STORY WRITTEN BY CHRIS CAMERON
For Digital First Media
Most artists probably can’t say that they’ve been inspired to write after strolling up and down the aisles at the grocery store while listening to the music on the store’s PA system. But Southside Johnny (aka John Lyon) has always done things a little differently.
NOTE: According to a statement at www.keswicktheatre.com “Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes has been rescheduled to Saturday, May 21. All tickets honored at the rescheduled date.”
“I was shopping and they played Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ and I was bopping up and down the aisles and it was like inspiration — I knew that was the type of music I was supposed to write,” Lyon said.
The supermarket inspiration evolved into “Soultime!” a new album of all original music from the iconic Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The songs celebrate the transformative feel-good power of ‘70s soul music and represent a return to the music that Lyon made his name with during the 1970s when he emerged on the Jersey Shore music scene with peer and friend Bruce Springsteen.
“Originally I had an idea to do an album of covers and then I heard Curtis’s song and Jeff [Kazee] and I started writing over a period of two-three weeks and we ended up filling it up with new originals,” he said. “It was fun and easy to do.”
Soultime! was recorded at Lakehouse Recording Studios in the Jukes’ hometown of Asbury Park, NJ. This new release captures the essence of Southside and The Jukes’ classic sound — catchy choruses layered with horns, strong rhythms and gospel-infused vocals. The new album features Southside Johnny on vocals and harmonica, Jeff Kazee on keyboards and vocals, Glenn Alexander on guitar, John Conte on bass, Chris Anderson on trumpet, John Isley on saxophone, Neal Pawley on trombone, and Tom Seguso on drums.
It’s rumored that more than 100 people have at one time or another been members of the Jukes, and even Jon Bon Jovi has said that when he was growing up he wanted to be a Juke, and he has served as an honorary Juke over the years. Lyon said that the latest incarnation of the band has remained fairly steady over the past few years and their camaraderie is evident on the new release.
“The band was really ready to play on this one and they came in and knew exactly what they wanted to do,” he said.
On this album Lyon’s voice reflects the grittiness of the musicians that he grew up listening to — Ray Charles, BB King, Elmore James, and Joe Cocker — to name a few. His voice is still strong and he has the pitch, but it’s no longer the voice of a 20-year-old, nor should it be.
“This is the voice that I always wanted when I was 16,” he said. “I call it the voice of experience. If you spend 40 years singing for a living, you’ll probably end up with a voice like this, too.”
With a collection of 25 releases with The Jukes alone, Lyon has left his mark on the rock and roll world, despite never having a commercial breakthrough release. His first three albums, “I Don’t Want To Go Home,” “This Time It’s For Real,” and “Hearts of Stone” were produced by Steven Van Zandt (E Street Band, The Sopranos) and featured songs written by Van Zandt and Springsteen. Rolling Stone Magazine voted “Hearts of Stone” among the top 100 albums of the 1970s and 1980s.
“I Don’t Want To Go Home” was Southside’s first hit and Lyon recalled the first time he heard it on the radio.
“Steve and I were driving through Deal on the way to Asbury and the radio station played a Drifters song; then they played a Temptations song; and then they played our song and Steve almost drove into the lake,” he said. “It was a golden moment in my life and that song and album opened a lot of doors for us.”
With a decades-long successful career, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes continue to deliver their soul-searing brand of raucous blues, Stax-influenced R&B and gritty rock and roll. To Lyon, playing music isn’t work, it’s fun; and he’ll be the first to say that he’s lucky to have found success doing something that he loves.
“I’m just grateful that the fans have stuck with us,” he said. “We always go out there and make sure that we’re hitting on all cylinders. Come out and have a good time — that’s all we ever want.”