Men Without Women
On July 2, 2011, something really quite wonderful happened. A group of musicians – all renowned exponents of the vaunted Jersey Shore sound – came together at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ to perform a particular album in its entirety. The album was Men Without Women by Little Steven (Van Zandt), his solo debut from 1982.
Men Without Women was to be the first toe in the water for Van Zandt’s solo career. He recorded it over two sessions (working on Born in the USA in between) and released it under the name Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul.
Steve would eventually leave the E Street band in 1984, unhappy with his role in Springsteen’s shadow and exhausted by the punishing marathon recording sessions that accompanied each album release by the band.
Van Zandt believed strongly that an album should be recorded in a few weeks or at most a few months but E Street recordings were dragging out to a year or more with ten songs written and recorded for every one that made the final cut. And the truth was, many of the rejected songs were, in Van Zandt’s opinion, superior to those that made the final sequence.
In the end, Steve decided that the best course was for him to go it alone as Little Steven but this first ‘solo’ album features contributions from several E Street band members including (uncredited) The Boss himself.
The final result was an eclectic, energetic, and infectious record. Standout tracks included; Inside Of Me, Angel Eyes, When the Good is Gone (the two latter featuring backing vocals from Springsteen), and Under the Gun.
Some of the musicians who featured on the album were members of the Asbury Dukes (Southside Johnny included) and The Miami Horns and they all obviously enjoyed their involvement because 30 years later they got together and played it again.
You have to understand that for an aficionado of the Jersey Shore sound, there can be virtually no greater confluence of utter cool than imagining Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes getting together with members of the Disciples of Soul at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park to play a classic album by Little Steven (also in attendance).
Fortunately, one doesn’t need to imagine it because it was all recorded for posterity. The subsequent recording has been put out by the Dukes as Men Without Women (which from a recording archivist’s perspective is a little confusing). And what a recording it is! If anything, the songs shine even brighter in this performance.
The tracks that really grabbed me were; Men Without Women, Until the Good is Gone, Lyin’ in a bed of Fire, Inside of Me, and Angel Eyes.
Johnny (Southside) Lyon was in terrific voice and the band firing on all cylinders. The sweat must have really been flying because they’re all giving 110% and the sounds coming off the stage are electric.
Southside Johnny is one of the most underrated performers out there. He has the voice of a true Soul Man and his stage presence alone should have catapulted him into the stratosphere. Alas, his rise to prominence was mirrored by a general decline in interest in the soul sounds of the 60’s. This was a crime considering the dross that now passes for music in the commercial arena.
However, for those in the know, The Dukes are a rare gem who have built their loyal following and continued to party live with their friends in both the US and Europe. And their careers have lasted just as long as those of their fellow Jersey brothers in arms the E Street Band. I would recommend the reader give their recent(ish) release Soultime a spin for confirmation that this band is still a hot property.
This recording of the gig at the Pony, to me, epitomises the very heart and soul of the Jersey Shore sound. The only way it could have increased its cool factor a few degrees would have been if The Boss could have been coaxed onto the stage. However, considering the fact that Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons had died just a few weeks earlier, that really wasn’t a likely outcome.
Had Springsteen been present, however, it probably would have looked and sounded a little something like this…