Local Heroes – The Asbury Park
By – Early 1900’s trombone player, band leader and ragtime pioneer Arthur Pryor was the first star. During the big band era Glenn Miller played Convention Hall and come the 1950’s and 60’s doo wop-singers, jazz musicians and rythm’n’blues bands had the Orchid Lounge on Springwood Avenue jumping. People tend to say that the Upstage Club was the birthplace of the Asbury Park music scene. Not quite true, but understandable.’Cause the Upstage, at the corner of Cookman Avenue and Bond Street, was where Bruce Springsteen honed his craft. That’s where married couple Tom and Margaret Potter organized endless, nightly jamsessions uniting the future boss and his friends – “Maddog” Lopez, “Phantom Dan” Federici, Garry Tallent, Little Vinnie Roslin, Southside Johnny Lyon, “Albany Al” Tellone, Big Danny Gallagher… So even if it sort of began decades prior to Bruce Springsteen, let’s agree that without the monumental 1975 success of “Born to Run” not many outside of Monmouth County would still consider Asbury Park music to be as legendary as the sounds of Detroit, Memphis, Seattle or, Liverpool, England. And besides greatness in music, the fascinating comparison is that Asbury Park is a city with only 16 000 residents. (Text from the book “Local Heroes – The Asbury Park Music Scene” by Anders Mårtensson) Jörgen Johansson
Big Danny Gallagher: ”The first song he played for me in that apartment was ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story.’ The second was probably ‘Kitty’s Back’ . . . no, it was ‘Rosalita.’ He came rushing in one night, grabbed the guitar, and said: ‘Hey, check this one out.’ He played a little, sang a little, acting James Brown and Wilson Pickett. Look, I get goose bumps just talking about it.” One the greatest characters on the Asbury Park music scene. Known as a bouncer at The Upstage Club, a roadie for Bruce Springsteen, and a member of various Jersey Shore bands, including the legendary Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom. In the early 1970′s Bruce Springsteen wrote several songs for his first Columbia Records releases, while staying at Big Danny Gallaghers apartment. Big Danny passed away in January of 2007.
Dan Federici: ”I started playing early. Classically trained. Accordion, piano. My mother took me to New York, my mother took me all over the place and was always putting me up on some stage or another. Her dream was for me to be a concert pianist, Las Vegas-style. Thank God for rock ’n’ roll.” ”Phantom Dan” Federici quit school at 16 to join Bill Chinnock’s band The Storytellers. Federici soon became an Upstage Club virtuoso and together with drummer Vini Lopez he decided to start a band playing original music. Joined by Bruce Springsteen and bass player Vinnie Roslin they formed Child, which later morphed into Steel Mill. As Steel Mill broke up in January of 1971, Federici and Springsteen went their separate ways for a year and a half. They reunited in Fall of 1972 when Springsteen rehearsed a new band to record “Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ”. Federici is best known as a founding and lifelong member of the E Street Band. He also released four solo efforts and performed on albums by Joan Armatrading, Graham Parker, Gary U.S. Bonds, and Garland Jeffreys. He passed away on April 17, 2008
David Sancious: “I think Ernest Carter and I were among a handful of musicians on the Jersey Shore who used to work both sides of the tracks. We would work in the black community of Asbury Park, but we would also cross the tracks and play with the white guys. There were a few others, like Clarence Clemons, doing same thing.” At age six David Sancious moved to a house where E Street meets Tenth Avenue in Asbury Park’s neighboring town of Belmar. He started taking piano lessons and was no more than nine years old when forming his first band. As a teenager he honed his craft on the Asbury Park club scene, and at the Upstage he would jam with Garry Tallent and Bruce Springsteen. Sancious joined Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom and the Bruce Springsteen Band. He also became an E Street Band member, touring and recording with Springsteen until Fall of 1974 as he left to form jazz fusion unit Tone. Starting in the 1980′s he built a successful career as a session and touring musician working with (among others) Sting, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, and Youssou N’Dour.
George Theiss: “We weren’t so different from the others. Influences came from the British invasion; The Beatles, The Stones, The Who. I was no big Elvis fan, at least not before 1968, when he did his Comeback Special.” In 1964, singer/guitarist George Theiss rehearsed and played a couple of gigs with The Sierras. As Vinnie Roslin (bass) quit The Sierras to join The Motifs, Theiss moved on with The Castiles. The teenage band from Freehold, NJ was managed by “Tex” Vinyard, and by the Summer of 1965 Bruce Springsteen was recruited to the second line-up. The Castiles recorded a two track single (“Baby I” and ”That’s what you get”) in 1966 and played their last show on August 10, 1968. Theiss kept on writing songs for The George Theiss Band, and came close to signing a major record deal with Shore favorites The Cahoots.
Lance Larson: “The only people from around here who became truly famous are Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. Yeah, and the guys who played with Bruce, of course. But these scenes have witnessed so many good bands. From Billy Chinnock’s Downtown Tangiers Band to The Cahoots.” In the late 1960′s Lance Larson worked as a bartender at The Student Prince in Asbury Park. He was also a singer/songwriter, and after a coupe of memorable years with cover band Cold Blast & Steel he came close to success with his own material, fronting The Lord Gunner Group. John Bongiovi & The Wild Ones, featuring a young Jon Bon Jovi, used to open for Lord Gunner. Larson is still performing and recording. He also co-manages The Wonder Bar. Photo: Jörgen Johansson / Kontinent
Lisa Lowell: “All those clubs in the West Village. They got our tapes, ‘lost’ them, and then asked for new ones. So instead of playing on their stages we would block their doors by standing in front of the club. We had a huge audience on the streets.” Lisa Lowell grew up in Long Branch, NJ. She was musically inspired by her parents, and went off to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. After moving to New York City, Lowell got together with Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell performing as Trickster on the streets of Greenwich Village. The trio went on tour with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, and worked successfully with New York Dolls-singer David Johansens band, Buster Poindexter & his Banshees of Blue. Lisa Lowell has been a backup singer on several Bruce Springsteen albums, and toured with Springsteen as a member of the Seeger Sessions Band. She released her first solo record, “Beautiful Behavior”, in 2010.
Steven Van Zandt: ”In those days it wasn’t hip to be in a band. In fact, it wasn’t socially acceptable. My parents would probably have preferred me being a thief, ’cause that was more respectable. Rock ’n’ roll was just weird, and long hair was even weirder. I was the only one in my town, and Bruce was the only one in his town.” Star of television series ”The Sopranos” and ”Lillyhammer”, radio host, record label owner, solo recording artist, E Street Band member … Steven Van Zandt, often known as Miami Steve or Little Steven, honed his craft at the Upstage in Asbury Park, playing in various bands from The Jaywalkers to Steel Mill. Prior to becoming a founding member, songwriter, and record producer for Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, he also spent time touring with The Dovells. Van Zandt joined The E Street Band in 1975, and officially left in 1984 to pursue a solo career during which he recorded five albums and wrote/produced the song ”Sun City” for Artists United Against Apartheid. In 1999 he reunited with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. Photo: Jörgen Johansson / Kontinent
Max Weinberg: “Roy Bittan read the ad; I read the ad. But we didn’t know each other. I didn’t know anyone in the E Street Band. I had heard of Bruce, but had never listened to his music.” Influenced by D.J. Fontana and Ringo Starr, Max Weinberg began playing the drums in New Jersey cover bands. In 1970 he recorded an album with Blackstone and prior to joining the E Street Band he worked with the Jim Marino Band. When David Sancious and drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter” left E Street, Bruce Springsteen put an ad in the Village Voice. Weinberg answered the ad, auditioned, and got the job – performing his first E Street Band show in September of 1974. Starting in 1993 he became a high profiled bandleader/tv personality on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”, and for a short period he also worked with O’Brien on “The Tonight Show”. He’s traveled America with his own Big Band, and since the 1999 Reunion tour ”the Mighty Max” keeps bringing on the power to the E Street Band. As a session musician other recording credits include Bonnie Tyler, Ian Hunter, Carole King, and multimillion selling Meatloaf album “Bat Out of Hell”.
Nils Lofgren: ”Even by the late ’60s, when I was playing with Grin and Bruce was in Steel Mill, Asbury Park was downhill. I guess the heyday was more like the ’40s, and maybe the ’50s. When I first came to town the place was already a wreck. Kind of a beautiful, haunted boardwalk town with this club that’s really just another bar, but with so much history.” Born in Chicago, IL and raised in Garrett Park, MD, singer/songwriter, pianist, and guitar virtuoso Nils Lofgren studied jazz and classical music before turning to rock’n'roll. At age 17 he traveled to California, joining Neil Young through the ”After the Goldrush”-sessions. During a brief period Lofgren was a member of Crazy Horse recording their classic 1971 album, and prior to launching a succesful solo career he landed a record deal with Grin. In 1984, as Steven Van Zandt left the E Street Band, Lofgren was recruited by Bruce Springsteen to tour in support of the ”Born in the U.S.A.” album. Ever since, Lofgren is an E Street Band member. Other touring and recording credits include the Ringo Starr All Star Band, Lou Reed, Branford Marsalis, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Patti Scialfa
Norman Seldin: ”The Motifs had all this moaning and groaning, sounding like a cross between the Zombies and the original Animals. Walter Cichon was a muscular guy who didn’t sing great, but he had presence on the stage. They made quite an impact.” Stormin’ Norman Seldin was still in school when starting to promote and manage, as well as establishing his own record label. He found success with vocal groups like The Valtairs and The Unqiues, and regional rock sensation The Motifs. Seldin was also fronting his own bands, and with The Joyful Noize he became the first to record saxophone player Clarence Clemons, later world famous as “The Big Man” in Bruce Springsteens E Street Band.
Pete Yorn Photo: Jörgen Johansson / Kontinent
Richard Blackwell: “I remember George Theiss in kindergarten, first day in school, with a guitar on his back. He wanted to look like Elvis Presley. Hell, everyone wanted to look like Elvis. Even the black kids. It was all about being seen, and getting some kind of attention. Getting attention was your only chance of getting out of Freehold.” Richard Blackwell grew up in Freehold, New Jersey. Blackwell, a conguero and percussionist, is frequently seen playing the Jersey Shore club scene with singer Pat Guadagno. Credits include recording “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” (1973) with Bruce Springsteen.
Soozie Tyrell: ”It’s never been easy for women in rock ’n ’roll, and to a certain extent it’s still that way. You want to hold on to your femininity, but yet you want to show that you’re strong. Today, I’ve reached a point where I don’t really care what people say. I know who I am and what I want to do.” Soozie Tyrell, the daughter of a military serviceman, was born in Pisa, Italy. As the family settled in Florida she studied music and arts, and after relocating to New York Tyrell joined a musical community, including Lisa Lowell and Patti Scialfa. Together they formed the band Trickster and played the streets of Greenwich Village. In the early 1980′s Tyrell fronted her own country & western band, Soozie & High in the Saddle. She also joined Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and worked succesfully with Buster Poindexter (David Johansen) for several years. In 1992 Tyrell recorded with Bruce Springsteen for the first time (adding backing vocals on the ”Lucky Town” album), and since 2002 she’s been a key member of Springsteen’s touring bands, playing the violin, acoustic guitar, and singing back up. A solo record, ”White Lines”, was released in 2003.
Southside Johnny: ”We’ve always had tons of talent in town, but very few who wanted to go the distance. For me it was the exact opposite. I wanted to see Paris.” John Lyon started out in the 1960′s singing and playing the harmonica with Sonny Kenn in Hullabaloo clubs. Later he became an Upstage Club regular and a charismatic member of many Shore bands. In 1974 Lyon joined the Blackberry Booze Band which would evolve into Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. Epic Records signed a deal, and on Memorial Day Weekend 1976 the band was nationally launched with a classic radio broadcast from The Stone Pony. Ever since releasing ”I Don’t Want to Go Home” in ’76, Southside Johnny has been recording and touring with the Jukes all over North America and Europe. In 1982 Rolling Stone Magazine voted the Jukes third record, ”Hearts of Stone, among the top 100 albums of the 1970′s and the 1980′s.
Vini Lopez: “Steel Mill was blues, rock, jazz, country & western. It just had that edge. We took everything as far as we could, and then we had Federici’s B3 organ. Bruce was from the Castiles, Danny played with Chinnock, I played with Sonny Kenn and Little Vinnie had been all over the place with the Motifs. Around here we became like a supergroup, I guess.” Prior to joining Sonny & the Starfires, The Downtown Tangiers Band, and The Moment of Truth, Vini Lopez was playing drums with dj Buzzy Lubinsky. In February of 1969 Lopez and keyboardist Danny Federici invited Bruce Springsteen and bass player Vinnie Roslin to start a band. Child, later known as Steel Mill, worked its way to national recognition, and was offered a record deal that Springsteen decided to turn down. Lopez, nicknamed “Maddog”, became the original E Street Band drummer, and stayed with Springsteen until February of 1974. Later, he kept rocking the Jersey Shore – mid 1970′s to present – with bands like The Lord Gunner Group, Maddog & the Shakes, Steel Mill Retro, and License To Chill. Photo: Jörgen Johansson / Kontinent