On This Day in 1972, Bruce Springsteen Auditions for Legendary Columbia Records Exec John Hammond

Bruce Springsteen had his historic audition with John Hammond, legendary producer and A&R man for Columbia Records, on May 2, 1972.

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Hammond had discovered and signed Springsteen’s hero, Bob Dylan, to Columbia, and also had signed or was an important figure in the careers of Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, and many others.

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Although he was just 22, Springsteen had been a struggling musician for years. His early manager Mike Appel, however, had been able to finagle an audition with Hammond. He did this by delivering a convincing pitch to the executive’s trusted secretary, Mikie Harris, who, in turn, told her boss, “I think you should see this guy.”

Springsteen offered a detailed account of his audition with Hammond in his 2014 memoir, Born to Run. The Boss and Appel’s meeting with Hammond took place at Columbia’s offices in midtown Manhattan.

[RELATED: On This Day in 1976: Bruce Springsteen Scaled a Wall at Graceland While Trying to Meet Elvis Presley]

Springsteen Felt “Nervous but Confident” Before the Audition

“I had a no acoustic guitar of my own so I borrowed a cheap one with a cracked neck from Vinnie ‘Skeebots’ Manniello, my old Castiles drummer,” Springsteen recalled in the book. “He had no case, so I had to haul it, Midnight Cowboy-style, over my shoulder on the bus and through the streets of the city.”

The singer/songwriter remembers that in order to stay calm for the audition, he “performed a little mental ju-jitsu on myself” while he was in the elevator on the way up to the meeting.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got nothing so I’ve got nothing to lose. I can only gain should this work out,’” he recalled. “‘If you don’t, I still got what I came in with. I’m a free agent. I make my way through the world as myself and I’ll still be that person when I leave no matter the outcome.’ By the time I got there I almost believed it. I walked in nervous but confident.”

The Audition Got Off to a Rocky Start

To Springsteen’s dismay, once in Hammond’s office, Appel immediately started spouting about how great Bruce was.

As he wrote in the book, “Straightaway, with no discernible self-consciousness and before I’d played a note, he told John Hammond of Columbia Records I was perhaps the second coming of Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha and he brought me there to see if Hammond’s discovery of Dylan was a fluke or if he really had ears.”

Springsteen says that Hammond later told him that, at that point, he was poised to hate the young artist, but he just leaned back in his chair and told Bruce, “Play me something.”

Hammond Loved What He Heard

The Boss proceeded to play “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.”

“When I was done I looked up. That smile was still there and I heard him say, ‘You’ve got to be on Columbia Records,’” Springsteen wrote. “One song–that’s what it took. I felt my heart rise up inside me, mysterious particles dancing underneath my skin and faraway stars lighting up my nerve endings.”

Hammond told Springsteen he thought the song was “wonderful,” and asked him to play something else.

Bruce played two more songs—“Growin’ Up” and “If I Was the Priest”—and afterward, Hammond told him he’d like to see him perform a few songs that night at a club. The executive also told Springsteen that arrangements would have to be made for Bruce to play for Clive Davis, who the head of Columbia at the time.

After that, Springsteen and Appel shook Hammond’s hand and left Columbia’s offices.

Springsteen’s Post-Audition Jubilation

In Born to Run, Springsteen shared how triumphant he felt after the successful audition.

“We’d climb to the heavens and spoken to the gods, who told us we were spitting, thunder and throwing lightning bolts!” he wrote. “It was on. It was all on. After the years of waiting, of struggling toward that something I thought might never happen, it had happened.”

Springsteen added, “With Skeebots’s junk guitar, the sword we’d just pulled from the stone, now, proudly, nakedly slung over my shoulder, [Mike and I] had a celebratory cheeseburger.”

Springsteen’s Greenwich Village Showcase and Its Aftermath

He and Appel then headed to Greenwich Village to try and find a club that would let him play a showcase. They eventually were able to book a slot at Gerde’s Folk City, which was hosting an open-mike night that evening.

Springsteen recalls that there were “at best six other patrons” besides Hammond at the club for his performance. His set consisted of the same three tunes he performed at his audition, as well as a song called “Arabian Nights,” plus a few others.

Unlike at the audition, Springsteen said he wasn’t nervous about performing at the club.

“Playing live was something I knew how to do,” he noted. “I’d tell stories, make jokes and dramatize the songs I was singing.” At the end of his show, Bruce recalled, “John was beaming. I could perform.”

A few weeks later, Springsteen met and performed for Davis, and was signed to Columbia, his label to this day.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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