Steven Van Zandt
Every great Rock artist has talented sidemen. Being that it's Rock, the most vital and visible were usually guitarists.
Elvis Presley had Scotty Moore, and later, James Burton. Mick Jagger could always count on Keith Richards (at least on stage). David Bowie's early albums were powered by Mick Ronson and Ozzy Osbourne's career nearly tanked following the accidental death (plane crash) of Randy Rhodes.
One of the most famous sidemen was Steven Van Zandt. Born ( 11/22/50) Steven Lento in Winthrop, MA, Van Zandt, who took his step-father's surname, grew up in New Jersey where he was an early band mate of Bruce Springsteen.
But Van Zandt was not an original E Street Band member. Rather he was with Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes when he wasn't a sideman for other acts.
Needing a horn arrangement for "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" Springsteen called Van Zandt to tap his nearly inexhaustible knowledge of Soul music. Later, Van Zandt came up with the guitar part for "Born To Run." "Arguably Steve's greatest contribution to my music," said Springsteen.
Van Zan Zandt joined the E Street Band for the Born To Run Tours and went on to contribute to Springsteen albums as part of the band. Onstage he shared face time with sax player Clarence Clemons. But unlike Clemons who served as a leaning-post, Van Zandt was Springsteen's foil, mugging to the audience and singing along with The Boss.
Van Zandt wrote Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes signature tune, "I Don't Wanna Go Home." In addition to playing on their albums, Van Zandt contributed songs and produced. He was also heard, along with Springsteen, on Gary 'U.S.' Bonds two comeback records in the early '80s.
Van Zandt's debut solo album was '82's "Men Without Women." Subsequently, he toured fronting Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul. His first Top 100 album (#55), '84's "Voice Of America," came the year he left the E Street Band (though he eventually did return to the fold). The following year Van Zandt organized Artists United Against Apartheid as an action against the Sun City resort in South Africa. 49 artists, including Springsteen, pledged to boycott the resort. In addition, they recorded the anti-apartheid song "Sun City."
"Freedom - No Compromise" landed in '87 but didn't do as well as its predecessor getting only to #80. Concerts were criticized for being "too political with not enough music." "Revolution" came and went two years later with barely any notice. It would be a decade before another solo effort arrived, 99's "Born Again Savage."
For a number of years Springsteen dispensed with the E Street Band. Van Zandt could have stayed home waiting for the phone to ring but he decided to branch out. After being encouraged to audition, Van Zandt was a regular on the highly acclaimed TV show, The Sopranos, playing Silvio Dante. His trademark bandana, which he wore onstage to cover permanent hair loss that was a result of a car accident, was replaced by a pompadour toupee.
More importantly though, Van Zandt launched a syndicated radio show (also on Sirius Satellite Network), Little Steven's Underground Garage. He exposed listeners to the latest in Garage Rock, a particular passion. To support these bands Van Zandt started Wicked Cool Records.
To jump into Van Zandt's solo career is to land waist-deep in politics. He stridently supports causes and tackles issues. Agree or disagree, no one can deny the passion. "Greatest Hits" is a good place to start. "Voice Of America" would be the next choice.
Of course, there is always the majestic Springsteen catalog.