In the 37 years since Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes released its debut album, "I Don't Want to Go Home," about 130 musicians have played alongside Southside Johnny Lyon in the studio or on stage.
So what does it take to be a Juke?
"You have to be able to roll with the punches, have a good sense of humor, hit the curve ball on stage," Lyon said during a telephone interview. "That means you can't go through the motions. And you have to be a guy everyone wants to hang with. We've had some guys who don't fit, and they don't last that long.
Photo by Rodolfo Sassano
Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will perform Saturday at the Warren Community Amphitheatre as part of the River Rock at the Amp Concert Series.
"You have to have a commitment to the improvisational nature of the band, and you have to give everything you've got every night, whether you're tired, pissed off, sick. When you get on stage for two hours, you have to really be there."
The Jukes' stage on Saturday will be the Warren Community Amphitheatre, where the band will play as part of the River Rock at the Amp concert series. And the singer will be backed by a seven-piece Jukes' lineup with Jeff Kazee, piano; Glenn Alexander, guitar; Chris Anderson, trumpet; John Conte, bass; John Isley, saxophone, Neal Pawley, trombone; and Tom Seguso, drums.
Northeast Ohio was one of the first markets to embrace the band outside of the East Coast, and Lyon credited former WMMS DJ/program director Kid Leo with building that audience.
"He started playing the demo before we finished the record," Lyon said. "We had high school kids on the horns, who were out of tune, out of time. He didn't care. Steve Popovich (who signed the band to Epic Records) gave it to him, and we've been friends ever since."
Over the years, the Jukes have played dozens of shows in northeast Ohio and the Mahoning Valley, where songs like "The Fever," "Talk to Me" and "Trapped Again" became rock radio staples, if not nationwide hits. Saturday's concert may be the band's first show in the city of Warren. However, the band does a tenuous connection to the city. Back in 1987, the band appeared in the film "Adventures in Babysitting," which was the directing debut of Warren/Champion native Chris Columbus.
"That was a lot of fun," Lyon said. "It was supposed to take place in Chicago, so of course it was filmed it Toronto. He was great with the kids, terrific with everybody.
"When we were wrapping everything up, at the wrap party, he says, 'Southside, I wanna drink with you tonight.' I'm a professional drinker, you shouldn't do that. But he did, and his wife wouldn't talk to me for, like, six months. I guess he was messed up for days. He's a great guy, just not a real drinker."
The Jukes' latest album is "Men Without Album," a live set that in some ways is a recreation of a lost Jukes record. The songs were written by Little Steven Van Zandt, the E Street Band member who co-founded the group with Lyon, produced its first three albums and wrote many of its songs.
Van Zandt wrote those songs for the Jukes but, Lyon said, "It just wasn't in the direction I want to go."
The band recorded several of them but decided not to release them. Instead, they became Van Zandt's debut solo album, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul's "Men Without Women."
The Jukes play at Asbury Park's The Stone Pony every 4th of July weekend, and in 2011 the band decided to play "Men Without Women" in its entirety.
"I'm not a big fan of live recordings, but the band sounded really good on that one," Lyon said, so they decided to release it last year. And hearing how well-suited Lyon's voice is for the horn-drenched arrangement of "Forever," it's hard to believe he passed on the song so many years ago.
"Yes, we do that song live now quite a lot. Why didn't I want to do that? But we got 'Hearts of Stone' from it, so that's not a bad thing. We all had our own ideas and where we wanted to be."
For Saturday's show, Lyon said, "We do the four or five songs everyone want to hear, and then we do whatever we want after that. We'll do songs from our last (studio) album, 'Pills and Ammo,' we'll do stuff from 'Men Without Women,' some earlier songs. I never know until that night. It's how I feel, how the band feels.
"We get to make music, it's not just a show. You have to find out where you're going and how you want to get there."
Lyon continues to write new music. He's been working on songs with Kazee for both a new Jukes' record and for a second album with the Poor Fools, his more acoustic-oriented side project. He hopes to devote more time to those songs over the winter.
While overall record sales have dropped drastically in the music business compared to the '70s, Lyon doesn't bemoan the current state of the industry the way maybe many of his contemporaries do. When the band was recording for major labels like Epic and Mercury, it never saw any profits, Lyon said. Now he can use his friend Jon Bon Jovi's studio for free and keep other costs under control.
"Now every record I sell I get money for," he said. "At least I know where I'm at."
And constantly creating makes him a better performer and even keeps those 35-year-old songs fresh.
"You're excited. I don't mind playing these songs as long as I get to do these songs. When you have new material, it's great. You can't wait to try it out."
Right before the scheduled phone interview with Lyon, I talked with Kree Harrison, the 23-year-old "American Idol" runnerup getting ready to record her debut album when the "American Idol Live" tour wraps.
Asked what advice he would he would give Harrison, Lyon said, "If you don't love it, don't do it. You gotta really love it. It's hard, it's grueling, it's frustrating. A lot of those singers who go on 'American Idol' want to be stars. That's fine, but there are a lot of ways to be stars, and the music business is one of the hardest ways because it's so ruthless."