For more than 35 years, SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY (aka John Lyon) has delivered a soul-searing brand of raucous blues and R&B that has made he and his Juke’s a seminal force as All-American rock 'n’ roll song-slingers. Now, the affable new Jersey rock icon is setting his sights on a long-desired project that will deliver to music fans some of the singer’s most cherished and under-recognized song nuggets; original gems as well as what Johnny calls ‘those seldom-played and maybe even forgotten rock ‘covers,’ in an intimate, acoustically-mined live stage throwdown billed as Southside Johnny and The Poor Fools.
A free outdoor show in front of The Union County Performing Arts Center as part of the 2014 Mayor's Summer Concert Series!
Backed by Jukes musicians John Conte (bass), Tommy Byrnes (guitar), and longtime Jukes collaborator Jeff Kazee (organ and percussion), The Poor Fools’ project looms as a stripped-down ‘up-close-and-personal’ musical joyfest. Johnny is also quick to point out the ebullient singer will be sharing frontman duties as well – “getting everyone out of their comfort zone” - rotating singing, instrumentation, and percussion roles among fellow-Fools, and even strapping on a guitar himself, for the first time in decades. “I lost the feeling in my fingers many years ago,” he says. “But I promised myself one day I was going to accept the challenge of playing guitar on stage in a live setting and that time is here,” he adds, laughing: “With this great, great group of musicians ready to cover up my mistakes.”
The notion of putting acoustic musicianship and rare songs on the front-burner - songs that may have never quite fit the Jukes’ repertoire – is an idea that has gnawed at the singer throughout his career. Choosing fan-devoted, intimate venues to roll out such a treasure chest is pure, unadulterated Johnny.
“With the Jukes, you’re out there every night leading this great rock 'n’ roll circus, giving it everything you’ve got, but still…you know there are songs you long to play, songs you always wanted to do, but don’t quite fit in,” says Johnny. “It might be great covers you always wanted to pull out, songs buried deep in your sacred bottom drawer, songs you forgot, even, that you’re dying to do up there – in a different format maybe – songs that have been whispering to you over the years to have their ‘day’ on stage. The Poor Fools is the forum for us to do this kind of material live, and enjoy it with all these wonderful musicians and intimately, with our great audience.”
Or as Jukes’ lynchpin and ‘self-proclaimed archivist and wild idea guy’ of the band, Jeff Kazee, puts it: ‘Johnny is the most generous guy in the world. I believe the Poor Fools – for him – is something he always had down on his checklist through the years. We’re just the luckiest players in the world to get to share this moment with him.”
Johnny also sheds some light about the particular song choices they will be delivering onstage. “We’ll be doing country songs, or bluegrass stuff, older songs, softer songs maybe – covers from say Dylan or Tom Waits. Emmylou Harris stuff. And we’re going to do different versions of Jukes’ material that the fans have never heard – ‘Sirens Of The Night,’ ‘Blue Radio,’ ‘Future In Your Eyes…’ And songs of ours that maybe some people have never heard, ever. It’s never mattered to me as a music fan if a song is a year-old or recorded fifty years ago. We may even do some songs from the great American songbook here. Pick your favorites. Whether it is Wilco or Django Reinhardt – I like it when it is in my purview.”
Music fans in New Jersey can be grateful that Southside Johnny And The Poor Fools are about to be in our purview. Amen.