Steven Van Zandt (born November 22, 1950) is an American musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer, actor, and radio disc jockey, 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. Steven Van Zandt was born as Steven Lento, is of South Italian descent (his grandfather was from Calabria and his grandmother's parents were Neapolitans).
His mother, Mary Lento, remarried when he was young and Steven took the last name of his stepfather, William Van Zandt. The family moved from Massachusetts to Middletown Township, New Jersey when he was seven.
Steven Van Zandt found his love for music at an early age, when he learned how to play the guitar. During the mid 1960s, Steven played in his first band as a teenager. Van Zandt later cites that Dave Clark Five was an early influence.
Actor/playwright/producer Billy Van Zandt is Steven's half brother.
Van Zandt grew up in the Jersey Shore music scene, and was an early friend and pre-E Street bandmate of Bruce Springsteen. In the early seventies, he was a journeyman guitarist (working as a sideman for The Dovells) and several of Bruce Springsteen's early bands.
He co-founded the band Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Van Zandt helped establish the rhythm and blues oriented style of music that the band performed. Not only this, but he also produced Southside's first three, and strongest, albums that the band released. 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 the Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and writing for the E Street Band. In 1975, during the recording sessions for Born to Run, Springsteen - at a loss (according to author Dave Marsh in the Springsteen biography Born To Run) for ideas on how to arrange the horn part for "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" - called on Van Zandt and his encyclopedic knowledge of soul music for help with the arrangement. In the Wings for Wheels documentary, Springsteen revealed that Van Zandt was partially responsible for the signature guitar line in "Born to Run"; "Arguably Steve's greatest contribution to my music." Before this, Van Zandt had only been helping Springsteen write material for the band. Ultimately, Van Zandt ended up joining the E Street Band in the midst of their Born to Run tours.
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.
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 the solos during Van Zandt's absence. 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" (when featured a Van Zandt outro vocal solo) "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 in the mix), as well as sharing lead vocals and exchanging humorous banter with Springsteen.
Songwriter, arranger, producer:
Van Zandt subsequently became a songwriter and producer for fellow Jersey shore act Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in the mid- to late-1970s, 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. Van Zandt then went on to share production credits on the classic Springsteen albums Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, and Born in the U.S.A.. 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 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.
Van Zandt officially left the E Street Band in 1984, but later rejoined in 1999. Since 1984 he has been involved in numerous solo musical projects and collaborations, ranging from soul music to hard rock to world music. In particular, he released four albums in the 1980s and one in 1999, sometimes fronting an on-and-off group known as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. Van Zandt has written that these albums are each elements in a five-part concept cycle. The first of them, 1982's Men Without Women, earned the most critical praise (Jay Cocks of TIME magazine dubbed it one of the ten best albums of the year), while its follow-up, 1984's Voice of America, did the best on the U.S. albums chart, although none of them were much of a commercial success. With Voice of America, his music became explicitly political, with the central theme being opposition to Ronald Reagan-era American foreign policy.
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. Forty-nine 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.
In 1987, he released the album Freedom - No Compromise, which continued the political messaging. Some U.S. appearances in that year as opening act for U2's arena-and-stadium Joshua Tree Tour continued in the same vein - Oliver North was labeled a "criminal motherfucker" - but were not well received by some audiences. Both the record and his concerts were popular in Europe.
His fourth album, 1989's Revolution, attracted little attention. His next album, entitled Born Again Savage was released in 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".
Throughout Steven Van Zandt's career, he never had any experience with acting. His main focus had always been music, whether it was the multiple bands he participated in, groups he composed pieces for, or music he wrote on his own. Not until 1999, did he decide to audition for a part in the show "The Sopranos". From there on, acting became a more common occurrence in Van Zandt's career.
In 1999, Van Zandt took one of the core 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. As a guest on the Opie and Anthony Show, Van Zandt tells his casting story to his wide viewer audience on the show.
Van Zandt 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 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 resumed 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 talkshow 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. 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 January 25, 2012 with a record audience of 998,000 viewers (one fifth of Norway's population), and has continued to a third season.
Radio host and entrepreneur:
Since 2002, Van Zandt has hosted Little Steven's Underground Garage, a weekly syndicated radio show that celebrates garage rock and similar rock subgenres from the 1950s to the present day. As of December 2006, the show is heard on over 200 US radio stations and in some international markets. For example, in Spain it has beamed through Rock & Gol since 2007 and later on Rock FM Radio in Finland; Radio Helsinki started beaming Little Steven's Underground Garage in August 2008.
On October 20, 2011, the program recorded its 500th show in front of a sold out crowd at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York's Times Square. The guests included the band Green Day; Steve Buscemi, star of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire; Vincent Pastore, aka "Big Pussy Bonpensiero" from the The Sopranos; actor and director Tim Robbins; and singer Debbie Harry of the group Blondie.
Steven is also the program director for two radio channels for the Sirius Satellite Radio network. The channels are heard continuously on satellite radio in the USA and worldwide on Sirius Internet Radio. One channel, named Underground Garage, has the same philosophy and musical mandate as his own radio show. On-air hosts on the channel include original Rolling Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, singer/guitarist Joan Jett, former record executive Kid Leo, punk rock singer Handsome Dick Manitoba, and rock entrepreneur Kim Fowley. The second channel, named the Outlaw Country, presents the edgier side of country music, both roots and contemporary. On-air hosts for this channel include pop-culture satirist Mojo Nixon.
In December 2006, Little Steven launched his own record label, Wicked Cool Records.
The first set of records released by Wicked Cool were new albums from Underground Garage favorites the Charms, the Chesterfield Kings, and the Cocktail Slippers; and Fuzz for the Holidays, by Davie Allan and the Arrows, and CBGB Forever, a tribute to the famous, now-defunct venue. The label continues to release new albums from the next generation of garage rockers including the Cocktail Slippers as well as volumes of Little Steven's Underground Garage presents The Coolest Songs in the World, a compilation of selected songs from the Underground Garage radio show's popular feature, the "Coolest Song in the World This Week". In 2007, the label signed The Launderettes. 2008 marked the release of the label's first Halloween and Christmas themed compilations. Lost Cathedral is a subsidiary label of Wicked Cool Records and home to the band Crown of Thorns.
Rock and Roll Forever Foundation:
In 2007, Van Zandt launched his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation. The first incentive of the foundation is Rock and Roll High School, a chronological anthology tracing the history of Rock and Roll from its roots to present day, highlighting the cultural impact and significance of each era of the genre as it relates to the events and changes that took place in the history of the country and of the world. The program, endorsed by Scholastic and by MENC: The National Association For Music Education has brought to fruition an entire rock n roll curriculum appropriate for middle and high schools. The curriculum is free and is called "Rock and Roll: An American Story", and materials are located at www.teachrock.org.
In September 2006, Van Zandt assembled and directed an all-star band to back Hank Williams Jr. on a new version of "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" for the season premiere (and formal ESPN debut) of Monday Night Football. The all-star lineup included Little Richard, Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Questlove (The Roots), Charlie Daniels, Bootsy Collins, Chris Burney (Bowling for Soup), and Bernie Worrell.
Since 2007, Van Zandt has been the director of a music selection committee for the video game Rock Band; he is in charge of selecting new music for the game.
After leaving the E Street Band in 1984, Van Zandt used his impact as a musician to pursue being a human rights activist. He fought issues surrounding the apartheid that had been taking place in South Africa by creating a group called the Artists United Against Apartheid.
This activist group was created in 1985 by Van Zandt and record producer Arthur Baker. Van Zandt and Baker got together over 54 different artists to record an album titled Sun City in order to raise awareness about the apartheid happening in South Africa. The significance of the title "Sun City" was because of a resort in South Africa that catered to wealthy white tourists. The resort upheld racist apartheid policies, yet many famous entertainers chose to perform there. A few of the artists that took part in the making of this album were Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed.
The "Sun City" project was originally meant to only be one song, but other musicians contributed their own pieces which transformed it into a full-length album. "Sun City" was one of the very first musical collaborations among major recording starts to support a political cause rather than a social cause. The "Sun City" project ultimately ended up raising over $1 million in support of anti-apartheid efforts. Overall, the primary goal of this album and foundation was to draw attention to South Africa's racist policy of apartheid and to support a cultural boycott of the country.
Later in his activism career, Steven Van Zandt worked to raise awareness about the US Military Interference in governments of Central America and other issues.
Tours with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band:
Born to Run tours, 1975-1977,
Darkness Tour, 1978-1979,
The River Tour, 1980-1981,
Reunion Tour, 1999-2000,
The Rising Tour, 2002-2003,
Vote for Change Tour, 2004,
Magic Tour, 2007-2008,
Working on a Dream Tour, 2009,
Wrecking Ball Tour, 2012-2013,
High Hopes Tour, 2014,
Van Zandt is married to actress Maureen Van Zandt (formerly Maureen Santoro), who portrayed his wife Gabriella Dante in the TV series The Sopranos. They married in New York City on December 31, 1982. Bruce Springsteen was the best man at the ceremony, which was presided over by Reverend Richard Penniman (Little Richard). Singer Percy Sledge sang his classic "When a Man Loves a Woman" at the reception.
Van Zandt is an Honorary board member of Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit that works to restore and revitalize music education programs in disadvantaged U.S. public schools. He was also awarded the fourth annual "Big Man of the Year" award at the organization's 2013 Right to Rock Benefit Event.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license