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Detroit's musical legacy celebrated in new 'Roadshow' with Steven Van Zandt and Drew Carey

Little Steven Van Zandt is turning his attention to the city he calls “maybe the most musical in all of America.”

Detroit and an array of its homegrown stars are the focus of the second episode of “Roadshow,” an online program hosted by the affable E Street Band guitarist and pal Drew Carey, streaming at 8 p.m. Thursday at teachrock.org.

Martha Reeves, Alice Cooper, Wayne Kramer (MC5), hip-hop producer Nick Speed and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are among the conversation partners on tap to explore Detroit’s deep music history and its global influence. The virtual talk show launched last month with a look at Carey’s hometown of Cleveland.

Thursday's program will also feature the premiere of Reeves' performance of “Heat Wave” with Bruce Springsteen and E Street, filmed during their 2003 Comerica Park concert.

In Detroit, says Van Zandt, “you have this unique combination. Of course, there’s Motown, which is probably the most significant record label in history. And yet it’s also the home of hard rock and punk rock. It’s an interesting kind of mix.”

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Van Zandt cites his chat with Cooper, who recounted spotting the likes of Stevie Wonder and members of the Temptations during his early Detroit shows. And the appreciation ran both ways, with the hard rockers catching Motown acts in concert.

“It was an interesting synthesis,” says Van Zandt. “Even the punk-rock roots of the MC5 and the Stooges have some soul music background in there. That’s totally unique, and there’s no other city quite like that. It makes Detroit special. Everywhere you look, there’s something fascinating.”

“Roadshow” is being produced in conjunction with the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, founded by Van Zandt, and its TeachRock education arm, which launched last year. TeachRock, which keys into music history, has 30,000 registered instructors and a growing collection of 200 online courses.

Van Zandt said the “Roadshow” online show is a “trial run” for what he hopes can become a full-fledged television series.

Though some of Thursday's segments were prerecorded, most of the program will air live, including the conversation with Whitmer, whose COVID-19 response gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Van Zandt. He’s also eager to chat up the governor about “Big Gretch,” the recent tribute track released by viral Detroit rapper Gmac Cash.

 Van Zandt is a broadcast veteran — host of the long-running “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” syndicated radio show and producer of two SiriusXM satellite channels. But he concedes that an online Zoom show is a new sort of logistical challenge, as he learned while helping wife Maureen Van Zandt and his fellow “Sopranos” alum Vincent Pastore stage a virtual Renegade Theatre play.

“It takes getting used to. It’s a little tricky. You learn you can’t step on each other’s lines because (the audio) cancels out on Zoom,” he says, adding with a laugh: “It’s going to make people more polite by the time this (pandemic) is all done.”

Like musicians across the country, Van Zandt and his band Disciples of Soul have been kept offstage by the pandemic. But the guitarist says he has been plenty busy at home, managing his label Wicked Cool Records and producing records by phone, including an upcoming album by Disciples of Soul musical director Marc Ribler. As speculation swirls about a Springsteen album release in October, the E Street veteran would say only: "They’ll probably have an announcement about something. We’ll see.”

Van Zandt, who spares no venom for what he calls the “rampant incompetence” of the federal coronavirus response, isn’t optimistic he’ll back on the road this time next year. He says he’s increasingly convinced “something close to normal” won’t return until 2022.

In the meantime, he’s happy to dive into projects such as “Roadshow.”

“We want to keep people entertained, connected and communicating,” he says. “Everything we do is to try to inspire people and motivate them and keep them optimistic.”

Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com.

'Roadshow: In Detroit'

With Martha Reeves, Alice Cooper, Wayne Kramer, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and others, hosted by Steven Van Zandt and Drew Carey

8 p.m. Thu.

Streaming at TeachRock.org/Roadshow

Donations to Van Zandt's TeachRock.org program are encouraged though not required for viewing.

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