“We really all do come from working-class backgrounds. It’s not something you forget. Even if you make hundreds of millions of dollars like Bruce [Springsteen] or Jon [Bon Jovi], you don’t forget what it’s like to work. I’ve been working since I was 15. And I kept my day job right up until the time we made our first album. Everybody’s fathers and mothers worked, usually both. So when our fans, working people, come to see us on a weekend, I’m very mindful they’re taking three hours — including travel — out of their time to really enjoy themselves after working hard all week. They have to hire baby sitters, drive, spend money, and they deserve the best show they can possibly get. It isn’t about me at that point. It’s about them enjoying themselves. And after all the damage from Hurricane Sandy, and all the terrible events that happened in 2012, believe me, I know, way down deep, it is totally about them having a good time. It’s not about me making money, or me getting off. It’s about giving them two hours of pure enjoyment.”—“Southside Johnny” Lyon, lead singer of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, quoted in Mike Greenblatt, “Southside Johnny Relishes Role as a Working-Class Musician,” Goldmine Magazine, July 11, 2013
Eric Carmen remembered his power-pop zenith as lead singer of the Raspberries ruefully in “No Hard Feelings,” from his first solo LP: “Critics ravin' 'bout our album/But we're makin' fifty cents.” The same fate befell, to an even more pronounced degree, “Southside Johnny” Lyon, born on this date 65 years ago in Neptune Township, NJ.
Lead singer and co-founder of the Asbury Jukes, Southside might have felt even more frustration than Carmen. It wasn’t only that his own work was so good (Rolling Stone named the group’s Hearts of Stone one of the top 100 albums of the Seventies and Eighties), but that, as the above quote indicated, friends from the Jersey Shore making it big at the same time must have convinced him that if he tried a bit harder, stuck it out a bit longer…
The two friends exerting the most gravitational pull, of course, were Bruce Springsteen and his sidekick, “Miami Steve” Van Zandt. Van Zandt co-founded the Jukes and helped produce their first few albums in the Seventies, while “The Boss” not only contributed songs that have remained part of the group’s repertoire over the years, but helped bring about his moniker. (According to Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce, Springsteen got a look at Lyon’s planned stage apparel for their short-lived band, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom—a pinstripe suit and fedora of a bluesman—and cracked, “Hey, it’s Johnny Chicago!” No, Lyon protested: “Don’t just call me Chicago, man—I’m from the south side.”)
What made it all worthwhile, of course, was the music—not so much the studio product (though I promptly bought all of their LPs until their ill-fated, disco-influenced Trash It Up in 1983), but the live experience, when Lyon poured his heart and soul out for the working class, as the frontman for the bar band par excellence of the Jersey Shore, all the way to New York venues such as Central Park’s Schaefer Music Festival, where I saw him several times in the 1970s.
(The image accompanying this post shows Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes live in Amsterdam, October 14, 2006.)