Published Oct. 24, 1997
Weinberg drums up success on `Late Night with Conan'
By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
After Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band broke up in 1989, drummer Max Weinberg left his sticks and tom toms behind.
Returning to Seton Hall University he finished his degree in communications, then briefly attended Cardozo Law School in New York. After he decided not to pursue law he headed Hard Ticket Records, which is distributed by industry biggie BMG.
``I was good at it but I realized my heart was really in performing,'' said Weinberg, who was given a President's Award in Music Wednesday by Slippery Rock University, and delivered the Academic Honors Convocation address.
``It wasn't easy,'' he said of picking up the sticks after a four-year hiatus. ``But I wanted to play the drums. I was put here to play the drums.''
Weinberg leads the Max Weinberg Seven on ``Late Night With Conan O'Brien.''
``Until I met Conan walking down Seventh Avenue (in New York) in the spring of '93, I never thought in a million years that I'd end up leading my own band on a network TV show, given my career path prior to that. For me it's like grabbing the brass ring twice.''
Weinberg has the rare opportunity in music circles to play the music he wants to _ ``I'm totally autonomous,'' he said _ while still being around as his 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son grow up.
``It's a wonderful opportunity because I am home a lot. With a young family that's quite an advantage.''
Weinberg also has become somewhat of an actor, or at least a willing accomplice to O'Brien's antics.
``I'd never done anything like that,'' he said, noting that high school plays were the limit of his acting experience. ``They play me against type. I have some perverse things that I do because I'm such a straight, conservative individual in real life.''
Weinberg, a New Jersey native who still lives in his home state, intends to stay with ``Late Night With Conan O'Brien'' as long as he can.
``This is all I do,'' he said eschewing session work or side projects. ``I have my own band, it's top of the heap. I was in a band for many, many years, I don't have a desire to do that again. That was a wonderful experience, I loved every minute of it but I did that, you know.''
Weinberg was an E Streeter for 15 years.
``It was a shock but not a surprise,'' he said of the band's break up. ``We had accomplished everything we set out to accomplish.''
The drummer said that while it was exciting to play stadiums with Springsteen, there's no real difference for him to skin pounding for a small or large crowd.
``I never really paid much attention to the audience one way or the other. The performance always came from within me.''
Unlike other musicians, Weinberg doesn't need audience feedback to play well.
``I'm sure there are people who work off the audience's energy but that seemed too risky for your performance,'' he explained. ``What if you get a bad audience? What if they're tired? Are you going to give a bad performance?''
Weinberg's performance also depends on his hands, which have been operated on seven times for tendonitis. But Joe Morello of the Dave Brubeck Quartet taught him how to control it by warming up and drumming correctly. ``Don't squeeze the sticks, that's the bottom line. Don't strain.''
The President's Award is a first for Weinberg and while this was his first visit to Slippery Rock, he was familiar with the region.
``I know the makeup of the people of this area, Erie and Cleveland. That was really the heart of our constituency with the E Street Band. There's a certain toughness bred out here in western Pennsylvania.''
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Updated Oct. 24, 1997
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