This week, E Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt will be honored by Little Kids Rock with their annual “Big Man Of The Year” award at their Right2Rock event. The non-profit organization, which works to restore and revitalize music education in disadvantaged public schools, has honored Clarence Clemons, Bernie Williams and Lady Gaga in the past.
The ceremony, taking place October 16 at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, will feature a group of legendary performers paying tribute to the man once known as “Miami Steve.” Elvis Costello, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, Dion, Darlene Love, Southside Johnny, former American Idol contestant Kris Allen, Gary U.S. Bonds and The E Street Band’s touring sax player Jake Clemons are all on the bill.
What songs will make the performance? Here, we make a few suggestions, drawing from all the phases of Steven’s amazing career.
(photo credit: Jim Dyson, Getty Images)
Bruce Springsteen – “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”
From 1975’s Born To Run, the song loosely tells the story of the formation of The E Street Band… which Van Zandt wasn’t a member of (yet). But Bruce called his pal in to help him out with the horn arrangements, and Steve ended up helping out on the album, singing backing vocals on “Thunder Road.” Bruce also credited Steven with helping him come up with the guitar riff to “Born To Run.” After the album came out, Springsteen invited Steve to join his touring band on guitar, allowing him to focus more on being a frontman. It would, no doubt, be an emotional highlight of Right2Rock if Clarence Clemons’ nephew, Jake, performed this one.
Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes – “I Don’t Want To Go Home”
Arguably the group’s signature song. The title track from their 1976 debut album, Little Steven produced the record and wrote three songs, including this one. Bruce Springsteen also contributed two songs to the LP, including “The Fever.” Southside Johnny is on the bill at Right2Rock, so it’s a no-brainer that he would tackle some of his own songs for the show. Steven produced their second and third albums, so you could also throw in “This Time It’s For Real,” the title track from their second album (written by Steven) and “Trapped Again” from Hearts Of Stone (a Van Zandt/Springsteen/Southside co-write).
(Ronnie Spector/ photo credit: Jared Wickerham, Getty Images)
Ronnie Spector – “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”
Little Steven produced this 1977 single, which featured The E Street Band backing the former Ronette as she covered a Billy Joel classic.
Gary U.S. Bonds – “This Little Girl”
from 1981’s Dedication, co-produced for the soul singer by Van Zandt and Springsteen. “This Little Girl,” written by Springsteen, yielded Bonds one of the biggest hits of his career, and his first top 20 hit in nearly two decades. Bonds is also on the bill, so this seems like a likely choice for him to sing.
Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – “Lyin’ In A Bed Of Fire”
From Van Zandt’s solo debut, 1982’s Men Without Women. Combining classic ’60s soul, with his Dylan-esque vocals and shredding guitar, this is an underrated gem. And punk rocker turned singer-songwriter Jesse Malin would be the perfect guy to perform it.
Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – “I Am A Patriot”: from his second solo album, 1983’s Voice Of America, this is probably his most well-known solo song, having been covered by Jackson Browne and Eddie Vedder. This seems a likely candidate for the always-political Tom Morello to tackle.
Bruce Springsteen – “Bobby Jean”: From 1984’s Born In The U.S.A., which Van Zandt co-produced, this song was supposedly inspired by the fact that Steven told Bruce he was leaving E Street during the making of the album. After the album came out, he concentrated on his solo career, to be replaced by Nils Lofgren. Van Zandt rejoined in 1999 for the E Street Band’s reunion tour, and is still with them today.
Artists United Against Apartheid – “Sun City”: Little Steven wrote and produced this 1985 track, which featured a cast of huge names from rock, pop, R&B and the then-emerging hip-hop genre. Having Bruce Springsteen, Run-D.M.C., Ringo Starr, The Fat Boys, Bonnie Raitt, Miles Davis, Pete Townshend, Bono, Hall & Oates and Joey Ramone on the same song was a pretty big deal, and this song and its anti-apartheid message had much more anger and punch than other all-star charity efforts of the era such as Band Aid and USA For Africa. Steven produced an entire Sun City album, which also featured tracks from Bono and Peter Gabriel (whose “Biko” was said to be a big inspiration for “Sun City”).
Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes – “It’s Been A Long Time”: From their 1991 album Better Days, it marked Steven’s return as the band’s producer. This song, one of eight Van Zandt wrote or co-wrote for the album, sees Southside, Steven and Bruce Springteen splitting the lead vocals. See above: having Bruce, Steven and Southside Johnny in the same room might lead to a performance of this underrated classic.
Arc Angels – “Living In A Dream”: from their 1992 self titled debut produced by Little Steven. The band featured some of Austin, Texas’s finest, including guitarist/singers Charlie Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II with Double Trouble’s rhythm section, Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon.
(Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals/photo by Jemal Countess, Getty Images)
The Rascals – “People Got To Be Free” recorded at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Steven had nothing to do with the writing of the song in 1968, and wasn’t onstage with the group for this performance. But it was his campaigning that allegedly helped to get the white soul group voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (he did the same in subsequent years for The Dave Clark Five, Darlene Love and The Hollies). Van Zandt’s speech at the ceremony is what gave David Chase the idea to cast him as “Silvio Dante” on HBO’s The Sopranos. The Rascals will be warming up for their upcoming reunion concerts, which were orchestrated by Van Zandt, who started a Kickstarter campaign to help finance it. While they aren’t on the Right2Rock bill, it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that some of the members might show up.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – “Two Hearts”: From 2000’s Live In NYC. When Bruce reunited the E Street Band in 1999, some were surprised that Little Steven rejoined, since his replacement Nils Lofgren was still in the group. Lofgren is the more technical guitar player, so what would Steven bring to the party? Watch this version of the song, and then try to imagine it, sans Steven. That’s what he brings.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – “Long Way Home”: the original version is from Bruce’s 2007 album, Magic. But the live version, where Bruce gives the mic over to Steven at about four and a half minutes in, gives the song more weight and sadness than the studio take.
The Cocktail Slippers – “In The City”: from their 2009 album Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. In the past decade, Steven has been a tireless advocate of garage rock bands, notably this excellent all-female group from Sweden. He produced Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, wrote two songs for the album, cameos in a music video, and released it on his Wicked Cool Records label. The ladies were influenced by the ’60s girl group scene that Darlene Love was such a big part of; it would be fun to hear her give her spin on their songs at Right2Rock.
What songs will actually be on the program? CBS Local will be covering, so look for a full report Wednesday morning. And if you’re in the New York area and thinking of going, get information about ticket sales here.
— Brian Ives, CBS Local