You'd think a guy like Johnny Lyon would have been a gimme as far as success in the music business goes. He certainly had all the necessary ingredients. Start with the fact that he was, and still is, one of the best white soul singers in the business. When you add to the mix a crack band anchored by one of rock 'n' roll's best horn sections, and then figure in a close relationship with guys like Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt writing and producing the lions share of the material, you'd think this guy's path to superstardom would've been a slam-dunk.
Or so you'd think anyway…
As it turned out, the man better known to the world as Southside Johnny was never quite able to escape the shadow of his more famous pals from Asbury Park, NJ. After the initial promise of his first three albums for Epic Records in the seventies — the third of which, Hearts Of Stone is considered by many fans to be something of an unheralded masterpiece — the label then dropped him.
Since then, Southside Johnny and his Asbury Jukes have toiled on through decades of revolving band members and record labels, playing an endless series of gigs at the same sort of juke joints and roadhouse venues they started out in way back when. Yet, even though I'm sure Southside himself has spent more than a few restless nights pondering what might have been, I still get the feeling that he's basically okay with it. What may have been the music world's ultimate loss still comes down to what really matters most for guys like these who live, eat, and breathe this stuff. And that is the music itself.
1978: Live In Boston is a recently unearthed concert recorded back during that giddy time when Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes seemed to be right on the cusp of making it really big. Recorded on a particularly cool night in 1978 just a few days before Christmas at Boston's Paradise Theater, this album has long since been an out-of-print collector's item coveted by fans. It has just now been reissued by indie label Airline Records, in a no-frills sort of package that includes little in the way of remastered bells and whistles. Well, other than newly written liner notes anyway.
Which is just fine, because what is actually captured here is a smoking hot
performance, featuring several songs from those first three great albums. Southside Johnny himself — who is revered by many of his Asbury Park brethren as one of the finest white blues shouters this side of Mitch Ryder — has never sounded better.
As for the Jukes?
We're talking well oiled machine here. Running through their set with the breakneck pace of a Stax style R&B revue, the band slows down only once for a smoldering eleven minute version of Bruce Springsteen's song "The Fever." For his part, Southside one-ups the Boss himself here, belting out the bluesy number like a champ. The horn section — better known to the world as the Miami Horns, and led by the great trombonist La Bamba (yes, the same guy who plays with Mighty Max on Conan O' Brien's show) — also sound as tight as a drum here.
The set features several other Springsteen songs written for Southside Johnny like "Talk To Me" and the should've-been-a-single "Trapped Again" (from the great Hearts of Stone album). Sadly, the title track of that album (another great Springsteen song) doesn't make the setlist here. Steven Van Zandt, who by this time had left the Jukes to join Springsteen full time in the E Street Band, contributes a few originals as well. These include the title tracks from the first two Southside Johnny albums, I Don't Want To Go Home and the horn-heavy This Time Its For Real.
In between all of the Springsteen and Van Zandt songs, the band rips through well-chosen covers like Sam Cooke's "Havin A Party," which is given a raucous sounding rave-up treatment here. Guitarist Billy Rush in particular shines here, filling Van Zandt's shoes so well you'd swear it was actually Miami Steve himself. The set closes out with a festive pair of holiday rave-ups in "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" and "Merry Christmas Baby."
1978: Live In Boston is proof they just don't make live albums anymore that sound as much like a party as this one does. Basically equal parts frathouse party rock a la Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and chitlin circuit R&B in the vein of folks like the original Ike And Tina Turner Revue, Southside & The Jukes tear the house down here.
Not too bad for that "other guy" from Jersey.
Here’s a vintage clip of Bruce and Southside performing “The Fever.” Enjoy.