NEW YORK — With old friend Bruce Springsteen stopping by to swap music stories for the ninth anniversary of Steven Van Zandt's rock radio show, Van Zandt laughed at the notion that he'd set the bar pretty high for the tenth year.
"It's been an open invitation," said Van Zandt, guitarist in Springsteen's E Street Band. "He just finally got around to it."
Their reminiscences take up three episodes of "Little Steven's Underground Garage" over three weeks, starting Friday. If it sounds like two old friends talking about glory days, it's because that's precisely what it was: Springsteen and Van Zandt grew up playing in New Jersey-area bands in the wake of the Beatles' arrival with "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
"What'd ya think?" asked Van Zandt about when Springsteen first heard the song.
"My world changed," Springsteen replied. He described being driven to a bowling alley — his house didn't have a phone — to use the pay phone and call his girlfriend to talk about it.
Springsteen tried to stump his buddy, bringing in a laptop to call up a vintage song that Van Zandt hadn't heard by Darwin's Theory.
Van Zandt said in an interview that he thought it would be instructive to fans to talk in depth about Springsteen's formative years musically, a topic that doesn't come up much in serious interviews.
He couldn't recall the exact time they met. The two formed a kinship through their love of rock 'n' roll because at the time, people seriously pursuing it were considered freaks, he said.
"He was a very important friend," Van Zandt said. "When you are a freak by yourself it's one thing. But if there's someone else, you don't feel as freaky. It's a big deal to have someone feel the same way you do."
Van Zandt has had Keith Richards, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr and Ray Davies as guests on his show, syndicated in more than 200 markets in five countries. He hopes the radio format will be an enduring legacy.
"I started doing it because I felt there was a gap, and I think the gap is still there," he said. "Nobody is playing 60 years of rock 'n' roll in one place, and nobody is playing new rock 'n' roll."