People typically start winding down their careers in their 60s. They’ve worked hard for 25-30 years, and now they can relax and enjoy their success.
There’s no way to stop Southside Johnny, a New Jersey native. This weekend (12/4/22) he turned 73, but his performances for his fans are as good as ever. The venues he plays at in the tri-state area consistently sell out for his shows.
No account of Jersey’s illustrious Rock and Roll past would be complete without mentioning Southside Johnny. Southside Johnny has been credited as the inspiration for Jon Bon Jovi’s musical career.
Johnny played a crucial role in establishing the foundation for what would become the Jersey Shore music scene. He frequently performed at the legendary Upstage on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park, where original music was celebrated and he met future E-Street Band members like Little Stevie Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen, and others.
As a member of Johnny’s band, Stevie Van Zandt penned some fantastic music. As a result of Bruce’s inspiration, Johnny was able to record three excellent albums: I Don’t Want to Go Home, This Time it’s for Real, and Hearts of Stone. These albums all saw widespread success upon their respective 1970s releases.
Personally, I met Southside when he performed at my annual Holliday Show for Jersey Kids at Jenkinson’s beginning in 1999 and continuing until 2008 or 2009. Johnny was kind enough to lend his skills and agree to an exclusive interview with me. We seemed to have a fun back-and-forth, discussing such topics as music and his busy schedule.
One year, I thought he didn’t want to do the show, so I told his agent that impression. Twenty minutes later, Johnny called and began an angry tirade in which he used several profanities and demanded to know where I’d gotten such a ridiculous notion. His wrath was humorous, and the message was encouraging, so I burst into laughter.
After leaving the Asbury Jukes to join Bon Jovi, Bobby Bandiera used to produce and lead an annual charity concert at Red Bank’s Count Basie. Excellent entertainment and substantial funds for the poor were the results of this show. For many years, this show featured regular appearances by Bruce, Jon Bon Jovi, Gary US Bonds, and Southside. I played the role of host every year since we started.
When there were a lot of guest performers at a concert, Bobby would tell me to hang out in his dressing room so I wouldn’t be crowded out. There would always be a lively conversation and plenty of laughter when Southside, Gary Bonds, and Jon Bon Jovi dropped by Bobby’s locker room. When the bar was empty, Southside and I would enjoy a couple of pops and discuss the latest in music and other topics. In the summer, Johnny would reach out to us and ask if we’d be interested in opening a couple of shows for him. Yes, I did as I was told.
I invited Johnny to appear on my talk show, The Big Joe Henry Variety Show, where he did an interview and performed a couple of songs with my house band. Johnny decided to participate in the program. You should know going in that Johnny is prone to the occasional cuss word.
The day of the taping has arrived, and Johnny has already left before we even begin taping at 6 o’clock in the evening.
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We greet each other, and he makes fun of me for wearing a suit during our conversation. Because I’m appearing on TV, I had to dress the part. I want to remind Johnny that this show airs at 7 pm on a Sunday, so please watch your language. F#$% you, he says to me with a grin on his face. When he starts laughing, I know I’ve succeeded.
All systems are going as we launch the show. The moment he started playing his music and showed up, all hell broke loose. As soon as he starts talking, he uses profanity without even realizing it.
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There were at least ten pauses in the recording process. George McMorrow, who was in charge, was kept quite busy.
Here is a clip from my TV show where I interviewed Southside, but it’s been edited down. Indeed, he is a true classic. In honor of Southside’s birthday: You’ve got to know, Johnny, that you’re a musical legend and a Jersey institution.