back to press page

"That's it, right, Bruce?"

"Play it again, one more time."

For days, Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen dragged on like this, at the cramped Record Plant studio in New York.

The then-25-year-old singer would hum how he wanted Clemons' sweeping"Jungleland" saxophone solo to sound — he hadn't yet learned to properly write music — and his bandmate would do his best to match the melody.

By the time Springsteen was satisfied with Clemons' take, the impending Born To Run tour was only hours away — 116 shows for which the band had not yet rehearsed.

Despite the exhaustion of four days of perpetual recording and no sleep, Springsteen and The E Street Band embarked on a marathon live session to prepare for the road, and subsequently, to earn a living while "Born To Run" was still being mixed. The album would see official release five weeks later.

Sitting off to the side, also drained, was their friend and "unofficial official" photographer Barbara Pyle.

In one shot, a morning frame of Springsteen gripping his mic stand — seemingly to avoid collapse — with his partners' overtaxed faces lurking behind, she masterfully captured the group's depletion.

Springsteen said in an interview later in 1975 that Pyle's image should have ran as the album's cover art, instead of Eric Meola's famed black-and-white, of The Boss grinning and leaning on Clemons.

Pyle, a working photographer and music fan who befriended the band earlier that year, spent most of 1975 with the group as they recorded "Born To Run," and on the road for some of the accompanying tour, all the while snapping countless rolls of film.

Through her friendship with E Street pianist Roy Bittan, she first got her foot in the studio door.

"We all loved music and that provided a commonality of spirit," she says in a recent phone interview. "It all clicked and we all became friends."

Pyle's best photos — of in-studio delirium, blissful concerts and whimsical on-the-road candids — will be published for the first time Oct. 30, in a 230-page book titled "Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band 1975" (Reel Art Press). The 40th anniversary of the release of "Born To Run" is Tuesday.  

"It was such an honor for me to be there, to be able to go through that process with them," Pyle says. "I'm glad I was such a tenacious, little photographer."

While no one could predict at the time they were witnessing the creation of New Jersey's most significant rock album of all time, Pyle — who had worked as a photographer in the New Orleans music scene for 10 years — knew she wasn't listening to just any collection of songs (hundreds of times each).  

"It was instinct," she says. "I knew music, and I knew Springsteen was brilliant, and that he'd assembled a brilliant group of musicians to execute his vision, and to contribute their own level of greatness."  

Justly, her book does not focus solely on Springsteen, as many photo essays do. For years, Pyle argued with publishers who wanted to print a book of just her Springsteen shots, but in the new "1975," Clemons, Bittan, Steven Van Zandt, Garry Tallent, Max Weinberg and Danny Federici are all prominently featured, in New York, New Orleans, Pyle's hometown of Paul's Valley, Okla., and more.

But through all her time with The Boss, even when she would drive him back to his hotel after after an overnight recording session, it was many months before Pyle saw Springsteen smile as he did on his album cover.  

The scruffy frontman didn't allow much time for pleasantries during "Born To Run's" arduous tracking process, Pyle says. He was obsessed with the album's perfection, and moreover his last true chance at stardom.

"It was a fact on the table that if 'Born to Run' wasn't a hit, he was gone from the label," Pyle says, of his relationship with Columbia Records. "There was tremendous pressure on the band, and tremendous pressure on Bruce to deliver. You could cut (the tension) with a knife. It was awful."

Therefore, very few photos in Pyle's book were actually snapped inside the Record Plant while the band worked on the album.

"I knew how to maintain a friendship, but give them their space," she says. "I knew when I could invade and when I couldn't. ... The work was so hard, I only took key moments, and even then I had to work up my nerve to take a picture in the studio."

Most of the photos are of less stressful scenes; before, during and after concerts in the summer and fall of 1975, and moments of leisure: eating lunch, shooting pool and shopping.

With each shot, even the more trivial ones, there are wonderful  firsthand notes included, like how Springsteen's perfectionism translated to denim — he would try on fifty pairs of jeans before choosing which to buy.  

Pyle might have adopted some of Springsteen's determination years later, when she co-created and produced the successful pro-environment cartoon "Captain Planet." Today, Pyle is still active in her worldwide Planeteer Movement campaign and photographs racing boats near her St. Lucia home.

After attending Newcomb College (Tulane University's women's college), Pyle remained working in New Orleans for a decade, so when the Born To Run tour came to the city, she naturally stepped in as their guide.

"I wanted Bruce and the band to have a good time," she says. "They had been through awful times and I knew I could show them a New Orleans that they'd never find on their own."

She introduced them to famed R&B singer Lee Dorsey, and the group (minus Springsteen) performed alongside Dorsey, for a full set at the musician's Ya Ya Lounge. Photos of the band in the lounge's game room are among the book's most lighthearted moments.

From there, Pyle was invited on the tour bus to Houston, Dallas and eventually Oklahoma City. But before her final stop with the group, they veered off to her family's home in southern Oklahoma for some barbecue chow with her parents. They were friends, after all.

Pyle's ulterior motive, though, was to score a shot of the guys in front of her favorite coffee shop and teen hangout in town.

She shepherded them off the bus, and they posed in front of the then-abandoned storefront. Typically, the band was "patient," with Pyle's photographing, she says, but as she kept shooting, one of them grew restless.

"Okay, Barbara, enough," Springsteen said.

NJ.com

20 Aug, 2015

Bobby Olivier