Bruce Springsteen’s 1966 Battle of the Bands Loss That Would Later Help Form The E Street Band

On April 22, 1966, a not-yet-famous Bruce Springsteen and his band, The Castiles, lost a Battle of the Bands contest held in Matawan, New Jersey. Despite the sting the future “Boss” might have felt at the time, the early career loss turned out to be a net positive for the young musician.

Videos by American Songwriter

Two years after their Battle of the Bands loss, The Castiles officially parted ways. Luckily for Springsteen, the networking he did at the 1966 Matawan contest would help him create the band featured on his debut record six years later.

The Castiles’ Battle of the Bands Performance Fell Flat

Before Bruce Springsteen was the “Boss,” he was the lead guitarist and vocalist for New Jersey-based garage band The Castiles. Springsteen had been with the band for about a year when the ensemble entered a Battle of the Bands contest put on by local producer and bandleader Norman Seldin. The competition featured 25 bands and took place at the Matawan Keyport Roller Drome.

The Castiles were competing against other local groups composed of late teen to young adult musicians. According to a newspaper clipping on the E Street Shuffle blog, all 25 acts performed in a large circle and played three songs in rotation. There were cash prizes for first, second, and third places. Additionally, the first-place winner got an immediate billing for a show Seldin was hosting the following weekend, which featured nationally renowned acts The Dovells, The Crystals, and Adlibs.

For Springsteen, who had just started playing guitar two years earlier, the competition would be one of his earliest career losses. Ironically, first place went to The Rogues, a band with which Springsteen had briefly played before joining The Castiles. Sonny and the Starfires came second, and The Brew Masters were third. But while The Castiles walked away empty-handed, Springsteen certainly didn’t.

How Bruce Springsteen Turned His Loss Into A Gain

Bruce Springsteen’s garage band might not have made it into the top three of their local Battle of the Bands, but the contest would prove fortuitous for the future rock legend just the same. Springsteen met two of his future bandmates at the competition: Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, who played in Sonny and the Starfires, and Vinnie Roslin, who was one of the judges for the event.

Though it would take a couple of years after the competition for things to fall into place, Springsteen, Lopez, and Roslin eventually reunited to form Steel Mill. Other members included Danny Federici, Steve Van Zandt, and Robbin Thompson. The East Coast rock band enjoyed decent success in the late 1960s and early 1970s, performing across the country and opening for major acts like Chicago, Roy Orbison, and Black Sabbath. 

Springsteen continued to pursue a solo career during this time, and when the time came to record his 1972 debut ‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.,’ he employed his Steel Mill colleagues to play on the album. Springsteen, Van Zandt, Federici, and Lopez would become founding members of the E Street Band, the full-band configuration Springsteen continues to tour with to this day.

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

Leave a Reply

Cody Johnson Stops Show For Fan Who Needs Medical Attention

Hank Williams Jr., Cody Johnson, and More to Headline Born & Raised Music Festival 2024