For Shore: Steven Van Zandt brings Jersey Sound, ‘Summer of Sorcery’ to Easton’s State Theater
When Steven Van Zandt looked for a folllowup album to his critically-acclaimed “Soulfire” (2017), he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to capture that sure-fire sensation of summer.
In the midst of the Summer of 2019, his Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul tour stops at 8 p.m. July 26, State Theater Center for the Arts, Easton.
At the center of the concert, part of a seven-month tour that takes him and the band across the United States to Europe and back again, are selections from Van Zandt’s “Summer of Sorcery” album.
“I just felt like that’s what we need right now because everything’s so dark and depressing,” says Van Zandt.
The album, which was released in May, is billed as Van Zandt’s first album of original material in 20 years.
Van Zandt released his first album, “Men Without Women” in 1982, followed by “Voice of America” (1984), “Freedom - No Compromise” (1987), “Revolution” (1989) and “Born Again Savage” (1999).
“It [‘Summer of Sorcery’] kind of takes up from my 1980s’ records. It’s an evolution of my fourth and fifth abums,” says Van Zandt in a phone interview from his New York City residence.
“But it has the sound of rock ‘n’ soul, which I started with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.”
Van Zandt, 69, grew up in Middletown Township, Monmouth County, N.J., just across the New York Bay from New York City and Long Island.
Van Zandt, co-founded with John Lyon (aka Southside Johnny) Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, with its first album in 1976, produced by Van Zandt and for which he wrote songs.
Van Zandt played in one of Bruce Springsteen’s first bands, Steel Mill, founded in 1969, and worked on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Born to Run” on Springsteen’s break-out album, “Born To Run” (1975), joining the E Street Band in 1975.
Van Zandt was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2014.
“I actually returned to it two years ago with ‘Soulfire,’” Van Zandt says of his Rhythm and Blues roots. Rolling Stone magazine named “Soulfire” one of its “Best Albums of 2017.”
Van Zandt followed the studio album with “Soulfire Live!,” available as a three-disc CD box set, seven-vinyl box set, and two-disc Blu-Ray, recorded during the “Soulfire Tour,” his first solo tour in more than 20 years.
“Summer of Sorcery” was written, arranged and produced by Van Zandt at his Renegade Studios in New York City. The album was co-produced and recorded by Grammy Award-winner Geoff Sanoff and co-produced by Disciples of Soul music director and guitarist Marc Ribler. The album was mixed and mastered, respectively, by Van Zandt’s career-long collaborators and friends Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Who, Bryan Adams), and Bob Ludwig (Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, The Band, Sly and the Family Stone).
The album, which features an introduction written by Van Zandt, has Frank Frazetta-inspired cover art by Van Zandt’s longtime art director, Louis Arzonico.
In a press release, Van Zandt states it thusly of “Summer Of Sorcery”: “The concept was capturing and communicating that first rush of summer. The electricity of that feeling of unlimited possibilities. Of falling in love with the world for the first time.”
The songs on “Summer of Sorcery” are an elixir of the season: the sounds you hear on your car radio or CD player, the sounds you hear poolside at a beach party, the sounds that get you on your feet at a concert.
The album features 10 original new songs, as well as “Suddenly You,” an outtake from the “Lilyhammer” score, Netflix’s first original series, which starred Van Zandt, who composed the music for the TV show, and a reimagining of “Education,” first recorded for his 1989 album, “Revolution.”
“Summer of Sorcery” tracks include “Love Again,” a joy ride, with memorable sing-along lyrics, including “You don’t need a casino.”
Says Van Zandt of the song and album, “The idea was to make this even more cinematic than usual.”
Another song, “Superfly Terraplane” references a “candy-apple superfly.” It’s complete with Tex-Mex horns. The Beach Boys never wrote a song about a Hudson Terraplane.
Then there’s the anthemic “A World of Our Own,” which gives you the chill bumps. Says Van Zandt of the song, “That’s one of my favorites also. It’s really a tribute to the girl groups.”
The title cut, “Summer Of Sorcery,” starts out almost as a folk song with acoustic guitar, segues into a big guitar sound, with the lyrics, “I want to get lost in your festival ...” and moves with propulsive power through its eight-minute length, encapsulated in the lyrics, “All my senses are awakening.”
Oh his web site, Van Zandt, sums up “Summer Of Sorcery”: “With this record, I really wanted to travel back to a time when life was exciting, when unlimited possibilities were there every day. That was the feeling in the 1960s, the thrill of the unexpected coming at you.
“Our minds were blown every single day, one amazing thing after another, constantly lifting you up. So you kind of walked around six inches off the ground all the time. There was something that kept you buoyant in your spirit.”
The “Summer of Sorcery Tour North American 2019” kicked off June 28 in Omaha, Neb., and includes stops in Syrcause, N.Y.; Ontario, Ottawa, Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto, Canada; Buffalo, N.Y.; New Haven, Conn.; Keswick Theatre, Glenside; Richmond, Va., and Annapolis, Md., before departing in August for Europe Tour, returning to the United States in September and concluding in November at the Beacon Theater, New York City.
Including himself, Van Zandt is touring with a 15-piece band.
“People who are coming to the show are going nuts because they’ve never heard that before,” says Van Zandt.
The Disciples of Soul are a 14-piece ensemble of some of the best studio and touring musicians in the business. In addition to music director and guitarist Marc Ribler (Darlene Love, Roger McGuinn, Carole King), there’s pianist Lowell “Banana” Levinger (The Youngbloods), bassist Jack Daley (Lenny Kravitz, Boz Scaggs, Darryl Hall), drummer Rich Mercurio (Ben E. King, Sara Bareilles, Idina Menzel), percussionist Anthony Almonte (King Creole and The Coconuts), Andy Burton, B3 organ, piano, synthesizers (Cyndi Lauper, John Mayer, Ian Hunter), horn section director Eddie Manion, baritone saxophone (Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Miami Horns), Stan Harrison, tenor saxophone and flute (Southside Johnny, Miami Horns, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Duran Duran), Ron Tooley, trumpet (James Brown, John Lennon, Maceo Parker), Ravi Best, trumpet (Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Kool and The Gang) and Clark Gayton, trombone (Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Joss Stone, Rhianna). Backup singers are Jessie Wagner (Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz, Chic), Sara Devine (Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige) and Tania Jones (Disciples of Soul).
Van Zandt is closely identified with the Jersey Shore Sound. In fact, he may be the progenitor.
What exactly is the Jersey Shore Sound?
Says Van Zandt, “I can only guess myself. It seems to be our sort of devotion to a tradition. Having those soul music roots, blues roots.
“When it comes to me and Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny, the three of us have a certain reverence for tradition. And we all feel having that as part of our own work, it connects us to the past but it doesn’t limit us to the past. We’re taking it forward to the future and seeing what we can do with it.”
Van Zandt characterizes the “Summer of Sorcery” album as a turning point in his storied career: “It’s a major artistic breakthrough for me and a whole rebirth. It’s the first abum I’ve done that isn’t autobiographical or political.”
His web site, littlesteven.com, reveals Van Zandt to be one busy guy. The music and entertainment businesses and humanitarian interests of Van Zandt, who received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Rutgers University in 2017, are mind-boggling.
In 1985, Van Zandt created the music-industry activist group, Artists United Against Apartheid, as an action against the Sun City resort in South Africa.
Van Zandt starred as Silvio Dante on HBO’s “The Sopranos” (1999-2007) and Frank Tagliano on Netflix’s “Lilyhammer” (2012-2014).
In 1999, Van Zandt founded Renegade Nation, which includes Renegade Circus, Renegade TV and Renegate Theatre to oversee content creation, production, management, events and distribution.
Since 2002, Van Zandt has hosted “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” a weekly syndicated radio show that champions garage rock from the 1950s to present day. He’s a program director of “Underground Garage” and “Outlaw Country” on the Sirius Satellite Radio network.
In 2006, he founded Wicked Cool Records.
in 2007, Van Zandt and his wife, Maureen Van Zandt, founded the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and its TeachRock project, which creates kindergarten through Grade 12 music curriculum.
They are on the board of trustees and directors of the Count Basie Arts Center, Red Bank, N.J.
Van Zandt sees the pop-rock music scene as a challenging time for singer-songwriters, musicians and bands.
“it’s a very strange time, especially having grown up when we we did. Especially for bands trying to make a living. That’s why I started my radio show and Renegade Circus. We try to encourge the hiring of new bands.
“We continue to try to expand the infrastructure, We’re still trying to get a rock and roll show on TV, trying to talk to Hard Rock Cafe to be a circuit. We continue to try to find ways to keep rock ‘n’ roll alive.”
Tickets: State Theatre Center for the Arts box office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org; 1-800-999-7828; 610-252-3132