Southside Johnny Has a Long-Time Connection to Ohio

WARREN, Ohio – Southside Johnny has played countless shows over the past 40-plus years – far too many to recall any single night in detail.

But one particular concert – May 2, 1977, at The Agora in Cleveland – will always stand out.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were just starting to break out of the New Jersey rock scene at that time. The band had found a fanbase in Cleveland, which was a rock ’n’ roll capital and the home of Cleveland International Records.

At that Agora show, the soulful Southside and his horn-drenched band were joined on stage by the late Ronnie Spector, who was 33 at the time.

It was a moment in the Jukes’ career when the band was roaring with power, and the show was professionally recorded by Cleveland International.

The audio tape lay in the vaults for 45 years until the label released it last year as an album, “Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes Live in ’77.”

The band will return to northeastern Ohio on Friday for an 8 p.m. concert at the Robins Theatre in Warren with opening act The Weight. For tickets, click HERE:

In a phone interview this week, Southside – aka John Lyon – talked about that 1977 concert, his upcoming show in Warren and a few things in between.

Back in the ’70s, Agora owner Henry LoConti would often have concerts at his Cleveland club recorded. The late Steve Popovich Sr., founder of Cleveland International, had just recorded Spector’s new single, “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” and Spector joined Southside on stage at the Agora for a handful of songs. 

Spector also sang three of her older hits, including “Walking in the Rain” and “Baby I Love You,” as well as the Bruce Springsteen-penned duet “You Mean So Much to Me” with Southside.

“I got to be a Ronette and play the castanets,” the Asbury Park rocker said.

Fast forward to a couple years ago, when Popovich’s son approached Southside with the tape of the Agora concert and a proposal to release it as an album.

“Steve’s son was trying to keep up his father’s legacy,” Southside said. “He stumbled upon the audio of that concert and asked me if he could put it out. I said sure.”

Southside was worried about the sound quality but noted that Popovich Jr. worked hard to make it acceptable.

Those were the heady early days of the Jukes, and the band’s eager, aggressive sound was evident on the recording.

“It was a great night,” Southside said. “We were breaking through at the time, making headway as a touring band. We were trying to prove ourselves and be ferocious on stage. We were happy to be performing outside of New Jersey. It was our opportunity to make music our career, and we went great guns after it.”

In addition to “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” the album includes Southside mainstays “This Time It’s for Real,” “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” “The Fever,” “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “Broke Down Piece of Man” and “We’re Having a Party.”

It’s the kind of show that could have happened only in Cleveland in that era.

“Cleveland audiences were legendary back then,” Southside said. “We loved them. We’d play there two or three times a year.”

For a while, Spector became a regular part of a Southside show. She traveled with the band and meshed well with the members on the bus.

“She was no prima donna,” Southside said. “She was one of the guys.”

Spector, like Southside, shared the band’s good-time spirit. “We weren’t trying to prove anything other than making music and enjoying it, and that is still the ethos for the Jukes today,” said Southside. “Just having fun, getting emotional and having a good time.”

Another legendary moment in rock occurred the following year at the same club. Southside had just finished a show at the Agora in 1978, when his Jersey shore pal Springsteen, who had just finished up a show at another venue in the area, popped in.

Springsteen and his band sat in with Southside and the Jukes for an impromptu set that brought down the house. Video can be found on the internet, although the sound is poor.

“I remember that night, too,” Southside said – as well as the next morning at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

“We got up early the next day and were on the same flight [with Springsteen and the E Street Band]. We were slumped in our seats and groggy, when these two guys walked up to Bruce and asked him if he would call their friend, who was sick and was unable to make it to the concert the night before. Bruce didn’t pause for one nanosecond. He did it, and it was a beautiful thing to see.”

Springsteen and the E Street Band, by the way, will be at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse tonight (Wednesday, April 5).

What should fans expect from Southside’s show at the Robins Theatre? The singer himself isn’t even sure.

“There is no set list. It’s a different show every night,” he said. “I gauge the mood of the crowd, my own mood, the band’s mood. If something isn’t working or doesn’t fit, we change it. I like doing the old stuff, and there’s certain stuff that I like to do, and also stuff the audience wants to hear.”

While Southside has built a legacy in Ohio, will he one day return to Cleveland as a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

It’s not out of the question, but the artist doesn’t believe he belongs in the rock hall.

“I’m in the New Jersey Hall of Fame,” he said, implying that is enough.

Pictured at top: Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes will play the Robins Theatre in Warren on Friday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.