Little Steven Van Zandt has an impressive resume. He was Springsteen’s consigliere in the E-Street Band, he played Silvio Dante in The Sopranos and was the host/creator of Little Steven's Underground Garage. He also recently released his first solo album in 18 years Soulfire. But he is not slowing down, this autumn Little Steven Van Zandt is releasing a 3 CD and BluRay package of his most recent shows as Soulfire Live!. The tour will include a star-studded list of guests such as Richie Sambora, Peter Wolf and the Boss himself. The vinyl version of the tour will feature a 4th LP of his surprise all-Beatles set at Liverpool's Cavern Club where the Fab 4 started their career’s rise. Plus, he’s starting the next leg of his tour with the Disciples of Soul where teachers can get in free to a show and attend a pre-show workshop through Little Steven Van Zandt and his TeachRock initiative.
Metro caught up with Little Steven Van Zandt in Manhattan, in anticipation of his October shows in Wilkes Barre (Oct. 18, Kirby Center) and Atlantic City (Oct. 23, Hard Rock Casino/Hotel).
What you need to know about Little Steven Van Zandt, his tour, his past and his music
Q: It’s been a minute since you’ve toured under your own name. As you’re going along, what have you learned about yourself and your songs?
A: I knew it was going to take a few years and a few albums to make that transformation back to being a front man, so right now I’m just a presenter. I’m presenting this music, some new, some old. I’m presenting this wonderful band. I couldn’t have hoped for more enthusiasm along the way. The audiences have been extraordinary, seriously, especially considering that the bulk of them don’t know too many of my songs. So, they’re coming out of curiosity, or they’re “Sopranos” fans, or “Lilyhammer,” or “Underground Garage,” or the E-Street Band, Maybe a few Southside Johnny fans where some of “Soulive”’s songs come from. Maybe, they’re coming out of respect. Either way, we’re winning them over song-by-song which is extremely satisfying.
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Q: So it’s odd.
A: Yes, especially when you figure that no one tours so extensively without ever having a hit, Seriously. It’s not as if the audience is sitting there, waiting for the classic single, or that one big smash. It’s not coming. Artistically and spiritually, It feels good to do this, as this is the way I can be most useful, emphasizing our common ground, rather than the separation that’s going on in the world We’re leaving behind partisan politics and concentrating on pure music. Our audience needs this with all the division. Just to get us through the day. Plus I’m becoming more comfortable fronting a band, It’s a big journey from sideman to frontman. Like climbing a mountain.
Little Steven Van Zandt. Photo Credit: Big Hassle
Q: I should add that partisan politics got you in trouble in the first place, as the earliest parts of your solo career found you railing against all injustice. You were undeniably political on albums such as “Freedom - No Compromise.”
A: Oh yeah, proudly so. I was THE political guy. I made a point of that. When you came to see my show, you knew where I stood, It was going to be a political rally. It’s been an adjustment from that now, going forward with this tour.
Q: Because the entire world is politics, 24/7.
A: Exactly. I don’t think we need that now. It was perfect for the 80s because there was so much going on behind the scenes. Reagan was everybody’s happy beloved grandfather/cowboy to your face, but behind you, he was a criminal destroying the world. We had to shine a light on that, that American ideals were not being looked after. Now, it ’s different. NOTHING is hidden. The crimes are upfront every day. We adjusted because talking about politics feels redundant, so let’s put music first – me as a songwriter, arranger, singer and guitarist.
Q: How does the material breathe differently when played live, or on “SOULFIRE LIVE!” then when you first wrote it. The “Soulfire” album actually sounded like a live record to start.
A: I know exactly what you mean. The most fun, the thing that justified it, was making arrangements for horns where weren’t any in the first place. “Bitter Fruit” or “Out of the Darkness.” I made some radical transformations to the songs I wrote for Gary U.S. Bonds too.
Q: Was there a criterion you needed your older material to meet to suit the “Soulfire” experience?
A: Good question. Yeah, some of the stuff I wrote for other people… there’s always an autobiographical element in there. I picked the songs that had the most resonance to me, now, emotionally. I am reintroducing – hell, introducing – myself to an audience that doesn’t know me. I get to show my inspirations in doo-wop and Blaxploitation soundtrack music in a new way.
Little Steven Van Zandt. Photo Credit: Big Hassle
Q: The Cavern Club Beatles covers sound great. How did that happen?
A: We were coming into Liverpool – mecca, for me-– wanted to do something unique, and remembered that the Beatles used to do “lunchtime” sets. That’s how their manager, Brian Epstein, discovered them. I wanted to relive that, not only with their songs but songs they covered like "Boys" which was originally by The Shirelles. The Club did me a special favor for this. They haven’t done lunchtime shows since the Beatles.
Q: It’s a long time between drinks from the last album to this new one. I know you’re going to work in film and with Springsteen eventually. Do you see a way to maintain this solo music’s existence coming up?
A: Yes. I really do see a way to do that. I’m writing a new album now, recording most of it through September before getting back on the road October 18. I do want to get back on TV and am holding the first months of 2019, to see what happens. Bruce? I don’t know what he’s deciding after Broadway’s run, but when that phone call comes – and it will come – we’ll do that. Then again, he’s been working hard and may want to take a minute off, so if he takes the year off, I’ll stay out with the Disciples. I will do all three things.