It’s been a long time since Southside Johnny Lyon toured as extensively as he did last year with his band of merry men, aka the Asbury Jukes. During an amazingly frank radio interview with DJ Vin Scelsa at the end of 1998, Johnny talked openly about the reasons that made him decide to take a break from performing. To the relief of his many fans however, Johnny concluded the conversation by announcing his plans to perform fourteen “unplugged” shows. He said he hoped they would act as a “jump start” for him and judging from the ensuing schedule, it would appear that the semi-acoustic tour therapy had its desired effect. By the time that a ton of silver confetti fell onto the stage at Resorts International, Atlantic City, NJ, to welcome the new millennium, Southside Johnny (together with variations of the Asbury Jukes that included a new keyboard player as well as a female band member), had entertained and delighted audiences in bars; clubs; pool halls; amphitheatres; parks; and casinos. They’d also appeared at music festivals on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Communal bass guitar: Nashville musicians Kevin Gordon (guitar) and Rick Schell (percussion) made their “Jukes” début by joining Southside Johnny and Bobby Bandiera on the “unplugged” dates. The shows ultimately became “plugged” and produced an all-hands-on-bass situation where whoever happened to be free took control of the communal instrument – this included Johnny, Bobby and Timmy (the one-armed roadie) Holland. Throughout the rest of the year and, completely in accordance with Jukes tradition, the band’s line-up featured performances from: David Hayes (bass); Hugh McDonald (bass); Sue Williams (bass); Jeff Kazee (keys); Scott Healey (keys); Joe Bellia (drums); Joey Stann, Ed Manion, Chris Anderson, Mark Pender and Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg (horns). Besides the official scheduled band dates, Southside Johnny also made a few lucrative unscheduled appearances during 1999. At the request of fellow Shore musician and friend John Cafferty, Johnny and Bobby were asked to participate at a special concert when the PGA Tour was in Florida last March. Johnny also made a surprise appearance at Bruce Springsteen’s Oakland, CA, show last October and performed Hungry Heart with the E Street Band. Then in December, both Johnny and Bobby turned up at an event in Colt’s Neck, NJ. This was in effect a prize that had been won at a charity evening hosted earlier in the year by Jon Bon Jovi. An anonymous businessman bid $60,000 for the privilege of having Bon Jovi to play in his backyard and most of the musicians in attendance at this bash were also present at the legendary fundraiser that took place at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on January 31st, 1998. Yes, besides Bon Jovi… Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa plus LaBamba and the Hubcaps all got jiggy with it for another good cause.
Virtual contact: Obtaining information like this has been made simpler thanks to the invention of the WWW but since not everyone is online yet, I thought I would share some of the comments, opinions and set lists that appeared during the course of 1999 on the Southside Digest as well as on Allan Wright’s and Klaus Boettger’s Websites. The Southside Digest is an Internet newsletter that is maintained by one of the Jukes’ most loyal fans, Debbie May, whose efforts have enabled fans across the globe to share a common wavelength with one another. I recently posed the question: How was it for you? – referring of course to the Jukes’ shows. Without exception, everyone who wrote to me willingly gave me their permission to use their work for this article. So without further ado, sit back and buckle-up as we follow the magical, mystery tour that took Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes back on the road again in 1999.
The world’s loudest acoustic band: From Massachusetts to New York City, the acoustic tour was destined to be special and besides featuring the two newcomers Kevin and Rick, it would have been impossible for the most diehard of Jukes fans to have predicted the contents of the shows. Allan Wright who was at the Haverhill and Manchester shows said: “It was a breath of fresh air to enjoy hearing South’s vocals as well as his smooth, harmonica-playing which featured more prominently because they weren’t straining over the horns and full band.” The song selection also went down extremely well with Allan who rated Rosa and Bird Dog as his personal favourites. Daniela who hails from Bloomfield, NJ, said: “What made part of the shows special for me was actually seeing them in small, intimate clubs outside New Jersey or New York. It was awesome hearing Southside’s voice out in front.” The Birchmere show prompted Johnny to announce: “We’re the world’s loudest acoustic band!” Thanks to John Eustis’ detailed report, we also know that the crowd went wild when Bobby sang Running Scared. During the course of this highly acclaimed evening, Johnny also played harp, guitar and castanets in addition to his vocal role.
As each review appeared, it was clear that the acoustic shows were knocking people out wherever the band played. The show at the North Star Bar in Philadelphia, PA, prompted Kim Del Roccili to make further comments about Johnny’s vocal prowess and how his voice shone through in this particular venue. Kim also said that some of the songs crept into the set because of Johnny’s bantering and at one point, while he was joking about his frame of mind, Bobby (the “Human Jukebox”) quickly responded with a few chords from Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. The final two performances of the acoustic tour were held on the same night at the Bottom Line club in New York City, NY, and featured Graham Parker as the opening act. Graham also re-appeared later to join Johnny and the band at the end of their sets and everyone who was at the first show got to hear one of Graham’s own great songs, New York Shuffle.
Southside makes a cyberappearance: As expected, all of these gigs went down a storm and shortly afterwards, a message appeared on the Digest which Johnny had asked Debbie to post. It said: “If you would, I wish you’d tell all the folks who came out for the “acoustic” tour thanx from Bobby, Kevin, Rick and me. I didn’t know whether or not anyone would be interested, and I was right pleased with the response. I am always amazed that ANYONE would willingly put up with my shenanigans. I can’t say enough about the fan loyalty I’ve gotten over the years. You’se are de greatest! Southside.” You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that the audiences weren’t the only ones who were havin’ a good time during the course of this tour and when the next lot of acoustic dates were announced, there was extreme joy amongst Jukes fans across here in Europe… as long as you had a Master’s Degree in Orienteering, that is.
Magic European moments: Klaus Boettger and his friend Guido made it to the Dutch festival shows in The Hague and Ospel-Moulin. Both of them had a blast, loved every minute and got sunburnt for their sins, but the choice of venues meant that sadly, they encountered a situation where a lot of the audience were there simply havin’ a party as opposed to being interested in any of the performances. This must have been tough on the acts and as Klaus reported, by the time that Johnny, Bobby, Kevin and Rick came on at their allocated time slot of 23:15 a lot of the crowd were already on another planet! In spite of everything though, Klaus described Hearts Of Stone as having never touched him more than that night in Ospel-Moulin and that he will never forget it.
The Paris performance took place in a small club near Montmartre. Gisela travelled from Germany especially to see the show, having waited four long years for this opportunity. She told me: “It was great to see Johnny again and the setlist was incredible. I couldn’t believe that once more, I had got to hear the songs I love so much. Chances like this don’t happen very often so that made each song extra special for me… the well-known Jukes songs as well as the blues songs and Johnny’s voice on Hearts Of Stone never sounded better. Another highlight from this emotionally charged show was Bobby’s version of the Righteous Brothers hit Unchained Melody. As Bobby gently strummed his guitar, the audience literally stopped in their tracks to listen to him and when the song was over, Bobby’s reward was the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.” Silvia Steiner who had made the trip to Paris from her home in Switzerland also complimented Bobby’s performance and said: “My boyfriend and I had such a great time, we really wanted to see another show. As luck would have it, I was in San Jose on business when the band played their west coast dates, so I was able to see them again. It would be really great if Johnny could come back to play again in Zurich because he has a lot of fans there who would love to see him once more.”
I guess I must have been absent the day my geography class discovered places like Louvain La Neuve because I decided to stick to the safe option and head for the London gig. Naturally, I did not anticipate getting trapped in the sky above Frankfurt for what seemed like eternity on account of the volume of military aircraft that was heading in and out of Kosovo at the time. Nor was I prepared for a further delay on the tube out of Heathrow because of a “security alert”. Accordingly, I nearly blinded myself when I misdirected my hair-spray whilst in a state of panic at the possibility of missing the show! But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that it was worth every single stress-filled second to hear I Only Want To Be With You (part of a short Dusty Springfield medley which also featured parts of Wishin’ And Hopin’ and Son Of A Preacher Man) as well as All The Way Home.
Mike Saunders was also there and later wrote: “Southside’s first UK appearance for three-and-a-half years took place in the appropriately sweaty confines of the Embassy Rooms in London, a now-defunct basement club which was packed to the rafters with an enthusiastic crowd who’d come to welcome back an old friend. Although Southside’s voice was fading towards the end of the 135-minute gig, he never let up for a second. The wit and the wisecracks were still there in abundance, as was the usual unpredictable set list, which included material by Chuck Berry (Back In The USA), Roy Orbison (Crying) in addition to Bobby’s own C’mon Caroline, three excellent songs by Kevin Gordon (Dissatisfied, Cadillac Jack’s No 1 Son and Deuce And A Quarter) and much more besides. ‘This is a Duke Ellington song’, joked Southside during a lengthy blues section. ‘He’s dead, but his music isn’t…at least not till we get through with it!’ Taking place just two days after Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s second concert in Manchester, the show might have turned into a New Jersey summit meeting, but the rumoured special guests failed to show and it didn’t really matter. Southside later dubbed the concert ‘Bruce Aid’, noting how Bruce needed all the money he could get to feed three kids and a huge band. Among more familiar Bruce material like Talk To Me, the versatile four-piece included a fine version of Fade Away. while a short snippet of Sherry Darling later turned up in I’ve Been Working Too Hard. The night drew to a close with Having A Party, which somehow morphed into Elvis Costello’s Watching The Detectives before Southside called it a night. ‘Goodnight, we’ve wasted enough of your time’, he cracked. The show had been many things, but certainly not a waste of anybody’s time. Roll on the next one.”
Hot summer gigs: From Memorial Day weekend thru’ Labor Day weekend, Southside Johnny and a fully paid-up version of the Asbury Jukes zig-zagged their way across the USA leaving a bunch of happy campers in their wake. The summer tour began at the Philadelphia Music Festival and the band performed twice on the opening day of this three-day event. Kim Del Roccili explained that the stage was set up in a large tent which had seating for around 300 people prompting quick-witted Johnny to comment that he felt as if he was at a revival meeting. Unphased, the Jukes played two powerful sets before moving on to Ohio. The Youngstown show on May 30th was actually a private party set up by a local hard rock station who declared that “caller #6” etc. was the necessary criterion for getting a ticket. But thankfully, hell hath no fury like Jukes fans scorned and Tish Michalak’s reassuring report confirmed that the audience selection process did not affect the band’s performance. Tish said: “As a result of singing too loud and hollering too much, I managed to dislocate a disc in my jaw and I have been trying to get it back into place ever since!”
The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, has a reputation for being a great venue to hear live music because it has an in-house policy that won’t tolerate unnecessary distractions from the audience during a performance. Perhaps this could explain why it was Johnny’s second visit of the year. Jeff Kazee’s keyboard skills were complimented after this show by John Eustis and additional comments came from Jane McCreery who said: “Hearing Johnny sing Alejandro Escavedo’s exquisite Tired Skin in this quiet environment was THE highlight of the evening for me. Johnny made a point of acknowledging Chris Anderson’s sensational muted trumpet solo on this song which gets my vote for being the most brilliant cover choice since Without Love.” A couple of days later at the Newark, NJ, gig, the horn section had increased in size and featured the God of Thunder himself, LaBamba as well as Chris, Mark, Joey and Eddie. The next two shows were in New York – McGeary’s, an outdoor venue in Albany and Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett. Judy Berger was at the latter and she said: “There was such a great atmosphere in the club, even the walls were shakin’, rockin’ and rollin’!”
We’re all goin’ to the zoo: The MAMA festival in Timonium, MD, was a wash-out and unfortunately, resulted in the Jukes’ set being cancelled. But by the time the band arrived in Minneapolis for their gig at the Minnesota Zoo amphitheatre, normal service was resumed – the location of this gig prompted a quip from Johnny who remarked that the last time the band played at a zoo, some gorillas ate the horn section! The band was introduced by local baseball hero Paul Molitor who came back out to join them for the Havin’ A Party encore. Next up was the Summerfest show at Milwaukee and if you’re wondering what made it famous… it kicked butt, the horns were hot and Johnny was in a party mood according to an unconfirmed report. A couple of days later, the band’s performance at Resorts International in Atlantic City, NJ, was an inauguration for the hotel’s brand new Eleven33 club. The show was free to the public and from the sound of Joe Lewin’s great report, it rocked. The set included Burning Love in the middle of Havin’ A Party and The Star Spangled Banner in the middle of I’ve Been Working Too Hard. Joe said: “The last two lines of this was just drums, keyboard and a little guitar which created a dramatic effect.” New York City’s Battery Park played host to the next show which was hot in more ways than one. Although the temperatures off-stage hit 110°F in the shade, it didn’t stop the band from further increasing the intensity by performing a blistering set on-stage. Kim Del Roccili said: “At one point, Johnny requested the stage crew to ‘turn down the lights’ fearing he was going to end up resembling a french-fry!”
David Hayes back on bass: Jane McCreery wrote an excellent review of the Rib & Music Festival show at Akron, OH, which began with a comment from the car-park attendant who told her: “I don’t know who this closing band is, but they’re packing in a crowd!” Highlights for Jane included seeing the return of the great David Hayes on bass; watching Johnny’s antics on stage; impromptu Hendrixesque guitar riffs from Bobby; a brilliant rendition of Trapped Again (which Jane described as being “inspired” and like a new song that Johnny and Bobby had just discovered); a fun version of High School BOP; and a rousing version of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On – Jeff Kazee lit into this within a milli-second of Johnny asking him if he knew any Jerry Lee Lewis songs. Jane also said that the crowd simply refused to let the band finish and that when Johnny came up to the microphone for the third encore singing the familiar “We’re…” he waited a little, timed the next words perfectly and threw everyone (including the band) by continuing with “… on the road again…”.
Silicon Valley rocks: The next five dates were all on the West Coast and after the San Diego, CA, show Ed Manion and Joey Stann were reported to have been “on freakin’ fire”! Steve Bradley was there celebrating his 40th Birthday and in true “Dirty Harry” style, getting to hear two of his personal favourite songs of all time – I Played The Fool and Broke Down Piece Of Man … certainly made his day. A hot July night at the Sunset Station Casino’s amphitheatre in Henderson, NV, saw John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band opening the show for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. Roseann Whypp (a Jersey transplant) was there and said: “As I stood in the front row singing along and dancing all night, it took me back to the time when I was 17 and danced with Johnny on stage at the Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ.” Steve Shapiro shot some great pictures of the band setting up for the San Jose gig and these are featured on Allan Wright’s Website. Steve didn’t know it at the time, but standing near him was longtime Jukes fan Bradley Roades who said: “I expected the band to be great, but I didn’t anticipate the overwhelming experience that it turned out to be. By the third song, I (still wearing the shirt and tie I had on at work that day) had bolted to be right up front with the true believers. The vibe was great and the band got the whole park rockin’. In California, Southside Johnny might as well be from Mars but, when I turned around right before Hearts Of Stone, there was a city block of humanity jumping to the blues behind me. Seeing a group of Silicon Valley intellectuals dancing to the sounds of the band at a free, open-air concert was a testament to the quality of the show.”
House of Fun: After a seven year hiatus of not seeing the band perform, the House of Blues show in Los Angeles, CA, was Cheryl Cline’s second of the West Coast tour. Cheryl said: “The band played a really great set at Humphrey’s and I hung on every note but, I couldn’t help wishing that they had picked someplace else to make their triumphant return to San Diego, CA. The House of Blues in LA on the other hand, is the best concert venue EVER… it rocks! I was in my assigned seat which means standing on the floor, centre stage and it was unbearable waiting for the band to come on. There was an opening act, Charlie Terrell, who was good and then, after another seemingly endless wait, the curtain opened and Johnny took the stage. The house was packed with true Jukes fans and two of the songs that stood out for me were Love Is A Sacrifice and All I Needed Was You. Another highlight was when Johnny and Bobby went into an unrehearsed version of Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe. At first they were singing the right lyrics, then they started making them up. Johnny sang: ‘I’ve got you to wear my ring’ and without skipping a beat, Bobby replied: ‘I’ve got you to suck my thing!’ Johnny lost it! He sat down on the floor and said: ‘I quit! I give up!’ Everyone was laughing hysterically. It was spontaneous… it was perfect. We sang, we danced, we rocked.”
Meanwhile, back east… The Jukes were the headliners at the Framington Blues Festival in Massachusetts. Featuring Hugh McDonald on bass, the band played once again to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience before heading towards New Jersey, the Garden State Parkway and their sold-out, home turf show at Martell’s Tiki Bar which is situated directly on the boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach. The show took place on the night that Hurricane Dennis got close to the shore prompting Johnny to announce that since this could be the last ever Jukes show, he planned to go out with a bang! Two hours and forty high-energy minutes later, his mission had been accomplished with a set that featured soul classics like You Don’t Know Like I Know and Do Right Woman. The quality of the show was endorsed by Jackie Sheehan who had driven down from Boston to see the band. He said that this was one of the best shows he had seen in years, as did local (some-guys-have-all-the-luck) resident Mike Ryan who said: “There is nothing better than seeing a Jersey Shore band playing at the shore.”
Across 110th Street: Playing at the Hampton Beach Casino has become a tradition for the Jukes who have appeared there every Labor Day weekend for the last 18 years. One of the people at this show was veteran Jukes fan John Lewis who sent me the following evocative message: “We had great seats up close and really enjoyed the show. What stands out in my mind was a particular song that was unknown to me at the time. As I listened to the words and the performance, I remember thinking that this was a lifetime musical moment for me. The words sounded like it might have been written by Curtis Mayfield but later research revealed that the song was Across 110th Street written by Bobby Womack – it shows up on the Jackie Brown soundtrack. I have seen many SSJ shows over the years and the performance of this song on that night was one of the greatest SSJ performances I have ever seen.” A Brewfest at the ski resort of Mount Snow in Vermont was the next port of call for the band. They performed on a stage that was covered by a clamshell-type of awning and Bobby delighted the audience by playing a version of the appropriately entitled Cream classic, Strange Brew. Johnny also amused everyone when he sang a lyrically edited PG version of Stagger Lee especially for the benefit of all the children who were in the audience. Prior to the Poughkeepsie’s Riverfront Arts Festival in the middle of September, Hurricane Floyd had been on the rampage. But as it turned out, the audience who attended this show were treated to a sunny afternoon’s worth of classic Jukes music, as the band performed their set down by the river.
We’ll stomp ’till we drop: Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and Museum’s “Saturday Night Stomp” was an event that had been staged to conclude a week-long tribute to Louis Jordan whose name is very much associated with both swing and R&B music. Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes were the headliners for the night and their carefully chosen Jordan-related set included the following rarities: Let The Good Times Roll, Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying and Outskirts Of Town – according to George Keller, Southside’s voice on this song was incredible. Cleveland’s “Plain Dealer” ran a story about this special performance, describing how Johnny whirled and twirled, scoring with his harmonica as well as his fiery voice in the city that he has said was the first to welcome him and the band outside of New Jersey. The report went on to say that by the end of the night, Johnny was almost as exhausted as the standing-room-only crowd but regardless, he and the band still came back for an encore ending the show with an amazing Got To Find A Better Way Home.
Sue Williams reprises her Jukes début: Thanksgiving Day weekend brought the Jukes to the Irving Plaza in New York City where Sue Williams followed-up her Jukes début at the Stomp in Cleveland by remaining as bass player with the band. Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg and Mark “the Love Man” Pender were also part of the Irving Plaza line-up. Energy was the main ingredient of this show, providing a perfect antidote for anyone who had overdosed on turkey. To help balance the equation though, the set also had a bluesy feel and featured a couple of Ray Charles songs. Following this was a remarkable gig at The Tradewinds in Sea Bright, New Jersey. Hometown boy Jon Bon Jovi joined Johnny and the band for several songs including a memorable version of Steve Van Zandt’s Forever. Jane McCreery highlighted a very interesting aside which added to the significance of the performance of this song namely, LaBamba, Ed Manion and Mark Pender were also the original “LaBamba’s Mambomen” who appeared with Stan Harrison and Mike Spengler on the “Men Without Women” album. Jane also described a wonderful scene that happened when Bobby began to play some classic rockabilly riffs on his fretboard prompting a “Chet Atkins” comment from Johnny. Goofing around on-stage is a common occurrence between these two and Jane said: “Johnny continued the banter by relating a tale that busted Bobby’s (embarrassing) knowledge of the Partridge Family’s music. Without a second’s hesitation, Jeff Kazee picked up on this and proceeded to provide same as a background accompaniment to this battle of on-stage wits!” The penultimate show of the year was at the Theatre for Living Arts in Philadelphia and had Jersey rocker John Eddie as the opening act. Kevin Everitt told me that it was a great show of Jersey Shore rock music that included The Fever, I Don’t Wanna Go Home some Christmas tunes as well as some crazy on-stage antics from Johnny. Kevin also told me that it was special for him because although he knew of these guys, it was the first time he’d ever seen John Eddie or the Jukes play live. The show also featured LaBamba and Mark Pender who, at Johnny’s request, helped the horn section to provide vocals during Talk To Me.
The house band for the apocalypse: It’s fitting that the 1999 tour schedule reached its culmination on home ground when Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes returned to Club Eleven33 at Resorts International in Atlantic City, NJ, for their New Year’s Eve performance. In addition to all the hullabaloo and sense of occasion as the new millennium approached, the atmosphere in the club must have been electric as the audience waited for this unique blend of ass-kickin’ talent to sing out the old and sing in the new. “It’s going to be wild”, Southside told the Asbury Park Press shortly before the event. “I’m expecting the end of the world. Horses will be riding in the sky. Trumpets will blare from the heavens. We’ll be the house band for the apocalypse.”
Apart from being written on sheets of A4 that had been stuck unceremoniously to the floor with gaffer tape, the set list for the night appeared to have a purpose far and beyond its face value. To begin with, the legendary Curtis Mayfield had passed away just before Christmas. This may have influenced the melancholic acoustic start to the evening, or maybe it was simply Johnny’s way of allowing the audience a few moments of quiet contemplation before the serious business of partying (“…like it was 1999…”) got underway. Whatever the reason, Trapped Again was the first song of the last show of the twentieth century and it was performed faultlessly by Southside and Bobby – the “cheesy opening act” that had been hired to open up for the Jukes… quoth Johnny. As soon as the rest of the band came out, the main part of the show went off like a rocket and the momentum didn’t stop until the band played…Trapped Again again! “Yes, we do songs twice in a night” – J. Lyon. Gisela, who had once again travelled a long, long, way to see the band said: “It was an incredible show of old and new Jukes’ classics. I was very surprised when Johnny sang Mack The Knife but in my opinion, it was one of the best songs of the evening.” Gisela continued: “My personal highlight was at the beginning of the show when Johnny and Bobby played the acoustic versions of Rosa and an all-time and long-time favourite of mine, Under The Sun. This reminded me of some very special times from the last decade. I left the venue totally exhausted but very happy, singing the one and only song which described the feelings for that unforgettable night – I Don’t Want To Go Home!”
Precious love: It would be impossible to try and highlight each individual magic moment because from all accounts, it seems as if the whole show was a totally fantastic experience for those lucky enough to be there. For one couple though, it really was a night to remember. Stan Lisowski has been a Jukes fan since the late 70’s when he saw the band play at Glassboro, NJ, and the earlier reference to LaBamba as the “God of Thunder” is actually Stan’s pet name for Richie. Stan was at the show with his girlfriend Kim and on the stroke of midnight amidst the chaos of the countdown, the streamers, the noise makers, the confetti and a mass of people hugging and kissing each other as they sang Auld Lang Syne, he kept his wits about him sufficiently to produce an engagement ring and whisper a marriage proposal in Kim’s ear. Of course Kim accepted, Bobby caught on to what was happening and passed the news to Johnny who promptly dedicated The Fever to the happy couple. Oh yeah… LaBamba also got wind of what was going on so let’s just say that Stan and Kim are going to be having the ultimate Wedding Reception when they get married this summer. The Fever also inspired Mike Wurtele to jump up on the stage and join in and if you’re not familiar with his name, not only does Mike have his own band, but he is a dead-ringer for the guy who actually wrote this particular song.
Tribute to Curtis Mayfield: To the sound of tumultuous applause, the main set was followed by two encores that produced further touches of poignancy. The first featured Tired Skin and Broke Down Piece Of Man and, just when the audience thought that they had been there, done it, seen it as far as the music was concerned, Johnny and the band came back out to perform their own moving three-song tribute to the late Curtis Mayfield. Jane McCreery said: “When they played People Get Ready, Johnny, Bobby, Jeff and Richie each took a verse of this timeless song and the beauty and sincerity of their singing was a really emotional moment for me.” Also included in this musical mark of respect was It’s Alright (sung by LaBamba) and Your Precious Love which Johnny covered on the wonderful Slow Dance album. Jane said that once she had the chance to reflect on the events of New Year’s Eve, it seemed as if the acoustic opener coupled with the tribute to Curtis Mayfield had been supporting the main part of the show like a pair of musical bookends.
In spite of all his joking and foolin’ around, Southside Johnny Lyon came up trumps in Atlantic City, NJ. Faced with the momentousness of the new millennium, Johnny and his band delivered a show that was balanced and performed to perfection, ensuring that everyone who was there took priceless memories away with them, all the way home.
To conclude, I’ve quoted Judy Berger’s thoughts about New Year’s Eve because I think when you read them, you’ll see that with a few, well chosen words, she has captured precisely the reasons why Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes continue to hold the title for being the greatest bar band in the world: “There are no words to describe just how great New Year’s Eve was. Southside’s choice of songs, his heart, soul and passion are without equal. Great singer, great band, great show.”
And so say all of us.