It’s no secret that Eddie Manion is a great saxophone player. But I never realized how versatile he was until I saw him and Joe Grushecky present a duo show at The Saint in Asbury Park in April. Manion sang and played keyboards in addition to playing his sax.
He has another skill, too, I learned last week when, early in a phone interview with him, he mentioned that he had been up all night, writing a string arrangement for his upcoming solo album.
“When you write for strings,” he said, “you’ve got to write it right. When you bring string players into the studio, everything has to be written perfectly. Horn players, you can adapt, and say, ‘Change this’ and ‘Change that.’ Strings players, it pretty much has to be on the page.”
Manion will team with Grushecky for acoustic duo sets at the Turning Point Cafe in Piermont, N.Y., June 26 (visit turningpointcafe.com), and at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival at German Masonic Park in Tappan, N.Y., June 27 (visit rocklandmusicfestival.com).
Also, Grushecky and his band the Houserockers, featuring Manion, will be at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, July 18; visit wonderbarasburypark.com.
A Lakewood native, Manion has been a longtime member of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes, toured and recorded with the E Street Band, and worked with Diana Ross, Robert Cray, Gary U.S. Bonds and countless others. When he joined Steven Van Zandt’s Disciples of Soul band in the early ’80s, Van Zandt nicknamed him “Kingfish”; he is still sometimes called that to this day.
He lives in Pittsburgh now, which happens to be Grushecky’s hometown. He says he met Grushecky through living there, and also through a few occasions over the years when they played together with Bruce Springsteen. After the E Street Band wrapped up its last tour, in May 2014, Manion has been joining Grushecky’s band, the Houserockers, at their shows.
The duo project, says Manion, “is just something we talked about. I’ve been recording with him, off and on, for the last six years: We recorded some things with the Houserockers with a saxophone. It kind of grew out of that.
“It works so well since Joe is such a great songwriter. It’s just a pleasure; when you have a lot of good songs, it kind of brings the best out of you.”
Manion’s other main project, at the moment, is completing his second solo album. As opposed to his first album, 2004’s Follow Through, which featured both instrumentals and songs with vocals, this one will be purely instrumental.
“I just wanted to do a recording that sounds like what I sound like,” Manion says. “I have different solos on different records over the years, but I don’t really have a whole album of me on saxophone, that’s like, ‘This is what I sound like.’ ”
He says he hopes to release it by the end of the year. “I’m having so much fun recording it. I’m taking my time. It’s a lot of work. I have strings on some things, and a gospel choir on a few things.”
He says he hopes to also make a duo album with Grushecky, eventually.
At the Saint, their setlist included some Grushecky songs that are regularly performed at Houserockers shows, such as “Pumping Iron,” and “I Still Look Good (for Sixty),” and others that aren’t, like “When the Crows Go Crazy.” There were also covers, including a transcendent take on Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey,” and a celebratory show-closing version of the Jukes classic, “I Don’t Want to Go Home.”
“That was one of the first time we did the acoustic thing, and we’re probably going to refine the set here and there,” said Manion. “We took notes on what worked, what didn’t work.”
Manion first played with the E Street Band in 1976, when Springsteen added the Jukes’ horn section for a portion of the Born to Run Tour. Manion also played on Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love Tour in 1988, and with Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions Band in 2006. After the death of Clarence Clemons in 2011, Manion and Clemons’ nephew Jake have shared saxophone duties.
“I have so much respect for Clarence Clemons,” he says, “and the great thing about playing with Bruce is, I’m a fan, and I love his music, and it’s just so easy for me to work with him, because I like the music so much. It’s been a part of my whole life, in some way or another.”
He and Clemons were friends, he says, adding that in a sense, they grew up together.
“I’ve known Clarence since 1975, so we kind of shared a lot of history, and, as far as horn players, I think I’ve played with Clarence probably more than anybody in the world, as far as live shows. I have a deep respect for his playing, as he had for mine. And we have the same roots. We grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll and R&B in the ’50s and the ’60s, and I think it shows in both of our playing.”
Their shared saxophone influences, he says, include “King Curtis and Junior Walker, people like that. Illinois Jacquet. All the way back to the great horn players — the Texas tenors, and great jazz players like Lester Young, Ben Webster.”
When he and Clemons would do a show together, he says, “We’d talk about music all the time. We had a lot of conversations about who our heros were, and influences. From being in the Jukes back then, in 1976, we would get together all the time and talk about mouthpieces and saxophones. And when we were on the road, we would play poker up in his room. He still owes me a couple of bucks!”
Manion and Grushecky’s set at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival will be at 2:25 p.m. June 27. The festival takes place June 28 as well; other acts scheduled to perform over the two days include Shawn Colvin, John Sebastian, David Johansen, Willie Nile and Garland Jeffreys. Visit rocklandmusicfestival.com.