Guitarist of the E Street Band
American musician, record producer, songwriter, actor, and activist Steven Van Zandt, the older brother of actor/playwright Billy Van Zandt, is probably most famous in the world of music as a result of his association with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Joining the band in 1975, Van Zandt played lead guitar for the group for nine years until 1984 when he quit to further establish his solo career. A front man of the Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, he began his solo career in 1982 with the release of “Men Without Women.” After the sophomore effort “Voice of America” (1984), his music became explicitly political and was associated with the establishment of the activist group Artists United Against Apartheid in 1985 that spawned the protest song “Sun City.” He continued his solo career by releasing 1987's “Freedom - No Compromise” and 1989's “Revolution,” but then put his recording career on the backburner because of the loss of his recording contract.
A founding member of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Van Zandt produced and wrote material for the group from the mid to late 1970s, most notably the 1978 “Hearts of Stone” album. He also co-produced Springsteen's early albums like “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (1979), “The River” (1980) and “Born in the U.S.A.” (1984), and after his unsuccessful solo effort, Van Zandt spent the first part of the 1990s producing other artists and contributing to soundtracks, including writing the theme song “I Don't Want To Go Home” (1992) for the Jersey shore-set Fox sitcom “Down the Shore.” After a brief return with the E Street Band in 1995, Van Zandt received a revival when he was reunited with Bruce Springsteen and his band for a world tour in 1999. Also that year, he launched another solo album, “Born Again Savage,” and began his remarkable six-season turn as Silvio Dante on the popular HBO mobster drama “The Sopranos” (1999-2007), from which he co-won two Screen Actors Guild Awards. His real-life wife, Maureen, whom he married in 1982, also acted in the show as Silvio's wife Gabriella Dante.
Apart from his musical and acting career, Steven Van Zandt is also known as the host of the syndicated radio show “Little Steven's Underground Garage.”
Childhood and Family:
Steven Lento, professionally known as Steven Van Zandt, was born on November 22, 1950, in Winthrop, Massachusetts. His mother, Mary Lento, married William Van Zandt when Steven was young and Steven has since used his stepfather's surname. He moved to Middletown Township, in New Jersey with his family at age 7. Steven is the older brother of actor/playwright Billy Van Zandt (born on December 13, 1957) and the uncle of Billy's twin sons, William and Walker (born in 1997), from his marriage to actress Adrienne Barbeau.
Steven married Maureen Van Zandt on December 31, 1982. He and his wife portrayed husband and wife in the series “The Sopranos”
Steven Van Zandt is known by the nicknames “Little Steven” and “Miami Steve.”
Soprano's Right Hand Man
Growing up in New Jersey, Steven Van Zandt became a huge fan of rock music and worked on his musical skill in the garage. The Massachusetts native moved on to perform at a local bar where he became closely associated with Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny Lyon. First meeting in 1966, Van Zandt joined Springsteen in the band Steel Mill during 1969 to 1970 and then the Bruce Springsteen Band in 1971. A journeyman guitarist in the early 1970s, he toured with the Dovells before helping Lyon establish the rock/R&B group Southside Johnny and Asbury Jukes in 1974. After briefly performing with the group, Van Zandt was reunited with Springsteen in the early 1975 as a guitarist and backup singer for Springsteen's E Street Band. Prior to this reunion, Springsteen called on Van Zandt for help in the arrangements of his third album, “Born To Run” (1975), which went on to become his breakthrough hit.
Van Zandt contributed a large number of the lead guitar work for the E Street Band in live shows. Thanks to his clownish style and on-stage antics, he gained a reputation as one of the
most unforgettable members of the group. In 1977, he contributed songs to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' second album, “This Time It's for Real,” and again lent his songwriting talents for their acclaimed album, “Hearts of Stone” (1978), which he also produced. Van Zandt wrote six songs for the album, including “Got to Be a Better Way Home” and “This Time Baby's Gone for Good,” and jointly penned the track “Trapped Again” with Lyon and Springsteen, who also wrote the powerful title track and “Talk To Me.”
Next, Van Zandt co-produced Springsteen's solo albums “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (1979), “The River” (1980) and “Born in the U.S.A.” (1984), while also producing and writing material for Gary 'U.S.' Bonds. However, Van Zand did not emerge as a solo artist until he released a 1982 debut album called “Men Without Women” with his own band Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. The album peaked at No. 118 on the Billboard 200 and was hailed by critics as one of the ten biggest albums of the year. Two years after the release of the album, in 1984, he decided to leave the E Street Band to concentrate on his solo career. Later that same year, he resurfaced with his sophomore effort “Voice of America.” Both albums were minor commercial hits.
Van Zandt's music became expressively political following his work as Little Steven. It was clearly shown in the song “Voice of America,” which centering on the resistance of the Ronald Reagan-era American foreign policy. Then in 1985, he formed the music-industry activist group Artists United Against Apartheid to protest social policy in South Africa. He wrote the protest song “Sun City,” which was performed by nearly fifty top recording artists, including Springsteen, Kurtis Blow, Bob Dylan, U2 and Pete Townshend, but the song only received modest success in the U.S. (#38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart) and was banished in South Africa. It enjoyed more success in the European market and became a Top 20 hit in the UK. The video, which was directed by Jonathan Demme, netted a 1986 International Documentary Association award. Van Zandt also co-penned the song “You Don't Have to Cry” for the soundtrack of Demme's comedy film, “Something Wild” (1986).
In 1987, Van Zandt released his third solo album, “Freedom - No Compromise,” which furthered showcased his political point of view. He supported the album by serving as the opening act for U2 on The Joshua Tree concert tour, but the record again only found little victory in America and enjoyed better luck in Europe. He closed out the decade with his forth studio album, “Revolution.”
During the 1990s, Van Zandt found himself without a record contract, but he maintained his presence in the music industry by producing other artists and working on soundtracks. He rejoined Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in 1991 to produce their album “Better Days” and wrote a 1992 hit for the group called “I Don't Want To Go Home.” Also in 1992, he penned the song “SHAKE'EM DOWN” for the Stephen Herek-directed family film “The Mighty Ducks” as well as wrote, performed and produced the theme song “All Alone on Christmas” for the Macaulay Culkin vehicle “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” After setting up his own record label, Renegade Nation, in 1993, Van Zandt produced the 1994 “Demolition 23” album for his label and spent the following year touring with Bon Jovi. He then wrote the songs “The Time Of Your Life” and “Shelter” for the 1995 motion pictures “Nine Months,” by John Hughes, and “Moonlight and Valentino,” respectively.
It was also in 1995 that Van Zandt rejoined the E Street Band when it was reformed after their long break. However, the group took another hiatus and did not reunite until four years later when they embarked on a highly successful reunion tour in 1999. The group has since continued to perform and record with Van Zandt often playing background rhythm. Van Zandt also plays mandolin and sings back up for the band.
1999 also saw Van Zandt release “Born Again Savage” and try his hand at acting. He found prominence with his regular role in the HBO drama series “The Sopranos,” starring James Gandolfini as New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. Joining the popular show in 1999, he played strip-club owner and Mafia henchman Silvio Dante until the show's end in 2007 and jointly nabbed two Screen Actors Guild awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (2000 and 2008). In addition to acting, Van Zandt also performed his songs on some episodes of the show.
Van Zandt broadened his popularity in the early 2000s by serving as the host of the weekly syndicated radio show “Little Steven's Underground Garage.” In 2004, he contributed the song “Baby Please Don't Go” to Nancy Sinatra's self-titled album and wrote the song “Navidad” for the movie “Christmas with the Kranks” (2004), directed by Joe Roth. He next provided the vocals of Bill for the animation short “The Nightly Potato Episode 1” (2005) and penned “Don't Want to Go Home” for the action movie “Running Scared” (2006), directed and written by Wayne Kramer. 2006 also saw Van Zandt assemble and direct an all-star band to support Hank Williams Jr. on a new version of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” for the season premiere of “Monday Night Football.”
Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, “The Sopranos,” 2008
Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, “The Sopranos,” 2000
International Documentary Association: IDA Award, “Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid,” 1986