When making your list of people to see in concert this spring and summer, access your phone calendar and plan a block of time to see the Monmouth County native Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
They have two shows taking place in parts of the Jersey Shore over the next few weeks and, on top of that, a new album coming out next month.
On Sunday morning, the New Jersey Hall of Fame (2019) Southside Johnny was the guest of “Shore Time with Vin and Dave,” airing weekly from 6-8 a.m. on 94.3ThePoint and 105.7TheHawk and discussed years of touring, his music career, performing at local venues like the Stone Pony, the album release and more.
For Johnny Lyon, his journey began growing up listening to some of the big names in music.
“My mom and dad used to listen to Louis Armstrong and Big Joe Turner and Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker — a lot of R&B, a lot of jazz — so I naturally thought everyone was listening to that,” Southside Johnny said. “When I first started listening to ‘rock and roll’ it felt normal to me, it wasn’t like a revelation, it was just fun music – rhythm and blues, rock and roll – I I just had the facility for all the words.”
Then he had the opportunity one day to go on stage and sing, to play a little and to have fun after these years of listening to all kinds of music.
“I used to hang out with a band called ‘Sonny and the Starfires’ – a friend of mine used to play drums for them before Vinnie Lopez took over drums and they let me come up and sing and I got this feeling that maybe it would be something that I would like to do,” Southside Johnny said. “I never believed in it as a career until I met Garry Tallent – Bruce’s bassist – in high school, then Steve Van Zandt, then Bruce and they all said ‘we’re gonna be musicians’ There was no workaround system, there was no plan-b, that’s what they were going to be, hell or flood. want to do that too,” and that was 50 years ago.”
When Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were on tour in the early years, they would be on stage for most of a calendar year.
“We used to play 250 shows a year and I’ve just seen a poster of 77-78 — in England we were playing practically five nights a week and that’s with travel — that was France, Scandinavia — and I think, ‘how the hell did I do that?’ You know. You’re just – every night you’re on stage – it was good to be young, I couldn’t do that now, for sure,” Southside Johnny said.
When you have that many shows, even in that short amount of time, there’s a tendency to change the order of what’s on the setlist and even how you plan to wave to the crowd that night.
“I just kind of let it sink in. I mean, we do a different show every night, I didn’t have the same setlist night after night, it felt like too much work for me. You gotta keep that fresh for the band too it might be your first time playing in small town England but the band have played these songs a million times so you have to do different songs every night so the people don’t get complacent,” Southside Johnny mentioned. “After that, I kind of let myself be myself, whatever my mood was, whether I was happy or angry or disgusted – you kind of follow how you really feel and it seems to work. We don’t We’re not playing a role up there, we’re really happy to play music but I’m also happy to joke around with the audience.”
The mood can sometimes determine which songs are performed and in what order that night.
“If I feel like I want to throw it, we’ll do five or six quick songs in a row, if I feel like that’s – there are certain clubs that bring out the most studied songs, those things more slow – instead of straight rock and roll and you gotta know the audience, you gotta know the club and you gotta know how you feel,” Southside Johnny said.
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes will perform at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City on May 21, then close to home at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park on July 2.
The Stone Pony is always a special moment for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
“They’re doing a great job, I mean, the outdoor stage and there’s thousands of people but it sounds good, and people are sitting on the boardwalk – it’s just a fun night – you don’t take it seriously in the sense that you’re not worried about it, you know everybody’s gonna be really ready for Freddie out there,” Southside Johnny said. “For us, it’s you who jumps on stage, everyone goes crazy and two hours goes by quickly.”
One of the most significant and career-relevant venues the band performed at was the Agora Theater in Cleveland on May 2, 1977.
“What happened was we got a record deal for Epic Records by Steve Popovich who’s from Cleveland – he was in charge of A&R for Epic in New York – came to see us, really loved ones, came downstairs for a second spent time with the secretaries in the building and they really liked us,” Southside Johnny said. “So he signed us to a contract but we had done a demo of ‘I Don’t Want To Go Home’ and ‘Fever’ I think and maybe two more songs – with a band of high school kids from Asbury Park High School as horns, because we didn’t have a horn section, we wanted horns, Steve Van Zandt and I — and he sent this demo to Kid Leo, one of the great DJs in Cleveland and he started playing the demo which was all wrong and all like that and I couldn’t believe it – it was in Billboard Magazine’Up and Coming: I Don’t Wanna Go Home by Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes‘ – I said ‘we haven’t even made the record yet!’, I called him and yelled at him, we became good friends after that.”
Soon, too, they found themselves performing in Cleveland in front of people who liked to listen to them.
“We became very popular in Cleveland before we even played there, so when we first went there, we played at this place called ‘The Agora’, where it was recorded (Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes Live in Cleveland ’77), and they were sold out and I thought, ‘Okay, we better be good’, and people were crazy, they had finally heard the album, once that we handed the album to Leo and they really liked it and we had a great night and Ronnie Spector came out and they went absolutely nuts,” Southside Johnny said. “The energy level was so high it just blew you away, there were no nerves or anything, it was just crazy from start to finish.”
The concert album “Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes live in Cleveland ’77” which was live at the Agora Ballroom in Clevelandis slated for CD release early next month and there will be a limited edition vinyl release later this year.
As mentioned, Ronnie Spector joined Southside Johnny on stage for this show and they performed Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” together.
Steven Van Zandt was a big part of the band and wrote the liner notes for the record and wrote the liner notes.
Cleveland International Records releasing the album next month which will feature songs from that show including “I Don’t Want to Go Home”, Bruce Springsteen’s “The Fever”, “Havin’ a Party”, “Without Love”, “This Time It’s For Real”, “Gotta Get You Out of My Mind”, “It’s Not the Meat, It’s the Movement”, and “When You Dance”.
You can pre-order this album on Amazon.