2008-08-27 / Front Page

Steel Mill keeps Asbury sounds of the past alive

Former E Street drummer Vini Lopez finds success playing early Springsteen
BY AMY ROSEN Staff Writer

JEFF ALLEN The members of Steel Mill are (l-r) Vini Lopez, John Galella, Tony Amato and Ed Piersanti. The band plays songs that were written by Bruce Springsteen when he was a member of Steel Mill in the early 1970s. Lopez, of Jackson, played drums on Springsteen's first two albums, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." and "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle." JEFF ALLEN The members of Steel Mill are (l-r) Vini Lopez, John Galella, Tony Amato and Ed Piersanti. The band plays songs that were written by Bruce Springsteen when he was a member of Steel Mill in the early 1970s. Lopez, of Jackson, played drums on Springsteen's first two albums, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." and "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle." You can knock steel down, but it is not easily destroyed. In much the same way, Vini "Maddog" Lopez, the drummer for Steel Mill, is still going strong — and some might even say he's better than ever.

Just as steel can be recycled into new uses, the songs of Steel Mill are reaching audiences again after more than three decades.

Most of the songs Lopez and Steel Mill are performing today were written by Bruce Springsteen between 1968 and 1970 when Steel Mill gained its initial popularity and Springsteen was a member of the Asbury Park outfit.

The original Steel Mill came about in the late 1960s during a time when bands were formed as a result of musicians jamming in New Jersey Shore area clubs.

Lopez and the late keyboardist Danny Federici saw Springsteen jamming at the Italian-American Club in Long Branch, liked his vocals and charisma, and asked him to jam with them, along with Vinnie Roslin on bass, at the Upstage Club in Asbury Park. They decided to form a band, called it Child, and later changed it to Steel Mill because the name Child was already taken. They practiced in a surfboard factory owned by Tinker West, who was the band's biggest supporter.

"We were looking for a name that had a powerful rock and roll sound. Someone suggested Steel Mill and we liked it," Lopez said.

When Springsteen decided to take the band in a new direction the name Steel Mill was shelved and Lopez stayed on with the Bruce Springsteen Band which featured female singers, horns and a more rhythm and blues sound as opposed to the jazzy rock and roll of Steel Mill, according to Lopez.

Lopez, who grew up in Neptune, now lives in Jackson with his daughter, Liz, 23, who is an accountant. His wife, Laurel, passed away in 2004.

In addition to his time in Steel Mill, Lopez is known as the original drummer with Springsteen's E Street Band. He played drums on Springsteen's first two albums, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." and "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle."

Lopez's early days also included playing in many popular shore bands, such as Sonny Kenn and the Starfires, and many more over the years.

According to Lopez, he was asked to leave the E Street Band in 1974 due to discrepancies with the band's manager at that time about the distribution of payment to the musicians in the band.

"Danny and I invited Bruce to be in our band and all through the years we thought it was our band," Lopez said. "But I guess I had just become a cog in their wheel. I did one thing and I got fired. If I had to do it over I would do it again because I was protecting my friends from getting screwed — but maybe I'd be more diplomatic."

Years later, in 2003, Springsteen gave Lopez permission to use his (Springsteen's) early compositions in the revival of Steel Mill, with Lopez performing the lead vocals and playing drums.

On the new Steel Mill's first CD, "Dead Sea Chronicles," eight of the nine songs were written by Springsteen. According to Lopez, there is talk of a possible Grammy nomination for that album.

Lopez and the current members of Steel Mill have been working on a new CD, "All Man the Guns for America," which is the title of one of the songs on the album.

" 'All Man the Guns for America' was a song written for the Vietnam War days, but it certainly fits now," he said.

The upcoming CD will feature about 10 original Steel Mill songs written but never recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Springsteen. It is being recorded at Shorefire Studios in Long Branch and is expected to be released by the end of September, according to Lopez.

In addition to the current members of Steel Mill, which includes Lopez (drums/vocals), John Galella (lead guitar/ vocals), Tony "Boccigalupe" Amato (vocals and keyboard), and Ed Piersanti (bass/vocals), Dave Sancious (another Bruce Springsteen Band alumnus) and Buddy Cage (an original member of the New Riders of the Purple Sage) have agreed to perform on the CD.

Steel Mill has been performing steadily and recently participated at the Wave Gathering and the Clearwater Festival, both in Asbury Park.

The band's next gig will be a fundraising event to be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, titled "The Creators of SOAP, Live, Raw, and Unplugged."

SOAP stands for the Sound of Asbury Park and the creators are some of the musicians who performed in the Asbury music scene when it was thriving. A monument stands on the boardwalk at Convention Hall honoring many of these individuals. A new plaque will be unveiled at the event.

In addition to performances by Steel Mill, the SOAP event will feature a reunion of one of Lopez's earlier bands, the Moment of Truth, with E Street Band bassist Gary Tallent, Rick DeSarno and Tom Wuorio joining Lopez on stage.

A new band of young musicians from Virginia Beach, called Wava, will be introduced and several other guests including Mark Herndon, the drummer from the band Alabama, will take the stage as well.

After that, the creators and friends will get together on stage in a relaxed atmosphere and swap stories about the early days of the Asbury music scene. Questions will be taken from members of the audience. Tickets for the all ages show are $17.50 in advance or $20 at the door. For details, visit steelmillretro.com and click on Gigs.

Steel Mill will also perform at the European Springsteen Convention in Rotterdam, Holland, on Sept. 27-28.

When he's not playing with Steel Mill, Lopez works as a caddy for professional golfer Mark McCormick. He has been doing that for the past 17 years.

Lopez brings his 40 years of experience as a musician to the radio airwaves during his regular Sunday shift on 105.7 FM from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

His advice to young musicians is straightforward: "The way musicians make it is by writing songs. Keep at it and do it and do it and do it. That's what Bruce does. And just keep playing. You may think you're terrible, but keep doing it. You don't all have to be great, but you all must have the desire to play together and make it fun for everyone — and the audience, they know."

SOAP stands for the Sound of Asbury Park and the creators are some of the musicians who performed in the Asbury music scene when it was thriving. A monument stands on the boardwalk at Convention Hall honoring many of these individuals. A new plaque will be unveiled at the event.

In addition to performances by Steel Mill, the SOAP event will feature a reunion of one of Lopez's earlier bands, the Moment of Truth, with E Street Band bassist Gary Tallent, Rick DeSarno and Tom Wuorio joining Lopez on stage.

A new band of young musicians from Virginia Beach, called Wava, will be introduced and several other guests including Mark Herndon, the drummer from the band Alabama, will take the stage as well.

After that, the creators and friends will get together on stage in a relaxed atmosphere and swap stories about the early days of the Asbury music scene. Questions will be taken from members of the audience. Tickets for the all ages show are $17.50 in advance or $20 at the door. For details, visit steelmillretro.com and click on Gigs.

Steel Mill will also perform at the European Springsteen Convention in Rotterdam, Holland, on Sept. 27-28.

When he's not playing with Steel Mill, Lopez works as a caddy for professional golfer Mark McCormick. He has been doing that for the past 17 years.

Lopez brings his 40 years of experience as a musician to the radio airwaves during his regular Sunday shift on 105.7 FM from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

His advice to young musicians is straightforward: "The way musicians make it is by writing songs. Keep at it and do it and do it and do it. That's what Bruce does. And just keep playing. You may think you're terrible, but keep doing it. You don't all have to be great, but you all must have the desire to play together and make it fun for everyone — and the audience, they know."

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