Stuart Ryan revels in some blue-collar, American-style acoustic genius with one of the most important singer-songwriters of all time.
Stuart Ryan revels in the talents of the wonderful Bruce Springsteen.
Over the course of a hugely successful 40-year long career Bruce Springsteen has proven himself to be the consummate rock and roll songwriter with both electric and acoustic guitars always at the fore throughout his writing. In the early days the acoustic was used in the most traditional way – as an accompaniment device to the burgeoning hit maker. Seminal tracks like Atlantic City showcase simple open-chord accompaniment ideas, but as Bruce’s writing developed and progressed through the years his acoustic parts also become far more sophisticated, to include an array of altered tunings and fingerpicking patterns that serve to make his orchestrations way more than just the ‘three chord trick’ of some of the many renowned acoustic guitarist-songwriters.
Born in New Jersey in 1949 Springsteen first developed an interest in music from the superstars of the day: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. After years of playing in bands as a teenager he signed his first record deal with Columbia Records in 1972. Initially compared to Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Robbie Robertson, success was not forthcoming until the release of 1975’s seminal Born To Run. A huge touring schedule ensued and was followed by The River in 1980 and the stripped-down solo acoustic album Nebraska in 1982. The big one came in 1984 with the release of Born In The USA, which contains many of his most famous tracks.
With his fame cemented and the E Street Band now a part of popular culture Bruce was able to explore his acoustic side more and the folk influence of legends like Woody Guthrie became more apparent. The release of The Ghost Of Tom Joad in 1995 saw him embark on a solo acoustic tour on which he re-worked many of his older songs. In the 2000s the acoustic remained at the fore on albums like Devils And Dust and We Shall Overcome, exploring the influence of Pete Seeger.
SPRINGSTEEN FIRST DEVELOPED AN INTEREST IN MUSIC FROM THE STARS Of THE DAY – ELVIS, SINATRA AND THE BEATLES
On these later albums Springsteen’s acoustic ideas seem far more interesting and developed – a variety of open tunings led to chord voicings that go beyond the standard major and minor ideas you find in regular tuning. He performs with a fantastically-chunky approach to rhythm where the strings take one heck of a beating; much like that other great, Neil Young. It can take some work to get the rhythmic ‘thwack’ in place – as you go to strike the bass strings with the pick you must apply a picking hand palm mute at the same time. It’s the downward strike with the pick and the damping effect of the palm mute that provide the great big rhythm ‘thump’.
Springsteen strumming his ubiquitous black Takamine electro