Steven Van Zandt was born in 1950 in Boston, Massachusetts. Along with joining Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band in the 1970s, he served as a producer for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and delivered his own solo work. Van Zandt later landed a high-profile role on the HBO series The Sopranos, and went on to found a record label, a media production company and a non-profit organization.
Musician, producer, songwriter, actor and activist Steven Van Zandt was born Steven Lento on November 22, 1950, in Boston, Massachusetts. Growing up in New Jersey, Van Zandt learned to play the guitar and started playing in a band in the mid-1960s.
Around 1975, he helped form Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and joined Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. With both groups, he helped out behind the scenes; he served as a producer for three Southside Johnny albums, and along with performing with the E Street Band, he co-produced Springsteen's The River (1980) and Born in the U.S.A. (1984). Van Zandt also formed his own group, Little Steven and the Disciplines of Soul, in the early 1980s.
Around 1984, Van Zandt left the E Street Band to pursue other interests. He used his clout as a musician to help fight apartheid, the government policy of racial segregation, in South Africa. Van Zandt enlisted other famed performers, including Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Bono and Springsteen, to join together to establish an organization called Artists United Against Apartheid, which recorded the album Sun City (1985). The single bearing the album's title called for musicians to boycott the South African resort of that name. This organization was only the beginning of Van Zandt's activism. He later worked to raise awareness about U.S. military interference in the governments of Central America.
Over the years, Van Zandt has released solo albums which explore a wealth of musical styles and social and political themes. On his 1999 album, Born Again Savage, many tracks have religious overtones, such as "Saint Francis" and "Face of God." On previous recordings he ruminated on such topics as economics, the Solidarity movement in Poland and South American politics.
Along with his own work, Van Zandt has been a producer for numerous recording artists, including Lone Justice and Lords of the New Church. His songs have been performed by Jimmy Cliff, Pearl Jam, Jackson Browne and Brian Seltzer, among others.
Acting and Other Projects
In 1999, Van Zandt took his career into a new direction: acting. With no previous experience, he was a natural in the role of Silvio Dante on the award-winning HBO series The Sopranos. He was barely recognizable, having traded in his headscarf and colorful rocker clothing for slick, styled hair and suits. His character serves as a consigliere, or trusted advisor, to the often troubled mob boss Tony Soprano. The show became a family affair of sorts, with his real-life wife, Maureen, appearing as Silvio’s wife, Gabriella.
While on The Sopranos, Van Zandt continued to pursue his love of music. He rejoined the E Street Band and went on tour with his old friend Bruce Springsteen in 1999 and 2000. Van Zandt helped put together a series of concerts of garage rock bands in 2001 and began hosting a syndicated radio program called Little Steven’s Underground Garage the following year. He is also the founder of Renegade Nation, a diverse media company involved in radio, television, film and music, and Wicked Cool Records.
Van Zandt has continued to explore new business and artistic opportunities. During the summer of 2006, he and his wife announced that they had formed a theatrical production company with some experienced producers. The following year he founded the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, a nonprofit organization geared toward teaching the history of rock and its relation to American history as a whole.
Van Zandt once again assumed the character of TV gangster in 2012 by playing reformed crime boss Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano on the Netflix series Lilyhammer. A longtime member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee, he was honored with induction into the Hall, along with the rest of the E Street Band, in 2014.
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