Southside Johnny Lyon may have spent the better part of four decades rocking with the Asbury Jukes, but don’t ever expect him to coast through a show.
“There’s nothing more boring than being on stage and not being involved in the music,” says Lyon, speaking via cellphone from Georgia during a break from his tour schedule. “I’ve actually stopped songs (on stage) when I don’t feel like doing them.”
In fact, variety is what keeps things fun for Lyon and the beloved Jersey band, whose 30-plus albums include everything from blues to Tom Waits covers to all-out rock ’n’ roll.
“That’s one of the things I learned very early on,” Lyon says. “When we made our first record, we did it clandestinely, because we didn’t want a record label making us do pop music and changing things. That’s when I realized I wanted to do what I wanted to do. It’s the same thing on stage, you have to do what you want. If you’re not happy, man, people can tell it right away.”
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes will come to Millville’s Levoy Theatre for a one-night show 8 p.m. Friday, March 1. The show was rescheduled from 8p.m. Jan. 25. And Jukes fans can expect the usual: pretty much anything.
“I never know, you know?” Lyon says. “It pretty much ends up being whatever it’s going to be. We go on stage with a certain idea in mind and a lot of it depends on the audience. We don’t have a set show. We play whatever we feel like.”
The Jukes, as they’re more affectionately known, first rose to Jersey fame in the mid-1970s, emerging from the same Jersey Shore music scene as Bruce Springsteen and pioneering what became known as the Jersey sound.
Southside’s first three albums — “I Dont Want To Go Home,” “This Time It’s for Real” and “Hearts of Stone” — were produced by E Street member Steven Van Zandt and featured songs written by Van Zandt and Springsteen. “I Dont Want To Go Home” has become Southside’s signature song.
“‘I Dont Want to Go Home’ is one of those great songs,” Lyon says. “I’ve been lucky the songs that are popular are the ones that are easy to sing, easy to get into.”
Many Jukes players have come and gone — one rabid fan in England claims to have counted more than 100 different Jukes players over the years. Joining Southside Johnny on tour this year are Jukes collaborator and musical director Jeff Kazee on organ and piano, Glenn Alexander on guitar, John Conte on bass, drummer Tom Seguso, trombonist/guitarist Neal “The Dude” Pawley, Chris Anderson on trumpet and John Isley on saxophone.
The literal musical chairs, Lyon says, helps keep things fresh and fun.
“The only reason we have this band is because everybody wants to play drums at some point,” Lyon says, laughing. “That’s the running joke.”
The Jukes’ latest album is “Men Without Women: Live 7-2-11,” recorded in 2011 at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, with Little Steven in attendance. The album, released last summer, features a track-by-track performance of the 1982 album “Little Steven” and the “Disciples of Soul,” along with three classic Asbury Jukes bonus tracks featuring Van Zandt performing with the band: “This Time it’s for Real,” “Broke Down Piece of Man” and “It’s Been a Long Time.”
“When we were making ‘Hearts of Stone’ back in 1978, Steve Van Zandt had a lot of songs we recorded in sort of demo mode,” Lyon says. “And I said, ‘These songs sound more like your songs, what you should be doing.’ So, he re-wrote a lot of stuff and later came out with his own record. And I loved it. And then I forgot about it, as you sometimes do with classic albums. Then a few years ago, someone burned me a copy of that album, and I remembered how much I loved it.”
Turns out, once Lyon floated the idea of re-recording the album, everyone wanted in.
“It turned out to be a momentum thing,” Lyon says. “All the original people (from the album) came forward and said ‘We want to play, too.’ It was a lot of people on stage, and it was just a great night.”
The Jukes are perhaps best known for its legacy of classic songs that have become hits to its large and famously-dedicated fan base, albeit hits that never quite made it on popular radio the way Springsteen’s did.
To which Lyon happily responds, “Thank God.”
“I’m 64 years old, and I’ve got a new record coming out hopefully in a couple of months, working on the next Jukes album, we’ve got a whole bunch of (tour) dates,” Lyon says. “I’m enjoying my life. It wouldn't be the same with a lot of money and stardom, because you’re not allowed to be anything other than what (the fans) know.”
Lyon also gets to savor a little more anonymity than his more famous friends. Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi can’t exactly walk into a supermarket and shop unnoticed, he notes.
“The only stalkers that I’ve had are people I’ve owed money to,” Lyon jokes.
“I thought, ‘This is really good,’” Lyon says of his level of success. “Because nobody comes expecting to hear just one song. They come to see the band and to hear what we’re doing at the moment, and to let loose and have a good time. There are no restrictions. I’m not sure how to explain it. There’s nothing you’re supposed to do at a Jukes show except have a good time.”