It’s been a busy year for Southside Johnny, with special all-Springsteen and rarities shows at the Stone Pony in February; the release of a new album, Soultime!, in August; and a busy concert schedule with both the Asbury Jukes and his smaller side band, the Poor Fools. His annual New Jersey New Year’s Eve show with the Jukes took place at the State Theatre in New Brunswick last year, but moves back to the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank this year.
We talked to him about New Year’s Eve; Bobby Bandiera’s two upcoming Hope 8 benefit concerts (both taking place at the Basie, Dec. 23); his plans for another pair of shows at the Pony next February, and other topics.
For information about the Basie shows, visit TheBasie.org. (The Pony shows have not been officially announced yet.)
Q: I know you, obviously, have the New Year’s Eve show coming up, but also the Hope concerts before that. Gary U.S. Bonds will be at the Hope shows, too: You two seem to really enjoy each other’s presence onstage. Is he someone you feel really close to?
A: Yes, very much so. He’s very funny and personable. He just loves having a good time, so we have a real rapport that way. And when you put Bobby (Bandiera) in charge, we just kind of ride along … But he is a great guy. I’m glad to have him in my life.
Q: When you were growing up, were his songs an influence on you?
A: Yeah. We used to do those in early bands. We used to do “Quarter to Three” and “Dear Lady Twist.” I don’t know why, but it was just those songs that ended up in the repertoire. It was fun music. It was music that people could dance to, and you could really just enjoy it.
Q: In the early ’60s, I guess, there wasn’t really a lot of stuff out there like that. He was one of the real flag-bearers for what you might call garage-rock, now.
A: Yeah, that’s true. Joyful music. Music where you get the feeling that the people who are making it are having a lot of fun, and you are welcome to the party. It’s the same thing with Big Joe Turner and Wynonie Harris. That kind of thing where … you’re at the bar, you’re at the rent party, and somebody’s playing piano, and everybody’s singing and dancing. That’s just a lot of fun for us.
Q: Which is kind of what you were going for on the Soultime! album.
A: Yes, that’s exactly right. We were going for music that lifted people’s spirits, and that made for a more enjoyable atmosphere. That last album, Pills and Ammo (2010), was filled with anger and that kind of stuff. And I really wanted to make a record that … I’m sure you’ve heard this story, but I heard “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield in a big supermarket, and everybody just started bopping along to the song. And I was like, “This is what I’m supposed to do. This is the kind of music I’m supposed to make.” I’m supposed to make music for people to forget their troubles and have a good time.
Q: Now, of course, we live in an era when the album is less emphasized, but are you happy with the degree that Soultime! got out there and got heard by people?
A: I’m always happy when I get to do what I want. (laughs) So, this really was easy, once Jeff (Kazee) and I sat down and started writing it … you know, you have the concept, and you go, Okay, we need to write a song like this, or at this tempo, or with this kind of groove … it was very organic for us. We both love that kind of music. And of course once the band got involved … it was just one of those things where everything fell into place. Which is nice, for a change.
Q: So, getting back to the Hope concerts, and Bandiera … Obviously you go back with him a long way, and he’s not going to be touring with Bon Jovi anymore. Have you talked with him about maybe doing some duo shows, or something like that?
A: No, I haven’t. It’s a thought, though: I’ll have to speak to him about that. I haven’t really spoken to him lately, but I will. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know what he has in mind. He could be moving to Guam, for all I know.
Q: The Weeklings will be opening for you on New Year’s Eve. I know you go back a long way with (band member) Glen Burtnik, right?
A: Yeah. I played on “Here Comes Sally” from his Heroes & Zeros (1987) album. He’s just part of the mix, he and (Weeklings bandmate) Bob Burger and all these guys who we’ve known for years and years. That’s one of the things that’s great about this whole area: There’s such a pool of musicians, that if you need somebody for a specific thing, there’s so many different people you can call on. And it’s been that way since we were teenagers. There are just a million musicians. It wasn’t so much a competition as a mutuality. And it still is.
Q: Might you do a song or two with them … some kind of collaboration, at that show?
A: I have no idea what’s going to happen. That’s one of the joys about this show. It can be a free-for-all.
Q: You know, they just added Deborah Harry to the Hope shows. Did you ever do shows with Blondie, back in the day?
A: No, but I used to go see her … We used to go to CBGB to see all these bands when they were starting out: The Ramones, and Tuff Darts, Annie Golden’s band The Shirts, from Brooklyn. That kind of stuff. Just to be part of that whole scene, too, just to get the feeling of rock ‘n’ roll back in your bones, because it all had become guitar hero stuff. The songs — the actual songs — were kind of lost. So it was great for people to get back to these short bursts of energy.
Q: Have you thought at all about doing your annual Stone Pony shows, early next year?
A: In February, we’re going to do two soul nights. We’ve got a whole list of traditional soul songs, and some pretty obscure things. The horns already have charts for a lot of them, because we’ve done them over the years. But we’re going to try to add some new things, and some of our stuff from the new album, and all of the soul-ish kind of stuff that we had in the Jukes’ repertoire. So it will focused on soul music this time.
Q: Do you think the next album will be a Poor Fools album?
A: That’s kind of what I had planned, but I’m one of those guys who’s not great on details. So it could turn into another Jukes album. It could turn into something else. There are so many ideas floating around. John Isley and Chris Anderson, two of my horn guys, want to do Billie Holiday songs. So we’re doing a bunch of those. But I don’t know whether it’s going to be released, or just done on radio, or … I have no idea.