5 Questions With ... Southside Johnny 

Southside Johnny

Bands with cross-generational appeal that perform into their third, fourth or even fifth decade are not uncommon in these days of Internet sharing and digital technology. Why they opt to rather than just sit back, relax and savor the memories is a personal decision that can vary. 

For Johnny Lyon, gregarious frontman for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes since 1974, it’s obvious if you’ve ever seen him on stage. He loves it, and his huge legion of longtime fans love experiencing the Jukes live. When Lyon belts out two of the biggest hits from the Jukes’ repertoire of over 30 albums — “Havin’ a Party” and “I Don’t Want to Go Home” — you get the sense he really means what he’s singing.

“We’ll play anywhere they’ll have us,” says the 63-year-old Lyon, who will bring the Jukes to the Tropicana’s Grand Exhibition Center on Saturday, May 26. “The more places, the better. After all these years it’s still something I desperately want to do. You want to keep having fun.”

The Jukes, whose horn-driven sound is rooted in R&B, soul, funk, jazz and blues, recently played the annual 10-day Lilac Festival in Rochester, N.Y.

“We’ve played there a couple times before and there was bad weather, and I thought ‘Uh oh, pretty soon they’re going to start blaming us for this,’” Lyon tells Atlantic City Weekly in a phone conversation from his Ocean Grove home. “But this time there was very good weather and they were happy.”

Local guitar virtuoso Billy Walton will be performing with the Jukes and also opening for them with his Billy Walton Band.

You have a new CD coming out. Can you talk a little about that?

There’s a number of things I’m working on, but [the CD] is based on an album that Stevie Van Zandt [a founding member of the Jukes who would join Springsteen’s E Street Band, later finding acting success as Silvio Dante in The Sopranos] put out in the 1980s with [his solo band] Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. He put that out about 25 years ago and I had forgotten that we recorded a number of those songs as the Jukes, but then we scrapped them and did Hearts of Stone [the Jukes’ third album, which Rolling Stone magazine placed in the top-100 albums of the 1970s and ’80s] instead. Then I heard the record for the first time in years and thought, ‘God, this is great,’ so we did the whole thing live [at Asbury Park’s venerable Stone Pony last July] and we’re going to put out the record. Stevie came down and sang some songs, and kind of gave us his approval of the project. We had six horn players and it just sounded so good I thought ‘We might as well put it out.’ I don’t normally think that way because I’m never really that happy with what I do live. I always think it sounds frantic and crazy, but this really sounds good. It’s 10 songs from his record called Men Without Women — which comes from a compilation by Ernest Hemingway — and then there’s three that Steve and I do. 

Last Memorial Day weekend the Jukes were in Ocean City. Do you remember when you last played in Atlantic City? I ask because it seems it’s not often that you get down here. 

No, that’s the kind of thing I would ever remember. I’m not built that way, unfortunately. I’m always looking toward the future. I hate to say it, but there’s so much stuff going on, which I’m grateful for, but it’s an ongoing project just to keep everything floating. I don’t know why that is [that the Jukes rarely play in southern New Jersey]. There’s probably a law in the books somewhere that says I’m not supposed to go below Toms River. 

Did you come from a musical family or, if not, where did your inspiration to make music a way-of-life come from?

My father played the upright bass and played in bands during the Depression era, but back then it was very hard to make a living at it, in fact almost impossible. My grandfather got him a job in the post office and if you got a job back then you didn’t turn it down, since so many people were out of work. I think he always regretted it. But he liked the jazz of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and so that’s what I grew up listening to. I thought everybody did. But I found out later I was wrong. 

Recently I watched a PBS special called On Canvas that profiled you and the Jukes. What was your impression of how that turned out?

I didn’t see it. The last thing I want to see is me. I don’t think I really need to torture myself that way. If I watch it, it’ll probably make me even more self-conscious than I am, and I don’t need that. 

After your A.C. gig you’re going to be inducted into the Boogie Nights [retro nightclub] Hall of Fame at the Trop. You’re only the second band besides KC & the Sunshine Band to be inducted. What are your thoughts about that?

I guess that’s a good thing. I’m not really sure what that is. What have they gotten me into now? I guess I’ll just ride with it.

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes

When: Saturday, May 26, 8pm 
(opening act, the Billy Walton Band)

Where: Tropicana, Atlantic City

How Much: $25.25

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