“Without Southside Johnny, there would not have been a Jon Bon Jovi,” said Bon Jovi in his New Jersey Hall of Fame induction speech for Southside Johnny, Oct. 27 at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park. Southside Johnny entered the hall along with others such as The Smithereens, Jason Alexander, Martha Stewart, George R.R. Martin and Tim McLoone, in a four-hour ceremony.
Bon Jovi talked eloquently about Southside’s influence on him, and Southside gave a heartfelt, sometimes funny acceptance speech. Then they performed “I Don’t Want to Go Home” together, with the event’s house band, Kings of Suburbia (led by Carl Gentry).
Below is a video of the speeches, the performance, and also footage from the pre-show red carpet, where I talked about Southside with Jim Babjak and Mike Mesaros of The Smithereens, and Garry Tallent of The E Street Band (who gave the induction speech for The Smithereens).
Here is the text for the Bon Jovi and Southside speeches:
Jon Bon Jovi:
Southside Johnny Lyon. Singer. Songwriter. Harmonica-playing leader of the Asbury Jukes. It is my honor to be here tonight, to induct my friend into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
As I have said many, many times before, without Southside Johnny, there would not have been a Jon Bon Jovi. I grew up on the sounds of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but I always wanted to be an Asbury Juke.
When I started out in the late ’70s, Bruce had already released four albums. The Jukes had released three. And there was something in those songs that connected with me. Those guys made Asbury Park, N.J., a place where the impossible seemed possible. You didn’t have to go to Los Angeles or to London. In fact, we didn’t even have to go to New York City to play our own songs. Back then, coming to Asbury Park was like going to church, and seeing a Southside Johnny show was like witnessing a tsunami of sound led by a singer who delivered every song like it would be the last one he’d ever sing. The Jukes dared you to stand still. Songs like “This Time It’s for Real,” “Trapped Again,” “The Fever,” “I Don’t Want to Go Home” and, of course, Sam Cooke’s “We’re Having a Party” invited us all to the party. From the first song to the last, you couldn’t help but raise your hands and shake your ass.
And at that time, it wasn’t hard to run into one or more of the Jukes in the clubs or on the boardwalk. Maybe that’s another reason why we loved them so much. They were approachable. I have many memories of LaBamba teaching the Atlantic City Expressway the right way to perform several soul songs. Or Tony Pallagrosi and Kevin Kavanaugh jumping up and playing with my band. Each one of the guys would give this young kid words of encouragement and treated us like we were part of the scene. In 1980, Johnny actually produced some of the first demos I sang on, as a member of a band called The Rest, and he let me open shows for him any time that he could.
Now, let us also remember this: Southside Johnny is and always was a great frontman. I went to school on Southside’s showmanship. He was not the kind of guy that you would ever want to follow on a stage. After any Jukes show, you were equally, and always, exhilarated and exhausted.
Early in my career, Johnny taught me what headhunting was, and that was finding a trick that you could leave a mark on the headliner while you were making your mark on the audience. I never forgot that. Throughout my career, Johnny’s been a friend, a mentor, a bad influence, and sometimes a cranky son of a bitch. But it’s those qualities that make anyone who’s ever known him, worked with him or just come to see his shows, love him. Because John is real. He always has been. He wouldn’t play the game by anybody’s rules. In fact, he didn’t play. He worked. And he’s still working over 45 years later.
Now, I will tell you a secret. He didn’t want to be here tonight. When I heard that he was being inducted, I was afraid he wouldn’t show up. Not because he didn’t appreciate it. No. ‘Cause I know that he does. But because he always told me to remember it’s not about the award you get for the work you’ve done, it’s the reward that you get when you get to do what you love, and you do it well.
After a video about Southside was shown, Bon Jovi continued by saying:
When I got the courage to call him and to tell him that I had to be the one to induct him, it was for selfish reasons. Because I wanted to be the one with the loudest microphone, standing here tonight, to say that we all love you, and that we are collectively presenting you and your Asbury Jukes with this honor, as our way to say thank you. Thank you for the music and for being you.
Here is Southside’s acceptance speech:
Thank you very much! Thank you. … I am very proud to be from New Jersey. And when we started out making music, and making records, that was not something you could say. We tried to play in New York City. If we told them we were a New Jersey band, they’d say, “We don’t want you.” Philadelphia … a little bit more welcoming, but not that much. I grew up … my parents would watch Johnny Carson, and he would make jokes about New Jersey, and I always wondered, what was that all about? What was it that was different about New Jersey, from any other state? But I learned from going to New York and Philadelphia and other places and playing, that there was a real ax to grind for me. I wanted to prove that New Jersey was as good as any other state, as far as the music was concerned, and that made me stronger, more aggressive. I worked my ass off. So thank you, New Jersey!
Like The Smithereens say, I couldn’t possibly thank all of the people who’ve helped through this long, long career. So I’m not going to try. You all know their names. You all know their accomplishments. I’m gonna thank two people. Well, three. The fans. And my mother and father … they had great taste in music. But they came home from work and played their records loud, danced, sang along, listened. It was important to then. Music was one of the biggest enjoyments of their life, and I learned from them to appreciate music that way.
When I first started singing, I couldn’t believe I was getting a chance to do what heroes like Otis Redding and Ben E. King and Billie Holiday were doing. It’s been 50 years now, since I started singing, and I guess I’m still doing it. I think I got a couple of gigs this weekend. But anyway, thank you very much for voting me into the Hall of Fame. I just don’t know what else to say, except, who’d a thought? Thank you very much.
Garry Tallent of The E Street Band, on the red carpet:
Q: I wanted to ask you about Southside Johnny. You went to high school with him, I know. Was his talent always apparent to you, from the start?
A: No (laughs). Southside had the coolest parents. They played jazz records, and they were just music lovers. His father was a bass player. And I met John … I came to New Jersey in my sophomore year. I’m trying to remember … I met Southside … I was working in a music store, and he came in with his dad one day to buy a bass. I didn’t know him in school. So we became friends after that, especially after I broke his bass and blew up his amplifier. Then we were friends forever.”
Jim Babjak and Mike Mesaros of The Smithereens, on the red carpet:
Q: Southside … is he a favorite of yours, someone who’s influenced you in some way?
Babjak: Well sure … Mike, he’s like our …
Mesaros: We used to go see Southside at The Pony, first of all, when we were just getting started in the early ’80s. And then we would be on gigs with Southside early in our career, and he treated us like one of the boys. Like, “Welcome to the club” kind of warmness and warmth from him. He was very happy for our success. It felt great to be with him. He’s the older generation. Sorry, Southside! You know, just 10 years older, like Bruce and all those guys were the generation before us.
This video, by Dennis P. Laverty, includes “I Don’t Want to Go Home” as well as both speeches and the red carpet interviews:
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.