He’s Springsteen’s right-hand man in The E Street Band - but how Steven Van Zandt handle the 10 questions we ask everyone?
1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?
“It was an Epiphone, I don’t know the model number. This was probably 1965. I wish I had kept it but I couldn’t get a handle on it because it was semi-hollowbody and I didn’t know how to control things in those days. I traded it in for a Telecaster and that was my main guitar for the next three to four years. In those days your guitar was your identity and Bruce [Springsteen] - we were friends all the way back - said to me, ‘I’m thinking of switching over to a Tele… Would you mind?’ He had to ask my permission because the guitar was so identified with who you were. So at that point I switched to a Strat and he went with the Tele.”
2. Suppose the building were burning down, which guitar from your collection would you save?
“My lifelong roadie loaned me his Les Paul, which I never gave back to him. It’s a ’55 or ’56, a really, really valuable one, and it’s just amazing. I don’t take it on the road, obviously. I’ve only used it on one album of mine called Born Again Savage. It’s a black Les Paul, very, very early - it might have even been ’54. They just sound different.”
3. What’s the oldest guitar you own?
“It would be that Les Paul. Technically I don’t own it! [laughs] But if we didn’t count that one then it would probably be my main guitar, which is a ’99 reissue of a ’57 Stratocaster.
“I had a fantastic ’63 Stratocaster and just after I joined the E Street Band, I was on the road two weeks and it got stolen. So I said, ‘Y’know I really don’t want to take anything valuable on the road any more. I want guitars I can just pick right off the rack.’ So that was the one I picked off the rack - and now that’s valuable!”
4. When was the last time you practised and what did you play?
“Paul McCartney called me and said, ‘We’re playing Madison Square Garden tomorrow; do you want to come on stage and play a song?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ and the song was I Saw Her Standing There and I had to learn that solo.
“George Harrison has got to be the most underrated guitar player in history. He may not have been the most versatile guy in the world but what he did was absolutely incredible, articulate and extremely tasteful - and difficult to copy. ’”
5. When was the last time you changed your own strings?
“I think it’s got to be the 70s… I’m not kidding. I don’t think I’ve tuned a guitar since the 70s! Terribly diva-like, I know, but I’m not a technical person and, unless I’m in my room learning or writing a song, I don’t even tune them, never mind string ’em.”
6. If you could change one thing about a recording you’ve been on, what would it be and why?
“I think you learn as you go, obviously and the first album I ever produced, the Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes’ I Don’t Want To Go Home album, I wish I’d trusted my ears more. I wish I’d been a little more insistent on it sounding more like it does live. It took me quite a while to make the studio function as well as live performance. Even with The E Street Band it took us five albums, until The River, before we figured it out. At that point we captured what it was like live - until then things were a little bit cleaner than they should be and a bit more separate than they should be.”
7. What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage and five minutes afterwards?
“I don’t have any rituals or routines. I’m sometimes doing interviews at the last minute; not five minutes before, obviously. I get dressed at the very last minute and go on - just goin’ to work, man, y’know? Five minutes after we come off stage, talk about the show for a minute - what went particularly right and particularly wrong - then we go back to the hotel, take a shower or whatever and have dinner together.”
8. What song would you play on an acoustic around a campfire?
“Oh my god, you’ve got the wrong guy! That’s just never going to happen… I’m a band guy through and through. I just don’t have that thing in me - at least, not yet.”
9. What aspect of playing guitar would you like to be better at?
“I was at the Les Paul tribute concert at The Iridium and Jeff Beck and Brian Setzer played a song together and these two guys are just ridiculous. They’re so fucking good at the rockabilly style and I would really like to be better at that. They’re both the world’s foremost rockabilly players and it’s just amazing to listen to them.”
10. Is there a myth about you or your playing that you’d like to set the record straight on?
“When The E Street Band started Bruce used to tell stories on stage which were just funny little fantasies, and he’d talk about me constantly practising which was a complete myth. I never practise; I don’t even pick up the guitar sometimes in between tours!”