Southside Johnny Lyon
Born: December 4, 1948, in Neptune, New Jersey
Lives in: Ocean Grove, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2018: Performing Arts
The official biography on Southside Johnny’s website consists of just three sentences. The first tells us he is the leader and cofounder (with Little Steven Van Zandt) of his Jersey Shore-based band. The remaining two tell us something about the man: “He reads a ton, travels a lot and enjoys bird watching. He is not a big fan of mingling.”
John Lyon grew up in a house full of music. The legend says his parents were at a music club when his mother went into labor. “My mother was mad that she had to leave,” he told New Jersey Monthly in 2018. Among his classmates at Neptune High School were fellow musicians Garry Tallent and Vini Lopez.
After high school, Lyon sang in a series of bands that that included in various configurations Van Zandt, Tallent, Lopez and other Shore musicians, including Bruce Springsteen. It was Springsteen who imparted the name Southside on Lyon when they were members of the band Doctor Zoom & the Sonic Boom. In 1974, Lyon joined the Blackberry Blues Band, which established itself as the house act at a new Asbury Park club, the Stone Pony. Lyon eventually recruited Van Zandt to join the band, which evolved into Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes—and kept the Stone Pony gig.
In 1976, Southside & the Jukes recorded their first album for Epic Records, “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” riding the wave of national interest in Springsteen and the Jersey Shore music scene. The debut release and two subsequent albums on Epic showcased Southside’s R&B-influenced sound and established him as a star beyond the Shore.
Southside continued to perform on vocals and harmonica for the next four decades, touring worldwide and releasing some 30 studio and live albums—mostly with the Jukes, sometimes solo, and sometimes in collaboration with his buddies Springsteen and Van Zandt. And while Springsteen went off to mega-stardom, it is Southside who remains the living embodiment of the club-based, working-class Jersey Shore music scene.
In July 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Southside & the Jukes performed an innovative drive-in concert—New Jersey’s first—at Monmouth Park. Some 1,000 cars were admitted and fans listened to the band through their car speakers. It was all in the spirit of fun and community, the spirit that has been key to Southside’s appeal from the start.
Recalling his early days performing with his mates at the Shore, he told New Jersey Monthly: “We weren’t making any money but weren’t under any pressure. We were having the time of our lives.”