For a moment, Max Weinberg seemed to regain his equilibrium.

It had been a tough, tough week -- attending the funeral for longtime bandmate Clarence Clemons in Florida, then flying that night to Los Angeles to begin work on another new side project that would make its debut three nights later.

The drummer for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band still can't decide what to call his new group.

"Someone made a joke and called it the Max Weinberg Experience," he said Wednesday night after rehearsal for a brief tour that brings him to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis Monday and Tuesday. "It's really me presenting people I've always wanted to play with. Let's go with 'Max Weinberg Presents Bill Champlin.'"

Weinberg's manager hooked him up with Champlin, who spent 28 years with the band Chicago. But he was familiar with the singer's work in the 1960s and '70s with the Sons of Champlin, a soul-rock band from San Francisco.

"They always kind of bubbled under the surface," the New Jersey native said of the Sons. "I never saw them. I never really saw anybody when I was a kid. I did see the Rolling Stones in '65 and I saw the Beach Boys a lot."

Weinberg's new group is a seven-piece that mostly features musicians who have worked with Champlin, including his son Will, 28, on vocals and keyboards. The approach will be "high-energy, funk, rock," Weinberg said. "It's kind of the East-West melding of both of our styles. He's a fantastic blues singer. This is very different from the last time I played the Dakota. This is loosey, funky, harder-driving. It's not jazz. It's really a lot of fun for me."

There will be material from Chicago, Sons of Champlin and, yes, Springsteen -- "Ramrod" and "The Fever," which the Boss wrote for Southside Johnny.

With Springsteen off the road, Weinberg's "self-imposed mandate over the last couple of years is to experience whatever musical combinations I could." Last year, he toured extensively with the 15-piece Max Weinberg Big Band, which played both the Dakota and the Guthrie. That group is too unwieldy and expensive for touring, its boss says, but a seven-piece version plays occasional gigs.

At 60, having quit TV last year after 17 years with Conan O'Brien -- and a heart-valve operation in February 2010 -- he says "I'm kind of in semi-retirement. I don't work that hard. But I love to play. I don't plan too far ahead for these things. I take it very easy these days."

The hardest-working drummer in the Weinberg family is son Jay, 20, who recently joined punk rockers Against Me! The band headlined First Avenue last week and is soon joining the Warped Tour. "He was kind of the missing link for that band," said the proud papa.

Jay also landed a movie role as a drummer in David Chase's first project after HBO's popular "Sopranos."

The Big Man

Weinberg was not in the mood to discuss the future of Springsteen's E Street Band after the death of Clemons June 18 following a stroke.

"There is a great deal of sadness," he said. "The depth of emotion springing from around the world at the news of Clarence's death is just remarkable. It's appreciated. It's certainly well noticed by all of us who were so close to Clarence. It's a monumental loss, personally, professionally -- in every way. It's stunning. It's something that is really very difficult to wrap your head around."

What did the Big Man mean to Mighty Max?

"Everything," he said, and fell silent.

  • Jon Bream
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