Joining Scott Shannon and Patty Steele in studio this morning is a man who wears quite a few hats (do-rags if you will). Legendary guitarist, songwriter, consigliere, actor, entrepeneur, producer, and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ‘Little’ Steven Van Zandt stopped by to talk about his latest venture, ‘introducing’ singer Darlene Love to the masses with her first true solo album as an adult.
“This is really her first album, believe it or not. Her very first record was “He’s a Rebel,” which was a number 1 record — so she started off with a number 1 record, which is already impossible,” says Steven. “But that’s like ’62,” he says. “And Phil Spector, god bless him in all his genius, he was also a little bit crazy,” lightly joking about his legal troubles. “Let’s just say in the studio he also was a little crazy in the studio, and instead of calling it a Darlene Love record, he called it a Crystals record, which kind of set her off on an odd sort of path.”
Steven has always held the artists and musicians who came before him and paved the way for Rock and Roll in high regard.
“I always felt a little bit of guilt, really, that that generation, the pioneers of the ’50s and early ’60s got cut off from the rest of the world when the Beatles came over and the British invasion happened,” Steven explains. “That generation got put out to pasture and were starting to be called ‘oldies’ – and the oldies format would begin soon – and they were in the prime of their lives.”
Explaining how artists and bands like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones are still hugely popular artists, Steven remembers that “right after that, starting with The Beatles, we all grew up with those bands and they’re still around today… so it was odd that they got cut off, eliminated in the prime of their lives. I always felt that was weird, so the first time I went into the studio with Southside Johnny and the Jukes, I got Ronnie Spector out of retirement, I got Lee Dorsey out of retirement. For the second album with the Jukes I reunited the Coasters and the Drifters and the Five Satins… Then me and Bruce worked with Gary U.S Bonds and gave him a whole second career… longer than his first and of course now with Darlene Love.”
Darlene also just released a brand new single and celebrity cameo filled video for her track “Forbidden Nights” off of ‘Introducing…”, all put together using their own smartphone cameras, Steven admitted.
“It was a wonderful moment, because we were trying to get people to come in,” Steven explains. “Joan Jett’s in the video, they’re good friends. Paul Schaffer is in the video… and everybody else, it’s hard to get people in town. And somebody said, ‘you know what, these new iPhones… the quality is so good, you could actually use that.’ Talk about effortless!”
Fans the world over also hold fond memories of Steven in his role as Silvio Dante on HBO’s hit series The Sopranos. Steven had not done one lick of acting prior to that role, and recalls the time director David Chase called him up to offer him a job.
“When he called me… I said, ‘nah no thanks,'” laughed Steven. “I said, ‘listen I would love to be in the show, but I’m not an actor,” he admits. “And he said, ‘no, no, you’re wrong. You are an actor, you just don’t know it yet.’ It was a wonderful opportunity.”
Steven also admits that it was easy convincing him to take the job.
“He convinced me because I had nothing better to do,” laughed Steven. “Rock and roll was really over for me at that point, in the mid-nineties. I’d hear a song or two that I liked from the grunge world, but basically for me it was just over. This was before I discovered the entire garage rock, traditional world, which I then started my radio format. But before that I was lost in the wilderness and he said, ‘come on, be an actor’. And I said, ‘alright, I’ll give it a shot.”
Steven also gave us some insight into how exactly he prepared for a brand new creative outlet such as acting.
“I didn’t know any other way to do it, so I created myself from the outside in,” Steven explains. “I wrote a whole biography about the guy, how he was really a traditional kind of mafia guy who kind of romanticized the early days of the mob, the old ’50s hair style… I figured if I could look in the mirror and see a different guy, then I could be him.”
But there were certain similarities to his own life that he brought into the fold as well.
“I kind of was Bruce [Springsteen’s] consigliere over all those years,” he says, “so I kind of transferred that friendship to James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano character which was very natural for me. I like being that guy behind the guy, rather than being the guy.”
Be sure to pick up Introducing Darlene Love, out now on Vinyl, CD and digitally, which features ‘Little’ Steven once again as the guy behind the gal, this time producing and performing and directing for Ms Darlene Love.