Steven Van Zandt (b. November 22, 1950) is an American musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer, radio disc jockey and actor, who frequently goes by the stage names Little Steven or Miami Steve. He is a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, in which he plays guitar and mandolin. He has also acted in television dramas such as The Sopranos (1999–2007) and Lilyhammer (2012–2014). Van Zandt also had his own solo band called Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in the 1980s. In 2014, Van Zandt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the E Street Band.
Steven Van Zandt was born on November 22, 1950 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was born with the name Steven Lento and is of South Italian descent. His grandfather was from Calabria and his grandmother's parents were Neapolitans. He lived at 16 Edgecliff Road in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Steven Van Zandt found his love for music at an early age, when he learned how to play the guitar. He watched the performances of the Beatles and Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and referred to the former as "The Big Bang of Rock n' Roll". He said that when he was 13, George Harrison was his favorite Beatle, but he is now friends with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. In 1964, Steven formed his first band, The Whirlwinds, which was short lived. He would later form the Mates in 1965 and join the Shadows in May 1966. Van Zandt would later cite the Dave Clark Five, Ravi Shankar, and the culture of India as early influences.
Actor/playwright/producer Billy Van Zandt is Steven's half-brother, making famous actress Adrienne Barbeau his sister-in-law. Steven also has a half-sister named Kathi who is a writer.
Bruce Springsteen met Steven Van Zandt for the first time in 1966 when Springsteen went to the Hullabaloo club in Middletown.
|“||The Next Hullabaloo Club we hit was in Middletown. When I walked in I saw a guy onstage wearing a gargantuan polka-dot tie that stretched from his Adam's apple to the floor. He was the lead singer in a band called the Shadows and they were cruising their way through a version of the Turtles' "Happy Together."||”|
—Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run, pg. 89
Van Zandt was in early pre-E Street bands with Springsteen, such as Steel Mill and the Bruce Springsteen Band. During the early 1970s, he worked in road construction for 2 years, before returning to show business. In 1973, he toured with The Dovells. The tour ended in Miami during Dick Clark's New Year's Show at the Deauville Hotel. After going back to Jersey, Steven continued to wear Hawaiian shirts because he did not like winter, which was how he got the nickname "Miami Steve".
He co-founded Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, in addition to The Miami Horns, who got their name from Steven's nickname. Van Zandt helped establish the rhythm and blues oriented style of music that the band performed. He also produced Southside's first three albums. Overall, Van Zandt wrote a significant bulk of Southside's music which helped provide them with the success that they achieved.
Van Zandt then started to switch off between writing for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and touring with the E Street Band. He confirmed in an interview on the Howard Stern Show that he arranged the horns on "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" in 1975 when Springsteen was at a loss, earning him a spot in the E Street Band shortly thereafter. In the Wings for Wheels documentary, Springsteen revealed that Van Zandt was partially responsible for the signature guitar line in "Born To Run", calling it "Arguably Steve's greatest contribution to my music". Ultimately, Van Zandt officially joined the E Street Band on July 20, 1975 during the Born to Run Tour.
In those early years, Van Zandt supplied a great deal of the lead guitar work for the band in concert, as can be seen on the 1975 concert DVD within Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition (later released as the CD Hammersmith Odeon London '75). In 1984, Van Zandt left the E Street Band. He originally joined to see Bruce Springsteen rise in success, and once the band rose to that success he left. He also left the E Street Band in order to learn about politics. Springsteen wrote "Bobby Jean" about Van Zandt and also included "No Surrender" on the Born in the U.S.A. album as a tribute to him.
Later in life, Van Zandt returned to the E Street Band when it was reformed (briefly in 1995, and on an ongoing basis since 1999) and remains with it. By now, his guitar playing had mostly been reduced to a background rhythm role, due to Nils Lofgren's position in the band and his capability as a lead guitarist. In addition, Springsteen had begun taking many more of guitar solos as his music became more guitar-centered. Notwithstanding this, among E Street Band members he often had the second-most amount of "face time" in concert after Clarence Clemons, frequently mugging and posing for the audience and sometimes delivering his unpolished, nasal backing vocals while sharing a microphone with Springsteen. His playing or singing is most prominently featured on the songs "Glory Days", "Two Hearts", "Long Walk Home" (which featured a Van Zandt outro vocal solo during live performances) "Land of Hope and Dreams", "Badlands", "Ramrod", and "Murder Incorporated", among others like the live versions of "Rosalita". He often trades vocals with Springsteen in live versions of "Prove it All Night". He features prominently in the video for "Glory Days", sharing the spotlight with Springsteen during the choruses, while swapping lines with him during the (non)fade, and in live versions he does the same. During the E Street Band's performance at the Super Bowl in 2009, Van Zandt was the most prominently featured member of the band, playing a guitar solo on the final number of the set, "Glory Days" (although the solo could not be heard by the audience which was listening to a previously recorded audio track), as well as sharing lead vocals and exchanging humorous banter with Springsteen.
Songwriter, arranger, producer
Van Zandt became a songwriter and producer for fellow Jersey shore act Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in 1974, penning their signature song "I Don't Wanna Go Home", co-writing other songs for them with Springsteen, and producing their most-acclaimed record, Hearts of Stone. As such, Van Zandt became a key contributor to the Jersey Shore sound. He also co-produced Gary U.S. Bonds' first two albums. Van Zandt then went on to share production credits on the classic Springsteen albums The River and Born in the U.S.A. The first Springsteen song he co-produced was "Hungry Heart". In 1989, Jackson Browne covered the 1983 Van Zandt composition "I Am A Patriot" for Browne's World in Motion album. Van Zandt has produced a number of other records, including an uncredited effort on the Iron City Houserockers' Have A Good Time (But Get Out Alive). Less successful was his work on Lone Justice's second album Shelter, which was a career-ending flop for the Los Angeles cowpunk band.
In 1989 Van Zandt wrote "While You Were Looking at Me" for Michael Monroe's album Not Fakin' It and co-wrote videohits "Dead, Jail or Rock'n Roll" and "Smoke Screen". He was an arranger and backing vocalist for a few songs on the album. In 1992, he produced Austin TX-based Arc Angels: two talented, young guitarists/vocalists Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton backed by the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's rhythm section of Chris Layton (drums) and Tommy Shannon (bass). In 1991, Van Zandt produced a successful album for Nigerian superstar and raggae icon, Majek Fashek. In 1993, Van Zandt wrote and produced "All Alone on Christmas" for the soundtrack of the Chris Columbus film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which yielded singer Darlene Love her first hit since "A Fine, Fine Boy" from 1963, thirty-one years earlier.
In 1994, Van Zandt produced the eponymous debut album of the punk rock band Demolition 23 which featured ex-Hanoi Rocks members Michael Monroe and Sami Yaffa. Van Zandt also co-wrote six songs for the album with Monroe and Jude Wilder. In 1995, Van Zandt aided Meat Loaf with the song "Amnesty Is Granted" off of his Welcome to the Neighborhood album. In 2004, he contributed the song "Baby Please Don't Go" to Nancy Sinatra's self-titled album.
During the summer of 1981, EMI-America approached Van Zandt with a record deal due to his success with the E Street Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and Gary U.S. Bonds. He began fronting an on-and-off group known as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, while Springsteen was working on Nebraska. They made their live debut at the Peppermint Lounge on July 18, 1982. In October 1982, Van Zandt's debut album, Men Without Women, was released. This album earned the most critical praise and Jay Cocks of TIME magazine dubbed it one of the ten best albums of the year. Van Zandt would go on to release four more solo albums, and has written that these albums are each elements in a five-part political concept cycle. These albums range from soul music to hard rock to world music. Van Zandt's second album, Voice of America, did the best on the U.S. albums chart, although none of his albums were much of a commercial success. After touring with the E Street Band during The River Tour in 1980-81, he started to realize and understand the perceptions of Americans made by people in other countries. He started to become interested in politics and, with Voice of America, his music became explicitly political. The album's leading single, "Solidarity", is about Lech Wałęsa and the Solidarity movement in Poland during the 1980s. In the spring of 1984, shortly after the release of Born in the U.S.A. and Voice of America, Van Zandt would officially leave the E Street Band, but later rejoin in 1999.
Continuing his involvement in issues of the day, in 1985 he created the music-industry activist group Artists United Against Apartheid as an action against the Sun City resort in South Africa. Fifty-four recording artists, including Springsteen, U2, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, Joey Ramone, Tom Petty, Afrika Bambaataa and Run DMC, collaborated on a song called "Sun City" in which they pledged they would never perform at the resort. The song was modestly successful, and played a part in the broad international effort to overthrow apartheid. Van Zandt also produced the award-winning documentary The Making of Sun City and oversaw the production of the book, Sun City by Artists United Against Apartheid, the Struggle for Freedom in South Africa: The Making of the Record, as well as the teaching guide.
In 1987, he released the album Freedom - No Compromise, which continued the political messaging. He opened for U2 during The Joshua Tree Tour in the east coast of the United States, but was not well received by some audiences. Both the record and his concerts were popular in Europe. He also performed at the "Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute" concert at Wembley Stadium in 1988.
His fourth album, 1989's Revolution, attracted little attention. In 1995, Van Zandt wrote, produced, and sang "The Time of Your Life" for the soundtrack to the film Nine Months. He also toured with Bon Jovi during the first European leg of their These Days Tour. Due to a loss of recording contract, his next album, Born Again Savage, would not be released until 1999. Since then, Van Zandt has recorded another album, Nobody Loves and Leaves Alive, with his garage band, the Lost Boys. Although the album remains unreleased, three tracks from it were heard on the Sopranos television show: "Nobody Loves and Leaves Alive", "Affection", and "Come for Me". "Affection" appeared on The Sopranos: Peppers & Eggs (Music From the HBO Original Series).
Steven's song "Under The Gun" was covered by Carla Olson & The Textones on their Detroit '85 Live & Unreleased album which was released in 2008. Another of Steven's songs, "All I Needed Was You", appeared on the 2013 Carla Olson album Have Harmony, Will Travel.
On April 29, 2013, Steven performed a cover of Frank Sinatra's song "My Kind of Town" at a Springsteen concert in Oslo, Norway, during the Wrecking Ball Tour. It was released as a single on November 25, 2014, to help promote Van Zandt's Netflix series, Lilyhammer, with the lyrics changed to be about Lillehammer, Norway, instead of Chicago. He performed the song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on December 9, 2014, to help promote the series. Steven performed all the music for Lilyhammer and released Lilyhammer: The Score on December 16, 2014.
Steven reformed his band, the Disciples of Soul, for the first time since 1990 to play their only European show of 2016 at the O2 Indigo Lounge in London on October 29, 2016. The new Disciples included Richie Sambora and Marc Ribler on guitar, Eddie Manion on saxophone, Hook Herrara on harmonica, Leo Green on tenor sax, Richard Mecurio on drums, Jack Daley on bass, Andy Burton on B3 organ, Clifford Carter on piano, Danny Sadownick on percussion, Tommy Walsh and Matt Holland on trumpet, Neil Sidwell on trombone, George Millard on flute, and the Divas of Soul (Julie Maguire, Sarah Carpenter and Jess Greenfield) on backing vocals. They played a series of Steven's own solo songs, songs he wrote for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a song he co-wrote for the Breakers, cover songs, and "Goodbye", a song that he did with the Lost Boys. He is planning on touring in the summer of 2017, but insists that he is not leaving the E Street Band and is only touring because the band is not.
Van Zandt is currently in the process of remastering and reissuing his albums for a 2017 release, including the unreleased Lost Boys album. Additionally, he has stated that he is planning on releasing a new cover album in September 2017, including a cover of Etta James' "The Blues is my Business", as well as new recordings of songs that he wrote for other artists, such as Southside Johnny. On February 9, 2017, Steven released "St. Valentine's Day", a cover of the song, "St. Valentine's Day Massacre", that he originally wrote for the Cocktail Slippers, as a single. He debuted his new album at the annual Rock and Roll for Children event at the Fillmore Theater in Silver Springs, Maryland, on March 18, 2017.
In 1999, Van Zandt took one of the main roles in The Sopranos, playing level-headed but deadly mob consigliere and strip club owner Silvio Dante. Van Zandt had no acting experience, and the unusual casting choice was made by series creator David Chase. He was picked to induct The Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. The original members of The Rascals had been feuding for a number of years and Van Zandt was concerned that the induction and subsequent band performance would result in a very public fiasco on live television. Wanting to defuse any confrontation, Van Zandt donned a Little Lord Fauntleroy-type costume for the event and delivered a humorous induction instead of the more traditional speech delivered for other inductees. The Rascals had worn this type of outfit when they debuted on the national scene in 1965. Chase, a fan of Van Zandt's music, saw this performance on VH1's broadcast of the event, thought Van Zandt was very funny, and contacted him a few days later. It was then that Chase discovered Van Zandt had no acting experience. Van Zandt was reluctant to audition for Chase but eventually relented. His first audition was for the role of the show's main character, Tony Soprano. However, Van Zandt wanted the role to go to a more experienced, "real" actor. The character of Silvio Dante was actually based on a character created for a short story written by Van Zandt.
His role on The Sopranos increased in importance in later seasons, with sixth season plot developments especially giving him prime focus. His real-life wife, Maureen Van Zandt, is an actress who made occasional appearances on The Sopranos playing Silvio's wife Gabriella Dante.
Van Zandt gained acclaim for his performance as Silvio but had contended that he had no interest in acting beyond The Sopranos. However, he has appeared in several other screen projects.
Tussels in Brussels
Van Zandt recorded the narration for The Hives' biography on their concert DVD Tussles in Brussels (2004).
In 2010, Van Zandt appeared as himself in the Norwegian soap opera Hotel Cæsar, broadcast on Norway's biggest commercial channel, TV2 Norway. He also appeared on Scandinavia's largest talk-show, Skavlan.
In 2011, he starred in, co-wrote, and acted as executive producer on an English and Norwegian language series entitled Lilyhammer, a Netflix original program produced in collaboration with Norwegian broadcaster NRK. It was the first Netflix original series. On the show, Van Zandt portrays a Sopranos-like role of an ex-mafioso who flees to Norway to escape a colleague against whom he testified. The show premiered on NRK television on January 25, 2012 with a record audience of 998,000 viewers (one fifth of Norway's population), and ran for three seasons before being cancelled in 2015.
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