Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello discussed being unable to play and sing a Bruce Springsteen song during a rehearsal due to a key change in a new Howard Stern interview. Ultimate-Guitar transcribed his comments.
“I would say the first 20 times or so, maybe that, but it has gotten to the place where it is more comfortable.
“The original ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’ [from 1995] is like an acoustic ballad from his acoustic record, then Rage did like ramped-up Sabbath-y version of that song.
“But the first time we actually played that song was in 2008. And [Bruce] he was making the [2007’s] ‘Magic’ record with [RATM producer] Brandon O’Brien, I stopped by the studio, and he [Bruce] said, ‘Tommy, you should come play with the E Street Band sometime.’
“He said it as an offhand remark, and I took it as scripture, so the next time they were in Anaheim, I called him up the day before and said, ‘Remember when you said I should jam with the E Street Band? How about tomorrow night?’
“We agreed on ‘Ghost of Tom Joad,’ and at the time the only version of his that existed was the minor-key ballad.
“I was as nervous for this as I’ve ever been for anything in my life. I’ve played many shows in many arenas and stadiums and things like that – I’ve never been more nervous prior to this rehearsal.”
Explain to me ‘nervous.’ Because you’re a masterful musician, in other words, you know you’re going there, you’re going to play ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad.’ What do you do, do you put the record on and play along with it?
“I over-rehearsed for it – all night long. And I get down there, I’m down in catering, I hear the band rehearsing it, and to my surprise, Bruce has raised the key of the song by eight steps.
“Now, I no longer can play it, and I no longer can sing it – because I’ve got this kind of rich milk chocolate baritone voice, and it’s too high for me now.
“So I go up there and I’m on stage, and I don’t know the chords, and I can’t hit the notes, and it’s my first time with my favorite artist on the stage, and it’s not going great.
“So, [guitarist] Steve Van Zant – lovely dude – he comes over and he’s like, ‘Baby, baby…’ I’m like, ‘Babe, there’s no baby, it’s a bad baby because I don’t know how to play the song.’
“But they don’t call Bruce Springsteen the boss for nothing. So Bruce comes over, he recognizes my anxiety, he puts a hand on my shoulder, he says, ‘Tommy…’
“First of all, I love the fact that Bruce Springsteen calls me ‘Tommy,’ it’s awesome. [Chuckles] My mom calls me Tommy.
“He puts his hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eye, he says, ‘We’re gonna do it in this key, and it’s gonna be great.’ I’m like, ‘OK, well, thanks Jedi Master Yoda, but I still don’t know how to play it or sing it.’ But it does calm my nerves.
“There’s like 15 people in the E Street Band, they know the chords, I don’t need to worry about that. Can I sing a song of social justice? Yes, I can. Can I play a guitar solo? I can do that too.
“So, they surprised me with the key, so I decided to have a little surprise for the E Street Band. During the rehearsal, on the stage, during soundcheck, I don’t give anything away in the solo, I just play straight Chuck Berry blues licks – through the whole time, I pedal.
“Downstairs, I’m down there, half a bottle of Jameson later, it’s my turn to come up, I walk up, on the stage, and we played a version of the song that really took us all completely by surprise, and it was electric.
“The thing is – Bruce is very generous. I’m playing this crazy solo and he’s just like, ‘Keep going, keep going.’ It’s 82 bars, the roof comes off the place, and we looked at each other, and I was like, ‘Bruce, you were right about the key after all.'”