Southside Johnny talks about next drive-in concert, life during pandemic, more

southside johnny drive-in interview

PHILLIP MERRITT

SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will do their second New Jersey drive-in concert of the pandemic, Aug. 16 in the parking lot of the Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus. This follows a sold-out drive-in show, July 11 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport.

I talked to him about this and other subjects — including his incredible July 1 show with Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt in The Boss’ “From My Home to Yours” series on SiriusXM satellite radio — by phone, from his home in Ocean Grove, this week.

Q: I wasn’t there for the drive-in concert but I did listen to it on the radio, and enjoyed it. What was that like for you?

A: It was interesting. It was actually a lot of fun, just ’cause we could play after months and months of not playing. It would have been good even if there was nobody there, but it’s always infinitely better with an audience, even if they’re in cars. But they did have pictures taken of their faces and put them, like in the stadiums now, in the windshields of their cars, and they were blown up, so it looked like all big heads were out there. It was very funny. Very clever people, my fans.

Q. Was there any way in which it was different from what you expected it would be?

A: Yeah, you can’t interact with the audience as much, but I was my usual self. I made jokes and talked and that kind of stuff. I just figured, “They’re listening to me, I’m not getting an immediate reaction, but that’s okay.” And they honked their horns and flashed their lights. Some people got out and sat next to their cars. And we did one in the Hamptons and they did the same thing. So we’re kind of getting used to it. But it’s … obviously, you’ve got to have people in front of you to talk to, and kid around with, and all like that. But it’s just the way it has to be done, and I’m just glad to play, and I know that people are glad to get out.

Q: Unfortunately, it’s kind of a temporary thing, because we’re in mid-August now, and soon drive-ins are not going to be an option, because of the weather. So as few options as there are now, there may be a lot fewer once we get into November, December …

A: That’s true. I hadn’t thought of that. But that’s true. I guess you can get it while you can, then, as the song says. Not to tell tales out of school, but I’ve heard some agents and people say that we won’t be touring until maybe June of next year, if we get a vaccination, which to me is just … I don’t know if I can handle it. I’m gonna have to figure something out. You know, you have a reason to be on the planet, if you’re a person like me. And you feel if you’re not doing what you do, you feel like you’re just a waste of skin. So I’m gonna have to figure something out. I’ve got a couple of ideas. But I gotta do something! (laughs)

PHILLIP MERRITT

SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY

Q: Maybe some kind of online concerts, some kind of performance …

A: Yeah, we’ve tried some of that. And it just … I mean, we could do it. Certainly I can get the equipment, and (Jukes member) Jeff (Kazee) has already got the equipment, and the rest of the guys are way more advanced with it than I am. It could be done. But it’s just not as fulfilling as having an audience. But what we do here in Ocean Grove is sitting on the porch … my friend across the street, her boyfriend plays a really good guitar, and he comes over, and we sit on the porch and play and sing, and people come around. Everybody is socially distanced and people are wearing masks. It’s going back to the old days before radio, where people used to sit on the porch and play music.

Q: Well, one thing you did was that show with Bruce (Springsteen) and Stevie (Van Zandt) on SiriusXM, a little while ago, which was really … I found it exceptionally interesting, and I feel like I should thank you on behalf of fans of all three of you for doing that. First of all … were you in the same place for that? Did you do it on Zoom, or how did you do that?

A: Bruce has a studio: He’s got an outbuilding with a studio in it. And there’s a number of small booths: Vocal booths, and that kind of thing. Steven sat in one, I was in another, and Bruce was in the main room. And he was kind of picking the songs, and we were talking about them. So it was very easy, and a lot of fun. But we weren’t all together in one room.

Q: I got the impression that, for all of you, it was probably your first time in a lot of years, having heard those songs. Is that true, that you hadn’t listened to those early albums in a long time?

A: No, you don’t usually … I mean, I don’t. I know there are some musicians who do. Once an album is made, you’ve already put in all the hours in writing and rehearsing and then recording, and then mixing, and you’re just sick of it. You don’t mind doing (the songs) live, ’cause there’s an audience. But to just sit down and listen to it, it would be like torture (laughs), until enough time passes. So I have not listened back to a lot of that stuff. Occasionally, I’ll hear it on the radio, or I’ll be in the cab or someplace and they’ll play a song on the radio, and I’ll go, ‘Who is that?’ But I don’t listen to my stuff, as a rule.

Q: Yeah, I know. It’s not exactly the same but I don’t really like reading my old articles, because I’m always finding things that I could have done better. It’s painful.

A: Especially when the album is first out, and you’re going around doing publicity and going on radio stations and doing that stuff, they play it, and you go, “The drums should be louder” or “I didn’t get that note.” All the little, tiny flaws that nobody ever notices.

Q: So what was the experience like, for you, to hear all those old records again? It seemed like you all really enjoyed listening to that stuff with fresh ears.

A: Yeah, I was astounded that I enjoyed it as much as I did. There are a couple of Bruce things that he played that I had not heard, ’cause they’re on this big boxed set, that I really liked a lot. And the Gary Bonds things, I really love. And Steven’s things sounded great. Then when mine came on, I kind of tuned out a little bit, until “First Night” came on (see video below), which was with The Five Satins. And that sounded so good. And I thought, “Wow, we really got one right.” (laughs)

Southside Johnny and Steven Van Zandt, performing together in 2017.

Q: I wanted to ask you about one particular thing you said (on SiriusXM). You were talking about getting angry and cursing in the studio once, because someone interrupted a recording session. And you said, “The thing that comes through with all of these things is the passion that we sing with. I mean, we learned from Ben E. King and all those guys that it mattered.” Was that kind of the general feeling you had at that time, in the mid-’70s or so, that that kind of passion had gone out of popular music in general, at that point?

A: I wouldn’t say that so much as I would say that what we grew up listening to was made by passionate people. And we learned from that. But also, all of us felt lucky to be musicians, and also determined to be musicians. So if we got a chance to do something and make music, we were going to make the most of it, and put our hearts and souls into it. We weren’t going to walk through it.

What happened in the studio was, I was singing something and the executives walked in, and Steven stopped the take. And I really … and he later explained, “I didn’t want them to see you so wrapped up in it, ’cause it probably would have scared ’em.” (laughs) But that’s … you know, we knew how hard it was to make a living and make a name and become somebody in the music business. So if they gave us an opportunity to play, or to record, we were gonna really tear it up as much as we possibly could. If you just kind of blow it off, that might be the last time you ever played that place, and that could be an ongoing problem, if you don’t put it out there every night. And it’s the same thing in the studio. If you believe in the song, you have to show it. I’m not one of those singers who can languidly go through a song, you know. Be cool and matter-of-fact about it.

Q: So do you have any plans to do any recording?

A: This summer we were gonna record, or at least make some demos, but that all got put on the back burner. Now we’re just kind of twiddlin’ our thumbs. Jeff and I have tried to write a little bit over the phone, and over computer and all like that, but the motivation is tough to find right now. I’ve got to get myself out of the doldrums, and start creating. I need someone to jump-start me, and hopefully somebody will, or I’ll do it myself. I would love to put some new music out there, if only for the enjoyment of the fans. It’s been too long. But that’s my fault.

Q: Is there any vault stuff you could put out? I know you’ve put out some already?

A: I don’t think so. I think we pretty much raided the vault already. But we do have new songs: Jeff and I have written some new songs. And there are songs that I’ve wanted to record, over the years: other people’s material. If we wanted to, we could go in and make an album. But it wouldn’t be as cohesive as we usually desire. You set a certain level for yourself, and I don’t want to lower that so much. But then again, if we could make some music, then we’ll see. I’ll have to look into that. Perhaps we can go in the studio and be socially distanced and make some recordings. We can just layer stuff, or whatever. I like to record live, because the band is great. But if we can’t do that, then we’ll do something else.

Southside Johnny with Jeff Kazee.

Q: And of course your main method of promoting an album would be gone until quite a while from now: I mean getting out there and playing live.

A: Yeah, I know. But just to do something. Just to have new music.

Q: I know a lot of people who have had albums scheduled for this time period have delayed them, just because they wanted to be able to really promote them.

A: That’s one of the things. The only way we can really promote, since we don’t get a lot of radio play, is through the internet, and live performing. And we had lots of dates this summer, and into the fall. Of course that’s all gone by the wayside. So you’re trying to find your way through the reality, and … I can’t say that I’m doing a great job. But I’m trying.

Q: Having so much time at all between shows … is that difficult at all, just to get the chemistry back with the band, or is that always there, no matter when you do it?

A: We were worried about that a little bit, before the Monmouth Racetrack show. And then we had soundcheck, and we got to do one song, and it just felt like, “Yeah, that’s right. We don’t have to worry about this.” So I don’t think that’s anything that really bothers people. It certainly doesn’t bother me.

I always worry about remembering the lyrics. But now if I don’t, I have an excuse! “I’ve been off so long I can’t remember the words.”

BergenPAC presents Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes in a drive-in concert at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. Visit ticketmaster.com.

For information on other shows in the “Sunset Drive-In Concert Series,” visit bergenpac.org/events-tickets/drive-in.

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3 thoughts on “Southside Johnny talks about next drive-in concert, life during pandemic, more

  1. I miss my guys. I miss Johnny & the band. I miss his wise cracks, his silliness. I miss his heart & his voice, but most of all, I miss his soul. His soul lifts me to new heights all the time.

  2. Been fan since 1978, Capital Theater New Years Eve.
    Thank you SSJ, listen you you every day and your music has made this pandemic bearable…

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