NJ music legend celebrates 73rd birthday with more rock & roll
Most people retire in their mid to late 60s. They’ve put in the time, they’ve done the job for 25–30 years and it’s time to kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Well, there’s no stopping New Jersey’s own Southside Johnny. He turned 73 this weekend (12/4/22) and 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 own material and allowed him to jam with other local talents 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 pose 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 '70s 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 2008 or 2009 at Jenkinson’s. Johnny would graciously lend his time and talent and grant me the rare interview. We would talk about music, 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 calls me and starts yelling at me using expletives and telling me that he enjoys 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.
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 6 p.m. 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 7 p.m. 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 and everything is going OK. He sings his songs, comes over and all hell broke loose. He starts swearing without knowing that he’s swearing. We stopped taping no less than 10 times. Our director George McMorrow had his hands full.
Check out the chopped-up interview with Southside on my TV show in the YouTube clip above. He’s a classic!
Happy birthday, Southside Johnny, you’re a Jersey icon and a great musician.
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.