Saturday, April 6, 2002
New York As a child growing up on the Jersey shore, Little Steven Van Zandt was transported to a different place ï¿½ with a brilliant soundtrack ï¿½ by New York disc jockeys like "Cousin Brucie" Morrow and Dan Ingram.
Now he wants to return the favor.
The E Street Band guitarist and "Sopranos" consigliere starts a nationally syndicated radio program Sunday, focused on the "garage bands" of his youth and their spiritual descendants.
"I missed the radio I grew up with," Van Zandt says. "I realize it's a different era, and it can't come back. But I really loved the fact that when I listened to a DJ, he turned me on to records I'd never heard."
That includes one-hit wonders like the Electric Prunes, the Standells, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators ï¿½ obscure but essential bands in the garage rock pantheon.
On his show, Little Steven's Underground Garage, Van Zandt wants to connect the dots between those bands, the punk rock movement, and some of the current "garage" bands ï¿½ a collection assembled in a Little Steven-sponsored project that produced a double-CD of tunes.
Some examples of what makes the cut?
"I'll be playing the Ramones every week," he says of the punk band, recently inducted in the Rock Hall of Fame. "Probably the Dead Boys, the Clash, the Sex Pistols. It's completely subjective, although I do have a method to the madness."
Back in the garage
Van Zandt remembers the importance that New York's DJs played in his '60s musical education, when 50,000 watts of WABC-AM blanketed the Eastern seaboard with rock 'n' roll.
"The radio was everything then," he says during a break from shooting season four of the HBO hit "The Sopranos."
"It was before MTV or many magazines. Radio dominated by far. And I love the art form, love the medium. It has an element of mystery that's absolutely essential."
Garage rock took its name from the bands' rehearsal spaces: They pulled out the cars, plugged in the guitars and turned up the amps for the whole neighborhood to enjoy.
For Van Zandt, the pioneers included local do-it-yourself bands like the Motifs and the Castiles ï¿½ the latter a group that included a nascent singer/songwriter named Bruce Springsteen.
Van Zandt is uniquely qualified for his new job as DJ. In addition to his work with Springsteen, he's produced albums for artists such as Southside Johnny, Gary U.S. Bonds and Darlene Love.
He's done five solo records (and, incidentally, found it hard to get radio play for most of them). He worked with a who's who of musicians ï¿½ from Miles Davis to Grandmaster Flash ï¿½ on his Artists Against Apartheid project.
If that's not enough, he wrote the introduction for a recent book on radio by another New York DJ, Richard Neer, titled "FM: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio."
Stations in about two dozen cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, will air Van Zandt's two-hour show on Sunday nights.