Steven Van Zandt “the consigliere of the E Street Band,” Springsteen says

FAN Editor

They’ve been best friends for more than half a century, but Bruce Springsteen struggles to find the words to describe E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt.

Van Zandt says he doesn’t like the spotlight, but he’s spent decades performing on stage. He’d never acted, but the role of Silvio Dante, the right-hand man to Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos,” made him a screen star.

“Steve is the consigliere of the E Street Band. If I have questions pertaining a direction for the band, or issues with the band, or something like the set list, I’m not sure what we’re gonna play that night, or what we should start with, or if he has second doubts about something, he always comes to me,” Springsteen said. “And we’ve been doing it together for a long time. And that’s a wonderful thing. I mean, how many people have their best friend at their side 50 some years later?”

Consigliere of the E Street Band

Van Zandt, widely known as Little Steven, and The Boss met as teens in New Jersey in the 1960s. They were misfits seduced by rock ‘n’ roll. 

They formed a band and spent years playing in bars, learning how to play live and marry musicianship with showmanship. The pair spent seven years playing together before they officially got into the music business, Van Zandt said.

Despite what his colorful signature style may suggest, Van Zandt said he likes to blend in. 

“I’d rather be standing next to the guy,” he said. “Let him be in the spotlight, let him take the heat.” 

Jon Wertheim, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt
Jon Wertheim, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt 60 Minutes

There’s no doubt The Boss was in the spotlight as The E Street Band became one of the most successful rock ‘n’ roll acts of all time. Van Zandt was right there alongside him, officially becoming a member of the E Street Band in 1975.

“It saved my life. I mean, I didn’t have any path forward. And so it brings you acceptance. You’re part of something,” he said. “And man, it just came along right at the right time. You’re making a living playing rock and roll, man. That was the miracle.”

Van Zandt, who doesn’t read or write music, brought his guitar chops and his musical ear. He arranged the iconic horns on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and polished Springsteen’s guitar lick on “Born to Run.”

“I just was kind of helping shape things and trying to realize Bruce’s vision,” Van Zandt said. “It’s his vision. I try to make bad things good, good things great, and great things better, you know?”

Van Zandt left the band in 1984 after an argument over creative input.

Van Zandt’s solo career

Van Zandt married his wife, actress Maureen Santoro, and started writing songs for his own band, Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul.

He also turned his attention to political activism, writing and co-producing the protest song “Sun City” in 1985 about the apartheid system in South Africa. 

Van Zandt and Springsteen reconciled in the late 90s and Springsteen asked him to rejoin the E Street Band, but Van Zandt had a prior commitment, one he couldn’t refuse. 

Van Zandt says producer and director David Chase had asked him to play the lead role on a show called “The Sopranos.” 

“He goes to HBO, HBO says, ‘Are you outta your mind, you know? We never spent this much money in our lives. You gonna depend on a guy who never acted before?'” Van Zandt said.

Steven Van Zandt shows Jon Wertheim a "Sopranos" poster
Steven Van Zandt shows Jon Wertheim a “Sopranos” poster 60 Minutes

The lead role went to James Gandolfini, but Van Zandt would scene-steal as Silvio Dante, manager of the Bada Bing Club. 

“I knew if I could create the guy from the outside in, if I could see him in the mirror, I felt I could be him,” Van Zandt said. “And I was a little bit of a mob aficionado, you know what I mean? You know, I played at Flamingo Hotel for Christ’s sake, you know? Come on, come on, you know? I mean, who has better credibility than that, you know?”

The role of a right-hand man was also familiar to him because of his years working with Springsteen. 

“I know those dynamics, OK? I know being the only guy who’s not afraid to tell the boss the truth,” he said. “If you’re the guy’s best friend, or the consigliere, or the underboss, you know, somebody has to be the one to occasionally bring bad news.”

Steven Van Zandt, right-hand-man “Silvio Dante,” on Sopranos co-star James Gandolfini 04:58

Lilyhammer,” a mob show based in Norway, came next for Van Zandt. It was the first original series on Netflix. Van Zandt co-wrote and co-produced the series all while playing the lead role.

Van Zandt at 72

These days, Van Zandt is focused on saving rock ‘n’ roll. In 2002, He launched Little Steven’s Underground Garage, a weekly radio program. Van Zandt also started TeachRock, a free K-12 curriculum to promote music and the arts in the classroom.

He’s also still playing; “60 Minutes” was there in May for E Street Band’s show at Circus Maximus in Rome. Before going on stage, the pair looked back at how they got to where they are now.

“We couldn’t do anything else,” Van Zandt said. “So we were going to, we were destined to do this.”

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