Sunday, January 3, 2010


As the '90s were moving toward their close, it looked like Little Steven Van Zandt was getting ready for retirement.  He hadn't released a record all decade and hadn't done much production work (the exceptions being for Southside Johnny, Meat Loaf and The Arc Angels - an Austin Texas group featuring Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall II and the Double Trouble rhythm section of Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton).

And then 1999 happened.

A few years prior, his beloved Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Steven gave the speech introducing them. That speech led directly to his acting career. He'd never acted but David Chase offered him the role of Silvio Dante in the HBO-transforming series The Sopranos. The show debuted on January 10, 1999, introducing Steven to a new audience. Later that year, Bruce Springsteen announced
that he was reactivating The E Street Band, complete with Little Steven (making them a three-guitar band, with Bruce, Steven and Nils Lofgren all playing, as well as occasionally Patti Scialfa).

In the 00s, Steven has spent a lot of time on the road with The E Street Band, playing some of the best concerts this planet has ever seen.

But he's also spent a lot of time trying to rescue rock and roll. Not metal, not indie rock, and not adult contemporary, but rock and roll.  He started with his syndicated Underground Garage radio show, which brought non-formatted (and not always old, and not always male-driven and not always white!) rock and roll, one night a week, to the embarassingly boring and dull classic rock format. I heard it on the local classic rock station here, and could not believe it. It was amazing.

He started promoting concerts by garage rock bands old and new.  He also started his own record label, Wicked Cool, for old school garage rock bands, and he also started a twenty-four hour channel at SIRIUS Satellite Radio, with a lineup of DJs that include Dictators frontman Handsome Dick Manitoba, KO & The Knockouts frontwoman Ko Molina, former Rolling Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, Radio Legend (and when I say Radio Legend, I mean from the awesome, pre-corporate radio era) Kid Leo and Steven himself.  At one point, Joan Jett was a DJ also. Comedian/actor/game show host Drew Carey hosts a show once a month. And Little Steven gets on the mic as well. (That channel is what made me a SIRIUS subscriber, and that was what gave me the idea to try and get a job at SIRIUS when I needed a job... and that's where I am today).

My second favorite album of 2009 was Saint Valentine's Day Massacre by The Cocktail Slippers, produced by Little Steven and released domestically by Wicked Cool; a bunch of the songs got played fairly frequently on The Underground Garage, and now they are becoming one of my favorite new bands. I would never, ever have heard of this band if it weren't for Little Steven.  But I also have gotten turned on to many others that I would never had heard of without the Garage: The Charms, The Chesterfield Kings, Creatures of the Golden Dawn, The Downbeat 5, The Contrast, The Grip Weeds, The Fondas, The High Dials, The Len Price 3, The Night Marchers (even though I'm a fan of Rocket From The Crypt), The Pigeon Detectives, Vibeke Saugestad and The Jessica Fletchers, among others. I may very well hear something for the first time tommorrow when I'm listening. Do I buy full albums by these bands? Sometimes. Sometimes, it's just about havng a song on one of Steven's many Coolest Songs In The World compilations. Sometimes I'll just buy a song or two on iTunes. But with rock bands, it isn't always about the legends with box sets, tribute albums and huge tours. Sometimes it's about just having one classic 45". Just one 45". That's the magic of the Nuggets collections, and that's kind of what Steven curates with the Garage. He is a man on a mission, you should join him. Check out his radio show, or his radio station, or his website and order some albums. You'll be glad you did. It's the kind of music that makes your life better!

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