"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" in 1975 marked a big moment for Stevie Van Zandt: His official entry into the E Street Band. He had been playing with Bruce Springsteen in other groups around the Jersey Shore since the early '70s, but Van Zandt's horn arrangement for "Tenth Avenue" made it clear that Springsteen needed him in the latest configuration. In his first days as an official member, he also helped craft the signature riff of "Born to Run." Decades later, Springsteen credited Van Zandt with "changing a small piece of rock history."
Van Zandt left the band in 1984 to focus on his own music and activism, helming the Artists United Against Apartheid project (including the signature, all-star hit "Sun City") as well as a variety of solo albums under his new moniker "Little Steven," sometimes alongside backing band the Disciples of Soul. Over the years, he also worked with artists from Lone Justice to Nancy Sinatra. He returned to the E Street Band for their 1995 and 1999 reunions and has remained ever since.
As he toured the world with the E Street Band in the 2000s, Van Zandt discovered another talent: acting. In 2000, David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, cast him as Tony Soprano's consigliere Silvio Dante. So began an ongoing side gig. He created and starred in the very first Netflix series, Lilyhammer, which ran for three seasons, and appeared as singer Jerry Vale in Martin Scorsese's The Irishman.
At the same time as he was playing Silvio every Sunday night on HBO, Van Zandt launched Little Steven's Underground Garage, which Rolling Stone called "the most exciting thing to happen on rock and roll radio in years." In 2003, Van Zandt expanded Underground Garage into the first 24/7 branded music channel on SiriusXM, following soon after with the Outlaw Country channel, which celebrates "the freaks, misfits, rebels, and renegades of country music." He also launched Wicked Cool Records in 2004 as a home for the new generation of garage rockers. In 2007, he developed the non-profit Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and its TeachRock project, creating an arts-driven curriculum for grade and high school students.
In 2016, after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the E Street Band two years prior, Van Zandt reformed his band, the Disciples of Soul, for the first time since the '90s. In short order, they released two new studio albums, Soulfire and Summer of Sorcery, as well as a series of live records documenting his first tours under his own name in almost three decades. In 2019, remastered versions of his first five studio albums were collected as Rock N Roll Rebel: The Early Work, with an additional four CDs of rarities. Van Zandt also found time to reunite The Rascals, record a song with Kurt Russell for The Christmas Chronicles (in which he cameoed), and produce Darlene Love's first solo album in 30 years. In 2017, he was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Van Zandt chronicled his lifetime of adventures— everything from his covert meetings with South African rebels to a Quasimodo musical he wrote for Meat Loaf—in his widely acclaimed 2021 memoir Unrequited Infatuations. The book was a New York Times best-seller, which the Boston Globe called "enthralling (and often hilarious)" and Bob Dylan described as "a cautionary tale filled with outrageous humor, worldly wisdom, and an uncanny sense of daring."