Little Steven Van Zandt is nothing if not committed to the cause…the cause, of course, being rock and roll. As Bruce Springsteen’s guitar foil and second banana in the E Street Band and the front man for his own ensemble, the Disciples of Soul — not to mention his success as an accredited actor and music director of his long-running popular syndicated radio programs “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” and “Outlaw Country” — he maintains a hallowed stature and an active schedule even under the less that ideal circumstances produced by the pandemic.
Indeed, while Covid has brought a halt to his roadwork, it hasn’t made him idle…not in the least. He’s currently touting two live releases under the aegis of his Disciples of Soul, one being an expanded four disc reissue of the Soulfire Live! Concert collection, and the other, Macca To Mecca! recorded live in the U.K. and released both separately as a CD/DVD package and also as part of the aforementioned Soulfire Live! rerelease.
“Yes, it’s been real weird,” Van Zandt concedes when asked about the effects of the lockdown on his output. “I don’t know. We’ve lost a friend or two. But I also have to admit that after 20 years of running around, I enjoy being home for a minute. I’m not much of a social person to begin with, so it hasn’t been too bad for me. Psychologically, it’s a little hard to figure out what to do for work. But I’m still adjusting and figuring that out. I’m producing records on the phone…it’s certainly not ideal. (chuckles) And I’ve got the couple of records coming out. So there’s been a lot of stuff in the can that I can still work on.”
A denizen of New York’s Greenwich Village, Van Zandt lives and breathes rock and roll. He easily quotes obscure factoids seemingly on a whim, and shares his love of the music through his radio programs as well as his own recordings. Macca To Mecca is a perfect case in point. The majority of the album was recorded at the famed Cavern Club in Liverpool, England, the venue that allowed the early Beatles to shape their sound. Likewise, the first track on the album was recorded at the first gig of the Disciples’ 2017 U.K. tour and features a surprise appearance from Paul McCartney on a searing version of “I Saw Her Standing There.”
“It was the first gig of the European tour and it happened the night after I filmed my part for Scorsese’s ‘Irishman’,” Van Zandt remembers. “That was a hell of a week. I always wanted to work with Marty and finally got a chance to do that for my little five seconds on screen. It was such a thrill. And then the next day, Paul came onstage, which was a surprise. I knew he was coming to the gig, so I wanted to prepare something just in case. I knew Paul was a Little Richard fan, as I am. It was Paul who introduced me to Little Richard in the first place. So I said we should do a Little Richard arrangement of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and put the horns on it like Little Richard would have done. It happened to be the biggest gig of our tour, like 3,000 people, and we didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse it.”
In fact, it was special in other ways as well. “Paul doesn’t really go out that much,” he continues. “So I said to him,’You’re working all the time, so you and Nancy (McCartney’s wife) just sit with my wife Maureen and don’t even think about any pressure to come onstage.’ He appreciated that I think. So we go on and do the show and we’re bowing before the encore, and then my roadie runs up and tells me that Paul’s coming on! I’m thinking that I’m glad we prepared something, but we hadn’t prepared at all with Paul. He comes on and he was playing guitar, and I gave him the first solo and he played great. Then my guitar player Marc Ribler player did the second solo and it was as great as it gets. One of the most extraordinary moments of my life. This is the guy without whom I wouldn’t be here. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d be doing. He came onstage with Bruce and I once, and he invited us onstage when he played Madison Square Garden, and that was fun. But coming only stage, endorsing me, was truly one of the great thrills of my life. Talk about validation! That was one of the ultimate validations for me. I’ll always be so grateful to him for that. He obviously enjoyed the show, and that’s why he did it. It was quite a complement. I’ll never forget that. That’s for sure”