BWW Interviews: Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes still feel like they're getting away with murder

Photo: Daniel Gonzalez
Photo: Daniel Gonzalez

John Lyon, also known as Southside Johnny, will be making a return to one of the milestone cities in his band's career when he and the Asbury Jukes play the Southern Theatre (21 E. Main Street in downtown Columbus) on March 9

The problem is Lyon doesn't remember it.

When he was informed Neal Marshad's documentary, "Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at the Asbury Park Convention Center," debuted on Warner Cable's QUBE in Columbus in January 1980, Lyon just laughed.

"I don't remember making a documentary," Lyon said with a snort. "I assume somebody must have done something because someone else mentioned that to me too. Where do you find out these things?

"Ahh, yes, Columbus, Ohio. The City of Beauty. To tell you the truth, I don't remember the last time we played there. I believe we played at the Agora (now the Newport) several times, but you play so many shows over the years, you forget places."

Perhaps Lyon can be forgiven for that. After over four decades of touring, shows tend to start blending together. The singer estimates he spends 80-100 days each year on the road. Columbus will be the band's sixth stop in a hectic month of March. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes start in Northfield, Ohio on March 2, swing through Sweden and Norway toward the end of the month, and then conclude the month with a March 29 show in Clearwater, Fla.

Lyon, 69, said he can't wait to get started.

"Travel is always good for me. I like getting on the bus and watching some movies. It's a good atmosphere to be a part of," said Lyon in a telephone interview from New Jersey. "It continually astonishes me that I have been allowed to get away with this for this long. I keep waiting for someone to figure it out and say, 'You're done' and take me away. (Laughs).

"I know a lot of people who are a lot more talented than I am and they have struggles and have to work day jobs. I never have. I've been very blessed and very lucky with that. If you're on the road for 40 years, you don't learn a lot of other skills. You don't learn to become a brain surgeon on the road."

In his four decades of touring, Lyon may not have an extensive catalog of hits or bank accounts like fellow New Jersey natives Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, but he and the Jukes have left their thumbprint on rock and roll. Bon Jovi, who was one of the 130 alumni of the Jukes, told Billboard magazine that Southside Johnny "has his place in the Holy Trinity. Bruce, Little Steven and Johnny were that to me."

Many people may have heard and seen Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes without realizing who they were. Lyon served as the technical adviser on EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS and the band performed in the Christopher Columbus movie ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING. In 1990, the band contributed songs to the soundtracks of HOME ALONE and CAPTAIN AMERICA and THE MIGHTY DUCKS in 1992. Lyon's cover of Billy Joel's "You May Be Right" was the theme song for the television show DAVE'S WORLD. In 2007, Lyon performed "Bossman" with Nancy Sinatra on the "Chasing It" episode of THE SOPRANOS.

"(Working in movies) was never, ever a chore because you were out of your comfort zone," he said. "It was an adventure, a great experience. To me, it's always been fascinating to see how they make films. I've read books about it but to be actually back there was just great."

In the early Seventies, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Springsteen were the heart of what critics called the New Jersey Sound.

"Back then, we knew we were getting away with murder. Girls who would never talk with us during school would come and talk with us if we played in a club," he said. "You felt like you were a part of the whole history and tradition of the people you grew up listening to."

Back then, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes seemed to be in the throes of being New Jersey's "Next Big Thing." Springsteen had already cut "Born to Run," and Time Magazine had interviewed the Jukes for the inside scoop about Springsteen's ascension to the top. Lyon and company had been signed to Epic by executive Steve Popovich, who also landed the Jacksons, Boston, Cheap Trick and Meat Loaf.

"I never wanted that (kind of fame that Springsteen had). When Born to Run came out, there was kind of a nervous laughter among the group of us," Lyon said. "We were just guys in bands and then, all of a sudden, there was this mayhem. A lot of us on the sidelines went, 'I don't want any of that (crap).' I don't want people coming up and taking my picture as I am walking down the street or talking to me while I am eating lunch. I don't want to have anything to do with that."

These days, Lyon and his friends still perform with that same kind of raw energy they used to play with. Like The Boss, Lyon knows how to work a crowd and draw them in with his raw honesty.

Lyon attributes that to his blue collar, Jersey roots as well as an unlikely source.

"I remember watching Iggy Pop on stage and he was just crazy," he said with a laugh. "I felt like that was the way I want to be. I didn't want to be the cool guy; I wanted to be the crazy guy.

"I never thought there was a New Jersey sound. It was more of an attitude. We're from New Jersey so we have to kick everybody's ass to make them respect us. When you played a bar in New York and you're from New Jersey, it was really like picking a fight with somebody.

"You can't push a New Jersey audience too much. You better be on your game or they will let you know it. You learn that early on there's a certain amount of honest effort and sincere expression that you have to display."

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From This Author Paul Batterson

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