Steven “Little Stevie” Van Zandt has never been one to hold his tongue. The Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band guitarist was on-hand at the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony to posthumously induct Bert Berns, the influential and prolific songwriter-producer whose hits include “Twist and Shout,” “Piece of My Heart,” Hang on Sloopy” and “Under the Boardwalk.”
Backstage at the show, Van Zandt talked about Berns’ legacy, but found time to discuss his admiration of Darlene Love and Deep Purple and explain why it “pisses me off” when bands inducted into the Hall of Fame don’t show up.
What do you make of this lineup this year?
I think it ended up a very popular sort of year. Which is fine. We should be a balance between things that lean a little bit more artsy and a little bit more pop. We’re fine with that. We try to have a big umbrella. I’m very happy about Cheap Trick. They’re friends; they’re great and very underrated. Very underrated. They’ve got a new record coming out that we’re playing right now on my radio show. It’s great. They were making great records all along.
You’re inducting Bert Berns. What would you say is his legacy?
He’s only in the business for seven years. He died very young. I only have three minutes, so I’ma barely fit his credits in. He wrote and produced “Twist and Shout,” which which is arguably the greatest record ever made. “Here Comes the Night,” Van Morrison, “Piece of My Heart,” Janis Joplin, “Cry to Me,” Solomon Burke. Not only a producer, had his own label. Put out one hit after another on his own label. He’s not a household name, so I’m very proud when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame actually gives somebody acknowledgement that maybe people don’t know, but is actually quite important for the business.
I know his discography well. And there’s a lot to it, man. Really, great stuff. I just love that whole Brill Building era. I will always regret not being there. That’s where I belong. And I have fantasies of recreating that with my record label, which I started exactly the moment the record industry ended. [Laughs] Tell me the timing could not have been more perfect. So I lost a bunch of money there but, the idea was to get a lot of those cats back. A lot of them were still around. Put together the Sixties producers and songwriters with young bands. I think that’d be a cool idea. I still think that.
Were you satisfied with the way the Darlene Love record came out?
We’re very, very proud of that man. I got obsessed with that thing. I spent a year on that. I felt a lot of pressure on that one to rise to her level of quality. Which to me, she’s the greatest singer of all time. I’m not exaggerating. To have her first album after 50 years … This had better be pretty good, man. People have been waiting for this for 50 years!
It was a lot of pressure.
I think we got it there, man, I really do. People came through for me writing. I called Elvis Costello and 24 hours later, he sent me four songs. He was just amazingly enthusiastic. For me, making a record is a vacation. I’d like to do it more often. Just, chances are impossible… It’s a very expensive hobby, you know? [Laughs]. We got lucky with Columbia picking up that record. Very lucky. Real strings, real horns on everything. It adds up. Even though I did it in my own studio.
What’s the most fun going to one of these Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies?
I never see anybody, so it’s nothing but fun. Honestly. I just met half the cast of Vinyl, who I didn’t know. And a couple guys from Sopranos are on Vinyl. You don’t see people you don’t work with, really. And I haven’t been in the business, really, ever. It’s kind of like I visit now and then. So it’s fun for me.
What do you make of bands or musicians that decide not to show up at th ceremony?
Well it’s the greatest honor of your life. It’s going to be the first line of your epitaph. Let me tell you something — being on the committee — It’s hard to get in. Okay? It’s hard to get in. And when people don’t show up, man, that pisses me off. Because it’s hard to get in.
Additional reporting by David Browne