MANHATTAN, NY—In the early 1970s, the New Jersey shore’s music club circuit provided audiences, stages and stipends for the local pool of musicians. These musicians formed countless variations of lineups, as new bands formed and split faster than most locals could track. The bigger-than-life success of Bruce Springsteen in the mid-1970s brought media and public attention to the New Jersey music scene and forced the once-fluid musicians to solidify band memberships. Springsteen madness ruled the rock world, and fans saw his imprint on Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, led by John Lyon of Ocean Grove.
Suddenly the Jukes rose from house band at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park to a recording act with international prominence. Nevertheless, the Jersey brotherhood remained intact; the Jukes’ first three albums were produced by co-founder Steven Van Zandt, later to become a full-time Springsteen cohort, and featured many songs written by Van Zandt and/or Springsteen. Some 40 years later, the circle remains unbroken; the most recent album by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes is 2012’s Men Without Women, which features songs written by Van Zandt and was recorded Live at The Stone Pony in 2011.
Tonight at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes consisted of Lyon on vocals and harmonica, Jeff Kazee on keyboards, John Conte on bass, Glenn Alexander on guitar, Tom Seguso on drums, John Isley on saxophone, Chris Anderson on trumpet and Neal Pawley on trombone. An urban legend speculates that over 100 musicians have been members of the Jukes over the past 40 years, including Jon Bon Jovi, who joined as a special guest during a 1990 Jukes tour. Regardless of whether that grand total is true or false, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes tonight sounded very much like the band sounded in its early days. The performance comprised a timeless collection of rhythm & blues songs, sung soulfully by Lyon and punctuated by a rally of guitar, keyboard and horn section spotlights.
The set opened with a cover of The Zombies’ “Time Of The Season,” with Lyon repeatedly asking his bandmates and the audience for help remembering the lyrics. This schtick, whether it was genuine or fabricated, helped establish a light-hearted, good-time flair for the rest of the evening. Lyon led the band through many of the Jukes’ signature songs, including Van Zandt’s “I Don’t Want To Go Home” (in a medley with Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem”) and Springsteen’s “The Fever” (in a medley with Aretha Franklin’s “Chain Of Fools”), “Talk To Me” and “You Mean So Much To Me.” Even the newer and less familiar songs felt like an escape to a time decades ago when soul music ruled the airwaves with sweet rhythms, sentimental lyrics, melodic bridges and smooth singing. Lyon’s singing was significantly weaker than in his early career, but his enthusiasm and passion ably supplemented and sparked the festivities. Finally, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes appropriately ended two hours of great fun with a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Having A Party,” with opening act Ricky Byrd, former guitarist of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, returning to the stage to share the microphone.
Visit Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes at southsidejohnny.com.