TORONTO - Rocker Steven Van Zandt has some advice for recording artists who plan to step outside their already successful bands.
"It's OK to do other things, but don't ever give up the band and don't ever give up your power base, don't ever give up the fact that you have succeeded in being identified by an audience," says the renowned guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, who's done various solo projects, acted on "The Sopranos" and now stars in the Netflix series "Lilyhammer."
"You have a relationship with an audience, which is a miracle, an absolute miracle, OK. It only happens in one out of a million people. Don't take that for granted — ever. Nourish that, evolve it, support it, feed it.
"You can put it aside if you want to for a year, maybe two occasionally if you want to explore other things, but always come back."
He also cautions against taking a strong band chemistry for granted.
"You want to feel you don't need them, you never needed them, it was an aberration, it was a weird moment in your life, it was a freak incident, and now you're getting on with your real life. Well, that's almost never the case," says Van Zandt.
"Destiny was at work or whatever you want to call it, maybe luck, maybe circumstance — but there were forces at work that allowed that thing to happen and you cannot disregard it, and probably you're never going to be able to create that experience again in your life."
The subject of band breakups is one Van Zandt feels strongly about, having worked for 30 years to get soul-rockers the Rascals to reunite — efforts that resulted in them signing on to his concert/theatre show creation "Once Upon a Dream," which opens at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre on Tuesday.
Frontman Eddie Brigati, keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, drummer Dino Danelli and Ottawa-born guitarist Gene Cornish shot to fame in the mid- and late-'60s with their smooth R&B sound on hits including "Groovin,'" "Good Lovin'" and "It’s a Beautiful Morning."
Van Zandt became a fan in '65, when he saw them perform at a roller rink in New Jersey.
"The Rascals were sort of our own homegrown heroes, two of them were actually from New Jersey but we just adopted them as our own," says the songwriter/producer/syndicated radio host, wearing a signature bandana on his head in a recent interview at the Royal Alex.
Van Zandt didn't realize it at the time, but Springsteen was at the same show. They were just teenagers and it was one of the first rock bands the longtime friends/collaborators had ever seen.
"It was an enormously influential moment in our lives," says the 62-year-old, who co-founded Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and several of Springsteen's early bands.
But in 1970, the Rascals split and went on to various projects, resulting in what Van Zandt calls an "adversarial situation."
Van Zandt first tried to reunite them around '82, feeling they still had "the goods" and that their place in rock 'n' roll history was yet to be carved in stone. He also recruited Danelli for his solo band and Cavaliere for his first solo album.
The group was reluctant to get back together just for the sake of money, though.
"Too much time had gone by, they're very idealistic individuals, they're very artistically sensitive, they're very sort of protective of their legacy, with good reason," says Van Zandt.
Three years ago, Van Zandt finally convinced them to play together at a cancer charity concert.
Then he wrote "The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream" stage show and convinced them to perform in it and tell their story in pre-recorded segments onscreen. (Actors also portray parts of their career onstage.)
The show, directed by Van Zandt and staging and lighting expert Marc Brickman, was a sold-out hit on Broadway.
Van Zandt says the group still has a "magical chemistry" and the same idealism they had in the '60s.
And he credits his anti-apartheid and humanitarian efforts in South Africa in the '80s with giving him the negotiation tools necessary to make the reunion finally happen.
"Somewhere along the line, I don't know why or how, I found there's a part of my brain that's really good at conflict resolution. Who knew?" he says with a laugh.
"I found I was very good at it and I used what I learned in those political years with the Rascals."
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