Southside Johnny turns 70 today, and filmmaker Dennis Laverty has a gift for Jukes fans: Part two of a projected three-part documentary titled “History of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.” Clocking in at about 3 ½ hours, it covers the years 1979 to 1991, and can be viewed at no charge, starting today, on Vimeo (it also is embedded below).
Laverty, a former Old Bridge resident who now lives in Staten Island, compiled the documentary from previously existing film, videos, photos and radio interviews that he found himself, or that were offered by the worldwide community of Jukes fans. The documentary ranges from the sublime (with lots of concert footage, including many songs in their entirety) to the somewhat ridiculous (an appearance in an SCTV skit titled “The Fracases,” plus a handful of appearances in commercials that Laverty impressively tracks down). There’s tons of stuff here that every Jukes fan should find fascinating.
Part one of the series, of course, covered the band’s rise to prominence, and exciting early successes. Part two, though, is a very different thing, chronicling a time when the band, though still very popular, was no longer hailed as the next big thing, and no longer could rely on Steven Van Zandt for direction and focus in the recording studio. It was a rocky time, in some ways, reaching a kind of nadir with the dance-oriented 1983 album Trash It Up!
“I really hate that album, and I loathe the experience,” Southside says, in an interview included here. “It cost me a lot, psychologically.”
But as Southside explains, in several of the interviews in these film, his primary goal was always making sure that the Jukes could deliver, live.
“We don’t think of ourselves as rock ‘n’ roll stars … We’re more in the tradition of a touring band,” he says in a 1986 interview. “The reason why we’ve stayed together, without a lot of big hits, is that we can always go out and at least make enough money to pay the rent on tour.”
And so they kept touring, almost non-stop, during these 13 years, despite some questionable recording projects and the numerous lineup changes that Laverty chronicles — including a stint in the band by a trio of backing vocalists (Patti Scialfa, Soozie Tyrell and Lisa Lowell) who entered the Jukes’ universe by singing on a demo made by the band’s early-’80s co-leader, guitarist-songwriter Billy Rush.
So much happened in these years, and Laverty gets it all in: The WNEW-broadcast concerts on the beach in Asbury Park; performances at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, and the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford; an appearance at the 1979, Led Zeppelin-headlined Knebworth Festival in England; the all-star “We’ve Got the Love” charity single; the “Eddie and the Cruisers” movie (for which Southside served as an adviser); the band’s cameo in the film “Adventures in Babysitting”; appearances on talk shows hosted by David Letterman, David Brenner and Regis Philbin; the ascension of Bobby Bandiera as Southside’s right-hand man.
In one interesting segment, before a top-notch performance of The Left Banke’s 1966 hit “Walk Away Renee,” Southside explains how he put his own imprint on it.
“I came up with the idea of doing the song, and doing it in a more introspective way, not tossing it off,’ he says. “I think the Left Banke version (is) obviously a great version, but they do it in a very airy, melodic way, almost tossed off, offhand, wistful but not introspectively wistful. And the Four Tops, when they did it, did it with the raw emotion that you would expect from a Motown group. And I wanted to do it more interior, like you’re looking inside yourself, and dealing with the idea that the woman is gone, or the person is gone. Just more introspective.”
The documentary ends, in 1991, on a hopeful note, with the return-to-form album Better Days and its uplifting “It’s Been a Long Time” single (featuring Bruce Springsteen and Van Zandt).
Here is the documentary: