‘The Sopranos’: Maureen Van Zandt Knew Tony Sirico From His Days Harassing Jimi Hendrix

Actors on The Sopranos saw many familiar faces at early table-reads. Paul Schulze (Father Phil) and Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano) had known each other for years by that point. Meanwhile, Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) and John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco) had been close since the ’80s. But few went back as far as Tony Sirico and Maureen Van Zandt.

Sirico, who played the role of his life as Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri, approached Van Zandt (Gabriella Dante) soon after she joined the cast in season 2. Though Van Zandt couldn’t place him, Sirico reminded her they’d met about 30 years earlier at legendary club Steve Paul’s The Scene.

In those days, Van Zandt was dancing in a Broadway show and taking in the rock scene after work. For his part, Sirico was harassing rock stars who hung out at The Scene. Sirico’s targets included none other than Jimi Hendrix, a friend of Van Zandt’s who frequented the club.

Maureen Van Zandt and Tony Sirico met during Sirico’s gangster days

Five 'Sopranos' cast members smile for the camera at a CD release event
Jerry Adler, Steven and Maureen Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, and Vincent Pastore | Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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The “only in New York” tag often gets overused, but this story of a low-level mobster rubbing elbows with a Broadway dancer and rock’s reigning guitar god might qualify. Mafia figures felt free to flex their muscles on the ’60s club scene, and Sirico was among those on the job.

On the Talking Sopranos podcast, Van Zandt recalled her first interactions with Sirico (who then went by “Junior”). “I met Tony Sirico when I was about 18,” Van Zandt said. “It was around the time I was doing Hair. And I used to go to a club called Steve Paul’s The Scene on 46th Street. It was the rock club. Jimi Hendrix would hang out there every night.”

Indeed, The Scene was a spot where Hendrix would jam with bands passing through town after hours. On any given night, you might see Hendrix playing with The Doors or witness Jimi compliment John Bonham of Led Zeppelin on his drumming.

Sirico didn’t turn up to hear the music, however. On some occasions, he would start fights at The Scene in hopes of getting a job (or a payoff). If that didn’t work, he would turn to more aggressive tactics. Sirico certainly had no problem harassing Hendrix.

Sirico went out of his way to ‘torture’ Jimi Hendrix

Maureen and Steve Van Zandt at the 1986 Grammy Awards
Steve Van Zandt and wife Maureen Van Zandt attend the 28th Annual Grammy Awards on February 25, 1986. | Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

You might have a hard time trying to imagine the mobbed-up Sirico mingling with Hendrix. Van Zandt said it wasn’t a natural fit by any means. “Tony was very much a fish out of water,” she said on Talking Sopranos. “Everyone was terrified of him. He was very intimidating.”

Sirico used to tell a story of giving Hendrix “wedgies” in those days, and Van Zandt corroborated at least part of the tale. “I know [Sirico] used to follow [Hendrix] into the men’s room a lot, to sort of torture him,” Van Zandt said. “I don’t know what went on in there, but I do believe [the wedgie story].”

Yet Van Zandt had darker stories about Sirico. “I remember a night there when The Turtles were playing,” she recalled. “Tony and his guys came in and started a huge fight. I remember seeing Jimi outside in a gorgeous, perfect white suit with blood all over him. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.”