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Still Havin’ a Party: The Stone Pony Turns 40

by Tim Donnelly on February 12, 2014

With the formation of one of the first Stone Pony house bands, The Blackberry Blues Band, which featured local guitarist “Miami Steve” Van Zandt and soul singer, “Southside Johnny” Lyon, the club gained traction and the talented collective packed the joint three nights a week.

September 9 , 1974 began the history of unannounced sets at The Pony by Bruce Springsteen, who joined his pals in The Blackberry Blues Band for a late night jam that turned into an almost weekly occurrence in the winter of ‘74-’75, when Springsteen was a stage and barroom regular waiting to unleash Born to Run on the world.

The Blackberry Booze Band soon morphed into Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, where Springsteen and Van Zandt consummated their working relationship, writing songs and arrangements for both The Jukes and The E Street Band.

The drinking age was 18, bars were on every corner, the boardwalk was alive; the hot rod cruising circuit was in full effect, budding teenage Lotharios filled the arcades and The Stone Pony was packed with sweaty, sunburned and slightly inebriated throngs.

Just years after devastating race riots burned in Asbury Park, The Pony was jumping with mixed-race bands made up of Jersey Shore locals, playing soul infused, and horn-section powered early rock influenced music, aka “The Jersey Shore Sound.”

The success of Born to Run in 1975 brought the Asbury Park scene major industry attention as Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes signed a major label deal to Epic Records and released their debut, I Don’t Want to Go Home in 1976.

A live radio broadcast on the King Biscuit Flour Hour of Southside’s Memorial Day show at The Pony featuring Springsteen, Ronnie Spector and Lee Dorsey brought the raucous Jersey Shore club to a national audience who had them singing along to “We’re Havin’ a Party.”

People of a certain age who grew up around here say the Sixties ended sometime around the arrival of disco and the Bi-Centennial. The Pony kept pace and it wasn’t long before NYC bands like The Ramones and female fronted acts led by Jersey native Debbie Harry, as well as Patti Smith, travelled down the Garden State Parkway to bring their new sound called punk to the Jersey beaches.

The Pony rode the new wave as well as the Jersey Shore Sound (which still packs them in) with the snarky Brit Invasion of the late 70’s with Elvis Costello and The Attractions and Graham Parker. Acts based in NYC like Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, The Stray Cats and the bombast of Meatloaf all broke at the Stone Pony before going national.

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