In the small, working-class town of Freehold, N.J., early in 1965, Tex Vinyard, a factory worker moonlighting as manager of a local band called the Castiles, auditioned a 15-year-old kid named Bruce Springsteen. Told to come back after he'd learned a few more songs, Springsteen showed up the next day with a borrowed guitar, cranked out five songs he'd learned overnight, and by the band's next rehearsal had become lead guitarist. The Castiles named for lead singer George Theiss' shampoo were soon playing so many $35-a-night gigs that they decided to record a single, and on May 22, 1966, in the backseat of a '61 Mercury en route to a recording studio in Brick Town, the 16-year-old Springsteen began his songwriting career: He and Theiss cowrote ''That's What You Get'' and ''Baby I.''
''We went in and had a half hour or an hour and we did it,'' Springsteen said later. ''It was just to say that [we] made a record, I guess.'' The crude result, during which he broke an E string, was never released, though bootleg tapes of the acetates only three are believed to exist have recently surfaced.
After the Castiles broke up in 1967, Springsteen played with other Jersey Shore bands until 1972, when he landed a solo audition with legendary Columbia Records scout John Hammond. Hammond, then 62, who had discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, and Aretha Franklin, would ultimately sign Springsteen. ''I only hear somebody really good once every 10 years,'' Hammond would later say, ''and not only was Bruce the best, he was a lot better than Dylan when I first heard him.''
In October '75, when Springsteen had covers on Newsweek and TIME pegged to his third album, Born to Run, he seemed too good to be true. But last month, 29 years after that New Jersey recording session, 1984's Born in the U.S.A. hit 15 million in sales, tying for third place among the top-selling albums ever. There have been rumblings in the media about the relevance of the rich 45-year-old family man who made an art form of singing about cars, the heroism of blue-collar workers, and the cautious dance between the sexes, but the past year has pretty well stomped them.
The Boss won four Grammys and an Oscar for ''Streets of Philadelphia.'' His Greatest Hits debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and is still in the top 20. He is working on a solo album and hopes to record with the E Street Band soon, while rumors of a fall tour are rampant. All told, he's had 12 platinum and multiplatinum albums.
''Man, when I was 9,'' he once said, ''I couldn't imagine anyone not wanting to be Elvis Presley.'' In the years since, how many millions of kids have felt the same way about Bruce Springsteen?
Time Capsule: May 22, 1966
Truman Capote's In Cold Blood froze out the literary competition; TV's Bewitched cast its spell; moviegoers indulged their habit with The Singing Nun; and ''Monday, Monday'' was all the Mamas and the Papas hoped it would be.