New Jersey legend Southside Johnny celebrates his 74th birthday with more music
When I was talking music with a friend the other day, he asked if I thought Southside Johnny would retire soon. My answer was short, nope! There’s no stopping New Jersey’s own Southside Johnny, who turns 74 on December 4th, 2023 and age does not deter as he continues to bring it to his fans every time, he hits the stage. He continues to perform to sold-out audiences in the tri-state area.
You can’t tell a story about the rich Jersey Rock and Roll music history without a reference to Southside Johnny. Jon Bon Jovi has stated that Southside Johnny was the reason he got into music. Johnny was an integral part of the start of the Jersey Shore music scene. He was a fixture at the iconic Upstage on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park which showcased those who wrote their material and allowed him to jam with other local talent like Little Stevie Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen, and other future E-Street Band members. Stevie Van Zandt became part of Johnny’s band and wrote some great songs, Johnny also received creative poses from Bruce resulting in three killer albums, I Don’t Want to Go Home, This Time It’s for Real, and Hearts of Stone. All of those albums were released in the 70’s and did very well.
I got to know Southside personally from his appearances on my Holliday Show for Jersey Kids that we held every year from 1999 through 2009 at Jenkinson’s. Johnny would graciously lend his time and talent and grant me the rare interview. We would talk about music, and his schedule and I always kept it fun and real and we seemed to have an enjoyable banter back and forth. One year I thought that he didn’t want to do the show, so I relayed my thoughts to his agent and 20 minutes later Johnny called me and started yelling at me using expletives and telling me that he enjoyed the show and plans on doing it again and where would I get that information. I started laughing because his rage was funny and the message was positive.
Bobby Bandiera, who used to be Johnny’s musical director for the Asbury Jukes and then later left to add his talents to Bon Jovi, used to produce and head a charity concert every year at The Count Basie in Red Bank. It was a great show and raises big money for those in need. Bruce, Jon Bon Jovi, Gary US Bonds, and Southside were staples at this show for years. I hosted the event every year. So Bobby used to tell me to hang out in his dressing room as every other room was packed with the many talented performers lending their talents to the concert. In Bobby’s dressing room would be Southside, Gary Bonds would pop in and Jon Bon Jovi would come in and the discussions would fly and lots of laughs. Southside and I would have a pop or two and when the room cleared out we would talk about music and other things that were going on. This would happen every year and through our connection Johnny would ask to open a show or two in the summer, of course, I complied.
When I was doing my TV show, The Big Joe Henry Variety Show, I asked Johnny to be a guest, sing a song or two with my show band, and do an interview. Johnny agreed to do the show. Now I should preface this by saying that Johnny has a propensity to use swear words. The night of the taping comes and Johnny has been out before we go to tape, and we tape at 600pm. We exchange pleasantries and he’s busting my chops because I’m in a suit. It’s a TV show, of course, I’m in a suit. I remind Johnny that this show will air at 700pm on a Sunday so be careful of language, he looks at me smiles, and says F#$% you! He’s laughing; I’m thinking ok, that went well. We start the show everything is going okay, he sings his songs comes over and all hell breaks loose. He starts swearing without knowing that he’s swearing. We stopped taping no less than ten times. Our director George McMorrow had his hands full.
Johnny and his band will be doing his yearly New Year's Eve show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. The show starts early, which is a brilliant idea. Have some fun and catch a legend.
He’s a classic! Happy birthday Southside Johnny you’re a Jersey icon and a great musician.
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The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.