As a longtime member of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Little Steven has performed in packed stadiums and arenas on some of the biggest and most lucrative tours in rock history.
But on his first trek as a band leader in nearly 20 years — Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul’s Soulfire Tour 2017 — the man born Steven Van Zandt is playing intimate venues like San Diego’s 1,450-capacity Humphreys Concerts by the Bay. Moreover, the recently launched tour with his brassy, 15-piece band sounds anything but lucrative for Van Zandt.
“I’m basically losing $15,000 a show — if it’s sold out. It’s very expensive,” said the veteran musician, who played the role of Silvio Dante in the hit TV series “The Sopranos” from 1999 to 2007.
“We’re traveling with 27 people on this tour,” he continued, speaking from New York. “It’s a decision I had to make: ‘Where did I want to spend my money?’ I felt this music has enough value that I feel it should be out there in people’s consciousness. So I decided I’ll have to invest. It will probably take two more tours before I even break even, but I’m able to do that.”
The tour — his first since 1990 — is in support of “Soulfire,” Little Steven’s first solo album in 18 years. He left the E Street Band in 1984, after a nine-year stint, to focus on his own career, then became Springsteen’s right-hand man again in 1999.
“I felt a little guilty and stupid for walking away so completely from my solo career, when I did,” Van Zandt said ruefully. “I didn’t intend to.”
A dozen songs strong, the lovingly crafted “Soulfire” celebrates many of Van Zandt’s key influences, from The Byrds, Phil Spector and Curtis Mayfield to and doo-wop, garage-rock and Albert King-styled blues-soul.
Is the album a musical valentine to some of his biggest musical inspirations?
“Absolutely,” he replied. “It was a wonderful opportunity to finally do that — to not only re-introduce myself as an artist, but actually introduce myself as artist, which I’ve never done. By the time you start making records, you’re into what you’re into.
“I did various things all over my five previous albums, but I never said: ‘This is who I am. This is where I came from.’ I was able to do that, because my other records all had politics as the priority and the music followed. This is my first album where the music comes first.”
The titles alone of some of his previous albums — “Voice of America,” “Freedom No Compromise” and “Revolution” — left little doubt about Van Zandt’s political leanings and his outspoken opposition to U.S. foreign policy at the time. Ditto his 1985 anti-apartheid protest song, “Sun City,” which featured Springsteen, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, U2’s Bono and more.
“When I started making solo albums in the 1980s, I felt an absolute obligation to be political because nobody else in music was back then,” he explained. “Everybody thought Ronald Reagan was a great guy, and I didn’t. So I felt very obligated to be that extreme political guy.”
“Now, it’s the opposite. Politics is 24/7,” he said. “And I feel no necessity to explain Donald Trump.”