Music legend Steven Van Zandt sat down with Rolling Stone to chat career firsts, reflecting on his early days as a musician, retelling the very first time he met and performed with Bruce Springsteen, portraying his beloved character of Silvio Dante on the Sopranos, and more.
Watch: Steven Van Zandt talks Springsteen history
For a guitarist as revered as Van Zandt, it’s always fascinating hear of the first time they picked up an almighty axe. For Steven, the fateful day landed sometime in 1963, when his grandfather showed him a song from his village in Calabria, Italy. He notes this was a year before the Beatles made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show (just for perspective). “So I got a little bit of a jump on everybody,” he says.
His meeting with The Boss is recounted with warmth and affection through the interview. “We hit it off right away,” says Steven on Springsteen. That had a lot to do with the fact that not many bands existed before the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, so anyone in a band was automatically friends.
“It was also weird to have long hair,” he adds. “If you had long hair, you were friends. If you had long hair and you were in a band, you were best friends – which was the case with us.” It’s clear the two shared a close bond, with Steven sharing that he and Springsteen were “the only two guys that considered rock and roll to be everything, and that was a weird way to be back then, ’cause it wasn’t a legitimate business yet.”
According to Steven, the E Street Band was a rock and roll version of the Rat Pack. “I was the Dean Martin character, the party guy,” he says. “Of course, Bruce was Frank [Sinatra] and Clarence was Sammy [Davis Jr.] on steroids.”