Born: April 13, 1951, in Newark, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2022: Performing Arts
As a college student, Max Weinberg was on the road to becoming a lawyer like his father. Let’s hear it for his change in career trajectory.
Weinberg grew up in Newark, South Orange and Maplewood. To enrich his childhood, his parents often took him to Broadway shows. The pit orchestras made a big impression, but it was seeing Elvis Presley (and his drummer D.J. Fontana) on television at age 5 that really got Weinberg hooked on music—and especially percussion.
Before he reached his teen years, Weinberg was playing drums in bar mitzvah and wedding bands. He moved on to local rock bands—right around the time the Beatles Invasion hit America. After graduating from Columbia High School, Weinberg enrolled in Adelphi University, and later Seton Hall. He continued to play in bands and ultimately landed a job in the pit orchestra for the Broadway musical “Godspell.”
Weinberg was four months past his 23rd birthday in August 1974 when he answered an ad in the Village Voice to audition for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. He got the job (at $110 per week) and quit college, just a few courses shy of graduation. As Springsteen’s star rose, so did Weinberg’s reputation as a powerful, intuitive drummer; Springsteen gave him the nickname Mighty Max and credited Weinberg as a key element in the band’s success.
In his 2016 autobiography, “Born to Run,” Springsteen wrote: “Onstage, Max goes beyond listening to what I’m saying, signaling; he ‘hears’ what I’m thinking, feeling. He anticipates my thoughts as they come rolling full bore toward the drum riser. It’s a near telepathy that comes from years of playing and living together.”
Springsteen kept the E Street Band busy in the studio and on world tours for almost two decades. As the band developed a wider audience and a bigger sound, so too did Mighty Max’s drumming evolve and improve. But it was not without a price. By the 1980s, Weinberg was suffering from repetitive stress injuries and tendinitis and underwent seven operations on his hands and wrists. Still, he continued to perform until Springsteen dissolved the band in October 1989.
Weinberg explored various paths after the breakup of the E Street Band. He returned to Seton Hall to complete his undergraduate degree; he even briefly attended law school. He gave motivational speeches; started a record company; launched his own band, Killer Joe; and went on tour as drummer for the rock band 10,000 Maniacs.
Finally, in 1993, Weinberg landed his second life-altering gig as bandleader for Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night” TV show. Weinberg became an integral part of the show, performing with his new band, the Max Weinberg 7, and doing comic bits with O’Brien. In 1999, when Springsteen reunited the E Street Band, Weinberg began a juggling act that allowed him to keep working with O’Brien while recording and touring with Springsteen. This arrangement continued on and off throughout the next decade.
These days, Weinberg remains a charter member of the E Street Band and leads his own band, Max Weinberg’s Jukebox. He and his wife, Becky, live in Florida now, but Weinberg’s ties to New Jersey and his place in the Garden State music history, remain chiseled in bedrock.