When one of Steven Van Zandt’s heroes pulled a gun on him

Steven Van Zandt remembered the time one of his heroes pulled a gun on him and noted that other encounters with people who had influenced him had gone better.

In a recent interview with Classic rockhe talked about avoiding such encounters, asking, “If your hero turns out to be an asshole, what are you going to do? It affects you.”

He went on to recount the moment he met blues guitarist Freddie King, who died in 1976. “I went to see The Rolling Stones at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park with a couple of friends,” Van Zandt said. “And afterwards they wanted to go to the hotel to get their autographs. I didn’t want to go to this fancy Berkeley Ocean Front place, but we stumbled down the hallways like a bunch of kids.

“One of us noticed that Freddie King, who had opened the show, had his door ajar. So my friend pushed me in and said, ‘Let’s go in and meet him.’ Like a fool, I asked, ‘Can we get your autograph?’ He picks up a pillow from his bed and underneath is a big goddamn .45 that he grabs and gives me a fucking dirty look and tells me where to get off.”

Van Zandt added that “to this day, I don’t play any Freddie King stuff. I don’t want to play his songs. Look, it matters—heroes can let you down.”

But he spoke more warmly of many other influences, including two members of The Beatles. Reminder that his first conversation with Paul McCartney was to compare notes on running a radio show, he said: “I only knew him to say ‘hello’… we’d never spoken face to face but we spoke for an hour and he was amazing.

“What I realized was that I had to take some distance. I couldn’t come across as a starry-eyed 13-year-old kid with a bunch of Beatles records. I had to remove myself because I would not have been able to speak. Fortunately, he probably spoke for both of us and played some of the best rock ‘n’ roll music I’d heard in years.”

Van Zandt admitted it had taken time to get comfortable Ringo Starr. “I knew him before he stopped drinking and you know he could be a sensitive guy,” he explained. “Mood swings. Then he cleaned up just like that one day and became the nicest guy in the world.”

Starr once told Van Zandt of plans to emigrate to America when his pre-Beatles band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes failed to secure a record deal. “He was trying desperately to go to the United States,” Van Zandt recalled. “He wanted to live in Texas and be a cowboy. The problem was … because he was so sick as a child that he never went to school, so he couldn’t fill out the official forms. That was the only reason he didn’t emigrated, which was fun.

“Talk about fucking fate or karma,” he added. “I think his next band did well.”

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