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Little Steven’s Garage Goes Large

Steven Van Zandt’s crusade on behalf of garage rock – broadly defined – has hit the big time with a huge concert festival and a syndicated radio show. He talked to the NY Times about it:

    To hear Steven Van Zandt tell it, he had no choice. He had simply wanted to do a two-hour radio show, no big deal, on which he could play some of the garage rock he loves and have some fun. But when he pitched the idea to syndicators, what they told him forced him to turn his hobby into a crusade.

    ….It was a sudden coming together of the various personae who reside inside Mr. Van Zandt: the head-wrapped rock star known as Little Steven who plays with Bruce Springsteen; the political activist who spent much of the 80’s campaigning against apartheid and for human rights around the world; and Silvio Dante, the gangster Mr. Van Zandt plays on “The Sopranos” on HBO, who, lovable though he might be, is no one you want to see angry.

    ….For more than two years now Mr. Van Zandt has been waging his garage-rock war. He began with his radio show, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” for which he is host and programmer. When syndicators showed no interest, Mr. Van Zandt decided to distribute it himself; he employs a small staff for the purpose, and the show, which had its premiere on April 7, 2002, now plays on 136 stations around the country. He is also is the executive producer of three channels on Sirius satellite radio, including a garage rock channel.

    Mr. Van Zandt’s self-styled crusade moves to a new level this weekend with a full-blown outdoor rock festival that is an unexpected highlight of the concert season. On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Randalls Island, more than 40 bands will blast and grunt and groove their way across the stage, playing various interpretations of garage rock – loud and uncomplicated musings expressed with the help of guitars, drums and little else – in a spectacle that will mix the godfathers of the genre with the very latest descendants.

    Called Little Steven’s International Underground Garage Festival, it will feature Iggy and the Stooges, the Strokes, the New York Dolls, Bo Diddley, Big Star, the Pretty Things, the Raveonettes, the Dictators, the Electric Prunes, the Mooney Suzuki, the Woggles, the Lyres, the Star Spangles, the Gore Gore Girls, Nancy Sinatra, the Creation and many others. The headliners will play full sets, but most bands will play just a few songs. For Mr. Van Zandt, who at 53 still wears the loose, brightly colored garb that earned him the nickname Miami Steve, the radio show and the festival – which he hopes to make an annual event – represent a revival of rough, honest, beautiful garage rock as a musical form and a redemption from restrictive radio formats that rely on familiarity and market testing.

    ….”Everyone was ignoring this contemporary garage-rock movement, which was to my ears a possible rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll, nothing less. So why weren’t any record labels signing it?”

    But since then, the labels have begun to sign it. In the past few years a wave of new bands has come along with obvious ties to classic garage rock: the Strokes, the Hives, the White Stripes, the Mooney Suzuki, the Raveonettes, the Datsuns and others play stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll with a passion that has attracted huge audiences.

    ….Phil May, the singer of the Pretty Things, who in 1968 recorded the album “S.F. Sorrow,” which is generally considered to be the first rock opera, preferred to think of it merely as a sound or a method.

    “I don’t think it is a style,” he said in a telephone interview from London. “It’s somebody playing guitar – not great, but it is a guitar sound, and it is not generated by digital software. It’s people onstage, and there’s a whole bunch of people who don’t really know that experience.”

The concert is an amazing blend of at least five generations of ragged rock ‘n’ rollers, from Bo Diddley to the Pretty Things, to the Stooges, to the Dolls, to the Dictators, to the Strokes – astonishing!

I recently wrote a story about the Hives, Strokes and White Stripes for MSNBC, I reviewed a new Pretty Things collection here, and the Dictators recorded one of the great summer songs of all time:

    “California Sun,” The Dictators (1975)
    This version of “California Sun” by NYC proto-punks the Dictators, is an explosive, jungle-drumming, speaker-switching, guitar-ripping take on the Riviera’s surf classic. The band’s occasional goofiness is (mostly) set aside here as they spy the California ideal from 3,000 miles away.

The NY Dolls reunion suffered a staggering blow when bassist Arthur Kane died in July. Check out band manager/producer Marty Thau’s recollections on the band here. MuzikMan reviews the Stooges reunion DVD here, and my interview with John Cale about producing the Stooges (among other things) is here.

Lastly, my interview with Steven Van Zandt from the late-’90s is here.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014.Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted.Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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