Suited up like it was another performance fronting his band on late night TV, Max Weinberg started pounding either side of the podium Thursday night as he explained the origin of his drumming dream to an audience at the Underground in the Schine Student Center.
“I was a five-year-old little Jewish kid with an unusual name for the time." he said. "I was Max. My nose was growing faster than I was. I didn’t know anything about Elvis Presley. All I knew was, my two teenage sisters were going crazy with anticipation about Elvis performing on The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Weinberg said Elvis, backed by drummer DJ Fontana, launched into “Hound Dog.” Fontana hit the introductory drum roll, and Weinberg said he immediately picked up that beat and started banging on the floor. He then mimicked it again on the podium Thursday night.
To kickoff the 60th anniversary celebration of Hillel at SU and as part of Orange Central activities, Weinberg was invited to discuss his legendary career, which includes drumming in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band to his gig on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
Now, at the age of 59 and sporting a white beard, Weinberg said he vividly remembers that all he ever wanted to do was play the drums.
Luckily, he got that chance when he responded to a newspaper ad placed by Bruce Springsteen and joined the E Street Band, which played its very first stadium show ever at the Carrier Dome in 1985, according to Weinberg.
“I felt connected,” he said. “The drums were helping me find a key to a world bigger than anything else.”
He said performing has allowed him to a make his mark on the world and contribute to it.
“I was using my path to make a difference, be of service, help someone. I would see faces in the audience and see I was helping them heal whatever it is they brought with them to the concert, even if I only enabled them to dance over their problems for a while,” he said.
Weinberg found another way to connect with people through his duties as Conan O’Brien’s sidekick. Not only was he the musical director, but also he cultivated his comedic skills during the 15 years he spent with O’Brien on the late night show.
“If you’ve ever seen the show, clearly I’m the guy who would do anything,” he said.
Weinberg, who was often depicted as a slimy adulterer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, said the show was a wonderful experience.
He demonstrated his flair for comedy during the talk Thursday with several funny anecdotes ranging from Springsteen stories to playing Bob Hope’s theme song on a special program. He garnered one of the biggest laughs of the night when a fire alarm interrupted the question and answer session.
Someone explained the fire alarm was being tested, to which Weinberg immediately said, “Tell them it works.” Later, when one of the alarms started buzzing, he said, “I hope that’s just not my hearing finally going.”
Despite his propensity for comedy, Weinberg will not be joining O’Brien on his new late night show, and he debunked the numerous articles attributing the decision to his recent 12-hour, open heart surgery for a condition he’s been monitoring for more than two decades. He said he mentioned the surgery to a reporter last week only to explain that since the experience “the roses smell sweeter.”
However, he said he would love to make a comedic appearance on O’Brien’s new show in the future.
After performing two songs with The Northbound Traveling Minstrel Jug Band of Syracuse, Weinberg said to be on the lookout and that he hopes the E Street Band will be back to play to Syracuse sometime soon.