Southside Johnny Lyon was always the quintessential bar rocker--the raspy singer from the Jersey shore who fronted a brassy, scruffy-looking band and sang night after night about romance and parties, and about how he didn’t want to go home.
It went on like that for years--first during an apprenticeship in a succession of bands that included such fellow aspiring rockers as Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt (both of whom played important roles in launching Lyon’s career) and followed by more than a decade of touring and recording as leader of Southside Johnny & the Jukes.
Then, a little more than a year ago, Lyon decided, contrary to the title of one of his signature songs, “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” that he wanted to go home after all--or at least that he didn’t want to go on belting it out in the clubs 150 to 200 nights a year.
“I didn’t want to be on stage anymore. I felt I was in a rut, and I had a big crisis,” said Lyon, who’ll be appearing at the Bacchanal in San Diego on Monday for the first of a series of Southern California shows. “Right before I went on stage, I had this feeling of revulsion. It had never happened to me before.
“It wasn’t a mid-life crisis,” Lyon, 39, said over the phone this week from his home in Montclair, N.J. “It was a crisis of faith” in his career prospects and his chances for creative growth.
Southside Johnny & the Jukes’ 1986 album, “At Least We Got Shoes,” had not left much of a commercial footprint. And Lyon found himself wondering whether he would ever be able to develop a musical direction beyond the horn-driven, roots-conscious R&B; that was the Jukes’ specialty.
His answer was to take six months away from the band and record his first solo album, “Slow Dance.” Instead of the punchy, beer-and-sawdust party music associated with the Jukes, it’s a low-key album, given mostly to ballads.
So how did he get back into touring?
Lyon, sounding upbeat and relaxed, said the break from the road and the musical detour he took on “Slow Dance” gave him renewed enthusiasm for his old calling as a touring bar rocker. Besides the Bacchanal, Lyon and the nine-piece Jukes will also be at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Roxy in West Hollywood on Thursday, and the Strand in Redondo Beach on Friday and next Saturday.
The career frustration that Lyon felt before taking time off to record “Slow Dance” is understandable. Huey Lewis & the News is an R&B-based; bar band in the same mold as Southside Johnny & the Jukes, but Lewis plays arenas, while the Jukes still work the club circuit.
“There are times when I feel, ‘What am I--chopped liver?’ ” Lyon acknowledged. “But those are fleeting times. I’ve had 20 years in this music business and I’ll have 20 more. I’m not driving a truck. I’m doing what I like to do"--even if the surroundings continue to be down-to-earth.
“Critics have called us the world’s greatest bar band,” Lyon said. “I always took that as a tremendous compliment, because some of the best music I’ve heard has been in bars. And God knows I’ve been in enough of them.”