Southside Johnny (Courtesy of Daniel Gonzalez)
As John Lyon sits in the cold confines of his New Jersey home, he’s looking forward to one thing the most on his upcoming West Coast run of shows: sunshine.
“We haven’t had any in Jersey for awhile,” he hacks in his gruff Jersey-style voice that comes from a lifetime of growing up in the Garden State.
Lyon, who performs under the moniker Southside Johnny, along with his backing band the Ashbury Jukes have been a staple in creating what many music critics call “The New Jersey sound.” A style of blue-collar blues that immediately harkens back to the Jersey Shore where Lyons, and fellow Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen honed their talent and masterful style of songwriting.
“There were so many people who wanted to make music,” Lyon says. “There wasn’t a lot of competition, it was more of a feeling of camaraderie. We really wanted to do this, we didn’t want to have a backup plan. We wanted to be musicians, we didn’t want to be accountants.”
Lyon, who has been rocking audiences across America for decades, performs in Los Angeles for the first time in over 10 years with an appearance at the legendary Whisky a Go Go on April 7 and the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on April 8. Though the series of West Coast dates are a long time coming for Lyon’s band, he has actually spent many years in California as a resident many years ago.
“We had a night off in San Juan Capistrano, and I took a walk in that beautiful California evening electric blue warm air and ocean, and I totally thought, ‘God, I can live out here. It’s great,’” he says. “And we did, for about five years.”
Lyon, who has been on the road and releasing albums for more than 50 years, is one of rock music’s longtime troubadours, his name should be among the giants like Bob Seger, John Fogerty, as well as his Jersey brother-in-arms Bruce, but for Lyon, being in the same realm as such notable artists is not nearly as important
“I never put any credence into that kind of stuff. To me, it’s all about what’s ahead of you,” Lyon says. “What we are gonna do next and how can we make the shows special, and that’s the only thing that matters.”
After nearly half a century in the business, Lyon and the Jukes are still achieving plenty of firsts in their storied career, the most significant of which is having the opportunity to perform at a legendary venue like the Whisky a Go Go.
“The two hours on stage are when you really feel alive. I have a lot of other things I like to do, but nothing compares to being on stage with a great band and a live audience,” Lyon says.
A tried-and-true master of his craft, Lyon doesn’t have much planned when deciding the band’s setlist, but rather, leaves the set to be a natural and organic experience onstage. So when asked what he expects his Whisky a Go Go debut setlist will be like, his response is as tempered and reserved as one can expect from the straight-forward frontman.
“We’re gonna do some of the new stuff and some of the old stuff, and some stuff between. We’re gonna fake it and make it up as we go along,” Lyon jokes.
The freedom onstage will no doubt be the highlight of the band’s Hollywood debut. From the die-hard fans to the newer generation of music fans, all will get the chance to experience pure, unfiltered rock from a Jersey legend.
“It’s not a programmed show,” Lyon says. “Never has been, and as long as I’m in it, it never will be.”
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes perform Friday, April 7th at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Saturday, April 8th at The Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles and Sunday, April 9th at Yoshi’s in Oakland.