Steven Van Zandt (born November 22, 1950) is an American musician 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 is also known for his roles on television dramas such as Silvio Dante on The Sopranos (1999–2007) and Frank Tagliano / Giovanni "Johnny" Henriksen on Lilyhammer (2012–2014). Van Zandt also has had his own solo band called Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul, active on and off since 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 as Steven Lento and is of Southern Italian descent (his grandfather was from Calabria and his grandmother's parents were Neapolitans). He lived at 16 Edgecliff Road in Watertown, Massachusetts.
His mother, Mary Lento, remarried in 1957 and he took the last name of his stepfather, William Brewster Van Zandt. The family moved from Massachusetts to Middletown Township, New Jersey, when he was seven.
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 on the Ed Sullivan Show and Rolling Stones on Hollywood Palace 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. Around August 1964, he formed his first band, the Whirlwinds, which was short lived. He later formed the Mates in 1965 and joined the Shadows in May 1966. Van Zandt has cited British Invasion bands such as the Dave Clark Five, as well as Ravi Shankar and the culture of India as early influences.
Van Zandt grew up in the Jersey Shore music scene, and was an early friend and pre-E Street bandmate of Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen met Van Zandt for the first time in 1966 or 1967 when Springsteen went to the Hullabaloo club in Middletown. Van Zandt was performing a cover of the Turtles' "Happy Together" with the Shadows. They performed together in bands such as Steel Mill and the Bruce Springsteen Band. During the early 1970s, Van Zandt worked in road construction for two 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, Van Zandt 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 Van Zandt'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 the Southside Johnny and 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"; "Arguably Steve's greatest contribution to my music." Ultimately, Van Zandt officially joined the E Street Band on July 20, 1975 during the first show of 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. Despite leaving the band, he appeared as a special guest at certain concerts on the Born in the U.S.A. Tour and appeared in a couple of videos, including the one for Glory Days.
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. Van Zandt said on the Howard Stern Show that he is okay with being second in command, especially since he has been in charge before with his solo music and his role in Lilyhammer. 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," as well as sharing lead vocals and exchanging humorous banter with Springsteen.
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 Want to 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 produced two Gary U.S. Bonds' 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" on his 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' debut album. In 1991 Van Zandt produced a successful album, Spirit of Love, 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. The band included Dino Danelli on drums, Jean Beauvoir on bass, and the Miami Horns. 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 released four more solo albums, and has written that these albums are each elements in a five-part political concept cycle: the individual, the family, the state, the economy, and religion. 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. One of the album's leading singles, "Solidarity", is a general statement of international common ground. In April 1984, shortly before the release of Born in the U.S.A. and Voice of America, Van Zandt left the E Street Band, but rejoined 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. 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 to 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. Some U.S. appearances in that year as opening act for U2's arena-and-stadium Joshua Tree Tour continued in the same vein, but were 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, was not 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).
Van Zandt'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 his songs, "All I Needed Was You", appeared on the 2013 Carla Olson album Have Harmony, Will Travel.
On April 29, 2013, Van Zandt performed a cover of Frank Sinatra's "My Kind of Town" at a Springsteen concert in Oslo, Norway, during the Wrecking Ball Tour. Although the song was featured in the Lilyhammer season one episode "My Kind of Town," it was not released as a single until September 23, 2014, when it was "the Coolest Song in the World" on Underground Garage to help promote the show. It was released under the title "Frank Tagliano Sings! My Kind of Town" and the lyrics were changed to be about Lillehammer, Norway, instead of Chicago. Van Zandt performed the song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on December 9, 2014, to help promote the series. Van Zandt performed all the music for Lilyhammer from season 2 on and released Lilyhammer: The Score on December 16, 2014.
Van Zandt 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 for BluesFest 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 a women's section called the Divas of Soul (Julie Maguire, Sarah Carpenter and Jess Greenfield) on backing vocals. They played a series of Van Zandt'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 Europe in the summer of 2017 and the United States in the fall. Van Zandt insists that he is not leaving the E Street Band and that he 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, Van Zandt has stated that he is planning on releasing a new cover album, including a cover of Etta James' "The Blues Is My Business", as well as new recordings of songs Van Zandt wrote for others, including Southside Johnny, that he describes as "me covering me." The album is going to be a soul record, composed of a 15 piece band including 5 horns and 3 singers. Van Zandt revealed that Richie Mercurio plays drums on the album.
On February 9, 2017, Van Zandt released "Saint Valentine's Day," a cover of the song, "Saint Valentine's Day Massacre," that he originally wrote for the Cocktail Slippers, as a single. The song is repeatedly played on the Underground Garage radio show.
He debuted his new album at the annual Rock and Roll for Children event at the Fillmore Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland, on March 18, 2017. Van Zandt debuted a doo-wop song called "The City Weeps Tonight," that was an outtake from Men Without Women. At the end of the show, he covered "Bye Bye Johnny" as a tribute to the late Chuck Berry. According to Backstreets, Van Zandt's new album is going to be called Soulfire, titled after the song he co-wrote for the Breakers. The album was officially released on May 19, 2017.
Until 1999, Van Zandt had no professional acting experience. His main focus had been music, whether it was the multiple bands he participated in, groups he composed pieces for, or music he wrote on his own. Then, he decided to audition for a part in the show The Sopranos, and from there on, acting became part of 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 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.
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, the first original Netflix series that was produced in collaboration with Norwegian broadcaster NRK. The name recalls the city of Lillehammer, which hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics. On the show, Van Zandt portrays a Sopranos-like role of an ex-mafioso who enters the witness protection program and flees to Norway to escape a colleague against whom he testified. The show premiered on NRK television on January 25, 2012 with an audience of 998,000 viewers (one fifth of Norway's population), and ran for three seasons before being cancelled in 2015.
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 Sopranos; actor and director Tim Robbins; and singer Debbie Harry of the group Blondie.
Van Zandt is also the program director for two radio channels for the Sirius Satellite Radio network. The channels continuously broadcast on satellite radio in the US, 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, Van Zandt 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. The label's first Halloween and Christmas themed compilations were released in 2008. Lost Cathedral is a subsidiary label of Wicked Cool Records and home to the band Crown of Thorns.
In 2007, Van Zandt launched the 501(c)(3) Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and its TeachRock project, which creates K-12 national curriculum. The groundbreaking curriculum is available at no cost to educators. Created to address the challenges of an environment in which schools face cuts to arts funding, TeachRock includes interdisciplinary, arts-driven materials designed to keep students engaged and in school. Key features include:
The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation’s TeachRock initiative brings rich educational materials to teachers and students everywhere – at no cost. The lesson plans and resources at TeachRock allow a one-of-a-kind, multimedia experience that helps young people connect the history of popular music to classroom work across the disciplines. From social studies and language arts to geography, media studies, science, general music, and more: TeachRock has engaging and meaningful material for every classroom.
TeachRock is a collaborative endeavor, strengthened by strategic partnerships. Various organizations and institutions donate time, talent, and resources to the project, including: ABC News Video Source, National Association for Music Education (NAfME, formerly MENC), National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), New York University, Reelin' In The Years, Rock's Back Pages, Scholastic Corporation, and The GRAMMY Museum.
Current Partnership Lessons with TeachRock:
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.
After leaving the E Street Band in 1984, Van Zandt used his celebrity as a musician to fight issues surrounding apartheid 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 assembled over 54 different artists to record an album entitled Sun City in order to raise awareness about the apartheid policy in South Africa. The title referred to 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. Artists that took part in the making of the album included 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 first musical collaborations among major recording stars to support a political cause rather than a social cause. The album raised over $1 million in support of anti-apartheid efforts. The primary goal of the 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 career, Van Zandt worked to raise awareness about the US military interference in governments of Central America and other issues.
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.
As a teenager Van Zandt was involved in a car accident that caused him to smash his head through the windshield, leaving several scars on his head, To cover this up, he began wearing large bandanas, which has become his trademark look to this day.
Van Zandt is an Honorary board member of Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit organization 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.
He and his wife Maureen also serve on the Count Basie Theatre's Board of Directors, and were named as that organization's honorary capital campaign chairs in 2015.
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