Max Weinberg plays your favorite songs

Max Weinberg brings his Jukebox Tour to Laugh Boston Oct. 16.
Max Weinberg brings his Jukebox Tour to Laugh Boston Oct. 16.

Don’t you hate it when you go to a concert and they don’t play your favorite songs?

Yeah. Max Weinberg hates that, too.

“I want to hear the songs I want to hear, like they sound on the record. And everyone has that story,” says Weinberg, best known as the drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and leader of Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg 7, featured on NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien.” “So this tour is all requests, all the time. Just shout ’em out.”


When Max Weinberg’s Jukebox Tour rolls into Boston Oct. 16, Weinberg will offer up a menu of more than 200 songs to choose from — and he may even tap you to sing.

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“This isn’t a concert, it’s a party. This is very interactive. We had a guy request ‘Thunder Road’ the other night, and I said, ‘Can you come up and sing that?’ and he said, ‘I can sing the hell out of that!’ ”

There’s some Everyman appeal to the rocker with the business suit and wire-rimmed glasses, who looks like your high school teacher or your dad — or maybe you. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, 66, recently spoke by phone from his home in Florida before his show at Laugh Boston to talk Bruce, Conan, his comeback from various surgeries, why he almost became an attorney, and more.

Q. What’s it like being onstage during an E Street concert? It must take an insane amount of energy.

A. I’ve been doing it 43 years, and as you get older, you hopefully gain wisdom — eating correctly, sleeping. . . . It’s very hard work, it takes a lot of discipline during the show, but at the end of the day, it’s a 12-year-old’s dream come true. It’s exciting, extremely fulfilling, using all your ability to the utmost. You have to love to travel, and I like the idea of go, go, go.


Shows are up to four hours long, and I guess I’m just built for that — I don’t get tired, I get energized. There’s a bit of physical pain involved — you’re using both arms and legs, so it’s like a marathon but you’re sprinting half the time. I find it absolutely thrilling. . . . In this show I play drums, but I also get to talk a lot, which people don’t hear at an E Street concert. So if someone calls out a song, I might tell a story connected to that song.

Q. Like what?

A. I love to play Beatles songs, and one of the greatest experiences I had was when Paul McCartney sat in with us in England in 2012. I never take my eyes off Bruce, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the back of McCartney’s head. For those five minutes, I was fantasizing that I was Ringo Starr on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Ringo is one of my biggest influences.

Q. You and Bruce seem to have almost a telepathy onstage.

A. As a drummer, if there’a leader like a Bruce or an Otis Redding or a Wilson Pickett — the great frontmen — you try to catch even the little things they’re doing. The drummer can transmit it instantaneously to the rest of band.


Q. Have you always loved the drums?

A. When I was 5, I saw Elvis on “The Milton Berle Show” [in 1956.] This was six months before he was on Ed Sullivan. I had two teenage sisters. They watched Elvis, I watched the drummer, D.J. Fontana. . . . I wanted to do that.

Q. You got the E Street job by answering a classified ad?

A. They put an ad in The Village Voice: “Wanted, drummer: no junior Ginger Bakers.” Baker was the star soloist drummer for Cream. So that was indicative to me that these guys want an accompanist. And that’s what I did best. Sixty drummers went down. I was 55th. Bruce saw something in me.

Q. And you met Conan outside a deli?

A. The late great Carnegie Deli. I looked up and Conan was standing on a street corner holding a paper bag full of aspirin. I said to my wife, Becky, “That’s Conan O’Brien!” I recognized him instantly — he’s 6-foot-5 and has red hair. The E Street band had broken up at that time, and I wasn’t really doing anything. And she encouraged me to go to say hello.

Q. I loved your dead stare on the show. How did it work out that you became the straight guy to play off Conan?

A. Conan always said I was the adult in the room with him and Andy Richter. It organically developed that I wouldn’t play into the foolishness, and that itself was funny. [One time] Conan turned to me in his monologue and said something, and I just stared at him, and it got a big laugh. And he said, “That was great! Your looks are worth a thousand words!” So the dead stare became a signature of the show. . . . I joined Conan in 1993, I was 42, I’d never been on TV. I was fortunate to grab the brass ring twice.

Q. Why did you leave the show?

A. I was ready to go — the show was changing, I missed New Jersey, the music element of the show was taking a diminished role. TBS was a great move for him. I still think he’s the funniest guy on TV. For me, a lot of people don’t know how tough those late night shows are [to make]. It can age you — 17 years was long enough for me. It’s a young man’s game, especially as the E Street Band started to work more and more.

Q. I read that you’ve always been inspired by late night TV drummers?

A. When I was a kid, 14, 15, my friend Douglas had the only color TV around. We’d sit and watch Johnny Carson, and I’d watch [his drummer] Ed Shaughnessy and think: “That must be the best job in the world.” My favorite all-time drummer is Buddy Rich, who became a mainstay of Johnny Carson’s. The greatest thrill in my life was to see my name in the same sentence as Doc Severinsen [Carson’s bandleader].

Q. You had originally planned to be a lawyer.

A. I come from a long line of lawyers, and in my family, whether or not you practice law, my dad’s view was it was great training for thinking. . . . I dropped out of Seton Hall University [as an undergrad] with 21 credits to go to play with the E Street Band. I always said I’d go back to graduate and I did, 15 years later [laughs]. Then I briefly went to law school. When the E Street Band broke up, I thought I’d be a lawyer. I lasted six weeks. Dave Edmunds asked me to put a band together and go to Japan, and, as I was sitting in a property law class at the time, that seemed like the better thing to do.

Q. You’ve had some recent health scares. You’re back 100 percent?

A. I’m back 1,000 percent. I had two back operations, seven operations on my hand, 13-hour open-heart surgery, cancer surgery [for prostate cancer in 2011].

Q. Did the hand surgery change the way you play?

A. I was playing with bad technique, which is why I [got injured]. It was very invasive surgery. I had to completely change my approach to drumming.

Q. Your son Jay is now a pretty famous drummer in his own right.

A. Slipknot made their TV debut on “Conan,” and I thought they were great. Jay was 9 at the time, and I came home raving about this band. . . . Slipknot became his favorite band. Heavy metal was his thing. He set up an old drum set of mine in the barn; after homework he’d play for hours. He learned from Slipknot, Metallica records. He took my place for 20 shows or so with Bruce once. There’s a funny story, after one show, he went up to Bruce with a notebook and said, “I have an 8 a.m. exam, is there any way you can . . .” And Bruce takes the notebook and writes, “Dear Professor, please excuse Jay from the test. He was up late rocking 21,000 North Carolinians with me. Signed, Bruce Springsteen.”


At Laugh Boston, Oct. 16. 617-725-2844,

Interview was edited and condensed. Lauren Daley can be reached at