Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes are a more urban take on the blue-eyed soul groups that more usually are to be found in the southern states, such as the Allman Brothers, and the recent sad passing of Gregg Allman will at some point be worthy of a major re-issue programme of his solo work as well as part of the larger band. However, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were a suburban New York band with significant input from Bruce Springsteen in his capacity as a songwriter and from band member and later Sopranos actor, Steven Van Zandt.
This outstanding re-issue package groups together some of the key albums the band recorded for Epic including the lesser known and hard to find live album, and collectively are taken from the master tapes and have frankly never sounded better.
First up are the Jukes live at the Bottom Lane concert from 1976 and this was originally aimed to be a promotional release for radio airplay in order to introduce a wider audience to the group’s music. Listening to the music now, one can hear multiple influences from the country-folk of Sonny Boy Williamson through to big band jazz and the Basie band, and even the vocal talents of Louis Prima as well as early R & B and doo-wop harmonies. An early Springsteen composition for the band, ‘The fever’, is the pick of the songs on offer. An uptempo Sam and Dave influenced song, ‘You mean so much to me’, features Ronnie Spector on vocals, while a rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic, ‘Havin’ a party’, was released as a 45, complete with handclaps and collective vocals. Luther Vandross would reprise this song and make a hit out of it again in the mid-1980s. Later in 1976 the first studio album surfaced in, ‘I don’t want to go home’, and included no less than Stax musician Steve Cropper on, ‘Broke down piece of man’.
This was followed up by what is generally regarded as the strongest of all the Asbury Jukes mid-late 1970s albums in ‘This time it’s for real’ from 1977. This featured guest appearances by some of the band’s musical heroes such as the Coasters and the Drifters, and consequently the band raised their level as on the wonderful New Orleans-influenced title track (that features Lee Dorsey and Eddie Bo), ‘Love on the wrong side of town’, with its proto-Motown feel, and, ‘Without love’, a song originally composed by Joe Hunter and Carolyn Franklin. There is soul-blues with a doo-wop input on, ‘She got me where she wants me’, while the mid-tempo groove plus mariachi-style trumpet of, ‘Little girl so fine’, rounds off a wonderful album.
By 1978 and the album, ‘Heart of stone’, Steven Van Zandt was writing the majority of the songs and these were quality compositions such as, Got to be a better way home’, and, ‘This time baby’s gone for good’. The instrumental sound was tighter and included fine horn work including the tenor saxophone of Stan Harrison. The latter would unexpectedly turn up on some of the early-mid 1980s Serge Gainsbourg albums.
An extended interview with Southside Johnny casts invaluable light on how the albums were recorded and how the band sound evolved over the recordings. Of note to the present is that the Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes will be performing a rare concert in the UK on 22 June at the Forum in London. This is a great opportunity to follow up on this wonderful anthology of their tenure at Epic records contained within.