Charity Show Brings Springsteen Reunion with Little Steven and Southside Johnny

Roger Friedman

It was a little like 1976 at the Hammerstein Ballroom last night–Bruce Springsteen, Little Steven, and Southside Johnny all on stage together for the first time in, well, forever–very Asbury Park flashed forward. The three guys closed a rave up show at the Hammerstein for the Little Kids Rock charity that had featured about a dozen artists singing songs by ‘Little Steven’, or ‘Miami Steve’ van Zandt, (aka Silvio from The Sopranos, too) who was honored with the Big Man Award–in memory of Clarence Clemons.

The artists on stage included a pungent Elvis Costello in great voice on “This Time Baby’s Gone for Good,” the legendary Darlene Love, van Zandt- revived 60s star Gary US Bonds, songwriter (and club owner) Jesse Malin, American Idol stars Kris Allen and Michael Johns, a new quartet called the Midtown Men, Dion with Ruben Blades, plus an all star band composed of five horn players, five backup singers, and five basic musicians–a wall of sound a la Little Steven.

Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, guitar virtuoso, led the crowd in van Zandt’s landmark single from the late 80s, “I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City,” that had a major impact on the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Jim Kerr, the famous New York deejay, handled the emcee’s role. And the night was produced by Little Steven’s talented wife, Maureen, a sometime actress and full time miracle worker.

The audience had its own stars, including Lorraine Bracco, Gabriel Byrne, and Bebe Buell.

Springsteen was not advertised, but everyone ‘just knew’ he’d be there. He and Little Steven have been together in the E Street Band since the 70s. Introducing Steve to give him his award, Bruce recalled their days as roommates in Asbury Park. “He was a slob. He was Oscar and I was forced to be Felix,” Springsteen recalled.

Choosing Little Kids as a charity seemed like an easy idea. It’s all about music education in schools. Little Kids is supplying elementary school children with instruments and teaching. A huge group of them quite professionally serenaded the well heeled crowd in the Hammerstein while dinner was served. The programs are already working. “When we saw it had to be done, we did it,” Little Steven said. Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, also in the E Street Band, and drummer extraordinaire Max Weinberg, also participated.

All roads lead back to 1976-77, when Bruce was unable to record between “Born to Run”and what would be “Darkness in the Edge of Town.” Elvis Costello was just arriving in the US with “My Aim Is True.” Bruce and Little Steven wrote songs for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, who scored a hit with “I Don’t Want to Go Home.” Last night, Elvis and Southside reminisced about playing a gig together. Along with this gang, critics back then grouped Graham Parker and the Rumour, and Garland Jeffreys. They were all the new wave of singer songwriters, edgy, angry, young–and interested in adding R&B horns to their music. Springsteen did the best with it because he had the Big Man, Clemons.

“Did you ever think we’d all be here?” Southside Johnny said on stage. He said of Little Steven, “He gave me a career!” The trio did “Until the Good is Gone” and “It’s Been a Long Time.” Then the whole gang sang “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” the ultimate bar anthem. “I know we tried to reach up and touched the sky/ Whatever happened to you and I?” the song goes. What happened? Lots of success, and great music.

Now Little Steven gets ready for his Rascals reunion shows in Port Chester, New York in December–I’m told they’re adding more shows, as they are selling out. And their Kickstarter campaign is almost complete. Check it out at kickstarter.com. Will Bruce be there? There’s no doubt.

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