At the age of 40, Weinberg started working as the bandleader on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. He then followed Conan to The Tonight Show.
The musician voted best drummer in the 1986 Rolling Stone critics poll can’t read music.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the music business?
No matter the path, the journey has to start with a hungry heart.
If you have a vision for your life, make it a reality. Work everywhere and anywhere.
When the E Street Band was disbanded, I took bar mitzvah gigs so I could play the drums.
What can you say about your experience with Conan?
He reminds me of the parable: He got what he wanted, but lost what he had.
He thought the grass was greener before midnight.
He made a rash decision to blow up his career and did not care about the collateral damage.
What did you learn from the incident?
Listen to your wife. When we moved out to Los Angeles, my wife wanted to rent. I said let’s buy. It is “The Tonight Show.” What can happen?
How did you land the gig with Conan?
I hadn't played in several years but I wanted to get back to drumming. I wanted to get out of the business life that I was leading. So one day my wife and I walked out of a deli in New York, and right at the corner was Conan waiting for the light to change.
About a week before he had been announced as the new host of NBC's Late Night, replacing David Letterman. So I went over to him and started to talk to him.
He was in the beginning process of putting the show together and we started to talk about music right there on the corner. That led to a series of meetings and he asked if I would audition, so I quickly put a band together and auditioned.
At the audition, on our third song Conan leapt out of his seat and started dancing to it. So I knew at that point that we were in pretty good shape. Literally, a week later, we were on the air.
Leadership: For the new album, did you take more of a leadership role or was it more of a collaborative effort with the various musicians?
Recording an album is always a collaborative process, but there has to be a definitive final word and that's me on this project. But I work best in collaborative situations and I enjoy people's input.
As a drummer I've always tried to surround myself with the best talent that I could, and in this case I think I have with this band.
Leadership: You also produced this album, so what was your role outside of that as a musician?
Well, the producer is basically the last word. The best producers — and I've worked with some great producers — are facilitators.
They create an atmosphere where everybody can play their best and everybody can contribute.
On this album, my role was to pick the songs, how I wanted them to be presented, and the mastering and mixing, everything.
Some producers are great just talking on the phone, while the musicians make the record.
If you could have lived in any other era as a musician, when would it be?
I would say 1934 to 1946. That's when the instrumentalists were king and big bands and swinging music was what it was about.
I think my favorite all-time band, however, was the Count Basie band of the late Fifties and middle Sixties. I think that was best band in history and there's no way that I could hold a candle to his drummers, but if I could play with any band, that would have been it.
Then again, I don't know if I would have been able to make it as a drummer back in the Thirties and Forties, because to be a drummer then you really had to be good. A lot better than I am.
I used to talk to Buddy Rich about the drummers of those eras and you wouldn't believe the way that Buddy Rich talked about Chick Webb. It's like me talking about Buddy Rich. Buddy was absolutely in awe of this less-than-five-feet-tall drummer, Chick Webb.
1. It was interesting to see that he doesn't think he was as good as the greats. It's probably true and obvious to musicians but not everyone would admit it so freely.
2. He got his first big job by answering an ad.
3. He got his second big job by luck and what I guess you could call personal networking. He saw the right guy on the corner and approached him directly. The fact that he was already well-known publicly played a huge factor in his ability to make an impact in a chance meeting.
4. He advises people who want a career to be dogged in pursuit of it and that includes not being too proud work anywhere you can.
5. I was surprised by the apparently harsh tone he took in his comments about Conan. Conan had a chance to take over the premier late night talk show. Max sees that as a rash move. But notice that he didn't think it was a risky venture when he decided to buy instead of rent. He thought it was a sure thing.
6. I was surprised to see how Buddy Rich, a very famous drummer, idolized Chick Webb.
7. I wasn't totally suprised to see a rock drummer enthralled by big band stars because drumming was important in big bands while, in rock and roll, the other instruments were replaced by guitars.