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Little Seven at Music Hall, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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If he were just one of the guitarists in the E Street Band, Steven Van Zandt would have plenty to talk about. But there's so much more.

Beyond that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame credential on E Street, Van Zandt, 67, is a producer and bandleader, responsible for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and his Disciple of Soul. He's a radio host with the syndicated Underground Garage, a program director with Sirius XM and a stage musical producer. He's portrayed gangsters on TV's "The Sopranos" and "Lilyhammer."

During the past couple of years Van Zandt, aka Little Steven, has resurrected his Disciples of Soul for a new album, 2017's "Soulfire," as well as a subsequent live set this year. The Boss, of course, has been busy on Broadway, but Van Zandt is still rolling, at a high rate of speed...

• "Soulfire" is Van Zandt's first Disciples of Soul album in 18 years, an interim even he seems surprised by. "You know, you get busy doing other things," he says by phone. "I really shouldn't have neglected this part of my life; It's a big part of my life -- probably still the biggest part of my life in terms of creative output -- and I just kind of got distracted for 20 years.

• "It sounds ridiculous, I know. But you start acting and that turned into multiple new crafts to learn -- not only acting but writing, TV, producing it, I directed the final episode of 'Lilyhammer.' and then Bruce started touring again and that thing kinda got crazy and each time bigger than the time before. So, yeah, it was a little bit of a shock to front the band again. It's a very different job, man."

• In addition to originals, the 12-song "Soulfire" features new versions of songs from Van Zandt's past, including from the Asbury Jukes as well as song he wrote for Gary U.S. Bonds and Jimmy Barnes. “The easiest thing to do to get back into it was cover myself...which I'd never done before. I never felt like something was wrong or I needed to fix them or they could have been better. It really wasn't that at all. In fact, they were all a challenge to do as well as the first version. I just picked the songs that mean the most to me personally, and a few I really just did not want to be changed. There was an opportunity to take some of them in a different direction, but I wouldn't say better in any case; I would just say 'different.' That was the idea."

• Van Zandt has also launched a TeachRock Foundation that provides a free music history curriculum. So far more than 10,000 educators have registered with TeachRock, while the Disciples of Soul tour is billed as the Teacher Solidarity Tour, providing free tickets to teachers. "It's just a basic solidarity tour so people realize that teaches are the most under-appreciated, underpaid people in our working class. They have to pay for their professional development every year before they become certified as teachers. So we do something that's free and really relevant to their students." TeachRock also provides free workshops in the cities where Van Zandt and company perform. "It's been very rewarding and very satisfying," he says. "It's kind of a different definition of success for us." Details are available at teachrock.org.

• The teacher initiative, however, has forced Van Zandt to steer away from being overtly and directly political with is music and other statements. "That's what feels right right now. I don't want politics to get in the way of what we're trying to do (with TeachRock). I think I can be most useful trying to unify people and be that common ground rather than taking sides. We're divided enough as it is. It's just crazy right now -- we're headed to a civil war, no exaggeration, and it's scary. So I think music is the great common ground between us, and I'm trying to focus out on that and stay out of the partisan politics right now."

• With Springsteen wrapping up his Broadway show in December, fans are wondering what's next. Van Zandt, however, doesn't have answers. "You never know when the phone call's gonna come. I wouldn't be surprised if he decides to take some time off. It's been a hell of a run; By the time he's done in December it'll be 15 months of five days a week. I was joking with him the other day that this is the first legitimate job he's done. So I wouldn't be surprised if he says, 'OK, let's get back to work,' or he could take a year off. You never know when the phone call's gonna come. I just keep doing what I'm doing, and when the phone call comes we'll do that."

Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at the Music Hall Center, 350 Madison Ave, Detroit. $29.50-$79.50 and free for teachers via teachrock.org/tour. 313-887-8500 or musichall.org.

Web Site: www.musichall.org

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