Steven Van Zandt, best known as guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, is on the road this month with The Disciples of Soul for a tour benefitting TeachRock, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation’s national initiative to bring music curriculum into middle and high schools across the country. His recent album Soulfire was noted by Billboard as taking fans “back to Van Zandt’s classic first album of gritty, greasy, horn-accented ‘60s-style rock and soul.” But one aspect of this tour that takes centerstage is the focus on teachers and the efforts by Van Zandt to bring Rock n Roll directly into classroom lessons and integrate this key aspect of American culture into educational curriculums across the country. As such, Van Zandt will be hosting workshops for teachers before each stop of the tour, bringing TeachRock that much closer to the classrooms in the towns on each stop of the tour.
NYS Music spoke to Van Zandt ahead of his latest show at the Playstation Theater in New York City to discuss the TeachRock workshops, why he wants to bring rock music into the classroom, and the teacher that had the most influence on him growing up.
Pete Mason: How did the idea for TeachRock Workshops come together, and what will teachers who take part expect from the experience?
Steven Van Zandt: We wanted to show our solidarity for the teaching profession, which is the most underappreciated and underpaid of all of our working classes. And they are under siege right now, on strike in several states and with good reason. So we decided to dedicate this tour to teachers and invite them to come to workshops in the afternoon where we will tell them about the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation’s music history curriculum, which we have been writing over the last 10 years and exists online, over 120 lessons right now at teachrock.org. We’ll be explaining the curriculum, which is built to assist them, and they will hopefully use it and spread the word and give us their feedback, we’re always improving it. They’ll also get a free ticket to that night’s performance. We’ll be doing that the rest of the year.
PM: What role do you see yourself taking on as you help to bring Rock history into the classroom?
SVZ: What we hope is eventually, if we have enough coverage, and we are in all grade levels and all schools, I’m hoping that artists who are on the road from any genre, from Hip Hop to Country, Jazz, Blues, you name it, can walk into any school and take part in a class. So our role is basically connecting the two things; connecting the artist with the education process. And it’s going to take a little while, but that’s one of our goals.
PM: Were there any particular teachers you had growing up who influenced who you are today?
SVZ: Yeah, we all have a couple of teachers we remember. I had Mrs. Wojciechowski, for my music class. Another big influence for me was our school librarian actually, who said to me, “You like this Bob Dylan guy don’t you?” And I said, “Yeah.” She says, “Do you know where he came from?” I said, “No.” So she gave me Allen Ginsberg books and poetry and Rimbaud and I was able to learn who influenced Bob Dylan and also got turned on to eastern philosophy through Allen Ginsberg, who was into Buddhism and then of course George Harrison with the Beatles would continue that with his interest in Hindu philosophy.
PM: You refer to teachers as ‘the most underpaid, underappreciated working class in our country.” How can your fans, and citizens in general, support teachers in their hometowns?
SVZ: Well the most immediate way is to vote for bigger budgets for education in general, but certainly for their salaries. I mean the average teacher’s salary is something like $40,000 a year. Somewhere in that neighborhood. And then you read stories about teachers out of that meager salary buying pencils or buying paper for students or buying books out of their own money, which is just a travesty that needs to be dealt with. And I just think we should have an appreciation day, better yet an appreciation hour every day, something where we acknowledge that these people are on the front lines of creating our society. So we just need to be more aware of that and do what we can to support them. If they go on strike, they’re going on strike for a good reason. Show support for them and talk to the government, talk to whoever they’re dealing with in any given situation, and show support on the teachers’ side.
Little Steve and the Disciples of Soul: TeachRock Tour 2018
May 1 – Ridgefield, CT – Ridgefield Playhouse
May 2 – New York, NY – Playstation Theater
May 4 – Albany, NY – The Palace
May 5 – Morristown, NJ – Mayo PAC
May 8 – Memphis, TN – Minglewood Hall
May 12 – Kansas City, MO – Uptown Theater
May 13 – St. Louis, MO – River City Casino & Hotel
May 15 – Nashville, TN – CMA Theater
May 16 – Atlanta, GA – Center Stage
May 18 – Orlando, FL – Hard Rock
May 19 – Clearwater, FL – Capitol Theatre
May 21 – Mobile, AL – Soul Kitchen
May 23 – New Orleans, LA – House Of Blues
May 25 – Austin, TX – Paramount