Bruce Springsteen has quite rightly earned the nickname of The Boss. It’s seemingly a perfect encapsulation of his position in the music business and how he has been playing the game by his own set of rules for close to half a century with great success. While the nickname seems to represent his position in the music industry, the true origin of how the moniker was born isn’t as glamourous as one would presume.
Springsteen has always been a leader and doesn’t accept crap from anybody. As well as arriving at the rock scene in the seventies and still managing to draw crowd some near-50 years later, Springsteen earned his nickname The Boss by being an all-round great guy. Far from being the white-collared suit in an office you’re never allowed to see the inside of, Springsteen was the blue-collar worker, happy to share a beer, a joke and most certainly a song. He was a boss that we could all get on board with and became The Boss of the people who, in turn, fell in love with his honest music brand.
Springsteen has spent his time in the limelight churning out some of rock’s most beloved albums, proving himself to be a gifted songwriter capable of blending his rock ‘n’ roll roots with sincere balladry and poetic intent. Offstage, he has spent his time giving to charity, spending time with his fans and generally being a man of the people. It’s easy to see from the outside why he’s called The Boss, but that’s not how it started.
As the leading man of The E Street Band, Springsteen wasn’t just the man in the spotlight and the group’s voice on stage, off stage too, he was the band’s proverbial leader. It meant that he collected the money from venues and paid the band individually as part of his duties. Through this simple act, he gained his lasting nickname—but he’s done a lot to keep it too.
Andrew Delahunty, the author of several books on the subject including the Oxford Dictionary of Nicknames, told the BBC in 2009 about how Springsteen became The Boss. “In the early days when he and the E-Street Band played gigs in small venues, it was Bruce’s job to collect the money and pay the rest of the band,” says Delahunty. “This led them to start calling him The Boss, a nickname which has stuck.”
This theory is backed-up by Peter Carlin’s 2012 biography, Bruce. In the book, Carlin states that the nickname began as a self-anointed one when he, the band and friends, played a high-stakes game of Monopoly in Astbury Park in the early ’70s every week. This nickname was a way of deflecting from his friends deciding to call him the Gut Bomb King thanks to all the sweets that he’d bring with him to these weekly games and everyone can agree that The Boss is a more satisfactory game name than the inflammatory, Gut Bomb King.
The Boss originally started as a nickname for these game nights, but then the E-Street Band’s Stevie Van Zandt’s took the alias from these evenings into day to day life, after all, he carried himself in a Boss-like fashion even back then. The nickname was fitting for a couple of reasons. Mainly due to his authoritarian approach to leading the band both on stage, off stage and in the studio, galvanizing the group whenever possible. He was the one that was in control of the finances, and whenever there were any questions about what the band did, the E Street Band would ‘check with the Boss’.
It was like this when they were in the studio as well, the E Street Band have never operated democratically, and Springsteen has acted in a dictatorship role for close to 50 years. If something ain’t broke, then why fix it?
This nickname then exploded into the public vernacular around the release of Born To Run, when Springsteen became a star and the music press were digging into his story to find out more about him. Once they discovered what his bandmates called him, they instantly integrated it into their articles, and without Bruce’s permission, everybody referred to him as The Boss. There was something about the nickname that perfectly summarises his demeanour in a way that the Gut Bomb King thankfully couldn’t.