How Little Steven Lived His Beatles Fantasy at the Cavern Club
In 2017, Steven Van Zandt wanted to play the Cavern Club, the legendary Liverpool venue where the Beatles performed so many pre-fame shows. But he had a condition.
When the Cavern Club reopened in the '80s, the venue expanded to two main rooms. One tried to replicate, using original bricks, the hallowed ground where the Fab Four jammed so many times; the other had a more modern stage and has become one of the city’s top spots for local bands and touring acts.
“When Paul McCartney played there [in 1999], he played the second, bigger room, and they assumed I wanted to do that also,” Van Zandt tells UCR. “I said, ‘No, no, I’ve got to play the room with the arches. I want to play that room that I grew up looking at.’ So we had to put the horns and girls in the hallway. Because we could barely fit the rhythm section on that stage. It’s only built for four or five people.”
Van Zandt made this Beatles fantasy come true during a stop on his European Soulfire tour. The singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer - and not to mention Bruce Springsteen’s right-hand man in the E Street Band - had plenty of free time when the Boss started his run on Broadway. So he hit the road with a reformed Disciples of Soul. When he booked a Nov. 14 gig at Liverpool’s O2 Academy in 2017, he got the idea of doing a set at the Cavern earlier in the day.
“We were about to play Liverpool, and I remembered how the Beatles would play lunchtime sets,” he says. “That’s how Brian Epstein, their manager, actually saw them for the first time. From, like, 12 to 12:30, local businesses would break for lunch and the secretaries or whomever would bring their lunches into the Cavern Club, and the Beatles would play for half an hour. I thought, just for fun, let’s do a Beatles tribute and do a lunchtime set. ... I don’t think anybody has done that since the Beatles."
Van Zandt remembers distinctly how his life was forever changed when he watched the Beatles play The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. (He cites the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as the twin reasons he picked up a guitar and “made rock ‘n’ roll my religion.”) But just because he’s a longtime devotee doesn’t mean putting together a baker’s dozen of tracks covering every era of his idols’ career was easy. The live performance, plus a duet with Paul McCartney on “I Saw Her Standing There” recorded at the Roundhouse in London, have been collected on Little Steven’s new Macca to Mecca CD/DVD package.
Watch Little Steven and Paul McCartney Sing 'I Saw Her Standing There'
“I wanted to do covers that they had done at the Cavern … songs from [rock 'n' roll pioneer] Larry Williams and [country soul legend] Arthur Alexander and some of those things,” he says. “Because I had the horns, I thought, ‘Let’s do Beatles songs with horns.’ ... The horn parts in Magical Mystery Tour are quite sophisticated, and my horn section handled it quite well, but, man … some of the stuff was tricky. ‘All You Need Is Love’ has quite a bit going on. It was a bit of a challenge, but I think we met the challenge.”
For Van Zandt, the Cavern gig was the culmination of an obsession kicked into high gear when he started traveling across the Atlantic for Springsteen tours. In 1975, the Born to Run tour hit the U.K., as documented on the Hammersmith Odeon London '75 video and live album.
Watch Bruce Springsteen's 'Backstreets' From 'Hammersmith Odeon London '75'
“When I first got to England, I ran to Liverpool to see all the famous sites that I had wanted to see growing up,” Van Zandt explains. “But when I got to the Cavern, it was a parking lot. They had paved over it. Then they realized the error of their ways and rebuilt it with a lot of the same bricks ... on pretty much the same site.”
Watch a Featurette About Little Steven's Cavern Club Show