A Hit Man In More Ways Than One

Silvio Dante Played By Steven Van Zandt

Steve Van Zandt is one of the stars of "The Sopranos," but he started as Bruce Springsteen's consigliore. Sunday Morning correspondent Anthony Mason spoke to the the secondhand man for mobs and rockers.

The infamous Bada Bing club is set in a real-life strip joint just off a hustling New Jersey highway. There, on the set of "The Sopranos," Steve Van Zandt has just been given his script for the next scene.

As Silvio Dante, in his pompadour toupee, Van Zandt plays hit man and top lieutenant to mob boss Tony Soprano. But before he was Tony Soprano's consigliore, he was Bruce Springsteen's sidekick as a guitarist in the E Street Band.

Van Zandt is creatively restless, says his wife Maureen, who also plays his TV wife in "The Sopranos."

"That's what's interesting about him," she told Mason. "That he's a real renaissance man. I know that sounds very cliché, but he is."

His latest incarnation: music impresario and self-proclaimed savior of rock 'n' roll. It started with his syndicated radio show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage," which is now heard on 200 stations. From his New York production office, Van Zandt also books "Underground Garage" concerts that feature new and classic rock bands, as well as the underground garage go-go girls choreographed by Maureen.

Little Steven's radio show now has two million listeners. But in the beginning he had to beg syndicators to get it on the air.

"They said, 'Well, we can't get that on the radio anymore," Van Zandt said. "We sent out 350 pilot shows to every radio station in the country. And every one turned us down. Every one. It became, 'Uh-oh, I've got a war here.'"

At a convention of radio programmers he went on the attack, leading a revolution to put rock back on the radio. For Van Zandt that revolution began on February 9th, 1964 when the Beatles played "The Ed Sullivan Show."
"I saw hope for myself," he said. "It was like, here is something I've never seen before, I didn't even imagine existed. And suddenly, maybe there's hope for my life. Because I didn't fit in anywhere. And I was starting to get concerned, you know?"

So little Steven joined a band, the first of many. In 1970 he signed on as bass guitarist for a group called "Steel Mill." The lead singer was a kid named Springsteen. The two teenagers from New Jersey found they were kindred spirits.

"I mean in the end everyone who had a choice to do something else did it, you know," Van Zandt said. "And in the end, me and him were the only ones left standing. You know what I mean? We were the true freaks! The true misfits and the true outcasts."