While interviewing Bruce Springsteen for Rolling Stone Magazine, Comedian Jon Stewart admitted that the only band he’s seen in concert more than Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is the B Street Band. As a die-hard Springsteen fan, I can relate to Jon. The B Street Band is the only band I’ve seen in concert more times too.
I’ve been a fan of the B Street Band for over 20 years. I’ve enjoyed many nights down the shore, at a bar in Northern Jersey, or even at a Casino in Connecticut jamming to their tunes. In my opinion, B Street is a class act and without a doubt the best tribute band out there. It’s a good thing their tribute honors my favorite musician- the Boss.
One of my best memories with the B Street Band took place in August of 1999 on the night of my bachelorette party. I told my bridal party that the only thing I wanted to do was drive down the shore and see the B Street Band. I needed to hear Bruce tunes. The night was a blast and the music was incredible but the best part was getting pulled onto the stage with the band. I was given a tambourine by one of the band members and I automatically started channeling Patti Scialfa in the Glory Days video. It was hard not to notice me on the stage. My cousins dressed me up as a bride with a tiara, veil, and even a candy necklace. I loved every minute of the spotlight! I probably shouldn’t have tried to sing like Steve Van Zandt in the Glory Daysvideo too, but I did. Singing with B Street lead singer Glenn was fabulous although I didn’t sound too fabulous. Thank God Glenn covered me. Talk about feeling like a rock star though…on key or off key! I will never forget how much fun I had that night thanks to the B Street Band.
Fast-forward 13 years to August 2012. I launched my website, LeeLee’s Room. Lee Lee’s Room offers me a place to combine my passion for Bruce Springsteen’s music with my passion for writing plus share my love of storytelling. Of course, one of my ideas for the website was a story about the B Street Band. Who better to do an interview with than the co-founder of the band, Willie Forte?
I found old photos from my bachelorette party and sent them to Willie with a letter requesting a phone interview. To my delight, I received an email from him granting me my wish. Willie was rather amused by the photos and loved the idea of a phone interview to talk about the band and Bruce’s music.
What I thought would be a quick 15-minute phone interview turned into one of the best conversations about music. We ended up chatting away for 45 minutes. Willie shared amazing stories and the band’s history plus some personal highlights from his life with me.
Willie Forte grew up in Pennsylvania and has always had a love of music. He cherishes his younger days listening to music with his family especially during long road trips to Florida.
The Beatles were a family favorite. He was always inspired to play an instrument, spent some time in the high school band, and started playing in clubs as a teen. He’s truly gifted. He plays music by ear. He doesn’t need sheet music.
In the 70s, the Jersey Shore was a music mecca and Willie Forte was very much part of that scene. He remembers the days of driving around in his friend’s Dodge Charger and listening to an up and coming musician from Freehold, New Jersey. Willie and his buddy especially enjoyed listening to The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. Willie connected to Springsteen’s music, “ Bruce’s music was like poetry. Even back then it represented blood, sweat, and tears.”
With a high demand to hear Springsteen music on the Jersey Shore, Willie along with fellow musician, the late Bob Chipak, decided to start a tribute band. The B Street Band originally known as Backstreets was formed in Asbury Park, New Jersey in May of 1980.
As for the relevant details and backstory on the Backstreets name-change…the band spent 8 years in Federal Court over a copyright dispute with Backstreet Records and it cost some 150 thousand dollars in legal fees. In the end, Backstreets became the B Street Band. Backstreet Records is now defunct…go figure! B Street is a kickass name anyway and certain fans believe (that would be me) B Street is a bit more apropos. Plus the band is alive and well and has endured for more than 30 years. That fact alone speaks volumes.
The B Street Band has played in nearly 800 different nightclubs, at 200 colleges, and in 20 different states. Willie admits the band has a grueling schedule but the non-stop pace certainly has its rewards. Some of the highlights include playing for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Inaugural festivities and actually opening up for Bruce and the E Street Band at the Philadelphia Spectrum. “It’s the best and biggest compliment when Bruce allows us to open up at a stadium before one of his shows.” Willie is so thankful that the E Street Band respects him and his fellow band members. E Street Band members (Steve Van Zandt and the late Clarence Clemons) have jammed with B Street at local bars and venues. “Those nights were obviously extra special.”
The B Street band truly is the number 1 tribute band out there. There’s nothing better than seeing them down the shore. It’s Springsteen territory after all! The Band plays all the favorites…the old classics and the new. Jungleland is the most requested song. B Street plays “outside the box” too…set lists include dance favorites, Roy Orbison, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Motown, and 70s disco.
If you need a Springsteen fix, RUN don’t walk to see them! They are that amazing! It’s a guaranteed fun night. And be sure to say hi to Willie…he’ll be playing the keys….very well I might add.