Although Southside Johnny’s musical evolution followed a similar timeline and route as his Jersey compatriot, Springsteen’s almost supernatural success seemed to trigger Southside’s leap into the public consciousness. Most of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ 1976 debut, I Don’t Want to Go Home, was written individually or collectively by Springsteen and his guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who also produced the album.
That blueprint remained for the next two albums — 1977’s This Time It’s For Real and 1978’s Hearts of Stone, which Rolling Stone named as one of the 100 greatest albums of the ‘70s — but somehow Springsteen’s touch failed to elevate Southside and the Asbury Jukes.
Bouncing from label to label and sound to sound, even drifting toward Disco before returning to their R&B roots on 1986’s At Least We Got Shoes — featuring songs by longtime Jukes collaborator/future Mrs. Springsteen, Patti Scialfa — the Asbury Jukes earned a loyal cult following but never quite broke through to mainstream success.
Over the past three decades, Southside has released more than 30 studio and live albums; after 10 years without a contract, he started his own label in 2001 and gained creative control over his output, resulting in some of his best work, including 2008’s Grapefruit Moon, an album of Tom Waits covers done with longtime Juke/Conan O’Brien bandmember Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg, and 2010’s excellent Pills and Ammo.Southside Johnny’s consistent touring has grown his audience exponentially and his tenacity has kept him from becoming a footnote in other people’s success stories. If you’ve got a taste for a bracing Jersey R&B/Rock cocktail, the best bartender in town just might be the undercover Boss.
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