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On his own and getting better

Southside Johnny focuses on the present.

Southside Johnny, in Phoenixville tonight, rode his soulful rasp to a three-decade career. "I don't want the yacht, I want the bus. . . ." he says.
Southside Johnny, in Phoenixville tonight, rode his soulful rasp to a three-decade career. "I don't want the yacht, I want the bus. . . ." he says.Read more

Back in 1991, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes put out one of their best albums, called

Better Days.

The title, however, did not prove to be prophetic, and when the Little Steven Van Zandt-produced set of rocking soul and R&B died an undeserved death in the marketplace, Southside Johnny had had enough.

"I actually quit. . . . I said I don't want to do this anymore," Southside (also known as John Lyon) says over the phone from his home in Ocean Grove on the Jersey Shore. Eventually, he moved from Jersey to Nashville to hang with his friend, E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent - they share a massive record collection - and he began jamming around town.

"It was really fun. I was just there playing harp, maybe sing a song or two. . . . And Garry finally saw that I was coming out of my funk, and he says, 'Let's make that blues album we've been talking about for 30 years.' So we did, and that started the whole process over again."

That 2000 album, Messin' With the Blues, began a new phase in Southside Johnny's career: He now puts out his albums on his own label, Leroy Records, and sells them through his Web site,

Messin' was followed by a couple of albums featuring the classic Jukes sound - R&B and soul stoked by blaring horns. It's a sound that comes across even better in a live setting: The group that rose to prominence from the Jersey Shore on the heels of Springsteen's success in the '70s has maintained its reputation for dynamite, fun-filled shows.

The most recent studio album, 2005's Into the Harbor, finds Southside's soulful rasp tackling a set of strong originals and songs by Delbert McClinton, Tom Waits, Richard Thompson and the Stones. It offers further evidence that, like his blues and soul heroes, the 58-year-old singer and songwriter is getting better with age.

If nothing else, though, he is happy with the niche he has carved out after more than three decades in the business.

"Many acts have come and gone since I started, and they've made millions and millions of dollars. That's great. I don't have a million dollars, but I have the other thing I want, which is a career in music. . . . I don't want the yacht, I want the bus. . . .

"I know Bruce [Springsteen] and Jon [Bon Jovi] and a lot of other people over the years who have made enormous amounts of money, and I see their homes and all that stuff. . . . It doesn't move me at all. And they all have staffs and servants. I can't live like that. I live by myself, and I like that."

Available now through his Web site is a four-CD boxed set, Jukebox, containing unreleased live and studio material. Southside says associates put it together and he approved it. He'd rather focus on the present. Just about finished is a new album of Tom Waits songs with big-band arrangements by Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg, trombonist for the Jukes, the Max Weinberg 7, and Springsteen's Seeger Sessions Band.

"I'm not a nostalgic person," Southside says. "When people ask me questions about the Stone Pony and the Upstage Club [in Asbury Park], I think, man, that was really great. But I don't sit around thinking about it."