Bruce Springsteen’s pal, Southside Johnny, had just signed his own recording contract (with The Asbury Jukes), and I met two legends, Ronnie Spector and Lee Dorsey, when they cut songs with him in the studio, with Steve Van Zandt producing. Joe Cocker happened to be trying to cut an album next door at the Record Plant. This led to one of the lowlights of my rock ‘n roll career.
The scene: A long couch in a corridor between the two studios. I sat down on the far left as you face it. Then Cocker and famed session drummer Bernard Purdie joined me, with Joe in the middle. Joe appeared drunk or stoned, his hair a mop. Purdie told him, flatly, “Joe, you’re a mess.” Cocker replied, “I’m all right.” Purdie: “You’ve been ‘all right’ for years.” One couldn’t help but recall that one of Joe’s earliest hits was “Feelin’ All Right.” With that, Cocker, perhaps forgetting I was there (giving him the benefit of the doubt), turned straight ahead, placed a finger at one side of his nose—and snotted lustily out of the nostril facing me, sending a trail of mucus onto my pants leg. Just another day at the office, so Joe just got up and walked away. I recalled that classic line from Love’s Forever Changes lp: “Oh the snot is caked against my pants...”
This was balanced, somewhat, by watching at close range the elfin Dorsey croak out a Van Zandt tune, “How Come You Treat Me So Bad?”, with Steve, behind the mixing board, screaming at the end, “I think I’m going to die!” Dorsey, the voice behind “Working in a Coal Mine” and so many other New Orleans classics, told me he hadn’t been in a studio for three years and recently sold his bar in NOLA after getting held up one too many times. Now he was running a body shop with his son—and just the day before had found someone under the hood of one of the cars, trying to swipe a battery.
“Next legend!” Van Zandt ordered, and soon Ronnie Spector waltzed through the door. Still her foxy self, Ronnie (now separated from crazy husband Phil) arrived in painted-on jeans, suspenders and a tight red t-shirt. Apparently she was coaxed into the studio because the track, “You Mean So Much to Me,” was written by Springsteen. Bruce was tinkling the ivories when she walked up and introduced herself. Seemingly overwhelmed, he didn’t say a word to her the rest of the night.
By now, Joe Cocker had staggered down the hall to watch. After a terrific first take, Steve announced, “We still need some whoah-oh-ohs at the beginning.” Ronnie replied: “I know whoa-oh-ohs.” An understatement. “Whoa-oh-ohs are my life.” When they recorded the take she threw in a “sock it to me,” sending Springsteen into convulsions.
Watching Ronnie, Steve and Southside huddled around the piano, I asked Bruce if he’d ever imagined that he’d one day survey this tableau. “Nowadays,” he answered with a chuckle, “I believe anything.”