Irving Berlin - Alexander’s Ragtime Band

First performance: 14/05/1971


Bruce covered the song 2 times:
The second (and final) performance of Dr. Zoom & The Sonic Boom at the first annual "Ernie the Chickin' Festival", an excuse for an all-day, outdoor party extravaganza featuring several local bands including Sunny Jim and Odin. The show opens with the Bob Dylan penned "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry", sometimes incorrectly labelled "Group Therapy". Steven Van Zandt can be heard jokingly warning the campus ambulances (who were parked nearby) to get ready as Bruce opens the show with some screeching guitar! It was long thought that this statement was made by Kevin "Bird" Connair but Albee Tellone has confirmed that Connair was not at this show. "Last Night In Texas" is a rewrite of Sonny Boy Williamson II's "One Way Out"; "Zoom Theme" is a rewrite of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band". "Lady Of Boston" includes an interpolated section of The Rolling Stones' "One More Try". Fast Blues Shuffle" may be Bruce's name for "Last Night In Texas" (as also performed at the following day's Zoom gig) and "Last Night In Texas" is a rewrite of Sonny Boy Williamson II's "One Way Out".
1971-05-14 Sunshine In, Asbury Park, NJ
"Zoom Theme" ; a song listed in the setlist of 1971-05-14 - Sunshine in, Asbury Park, performed by Dr. Zoom & The Sonic Boom is a rewrite of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band". It was one show, triple bill. This is the first of only two performances ever of Dr. Zoom & The Sonic Boom (the other show was outdoors the following day). Much of the long-standing confusion about how many Dr. Zoom shows were performed stems from the fact that some people count the March-April gigs as Dr. Zoom events, while others don’t count them. Technically speaking they weren’t Dr. Zoom shows, but they did contain most of the musicians and the same party-like atmosphere. The members of Dr. Zoom & The Sonic Boom were Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt (guitar), David Sancious (keyboards), Garry Tallent (bass), Vini Lopez(drums and backing vocals), Southside Johnny (harmonica and vocals), Bobby Williams (drums), Albee 'Albany Al' Tellone (tenor saxophone), and Bobby Feigenbaum (alto saxophone). There was also an eight-member backing vocal troupe nicknamed "The Zoomettes", consisting of Jeannie Clark, Robin Nash, Connie Manser, Fifi Longo, Sherl Tallent, Kevin Kavanaugh, Steve Large, and John Luraschi. The MC was Kevin "Bird" Connair. Big Danny Gallagher handled the on-stage props. Danny Federici was not involved in the Dr. Zoom shows.
The ten-song setlist has been culled from a document (in Bruce’s handwriting) that is probably the song schedule for this debut Dr. Zoom gig.


"Alexander's Ragtime Band" is a song by Irving Berlin. It was his first major hit, in 1911. It might be regarded as a sequel to "Alexander and His Clarinet," which Berlin wrote with Ted Snyder in 1910. The earlier song is mostly concerned with a reconciliation between Alexander Adams and Eliza Johnson, but also highlights Alexander's novel musical style. It is believed by some (especially jazz-ragtime circles in New Orleans, and the Watzke family of New Orleans), that Berlin was writing about a real band and bandleader, who were popular at the time in New Orleans, and actually was known as Alexander's Ragtime Band, after its leader, Alexander Joseph Watzke (also known as "King" Watzke or Alex Watzke). From 1904 to 1911 or later, this band was one of the most popular white ragtime and jazz bands in New Orleans. Both songs employ certain word choices ("oh, ma honey," "honey lamb") and nonstandard usage ("bestest band what am") in the lyrics to indicate to the audiences of the time that the characters of the song should be understood to be African-American. The sheet music cover however clearly shows the musicians as being white, as Alexander Watzke's band was. Furthermore, when the song became the basis for a movie, the band leader and members were depicted as white, although the real name and city were inexplicably changed. There is some evidence, although inconclusive, that Berlin borrowed the melody (in particular, the four notes of "oh, ma honey") from a draft of "A Real Slow Drag" by Scott Joplin that had been submitted to a publisher. Vaudeville singer Emma Carus, famed for her "female baritone", is said to have been largely responsible for successfully introducing the song in Chicago and helping contribute to its immense popularity, and is credited on the cover of the sheet music. It became identified with her, and soon worked its way back to New York where Al Jolson also began to perform it.

Bruce on the artist


Come on and hear (2x)
Alexander's ragtime band
Come on and hear (2x)
It's the best band in the land!
They can play a bugle call like you never heard before
So natural that you want to go to war--
That's just the bestest band what am, honey lamb!

Come on along (2x)
Let me take you by the hand
Up to the man (2x)
Who's the leader of the band
And if you want to hear the swanee river played in ragtime
Come on and hear (2x)
Alexander's ragtime band!