STEVE VAN ZANDT was busy helping Bruce record Darkness On The Edge Of Town when the first Hot Press came out. He recalls it's not always easy gestation, wishes us happy birthday and looks forward to his upcoming visit to Dublin with his Disciples Of Soul. Interview: STUART CLARK
Steve Van Zandt has somewhat mixed feelings about the year Hot Pressemerged blinking into the sunlight.
“1977, yeah, that was a strange one,” he says with a nod of his bandana-ed head. “We were still recording Darkness On The Edge Of Town, and having daily arguments about which of the 40 or so songs we’d amassed should make it onto the record. Needless to say, Bruce won every single one of them! I think The Promise album of Darkness…outtakes that was released in 2010 proved my point about some of the songs that were left off being as good as, if not better, than the ones that were included. I thought, ‘Great, now they’re out there we might get to play some of ‘em live’, but their rehabilitation in Bruce’s eyes was only partial and none of them made it onto the set-list when we toured that year. I said to Bruce, ‘If there’s a God, you better look out because you’re going to be struck by lightning for taking all this shit for granted! Other people could have a career with the songs you’ve discarded!’ Bruce is crazy like that; sometimes he just doesn’t play his best stuff.
“Anyway, the pressure was on to at the very least match Born To Run’scommercial success, so the atmosphere at the time in the studio was both creative and tense. It turned out pretty good in the end though, didn’t it?”
It most certainly did...
“Elvis died that year - I wasn’t especially a fan, but it was a real JFK moment for some of the guys – and there was a major blackout whilst we were in the studio,” Steve resumes. “I remember the tape machines slowing down and then all the lights went. Strange album… darkness on the edge of town, indeed!”
As well as saying “Happy Birthday!” to Hot Press – “40 years is a long time in rock ‘n’ roll, man, congratulations!” – Steve also wants to tell us about his first solo album in 19 years, Soulfire, which will be getting a live airing on June 22 when he’s joined in Vicar St. by the Disciples Of Soul.
“At current count, there’s 14 of them so I hope they’ve got a big stage in Vicar St.,” he laughs. “I have to say, this is the least planned thing I’ve ever done. This promoter I know in London, Leo Green, asked me, ‘When are you coming over?’ I said, ‘The wife and myself have an invite to Bill Wyman’s 80th birthday party in October’, and he replies, ‘That just happens to be the week I’m running my blues festival. Put a band together and play for the hell of it.’ I thought, ‘I haven’t done this for so long, am I still capable of it? Ah, sure, let’s give it a shot…’ It was very much a revelation to play those songs again after all these years. There’s an intensity about them, which has endured and encouraged me to make Soulfire, which is a sort of re-introduction of myself outside of the E Street Band. I’ve re-worked some songs I did for other people, thrown in a couple of James Brown and Etta James covers and written a few new ones, which even if I do say so myself, fit together perfectly.
They’re so much fun to play live and the band are shit hot! There’s some blues and doo-wop and jazz and Ennio Morricone. It was recorded and mixed in the six weeks between the European and American legs of The River Tour.”
Is it harder work being the leader of the band rather than going out as Bruce’s second in command?
“It’s completely different when it’s your name on the ticket,” he proffers. “You realise how much work it is being up front, and there’s absolutely no time off. With Bruce, you’re there for three-and-a-half hours, but the rest of the day’s yours in which to fuck around and do whatever. Here, you barely have a minute to get a drink of water because it’s all you. It’s going to take me a couple of tours before I become a performer again, but I’m going to stay at it now regardless of what other opportunities present themselves and make the transition back. I’ve just started, man. I’ve so many ideas that I’ll probably never get to but we’ll give it a shot!”
Steve took to Twitter last month to mourn the death of American TV and film producer Brad Grey.
“Without his belief and persistence it is very possible that there would have been no Sopranos,” he noted.
“Honestly, that is the truth,” Steve expands. “Everybody else had passed, but Brad whose company had had success after success with the likes of The Larry Sanders Show and The Wedding Singer, was determined to get it made. The writer, David Chase, had done The Rockford Files revival but didn’t then have the muscle to get stuff automatically made. It took him a year, but Brad eventually persuaded HBO to come on board and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s depressing; him and James Gandolfini both gone. Value every day, my friend, value every day…”
Twelve months ago before jetting in with Bruce and the E Street Band for their Croker shows, Steve told Hot Press: “Trump is saying these things that he doesn’t really mean to chime with his ridiculous Republican base who are 65% evangelicals. I know him a little bit and he’s a very practical guy in the end. Trump is not nearly as scary as Ted Cruz who really does represent this religious extreme, this zealotry.”
Does he still believe that?
“Er, no, sorry,” he says somewhat shame-facedly. “We’re not going to be okay. We could focus on Donald Trump all day long, but that’s actually not the problem. While he’s the symbol and focus of it, it’s the Republican Party as a whole that’s gone completely down the wrong road. Donald Trump is going to come and go – and actually, he’s going to come and go quite quickly I think – but that’s going to leave us with Mike Pence, who’s not wholesale incompetent, as President. We’d love a third, fourth or fifth party here, but the fact is that we’re stuck with the two and one of them is hellbent on eroding the rights of minorities - most of which is religious-based and enthusiastically supported by Vice-President Pence - and poisoning the environment with pollution in the air and the water and the food and the ground. What the fuck are these people thinking? Don’t they have kids? It’s not a matter of opinion; the Republican Party are officially endorsing pollution. These are anti-American activities. It’s fucking sick and will continue even if Trump is impeached.”
On a happier note, Steve recently got to tick another item off his bucket-list when he shared the stage with legendary bluesman Taj Mahal at the Kennedy Center’s John Lennon Tribute Concert.
“Not only the stage but also a dressing-room!” Steve enthuses. “I’ll always remember the gig for that. I came up, I think, with a good arrangement of ‘Working Class Hero’ while Taj helped out on the most incredible version of ‘Come Together’. David Duchovny, Judy Collins, Shawn Colvin, Jim James, Esperanza Spalding and Corrine Bailey Rae were there too, and it was a just a wonderful, wonderful night.”
Soulfire is out now on Wicked Cool and gets a live airing on June 22 in Vicar St., Dublin. Hear Little Steven’s Underground Garage show every Saturday at 3pm on 103.2 Dublin City FM.