When Southside Johnny Lyon delivers an anecdote about gardening in his underwear in front of his Ocean Grove, NJ home, he’s not joking.
It’s not surprising because his off-stage manner is the same as when he’s under the lights singing his playful, spirited songs.
Lyon is the clown prince of the legendary Asbury Park scene. His pal Bruce Springsteen is the lionized figure, who puts much into perspective and Lyon is the songsmith, who is adept at offering a lighter side.
“Johnny is one of the all-time greats,” Gary U.S. Bonds said. “I’ve shared a stage with him so many times and you never know what he is going to do. He’s just a wonderful guy, who is truly one of a kind. They broke the mold with him and they might have done it on purpose.”
The unsentimental music veteran shoots from the hip during interviews and while entertaining a crowd. Lyon is a free-thinker, who is usually armed with a witty one-liner.
Lyon and the Asbury Jukes, who will perform tonight at the Keswick Theater, are also out behind a new album, ‘Pills and Ammo,’ which dropped in September
The disc is comprised of solid, inspired bluesy, soulful rock. The Jukes horn section fleshes out the songs and there are a number of key assists. The aforementioned Bonds sings along with Lyon during the loose ‘Umbrella in My Drink.’
Longtime Rolling Stones backing vocalist Lisa Fischer adds some color to the songs. It’s appropriate since a number of the cuts have that raw Stonesy appeal.
“We just go out and do what we do,” Lyon said. “When we make a record there’s not a grand plan. We follow our gut.”
Well, ‘Pills and Ammo’ is arguably the best Southside record since 1991’s classic ‘Better Days,’ which received huge assists from Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and Jon Bon Jovi, who loans his studio to the band.
“I come from a great musical community,” Lyon said. “That’s something that I could never deny. I’ve been pretty fortunate.”
Southside and the Jukes never broke out like some music pundits thought but it’s been a nice, steady career for Lyon and company, who found their niche as a band that serves up celebratory, gritty rock.
The group never hurts for gigs or fans, who want to have a good time. Southside provides a great means of escape through relatable songs that are often filled with deep grooves and strong rhythms.
“It’s been a good run,” Lyon said. “We have great fans. They’re up for hearing the new songs and they still love the old songs like ‘I Don’t Want To Go Home.’ I’m thankful that’s the way it is because I don’t know what else I would do.”