Backing the Boss

JON BREAM | Updated 11/15/2012

Bruce Springsteen guitarist Steven Van Zandt on his many ventures.

Steven Van Zandt

Steven Van Zandt has too many projects on his plate.

He's organizing a reunion in December of the Rascals, the 1960s blue-eyed soul hitmakers. He stars in a gangster TV series in Norway. He runs a foundation to develop rock history curriculums for schools. He hosts a weekly syndicated radio show ("Little Steven's Underground Garage") and serves as program director for two satellite radio channels. And, of course, he plays guitar for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, which returns to St. Paul on Sunday and Monday.

In a recent phone interview, Van Zandt, 61, talked about his many endeavors.

On adding saxophonist Jake Clemons, 24, to the E Street Band after the death of his uncle Clarence: "You lose Clarence [to a stroke], and we talked for six months on what does this mean. You realize you can't replace him. We decided to have a five-piece horn section, with the sax part covered by two sax players who would emerge from the horn section. We added the singers, which adds more literal soul music and gospel elements. You just lost an essential part of the front line. We all felt that we had to raise our game."

On the Boss' new penchant for marathon concerts: "You adapt. At first, it was a little bit shocking to the system. But then you realize 3 1/2 is going to be the normal show. As this thing evolved and Bruce's last album ['Wrecking Ball'] got transformed into the show, you realize this tour is special. At this point, he is very special in terms of being so alive and enthusiastic and creative, at a time in his life when he just doesn't have to be. Then you realize these are the most coherent and consistent themes we've ever had to work with. Those themes are so intense -- the economic holocaust and the theme of death and loss. It takes 3 1/2 hours to go into depth on these things."

On not being frustrated by his diminished role in the E Street Band: "I essentially stopped being the lead guitar on 'The Darkness on the Edge of Town' Tour [in 1978]. I'm the chameleon. I'm going to do whatever I'm called upon to do to make the night work. It doesn't matter at all to me."

On the Rascals, whom he inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 1997: "I saw them live in '65. First rock band I ever saw. And two years ago [at a benefit he helped organize] they were still fantastic. They're too important to just do a reunion. So I wrote a play, like a hybrid of Broadway show and a rock concert, but it's their story."

On his Norwegian gangster-comedy TV series, "Lilyhammer": "I've got to find a way to get back to Norway to do that, probably after the first of the year. It's been a big hit on Netflix. Everybody's shocked."

On the abrupt ending of his old series "The Sopranos": "The director said 'Cut' and the actors left."