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Late Night drummer makes mark

Max Weinberg spoke about dropping out of law school to achieve dream

Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 18:02

"All I ever wanted to do was play the drums," said Max Weinberg, current drummer of NBC's Late Night With Conan O'Brien. Weinberg spoke in front of more than 100 UCF students Monday night in the Live Oak Room.

"What can I tell you about myself?" Weinberg asked his audience. "Well, I can give you some insight on what I did right."

Weinberg, 54, spoke to students about his childhood dream, how he got into the entertainment industry and how he attended and dropped out of law school. He encouraged UCF students to find something they have a passion for and make their dreams come true.

Describing himself as a "lucky guy," Weinberg showed pictures of himself from when he was a child, as well as clips and outtakes from performing with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and also from Late Night.

According to Weinberg, it wasn't easy growing up in a home with a kid who wanted to play the drums. Weinberg was raised in a Jewish household, his father an attorney and his mother a schoolteacher.

It was a performance on The Ed Sullivan Show that made a young Weinberg first want to play. Elvis Presley was performing the song "Hound Dog," and Weinberg couldn't help but drum along with the now legendary drummer, DJ Fontana. After that night, Weinberg says he was "never the same again."

Growing up, Weinberg played the drums every opportunity he got. He took lessons and played at weddings, bar mitzvahs and anywhere else he could get a gig.

In the 1970s, Weinberg auditioned for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band after seeing an ad in a local newspaper. After lugging his drum set up four flights of stairs, he set up and performed for the band.

Weinberg joined the band shortly thereafter, and he performed with Bruce Springsteen from 1975 to 1985. Weinberg, along with the band, recorded the hit song "Born in the USA," and they also performed in more than 43 sold-out stadium concerts. Weinberg says that joining the band was a "good career move."

During this time, Weinberg said, "Bonds were created. It was hard work, but it was very exciting. It's a rarity to be working so hard at something you love."

But all good things come to an end sooner or later. On Oct. 18, 1989, Weinberg received a phone call from Bruce Springsteen that he would never forget. Springsteen thanked him for his 15 years of dedication but, unfortunately, he was going to try new things with different musicians.

"It was over," Weinberg said. "The next six months were very painful."

Weinberg decided to return to school and finish getting his undergraduate degree. He planned on attending law school and becoming an entertainment lawyer. The last thing he wanted to do was play the drums.

However, not all things turn out as planned. "I stand before you a statistic," he joked. "I am a law school student dropout."

The winds of destiny were soon going to blow in Weinberg's direction. It was in the early '90s one night after having dinner with his wife that they both noticed Conan O'Brien standing outside on a street corner.

O'Brien had just been given the approval by NBC to have his own late-night talk show that was set to air right after The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After going over and greeting him, Weinberg asked him if he was going to need a drummer for his show.

O'Brien made a request for Weinberg to have a formal audition with his band. However, Weinberg discovered that minus his drum set, he lacked a band. After making some phone calls and calling on some old friends, he quickly put together a band and formally auditioned for O'Brien's show.

Weinberg got the job and now, some 2,000 late-night shows later, Weinberg can be seen on late-night television playing the drums like he always wanted. He said, "I didn't always know what road to take, but the road always began with a dream."

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