Posts Tagged ‘Little Steven and the Disciples Of Soul’

Steven Van Zandt – known widely in music circles as Little Steven and Bruce fans as Miami Steve, among other sobriquets – is something of a New Jersey renaissance man, yet he’s never been one to really seek the spotlight.

Whether it’s his long-standing role as Bruce Springsteen’s right-hand man in The E Street Band – it was Van Zandt himself who gifted him the nickname “The Boss” – or in his lauded TV role as Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, he’s usually happy playing sideman to bigger names, a role he carries off with a humble aplomb.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule – he had the lead role in short-lived Norwegian-American gangster series Lilyhammer, and he hosts his own beloved Underground Garage radio show which is syndicated all over the world – but mainly Van Zandt is happy to eschew the limelight and leave the grandstanding to others.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul covering The Southside Johnny and Asbury Jukes classic, “I Don’t Wanna Go Home”, performed by Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul at BluesFest 2016.

But with The Boss a couple of years ago deciding to make a lengthy one-man stand on Broadway and his acting commitments having temporarily dried up, Van Zandt found himself reviving the ‘80s outfit he’d formed during another hiatus from The E Street Band – this time when Springsteen was assembling his 1982 solo masterpiece Nebraska – namely Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul.

His solo project had found him returning to the Jersey Shore sound that Van Zandt had helped formulate back in the ‘70s, first with his early group Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and then on the early Springsteen records (which he largely arranged), and then over the course of a number of staggered albums taking that sound into new and routinely fascinating places.

Yet he’d barely even considered that body of work for 20 years when in mid-2016 he was randomly invited by a London promoter to appear at a UK blues festival, after which he pulled a new version of the band together and hasn’t looked back. Since then the band has two new albums to their name – Soulfire (2017) and Summer Of Sorcery (2019) – and has been touring ever since to global acclaim, something Van Zandt had never envisaged happening again.

“Yeah, it’s been quite an experience and I’m very, very happy I did it,” he chuckles. “It was fortunate, Bruce decided to spend some time on Broadway and I didn’t have a new TV show going, so just through those random circumstances I ended up revisiting my own work, and I found it to be really quite rewarding.

“I hadn’t realised the value of the stuff and how well it all held up and how it had kinda become its own genre through the years, that ‘50s rock-meets-soul thing which at this point is quite unique.

“So it’s just been fun to revisit your stuff and try and reconnect with an audience again and see how the stuff holds up. It’s been quite a year-and-a-half of exploration and discovery and it’s been a very, very satisfying response from the audience – the audiences have been going crazy!”

The Disciples Of Soul are a 15-piece powerhouse, but Van Zandt is like a pig in mud back putting their massive sound together.

“The arranging is the fun part,” he smiles. “I’ve been using five horns ever since we put together Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes really which was mid-‘70s, and then I carried that same sound into my first solo album in ’82. Then the rest of my solo albums are all very different from each other, so I just went back to it recently.

“Plus I recently produced an album for the great Darlene Love and she had these great background singers so I fell in love with background vocals, so that’s the one thing I’ve added to my sound now. I just thoroughly enjoy the horn parts and the string parts and the background vocal parts all being woven together and complementing each other, and making sure that they all work together and don’t step on each other and don’t cancel each other out and they all work dynamically: that’s the fun part for me.”

And being in the spotlight again? Little Steven is fine with it, but you can tell that he’s still taking on such prominence reluctantly.

“I’ve never really needed it, my inclination is to be behind the scenes,” he reflects. “I’m really a producer at heart – that’s how I describe myself. I really am a producer first, but I am a performer and I do enjoy being a sideman.

“Even as a frontman I got really quite good at it in the ’80s – you get used to it and you get good at it – and I’m almost halfway back to being a frontman, I’m not all the way there yet. I’m working my way back because it’s a big mountain to climb, man, it’s a whole different job and you actually have to work for a living as opposed to being ‘the guitar player’ where you can just muck around.”

Van Zandt is famously well versed in many different types of music – as well as the Jersey Shore sound he helped found, he’s a noted rock’n’roll aficionado and curates satellite radio stations covering both garage-rock and outlaw country – and he puts these disparate passions in part down to the timing of his earliest musical forays.

“I think growing up when we did, it was an extraordinary period of time,” he marvels. “It was an absolute renaissance in the sense that the greatest music being made was also the most commercial, which we’ll never see again or not for hundreds of years, I think.

“More than that, we were, in a funny way, pretty much a monoculture back then and the trends would come and go year by year: in ’64 everyone’s into the British Invasion, in ’65 everybody is into folk-rock and that’s when The Byrds and Bob Dylan started, in ’66 it might have been country-rock so everybody gets into country music and then it was jazz-rock so everybody gets into jazz, and then in ’67 it’s psychedelic-rock so everyone gets into that – and I mean everybody! – and then in ’68 blues-rock came in and everybody got into blues, and then the final trend of the ‘60s in ’69 was southern-rock, which is more rootsy and Americana and The Band and Delaney & Bonnie and Taj Mahal and The Youngbloods and people like that.

“And believe it or not most musicians would follow from one trend to the other and you’d pick up some pieces of it – you’d take some of it for your own identity – and then some would stay in it: some would get to country-rock and they’d stay there, some would get to blues and they would stay there for the rest of their career. But a lot of us would go from one to the next, and you’d learn that genre and pick up what you want from it for your own identity and then you’d move on to the next one.

“So I think partially it was a result of growing up in that time, when things went from one trend to another and we were all going to school without knowing we were going to school. Parts of each genre stick with you and in the end you tend to just appreciate greatness whenever you hear it, it doesn’t matter what genre it is really. Even if it’s not a genre that you’re particularly fond of or use for your own identity, greatness is greatness and you recognise it and you appreciate it. I think that’s what’s stuck with me all these years.”

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Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul: Summer Of Sorcery

Steven Van Zandt knows what you’re thinking, especially when the topic is his music and not his acting. You hear his name and immediately imagine a bandana-clad rock gypsy who sings and plays heated, self-righteous diatribes about politics and life in a justice-challenged America. And he doesn’t disagree with you. “All my previous solo records were very political and very personal,” he says from his Manhattan home. “And I wanted to get away from both of those things. I wanted to fictionalize my life. I was sick of me.”

Van Zandt’s first step in that direction came when he heard that his longtime employer, Bruce Springsteen, would be heading to Broadway in 2017. “I said, ‘I might as well use the time,’” he says. On that year’s Soulfire, Van Zandt revived his inactive solo career, his long-dormant band name (Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul) and several songs he’d written for other artists but had never cut himself. “As soon as I did Soulfire, I said, ‘I should evolve this to the next logical place,’” he recalls. “All my records in the Eighties were diverse, but the music was always second to the lyrics. This time I wanted the music to come first.”

For his next project, Van Zandt started with a new song, “Summer of Sorcery,” which he says was “relatively new territory for me — I’d never wandered into that Van Morrison area very often.” Starting with that swirly, strummy reverie, a new idea took shape: what he calls “a concept loosely about going back and experiencing the first summer of consciousness, first time in love, first experiences in life and that thrill of unlimited possibilities.”

Working with his current band, Van Zandt rode that feeling into Summer of Sorcery, the most eclectic record he’s ever made. Set for May release, it largely dispenses with protest songs and revels in the rock, soul and R&B of his Sixties youth. On tracks like “Soul Power Twist,” “Vortex” and “Love Again,” he returns to the sort of Jersey Shore soul shakers he once wrote for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. “I wanted to write some of those songs for me,” he says. “I would’ve given those to Southside, but I never wrote them for myself.”

The album also ventures into Phil Spector–style pop (“A World of Our Own”), Latin music (“Party Mambo”) and garage rock (“Communion”). Even more striking are the lyrics, which avoid autobiography in favor of character studies, like the lovesick romantic in “A World of Our Own.” “Every singer is an actor, and the song is the script,” he says. “And you’re selling it. You’re convincing the audience you are who you say you are. In this case, I had to inhabit the body of that person, and I played and sang along with these different movies that required my singing to be different.”

The results are particularly felt on “Suddenly You,” which features a rare Van Zandt swoony croon. He also points to the horn-swinging “Love Again,” which he calls “a complete fantasy” inspired by pop of a bygone era. “I was thinking about Sam Cooke singing ‘I ain’t got nobody’ [in ‘Another Saturday Night’] and yet he was having sex with two or three women a day!” Van Zandt laughs. “But there’s nothing autobiographical about this one.”

Still, Van Zandt couldn’t shut out current events entirely. “Superfly Terraplane” portrays a new anti-gun and pro–social-media generation, while “Gravity” laments the denigrated state of the country (“Two hundred years of muscle/You blew it all trying to be the boss”). “I couldn’t help myself,” he shrugs. “It pulled me back in.”

Yet he admits it’s ironic that he’s made one of his least political records during one of the country’s most tumultuous times. “I got that with Soulfire too: ‘What are you doing?’” he says. “It’s unbelievable what’s going on. We’re in a civil war here. But my usefulness now is trying to bring people together and find a common ground.” Van Zandt learned a hard lesson when he launched TeachRock, a rock-history–based education program for schools around the country. “I didn’t endorse Obama and I didn’t criticize Trump,” he says. “TeachRock is the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I didn’t want a teacher in Alabama saying, ‘I don’t want to follow this liberal.’”

Van Zandt will be taking the Summer of Sorcery songs on the road starting this summer through October. He hasn’t heard anything about future E Street Band roadwork, but he knows he needs to take advantage of his break and the chance to play his own songs as much as possible. “If Bruce goes back out,” he says, “we could be gone two years.”

Until that happens, assuming it does, Van Zandt says he’s going to enjoy stepping away from himself. “There’s nothing more anxiety-producing than trying to understand yourself and analyze yourself,” he says. “It’s exhausting.”

The upcoming album ‘Summer of Sorcery’, out May 3rd.

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Steven Van Zandt’s and his Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul band performed a rare show at a smaller venue in the same complex as the Indigo at the 02 Arena.

The longtime Bruce Springsteen collaborator and star of The Sopranos Steven Van Zandt  performed his first London show for over 25 years at BluesFest . Two weeks ago came the unexpected and extremely welcome announcement that Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul were booked to appear at the show in London on October 29th, as part of the annual Bluesfest — and with the horn section .

“It’s not so much a reunion as a rebirth,” said Steven, acknowledging that the line-up changed regularly after the golden years of 1982-83. After several presales earlier in the week, tickets went on sale to the public on October 21, eight days before the show, and were eagerly snapped up. To allow Steven time to attend the Bluesfest double bill of Richie Sambora and Bad Company in the O2 arena next door, it was made clear that the Disciples would not be taking the stage until 11pm, after a support set by The Marcus King Band. following an introduction by Dave Clark of the Dave Clark Five, the stage curtains parted to reveal the 15-piece Disciples Of Soul orchestra (with five horn players and three female backing vocalists), all dressed in black,

As they blasted into “Soul Fire” (a little-known Van Zandt co-write for The Breakers), it was a thrill to hear that high-volume, intoxicating, invigorating, inspiring wall of sound, propelled by guitars and horns, bolder, bigger, brighter and better than before, evoking past glories and ushering in a new future. Wearing his familiar full-length jacket (similar to the ones worn by the original Disciples in the early ’80s), Little Steven contributed impassioned lead vocals and fiery guitar solos, revelling in his rediscovered role as frontman. And so it continued for the next 130 minutes, as the band worked their way through a powerful and varied 22-song set, ( see Setlist below )

The remainder of the original material in the show broke down into several categories: songs from the Men Without Women album (“Forever,” “Inside of Me,” “Until the Good Is Gone” — not as many as expected); songs from the Freedom No Compromise album (“Freedom,” “Bitter Fruit”); songs written for the first three Asbury Jukes records (“I Played the Fool,” “She Got Me Where She Wants Me,” “Some Things Just Don’t Change,” “Trapped Again,” and “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” introduced as “The first song I ever wrote”); songs written for the Asbury Jukes comeback album Better Days (“Coming Back,” “All I Needed Was You”); plus “Ride the Night Away” (co-written with Steve Jordan and recorded by Jimmy Barnes and later by the Asbury Jukes) and main set-closer “Goodbye” (from the still-unreleased Lost Boys album project).

In recognition of Bluesfest, the Disciples proved their flexibility and versatility by including covers of “Killing Floor” (Howlin’ Wolf, played in the style of the Electric Flag recording), “The Blues Is My Business” (Etta James), “Groovin’ Is Easy” (Electric Flag), “Love Disease” (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), “Down and Out In New York City” (James Brown), “Walking By Myself” (Jimmy Rogers) and “Can I Get a Witness” (Marvin Gaye), the traditional encore back in the days of the original line-up.

Little Steven ( Van Zandt) & The Disciples Of Soul were joined by Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora for their last song, a little later in the evening: a cover of the Marvin Gaye hit, “Can I Get a Witness.”

After two hours of high-energy rock, soul, funk and blues (New Jersey-style, by way of New York City and London, England), Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul took their final bows. It had been a triumphant return and a huge success, reminding older fans just how good Steven’s original songs are and introducing them to others who had previously been unaware of his musical life beyond the E Street Band. After this masterclass, the audience were thoroughly satisfied and perhaps just a little awestruck, could only stand around until security threw them out, talk about what they’d just seen and wish there was a late show, so they could do it all over again. It was nearly 1:30am, but nobody wanted to go home.

This was the first Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul show in 25 years. No more are currently planned.

Setlist;

“Soulfire”
“Killing Floor”
“Coming Back”
“Forever”
“Inside of Me”
“I Played the Fool”
“The Blues Is My Business”
“Until the Good Is Gone”
“Ride the Night Away”
“Groovin’ Is Easy”
“All I Needed Was You”
“Love Disease”
“She Got Me Where She Wants Me”
“Some Things Just Don’t Change”
“Trapped Again”
“Down and Out in New York City”
“Freedom”
“Walking by Myself”
“I Don’t Want to Go Home”
“Bitter Fruit”
“Goodbye”
“Can I Get a Witness” (with Richie Sambora)

“Thank you London, and everybody who came in from all over,” tweeted Steven the next day, “thank you for the wonderful encouragement last night. Very much what I needed.” He then celebrated the end of the Bluesfest weekend by attending the double bill of Jeff Beck and Van Morrison at the O2 Arena.

Little Steven now appears determined to reactivate his long dormant solo career next year, after his commitments to Bruce Springsteen in Australia and New Zealand are complete (he has already said that he will not be leaving the E Street Band to pursue his own interests as he did in the ’80s). “I’ve ignored my own stuff too long,” he said recently. If everything goes to plan, 2017 will see the release of a new album and the re-release of Steven’s older recordings (possibly as part of a retrospective boxed set) in addition to a “proper tour” with the Disciples in the summer on both sides of the Atlantic. Time will tell whether the line-up will feature the same international blend or whether the Disciples will have a more American flavor next time. Given the prohibitive costs involved, it may not be possible to take 15 musicians on the road, so some trimming may be necessary. The setlist would also undoubtedly feature some changes, with fewer covers and more songs from the new album or from Men Without Women. If so, this makes Saturday night’s unforgettable London concert even more unique and the audience even more privileged to have witnessed it.

thanks to Backstreets for the review.