Steven Van Zandt was a consigliere long before he ever played one on TV. In a band where the leader is literally called “The Boss”, Little Steven’s job within the E Street Band was to act as a sort of practical supervisor to Bruce Springsteen. Whether that was creating horn arrangements, singing harmony vocals, facilitating on-stage banter, or providing behind the scenes guidance, Van Zandt was the right the right-hand man that made the E Street Band a functional family.
Little Steven’s man love for music was partially what kept him out of (and other times got him into) trouble while growing up in northern New Jersey. His long hair was the impetus for him getting kicked out of school, but his frequency at roller rinks and local bars exposed him to some of the most influential bands in the nascent garage rock scene, including a local Jersey outfit called The Rascals. Van Zandt became an ardent fan, and when it came time for The Rascals to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, Van Zandt was tapped to induct them.
Channelling all of his Italian/Jersey roots, Little Steven took the opportunity to launch into a comical monologue that called The Rascals “the first rock band in the world.” Complete with exaggerated mannerisms and an old school Jersey accent, Van Zandt mugged it up in gloriously over the top mobster fashion, giving shoutouts to ‘Stevie Winwood’ and his teenage girlfriend ‘Loretta Gorgonzola’ while dropping phrases like “accoutrements” as the audience lapped it up.
One person who was getting a major kick out of it was screenwriter David Chase. Chase was developing a new series for HBO based in New Jersey and populated by mobsters who looked, acted, and talked just like Little Steven did that night. Without any hesitation, Chase extended an invitation for Van Zandt to audition for the lead role of Tony Soprano. The only problem: Van Zandt had never acted before.
Despite this small detail, Chase was prepared to give Van Zandt the lead in The Sopranos, but executives at HBO requested that a more experienced actor take the role. The role of Tony Soprano eventually went to James Gandolfini, but Chase was so impressed with Van Zandt that he wrote a new part specifically tailored for Little Steven to play, Sorpano’s best friend and eventual consigliere Silvio Dante. Van Zandt would portray the character for all six seasons of the show.
Check out the induction speech that landed Van Zandt the role down below.