40 Years Ago: Bruce Springsteen settles lawsuit with his manager

In 1976, a young Bruce Springsteen stood on a courtroom table and argued that no amount of money could later compensate him for a missed opportunity to influence an entire generation of music.

The argument began in the courts on July 27, 1976, and went on for 10 months.

Springsteen had filed a lawsuit against Laurel Canyon, Ltd., owned by his manager and publisher Mike Appel, who had co-produced Born to Run along with his future manager Jon Landau.

Among the allegations were fraud, undue influence and breach of trust. The legal maneuvering, all parties would later learn, had far more to do with relationships than money.

Springsteen’s successful Born to Run hit No. 3 on the Billboard chart

Despite his success, Springsteen’s bank balance was surprisingly low. The contracts he had signed with Appel just a few years earlier were the problem. According to Christopher Sanford’s 1999 book Springsteen Point Blank, Springsteen was retaining less than a tenth of what he earned.

“The irony is that I myself had much to do with the pitching and existence of this tent here in the corner of my personal little carnival. Mike shouldn’t have been so overreaching, but my young fears and refusal to accept responsibility for my own actions also brought much of this into being,” Springsteen wrote in his 2016 autobiography Born to Run.

Springsteen had signed away rights to his publishing and a large chunk of money to his management. Years later in the 2010 documentary that was released as part of the boxed set, The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, which chronicled the days leading up to his next album Darkness on the Edge of Town — he recalled, “More than rich, more than successful, more than happy, I wanted to be great.” He was, by many standards, but suddenly “rich,” or at least the greatness that wealth represented, seemed like a reasonable goal as well. Two days after he filed the suit, Appel countersued. Appel had also filed a motion to prevent Springsteen from entering the studio to record a new album with Landau, now his preferred producer and confidante. Landau’s latter-day involvement as producer and advisor to Springsteen had threatened Appel’s place in the pecking order, and he was defending his territory with all he had.

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