Bruce Springsteen has spent the last year or so sticking close to his New Jersey home, entertaining his fans from the comfort of a nightly Broadway stage. But members of the band that he has called “the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, love-making, earth-quaking, Viagra-taking, justifying, death-defying, legendary E Street Band” have each found their own ways to keep on rocking until they get a call from their Boss to return to their musical home.
Indiana fans can catch one of the most legendary of those famed sideman at the Honeywell Center later this month when singer/guitarist/actor Steven Van Zandt hits the stage with his Disciples of Soul.
This isn’t his first go-round with this group, of course. In fact, Van Zandt did the unimaginable when he left E Street to form the band in the late 1980s. Shortly thereafter, Springsteen broke up the band altogether.
Having replaced Van Zandt with the equally incomparable Nils Lofgren, when E Street was reformed for a huge tour in 1999, Springsteen decided to double the pleasure and brought both guitarists into E Street, a situation that has continued even as recently as the anniversary tour for The River just a couple years ago.
But Springsteen’s Broadway journey has allowed for Van Zandt to bring back the Disciples of Soul, a project that has always been special to him and allows him to get back into the spotlight himself.
The fortuitous meeting of Springsteen and Van Zandt is something of legend, something which the former has recalled in his recent autobiography as well as in the induction speech he prepared for the E Street induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
“Steven: frontman, hitman. I walk into the Middletown Hullabaloo Club; he was the frontman for a band called the Shadows. He had on a tie that went from here down to his feet. All I remember is that he was singing the Turtles’ ‘Happy Together.’ During a break at the Hullabaloo Club in New Jersey, he played 55 minutes on and five minutes off, and if there was a fight, he had to rush onstage and start playing again.
“So I met Stevie there and he soon became my bass player first, then lead guitarist. My consigliere, my dependable devil’s advocate whenever I need one. The invaluable ears for everything that I create, I always get ahold of him, and fan number one. So he’s my comic foil onstage, my fellow producer/arranger, and my blood, blood, blood, blood, blood brother. Let’s keep rolling for as many lives as they’ll give us,
Most E Street fans would echo those words, but Van Zandt has used this down time to release a new album, Soulfire, in 2017 and hit the road in support of it. Also, as he said in a May interview with Nashville Scene, Van Zandt has dedicated the current tour to teachers around the country.
Labeled the Soulfire Teacher Appreciation Tour 2018, the tour offers free tickets to educators along with the opportunity to partake in the Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul Teacher Appreciation Tour Professional Development Experience which offers an introduction to the teachrock.org curriculum. It includes material suitable for K-12 teachers of all disciplines, interdisciplinary best practices, and group activities.
The one-hour workshops also feature a personal visit from Van Zandt, with attendees also receiving a teacher-only edition “Teacher Appreciation Tour” T-shirt. (Those interested in the program should visit the website for more information and to RSVP for tickets.)
Supporting political causes is very much in the E Street tradition, but Van Zandt does recognize some major differences in how he approaches his current gig from his role as supporting player.
“It’s a whole different job,” he said in May. “Honestly, it is as different as can be. I got to the point where I was quite a good frontman in the ’80s. If you go back and listen — I was looking at a show in Sweden in 1987 on the internet, and I didn’t realize how good a frontman I’d become back then. And I may never get back to that, but I’m trying to head in that direction. But the job of frontman is an entirely different job. Right now I’m looking at it like a bandleader just presenting a band — just like the big band guys used to do, you know? And being a 15-piece band, it has its own entertainment value.
“A lot of what Bruce learned as a frontman was from the soul guys — they were the real bandleaders,” Van Zandt added. “So we both have that in common, especially [because] this music I’m doing right now is pretty much straight-ahead soul. We include a lot of different other genres in the show — we have pretty much the whole history of rock n’ roll in our show — but the bulk of it is straight-ahead soul music, done in a literal fashion. Bruce’s version, of course, was mostly with a seven-piece band, so it was more of a rock version of the soul music bandleader. My thing is literally more just like Ike Turner [or] James Brown.”
Having made a name for himself as one of rock’s most beloved sidemen, as an energetic frontman of his own band, and even for his acting in shows like The Sopranos and Lilyhammer, Van Zandt shows no signs of slowing down the pace. The TeachRock program is just in its infancy, and while he hopes to continue to find interesting roles, he also waits for the call we all hope he gets, as he told an interviewer last year.
“I’ll go back with Bruce if and when he needs me. And in between, I will get back on TV. The TeachRock Program will really start to ramp up now. My goal is for it to be firmly established by 2020, and then be expanding all the time.”
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July 27 • The Clyde