Southside Johnny and his band perform in a blue collar frame of mind
"We grew up with blue-collar bands," Lyon said of himself and other Garden State musicians during a recent telephone interview.
While Lyon is often defined by where — the Jersey Shore — and with whom — Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, among others — he rose to musical prominence during the 1970s, he is, above all else, a worker. When he and his Asbury Jukes perform at The Colonial Theatre on Thursday night, it will be the rock `n' roll group's fourth scheduled performance in eight nights. This year alone, they have played in New Orleans, Minneapolis, Paris and, of course, at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. Now in his late 60s, Lyon is praised for his seemingly ceaseless strings of performances and dedication to his music.
"I wasn't always that way," Lyon said. Before he met Springsteen, music "was just a way to meet girls and have some fun."
Springsteen's work ethic was contagious. "He just had the charisma and the talent and incredible determination," Lyon said of his friend.
The two don't see each other much now — such is the reality of two touring musicians — but Lyon is still inextricably linked to "The Boss." Springsteen wrote some of the Jukes' most critically acclaimed songs, including "The Fever" on the the band's first album, "I Don't Want to Go Home." Moreover, the group's most recent work, a 12-inch vinyl called "Live from E Street" that was released in April, features live recordings of four Springsteen tunes: "Jack of All Trades," "Cover Me," "Murder Incorporated" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out." The Jukes played them during annual February performances at The Stone Pony, according to a press release.
"Let's just do Bruce songs, what the hell," Lyon recalled thinking.
Despite his group's ties to New Jersey rock 'n' roll and its foremost figure, Lyon has never felt restricted musically.
"I think we all pursued what we loved," he said.
The Jukes are more influenced by soul and rhythm and blues than Springsteen, according to Lyon. He cited Otis Redding and the Chicago blues scene as major influences early in his career, and he said crowds in Asbury Park weren't married to a distinctly "Jersey" sound.
"There was an audience for whatever we wanted to do," he said.
Still, Lyon has felt that the group's New Jersey tie was a barrier to its growth when it first formed. The Jukes weren't taken seriously in New York City and other musical meccas, according to the rocker.
"New Jersey was the joke state — still is in a lot of ways," he said.
Lyon said this gave the band a chip on its shoulder that fueled its live performances. "It's a good thing if you harness it," he said.
While the Jukes have had a number of different members and influences, the current version has eight members — Lyon on vocals, Glenn Alexander on guitar, Chris Anderson on trumpet, John Conte on bass, John Isley on saxophone, Jeff Kazee on piano, Neal Pawley on trombone and Tom Seguso on drums. Each of them has been associated with the Jukes for at least six years, Lyon said.
"We have a lot of looseness on stage because we trust each other," Lyon said.
And this looseness lends itself to flexibility. When the Jukes appeared at The Colonial in 2011, they played 27 songs spanning a variety of genres during a two-hour, 15-minute performance, according to The Eagle. Lyon doesn't recall much from that night, and he didn't know what they would be playing this time around. He says the audience often influences the songs they choose, especially some of the more boisterous tunes.
"If they want to rock out, we'll rock out," he said.
If past stops on this tour are any indication, fans can expect to hear one of the band's classics, "I Don't Want to Go Home." But no matter which songs they play, the band's blue-collar origins will be apparent.
"You never lose that," Lyon said.
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