Southside Johnny Interview
He's been in bands with Bruce Springsteen. His own band has been called the world's greatest bar band. We're talking about Johnny Lyon, better known as Southside Johnny. Johnny’s latest album "Slow Dance" can be found on Cypress Records.
You remarked to a L.A. reporter last year that you didn't want to he onstage
anymore and felt you were in a rut and had a big crisis. What kind of a rut
were you in? What was the big crisis?
We were playing some of the same places over and over again, some times 3 times a year. I had just started to write some different style material, which ended up being “Slow Dance”, which is a different style album. I was caught up in the dichotomy of going onstage and playing the songs I loved, but not where I was going creatively. And I couldn't do the songs I was doing creatively on stage, ‘cause I hadn't taught them to the band yet. I was just tired. We had been playing a lot. I had been having some problems with some of the band members who are since gone. It was more of a combination of things, and mostly it was just, you know after twenty some years of banging my head against the wall, I got a little tired. You need to take some time out and get rejuvenated. I had never really had that happen to such an extent before. I've always had a lot of stamina and I'm blessed with the fact that I've got a lot of good material in the past from a lot of writers, and some of my own things too. So, I'm always happy doing them onstage, but I needed a rest. I let it go a little too long though, that's what the real crisis was.
You were playing 150-200 nights a year. Were all those one nighters?
Occasionally you get two nights in one town. You get to savor the local cuisine. We haven't been playing that many dates in the last couple of years, but it's still a lot of work. It's a lot of traveling. We've been to Europe about six times in the last two years. And I love that. I wouldn't trade it for the world. But, it can wear you down. The main problem I was having is I was writing different material than I was playing, and I got confused by it all. I was also drinking too much. I think that comes from being unhappy.
What happened to your band when you took time off?
They all were busy with their own bands. Almost all of the members of the Jukes have side bands, and lots of other endeavors they pursue when we're not working.
Being in the kind of business you're in, performing in clubs, how easy was
it to reach for one drink too many, and how do you stop yourself?
See, I started drinking when I was 16, before I started performing. It's just something that's very easy to get into on the road because there's a lot of dull periods.
You've said 'There are times when I feel what am I,
chopped liver?" Why
hasn't your career progressed as much as you wanted it to? What's been holding
I don't know. Sometimes I'm happy with the way things have gone because I'm happy with who I am and how my life is. I'm very happily married. I enjoy my life. I get a lot of pleasure out of doing simple things. I get to travel. I make enough money to live. And that's great. I didn't plan any of these things, but I've worked hard enough to achieve them. And that's great. I didn't plan any of these things, but I've worked hard enough to see them when they came, and grab them, and not let them go. On the other hand, I'm not rich, and I don't sell millions of copies. I can't work whenever I want to, because it's expensive to put a band on the road, so we have to put dates together. Sometimes I'm disappointed, sometimes not. I don't blame anybody for any of the things that have happened. That's too easy. It's too easy to say my manager didn't do this, my record company didn't do this, and this radio station is stupid and that critia is wrong. You try to understand when you make a record or go on tour, what is working and what isn't. You try to go with what's working and fix what isn't working. And, you proceed. If I were to eat myself up, as I do occasionally on every album, whether it’s succeeding or failing, it's just too painful. I make the album because I really want to make the music.
Since you were in a band with Bruce Springsteen, did you ever look at him
onstage and think to yourself this guy is gonna be a superstar?
Yeah. The first time I saw Bruce was at a club called The Upstage Club, and it was a club I hung out in. I had never seen Bruce before, although I'd heard his name mentioned. He was sort of from out of town--20 miles away. (Laughs) I walked in one night and he was playing and he was just great. Very charismatic and really playing, and really singing and really funny and exciting. I thought, wow, this guy really has it. And he consistently had it, in all the different bands he was in. He wrote a lot of his own material, which not everyone was doing back then. He had a combination of charisma, energy, determination, and a viewpoint that didn't take it all that seriously, even though he was a serious musician. He wasn't one of these deadly serious musicians. He was enjoying himself. He had all those things in combination with a lot of talent. It just seemed like he was gonna get somewhere.