By Marion Filler
The Godfather paid a visit to Morris Township last week. Everyone played nice. Nobody got hurt.
Of course, we’re talking about John Lyon, a.k.a. Southside Johnny, the “Godfather of the Jersey Sound.”
Fans were treated to a double dose of Johnny at the Morris Museum’s Bickford Theatre.
First, he did an onstage interview with Jay Lustig, editor of NJArts.net and former music critic for The Star-Ledger. Then, he performed with keyboardist Jeff Kazee, a longtime member of the Asbury Jukes.
Southside Johnny with Jeff Kazee at the Bickford, June 27, 2019. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
Backstage before the show, Southside Johnny reminisced about the early days. Still a proud Jersey boy at the age of 70, he grew up in Ocean Grove, a small town just south of Asbury, and attended Neptune High School. He and his friends — Bruce Springsteen and “Little Steven” Van Zandt in particular — put the Jersey Shore on the musical map and never forgot their roots.
There never was any doubt about a career choice.
“All I ever wanted to do was sing,” Southside Johnny said. “When I played, everything disappeared, problems just went away and there was only the music.”
During the early 1970s, he and Van Zandt bounced around in various bands and eventually formed the Asbury Jukes, recording their first album in 1976. Van Zandt wrote Southside Johnny’s biggest hit, I Don’t Want to Go Home.
“We played for the people who lived there, ordinary working class people. Now I look around and see all these million dollar condos going up. It’s crazy!” Southside Johnny said.
He has performed around the world but his philosophy about music has not changed.
“I just want to people to forget their troubles and enjoy what I do and have a good time. That’s it.”
That’s exactly what Thursday’s audience had come to do. Wearing Asbury Jukes t-shirts, they listened intently to the dialog between the Southside Johnny and Lustig, who started by congratulating the singer on his recent induction to the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Southside Johnny replied: “If you’re in the same hall of fame as Thomas Edison, there’s something definitely wrong.”
Southside Johnny on the Hall of Fame. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
One-liners were flying all night.
“Bruce and Stevie and those guys were serious about music. I didn’t think I had talent. They all played instruments and I played the harmonica. I looked in the classical music dictionary once. It said: Harmonica: Semi-legitimate instrument.”
Working musicians never get holidays off, he noted.
“I always worked on New Year’s Eve since I was 18. They would give us $200, it was a big night,” Southside Johnny recounted.
The only year he decided to stay home, he was thwarted by a call from Van Zandt saying he was getting married on New Year’s Eve.
“I didn’t even get paid for that, but it was great. Little Richard did the ceremony.” The year was 1982, and in a recent interview with Vice.com, Van Zandt described his wedding to Maureen Santoro as “blissful chaos.” They still are together.
Then it was time to rock. Backed by Kazee, who helped write and produce their critically acclaimed 2010 album Pills and Ammo, Southside Johnny rolled out number after number, singing and playing harmonica, with ample chatter in between.
Titles seldom were announced, but it didn’t matter. The audience appeared to know every word.