after the job was done, apparently a regular ritual, as no one look forward to hauling that thing around.
Tinker West, their manager and sound guy...I guess he was their manager , I donít know...was directing the set up. He owned a surf board factory back in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Surfboards and Springsteen. It doesnít get any weirder than that.( More surf board factory stories later. I remember marveling at the large sound system Steel Mill had. They had big speaker cabinets with big amps and lots of wattage. At this time Steel Mill was Springsteen, Danny Federici, Vinnie Lopez on drums and Little Vinnie...I donít know his real name...on bass. Little Vinnie, during the performance, would just hop around in his little spot on stage constantly. The energy was amazing. Mercy Flight played their set. We were a brand new band. I came home from class one day finding a note on my dorm room door saying this band was looking for a lead guitar player so come down and practice with them if Iím interested. Our set that night must have sounded all right cause Steel Mill was impressed and began expressing an interest in having us open their shows for them.
Turning the stage over to Steel Mill was an experience. They tore into their songs with explosion. Mind you this was original stuff that had balls. Each song, just as good as the last. I remember going....goddamn....goddamn...each time they would crack out a chorus or a guitar part or some vocal impossibility. They had great harmonies. Something hard to find in local bands. They had dynamics. One minute the band could be hush soft, to let the singer accentuate a peticular phrase or word, then crash into a volume rise that would catch everyone off guard.
"Who was that guy?"
Well the concert raged on and the crowd was loving it. I think everyone was a little jealous at the adulation Springsteen was receiving but some how I thought it was meant to be. He could pour on the charisma. A sweaty beer soaked crowd at the end of the night heard the band announce from stage they were looking for a place to crash. Something hard to fathom now, but after the tour de force that night Steel Mill had plenty of offers.
I guess I absconded with the poster after the show. Iíd always had a fondness for printed art, posters in peticular, having gathered an assortment of different stuff over the years. You should see the neat old circus posters Iíve got. When Springsteen hit it big I knew the posters that I had would become valuable one day. I didnít realize just how valuable until one day I saw a large coffee table book on the subject of Springsteen and in the back was a collection of memorabilia pictures including this poster. I said "hey wait a minute...Iíve got that very poster at home." Itís the poster shown here.
This site is a part of Castiles.net (The history of Bruce Springsteen)
Click here to get back