This tells the story of the E Street Band coming together. On Springsteen's first album in 1973, he didn't use a lot of backup musicians, but on his next one The E Street band was crucial to the sound. Later on, Springsteen released the albums Nebraska and The Ghost Of Tom Joad without the band, but they didn't sell nearly as well as the ones they played on.
Tenth Avenue runs through E Street in Belmar, New Jersey. The band got their name from the street, which is where they used to rehearse. Springsteen, however, has said that he has no idea what a "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" is.
The "Big Man" in the third verse is Clarence Clemons. Springsteen met him when Clemons came into a club in Asbury Park, N.J., where Bruce was playing. It was a stormy night, and the door flew off the hinges when Clemons opened it. Springsteen would talk about how he "Literally blew the door off the place."
In Clemons' autobiography Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales, he explained: "It was one of those nor'easters - cold, raining, lightning and thunder. Now, this is God's honest truth. I open the door to the club and a gust of wind blew the door right out of my hand and down the street. So here I am, a big black guy, in Asbury Park, with lightning flashing behind me. I said to Bruce, 'I want to sit in.' He says, 'Sure, anything you want.'" Clemons was working as a social worker at the time and playing in a Jersey Shore bar band when he got his big break with Bruce.
At many of their early shows, this was the first song in the set.
Springsteen used this to introduce the band on the 1999 E Street Band Reunion tour. He would explain what each member brought to the group (Roy Bittan - Foundation, Little Steven - Soul, etc.), ending with Clemons. Some nights the band members did short solos as they were introduced.
"Bad Scooter" in the opening line, "Teardrops on the city Bad Scooter searching for his groove" is Springsteen. Note the initials are the same.
While touring with "the other band" during his 1992/93 tour promoting the Human Touch
and Lucky Town
albums, Springsteen sometimes brought out Clarence "Big Man" Clemons to play his usual sax part in this song. When introduced, the crowd always gave the big man a huge ovation.
After imploring the audience to put down the guacamole dip and chicken fingers (we were actually eating chicken wings, but anyway...) Springsteen played this as the first song of his performance at halftime of the 2009 Super Bowl between the Cardinals and Steelers.