A big band is in Max Weinberg's future now that the big show is over.
Weinberg and Conan O'Brien, for whom the E Street Band drummer has been bandleader for the past 17 years on his late-night NBC shows, announced Monday (Sept. 27) they are parting ways "by mutual agreement," and that Weinberg will not be part of O'Brien's new show that premieres Nov. 8 on TBS.
In a statement, Weinberg, who led both the Max Weinberg 7 and Max Weinberg & the Tonight Show Band for O'Brien, said, "17 years -- a lifetime on TV. Conan and I met on a New York City street corner in the Spring of 1993 and my association with Conan, his staff, and crew has been a deeply rewarding experience for me...I wish Conan and his show the best and I do look forward to dropping by." O'Brien called Weinberg "an incredible band leader and musician. I hope he can find time to stop by the new show, sit in with the band, and pretend to find my monologue funny."
Speaking with Billboard.com from his home in Italy, Weinberg said that with the E Street Band currently in dry dock, he's hit the bricks with his Max Weinberg Big Band, a 15-piece ensemble that plays a combination of originals, favorites from heroes such as Count Basie and Buddy Rich, vintage TV themes and a segment called Boss Time. "We take a couple of Bruce [Springsteen's] songs and have re-worked them in a big band swing style," Weinberg says. "This isn't like hearing the E Street Band without a singer. This is really different."
"Y'know," Weinberg adds, "I've never changed my perspective a bit in my entire musical life, whether it was in a TV studio, a recording studio, a stadium stage, an arena...As long as I play I'm in touch with the core of myself. I was incredibly fortunate; out of the 17 years we were on the air on NBC, someone once calculated I was away with Bruce for six of those years. It was like the best of both worlds, really."
Weinberg has been playing with big bands off and on since the mid-90s, when he would speak at colleges and then play with their ensembles. O'Brien's unexpected ouster from the "Tonight" show and the opening in the Springsteen schedule, however, gave Weinberg a chance to pursue his passion in a more concentrated fashion. "I've always had an affection for big band swing," he explains. "It's a big, bold, very, very muscular approach to playing this kind of music. When you get 12 horns playing with a rhythm section and it really gets cookin', there's nothing like it."
Weinberg takes his Big Band on the road on Oct. 8 in Buffalo for a 20-date run that finishes Nov. 6. He's also has "an idea for a record when we come off the road that might be interesting, but recording officially in a studio, we haven't done that yet. Right now my orientation is playing live, getting on the bus and staying on the bus. I have found that as long as I drum every day...when I get in that groove of drumming, everything is right with the world."
Weinberg says nothing is planned on the E Street Band front at the moment, though he says that "I think it's safe to consider us an active entity" and predicts that "sooner rather than later we will be doing something again." Meanwhile he's looking forward to the Nov. 16 release of the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" box set, which will include two CDs of outtakes and three DVDs, including a concert and a documentary about the making of the album.
"It gives you a deeper look into what was going on at that time," Weinberg says. "There's a lot of great songs that just weren't fulfilling [Springsteen's] mission, although they were great songs. The fact they're coming out now is a treat not only for the band...but it's gonna be a big treat for the fans of the music, 'cause you get a whole other perspective. And the film...We were so into it I wasn't even aware we were being filmed. It's a little bit of an out-of-body experience for me to see that, but I now the fans are really going to enjoy it."