Max Weinberg’s Jukebox sets up a rock ‘n’ roll party at the Egyptian Theatre
What: Max Weinberg’s Jukebox
When: 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 11 and 12; 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13
Where: Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.
Cost: Friday tickets range from $39 to $60. Saturday and Sunday tickets range from $45 to $70
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, which will open Friday for a three-night run at the Egyptian Theatre, is a live rock ‘n’ roll history party.
“I have a revolving video screen from which our audience picks songs they want to hear, ranging from the ‘50s to everything from the Beatles and the British Invasion groups to The Byrds and The Eagles,” said Weinberg, who is best known as the drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and as the music director for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
“There are some ‘80s songs and a nice sampling of Bruce Springsteen songs and everything in between. You name it.”
The drummer said the performances rely on audience participation.
“It’s a fairly intimate experience, because I go out into the audience and ask what songs people want to hear and why they want to hear them,” Weinberg said. “In fact, if you’re in the audience and you know a song on the list, you can come up and sing it.”
During the past two-and-a-half years, Weinberg has performed more than 170 Jukebox shows.
“It’s been very gratifying for me, because I love playing this material,” he said.
The most popular request so far is Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” according to Weinberg.
“That’s one song everyone wants to hear no matter where we play,” he said. “Neil Diamond is also a particular favorite of the audience, and one of my favorites of his to play is ‘Solitary Man.’”
Weinberg’s touring band includes a revolving slate of musicians that notably include singer-bassist Glen Burtnik and guitarists Bob Burger and John Merjave.
“Many of these guys came up in New Jersey, where, in the old days — not that we’re old — we would play the clubs from 9 at night to 3 in the morning,” Weinberg said. “Generally you had to play what was being played on the radio, which they called Top 40 at the time. If you didn’t know a song, you had to fake your way through it.”
Selecting the 200 songs in his jukebox was easy for Weinberg.
“I’m 68, and these songs were the soundtrack of my life,” he said. “These are the bands and singers that I grew up listening to, and in some cases, (inspired me) to become a drummer.”
Weinberg said the performances are a tribute to the era when music fans couldn’t wait for the new Beatles single to come out every three months.
“The only way you could listen to the music was on your little radio,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that era from the mid ‘50s to certain parts of the ‘70s was the classic, golden age of rock ‘n’ roll music, where, on the Top 40 charts, you could have The Beatles, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin at the same time.”
During the Jukebox shows, Weinberg will give some background and personal anecdotes about the songs the audience selects.
“One of the things I developed as a result of being on late-night TV for 17 years was the ability to speak in front of the audience,” he said with a laugh. “I can tell my stories of how this music hooks up to me personally.”
Weinberg has been training his whole life to do these Jukebox performances.
“As a young drummer, I played with a lot of people,” he said. “One night it would be a rock band, and one night it would be a tuxedo-lounge guy.”
Weinberg had to keep versatile so he could continue to get the gigs.
“Rock ‘n’ roll was my life, but if you stuck to one style as a drummer, you wouldn’t work that much,” he said. “So I always looked at myself as a bit of a chameleon, and I enjoyed that aspect of working for a sax player or singer. I even played the circus and at strip clubs with my fake ID.”
Those early years, prepared him for his long-term calling as drummer for Springsteen’s E Street Band and bandleader for Conan O’Brien.
“I had been playing for 16 years before that, and all of that served me well with Bruce and on TV,” Weinberg said. “You never knew what you were going to have to do from day-to-day backing up people.”
Weinberg got into rhythm as a child before he got into drums.
The first time he was exposed to rhythm was a 15-minute TV show with a Cuban band leader named Xavier Cugat, he said.
“He played a conga drum and had a fantastic dance orchestra,” Weinberg said. “That was a year before Elvis Presley debuted on TV on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show.”
Weinberg saw the Dorsey Brothers’ show, and then saw Presley again a few months later on the Milton Berle Show in 1956.
“They shot (Presley) with one camera on that show, so you saw Elvis and his band — Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and my hero and great friend DJ Fontana on drums,” Weinberg said. “DJ Fontana playing the intro to ‘Hound Dog’ into the second verse was a galvanizing moment in my life. I was 5, and a pretty good mimic. So I took some drumsticks and played the rhythms on my bed.”
Weinberg hit the point of no return when The Beatles hit it big a decade later.
“I was a teenager who considered myself a young professional, and that just swept me up,” he said. “I’ve never been the same since.”
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