Friday, June 21, 2024

Stone Pony’s History, as Told By Bruce Springsteen and Other Regulars

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A bar, just like a stage, can be a sanctuary. A refuge where comfort comes from the familiar. Bruce Springsteen, Stone Pony regular. A moniker first stamped in the mid-Seventies, waltzing across the dance floor and belting out “Havin’ a Party” with Stevie and Southside.  By the early Eighties, with his fame soaring after The River and into Born in the USA, Springsteen’s reputation as a Pony regular became national news. “I Heard Bruce Might Show Up” became the town motto. His surprise jams onstage became almost routine, yet furthered the legend of The Stone Pony and Asbury Park. This mythology forms the backbone of my book I Don’t Want to Go Home: The Oral History of the Stone Pony, which charts the soaring highs and crushing lows of a small town bar that refused to give up and still stands today in open defiance of the expected lifespan of a rock and roll club. 

Bruce Springsteen: Where I grew up meant something to me. I liked the clubs, I liked the little towns. I liked the characters that were there. I felt safe, I felt appreciated. People kind of watched over you, and it was just a lovely atmosphere, I found. I was still young. I was in my thirties. Born in the U.S.A. I was only 34. And so I was going out, I had my white pickup truck, and I hopped in that old junker and I took it down to the Pony. And that’s where I spent my Fridays and Sundays and I had no interest in what was going on in New York City or L.A. I always said, “No, no, no.” This is interesting. This is interesting to me. These people are interesting to me. This place is interesting to me. What happens here, I think matters. What we do here matters. You’re sustaining a local scene. Even though you’ve had tremendous success, you are still part of the local operation of a local band, serving its community, which I always thought was a great thing to do, and a lot of fun. And I enjoyed remaining a part of that. So it was a no-brainer for me. It was just what I wanted and liked to do and what I felt safe, comfortable, and like myself. 

Bobby Bandiera: I broke off from Holme to go in a band called Cats on a Smooth Surface. And that’s when I started playing the Pony pretty much every week, whatever night. There was some Wednesdays, there was some Sundays. 

Glen Burtnik: I had done this stint with the Broadway show Beatlemania. I did a Paul McCartney thing. I was done with that, I left that, and I came back home to New Jersey. I needed a gig and this cover band Cats on a Smooth Surface called. I thought it was a cool place. There was this Bruce thing about it. This is post–Born to Run and stuff. There was the Bruce and Asbury Jukes connection. It seemed it was a cool place. 

Bobby Bandiera: Now I’m doing my thing with that band, and we’re trying to get some more original material together. It didn’t happen for us in that regard, but Bruce started popping. This was 1981, and I remember the first night I met him, and it wasn’t the first night I’d seen him there, but it was the first night I met him. I said, “Hey.” He says, “I’m Bruce.” I said, “Yep. How you doing, brother?” And he says, “You mind if I come up and play?” I said, “No. Sure. Come up.” It’s the summer of ’81. He started coming up, having a good time, having a blast. Crowd was always electric when he showed up.

Bruce Springsteen: Cats drew a lot of people. A lot of people. A lot of the second-tier bands, other than Southside, drew a lot of fans. I mean, the Pony was full very often, for just local groups. It was a scene. Everybody knew everybody else. It was a real legitimate scene. There was a group of people that went to that club and they went there pretty exclusively, with the rare exception. And it was very valuable to have at the time. 

Bobby Bandiera: He would come, if it wasn’t every week, it was almost every other week. 

Bruce Springsteen: There was a small group of songs we knew and would tend to sing together, or just really easy stuff that came out of the blue. “Hey, let’s do ‘Long Tall Sally.’” I just liked to play, go down to the bar, go and sit in. And they played very well. And so I just always liked playing. Played every weekend there almost. 

Glen Burtnik: Bruce would call whatever the hell he wanted to call out. The first time I played with him, it was “Twist and Shout.” This was my first time meeting him, and he sang a verse, and then he pointed to me. It was my turn to sing a verse, which now when I look back on it, I think it was just his way of checking me out or something. 

Ernest Carter: Bruce used to come down to gigs with the Fairlanes and jam with us. 

Eileen Chapman: On the nights that Bruce or somebody played, there was this whole line of people at that phone right next to the restroom doors, because there were no cell phones then. 

Tracey Story Prince: The pay phone, it was in or next to the ladies’ room, so you didn’t need a crowd when you’re trying to get to the bathroom then. It was right there in the ladies’ room hallway. 

Joe Prinzo: Before the internet, there was a phone booth in the back of the Pony, that everybody would use to call their friends and you’d call one or two friends and then they’d call one or two friends. “Hey, man, he’s here tonight. Let’s go.” 

Stan Goldstein: There was also a phone booth on the boardwalk, Second Avenue and Boardwalk, right across from the Pony. That’s back when they would stamp your hands and let you back in.

The scene at the Stone Pony bar in the later years of the Butch and Jack era.

KEITH MEYERS/The New York Times/Redux

Jean Mikle: The phone tree, I found out about it from a bunch of girls that would go to Cats every week and we would do Dance Till You Drop every Sunday. We used to call the one girl Kitty. I don’t know if that was her real name, but that’s what we were told. She was one of the people that started the phone tree. I remember I had the number and I would try constantly.

Kyle Brendle: Those Sundays, Bruce was just there. He didn’t have extra people with him or nothing, no. He’d just be there. 

Bruce Springsteen: You’d come in through the kitchen. Well, they have a sort of a kitchen. It’s sort of a kitchen, but you’d come in through the back door. They never had any real backstage space. 

Pete Llewelyn: It would be a Sunday night and there’d be a hundred and fifty people in there all mainly in the back bar, all locals, waitresses, bartenders from other establishments. Bruce would come in, and within forty minutes there’d be four hundred people in there. How that happened, it was a mystery to me. If Bruce didn’t show up, it would stay the same hundred fifty, two hundred people. If he showed up, in one night when it happened, I watched the pay phone. That pay phone in the ladies’ room right before you walked into the ladies’ room, when he showed up, was in constant use. From the second he walked in, it would stay in use. The only way they were communicating was through the pay phone, and it worked. One pay phone, there’s no beepers, there was no cell phones. Somehow they knew and that place will get packed. People would walk to other bars and say, “Hey, Bruce is at the Pony,” and that bar would unload. There was a bar called the Golddigger, it might have forty people in it. If Bruce walked in the Pony, it’s going to have zero people in it in a minute. 

Jean Mikle: I’d see him, and I’d run in there, waiting for the phone, and you’re like, “I got to get on the phone.” 

Eileen Chapman: There was a clock in the kitchen of Mrs. Jay’s, and it was like eleven o’clock, and I took the clock and spun it around, and I said, “Okay, two o’clock, last call.” And everybody’s like, there’s food falling out of their mouth. They’re like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I just saw what you did.” I said, “No, we’re closing up.” And so we threw everybody out, we all closed up, and all of us went into the Pony to watch the show, to watch Bruce play with Cats. And then it turned into a just about weekly thing. And we would shut early, and go on over and hang out in the back bar and watch the show. 

Tracey Story Prince: He’d play every single Sunday and hang out at the back bar. One Sunday, I was sitting with him and I wanted to dance. I said, “Could you just stay here and watch my pocketbook?” I danced for four songs. I came back and he was still sitting there. I was like, “Aw.” 

Stan Levinstone: Bruce played on Sundays. He’s playing almost every week or at least a month or whatever. When he wasn’t here Butch was still charging ten dollars to get in. It was a potluck. “If Bruce is here, great; if you’re not, you’re screwed.” 

Judy DeNucci: I had a bouncer all the time. He would stand at that back door next to the bar, so if I had any problems or if I needed stuff, he would call somebody to go get the beer or whatever, but there was always somebody stationed there. And when Bruce would come into the back, especially the later days, he would always have his own. Not his own, but one of our bouncers would be assigned to just follow him just because. 

Tony Shanahan: In the early Eighties, I had a band. We played at the Pony and we got a few better gigs, I think. We opened for either it was Joe Grushecky or John Cafferty. We were in a little room in the back. All of a sudden—we were sitting there after we had played. The door just opened and Springsteen stuck his head in. He just went, “Good set, guys.” Then he just closed the door and he walked off. That was our big thing. I remember we were on a buzz that night because he had said that to us.

Tony Amato: Anything after ’79, it’s every night, it’s all Bruce. Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. Go to Asbury to see if Bruce will come in and jam with them.

Springsteen returns to the Pony in 1987 in his guest role with Cats on a Smooth Surface.

Lewis Bloom

Eileen Chapman: Those nights were crazy. People were dancing on chairs, and on the Stone Pony fireplace, and everywhere else. It was a lot of fun. And that was a time when Asbury Park was really starting to go downhill. Things were closing down on the boardwalk. All the business had moved out of downtown, because Seaview Mall was built. Everybody went. And so it brought people back to Asbury Park in a time when crowds were starting to diminish. So it was a really good thing for the city, and for the music scene. And brought then attention back to the music scene and to the Stone Pony. 

Bruce Haring: Whenever he’d show up at a club, it was big news. That’s what we would write about, and that’s what people liked. You’re chasing a phantom. It was all up to his whim as to where and how he showed up. It wasn’t like there was an internet site where you have a calendar of potential sightings or anything like that, but there were always rumors that Bruce was going to play there that night. It’s like a Kenny Rogers Roaster, where they always said, “Kenny is coming in next week.” That sort of same thing. I’m sure a lot of that was the clubs themselves trying to get extra bodies in there, hyping it up. 

Butch Pielka: I never advertised Bruce’s name and I’ve never paid him a penny to play here. It’s funny. A lot of people even think he owns part of the Pony. 

Jean Mikle: When Bruce was playing, a lot of times he wouldn’t go on until one thirty. So you couldn’t never leave. If he was in the bar and you knew he was there, you couldn’t leave because heaven forbid you left right at one o’clock or one thirty. And then he went on at ten of two. And now you’ve missed it. 

Tracey Story Prince: I’ve worked many of those Bruce and Cats nights. The only thing I didn’t like about it was because they would play until four in the morning. I was supposed to be done, and I’m like, “I can’t leave the bar.” It’s every Sunday, so I was like, “I’m going home.” Thank God my bosses were cool and were like, “Okay, just have a drink and just sit back and wait it out.” I was able to get up on the bar. They say, “Don’t let anybody on the bar,” so I would stand on the bar and make sure they didn’t get up. I always had the best view. 

Eileen Chapman: E Streeters came. Clarence would go. Max would occasionally show up. 

Ernest Carter: One night he came in with his band. Max had a problem getting in or making it down on time or something. And Bruce was like to me, “Okay, let’s do this.” He’d just show up, do his thing, and everybody would crowd the stage as soon as he shows up and it’s on. 

Bobby Bandiera: Bruce even came to a rehearsal. “Where do you guys rehearse?” I said, “We rehearse over at the airport, on Route 34.” He says, “Well, I’ll come by.” I said, “What?” He did, and it was some kind of anniversary night at the Pony. He says, “I’ll come up and play that show with you, but let’s rehearse.” I said, “Okay.” He was doing the Detroit Medley thing, the Mitch Ryder thing, when he was on the road. “Let’s do that.” I said, “Yeah, sure. Sure.” So we learned that. 

Bruce Springsteen: Most of these bands were cover bands. Southside played originals, but almost everybody else . . . Well, some of the other bands played some originals too, actually. There was still a lot of covering going on. 

Kyle Brendle: They did some national acts, some tours here and there, but not a lot of them. It was mostly filled with regional bands and the top cover bands. There’s Farm, Nines, Holme, Baby Blue. I could go on and on. Salty Dog. There’s so many of them. Cahoots, Lance Larson. It wasn’t a concert venue at that point. It was a bar with a great stage. 

Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg: In I think it was ’82, I wasn’t with the Disciples; Steven let the horn section go. And I was just hanging around the area and I didn’t have a band. I wasn’t in the Jukes either at that time ’cause I was with Diana Ross for a couple years, and then Steven called to do the Disciples. And then after that period, I was hanging at the Pony and Butch came up to me and said, “Hey, I’m going to have Wednesday nights open if you want to put a band together. Just what do you want to do?” I said, “Yeah, it sounds like a good idea.” And Lee Mrowicki came up with the name the Hubcaps. So we called it La Bamba and the Hubcaps and started playing on Wednesday nights. I think we eventually got moved to Thursday nights. 

Glen Burtnik: I left Cats and I joined La Bamba in the Hubcaps. Cats was a four- or five-piece group, guitars, keyboard, drums. La Bamba, he had come from the Jukes and it was horn players. It wasn’t the first horn band I was ever in, but it was a pretty good one. Because it was an offshoot, so to speak, of the Asbury Jukes, it was a little higher on the rung, a cool factor or something. Musically, we weren’t doing any Eurythmics or John Cougar or any of that. It was more R&B stuff. 

Gary U.S. Bonds: I think Kyle booked me in with La Bamba and the Hubcaps. When I got there, they gave me all the history and I went, “Oh, that’s cool. I didn’t know what it means, but that’s cool.” Jersey has always been great for me. I don’t know what happened. I would imagine because I was supposedly very, very good friends with Bruce and they just took me in as “Okay, you are welcome.” In fact, a lot of people still think I’m from Jersey. 

Mark Pender: Bruce would show up and sit in with La Bamba and the Hubcaps. And suddenly, I remember, there were a couple of bands. When Bruce showed up, guys who weren’t good players could sometimes magically become good when he hit the stage. It was this, “Man, I’ve never heard you play that well. You usually kind of suck. And tonight you’re like . . . You’ve got your shit together. What happened?”

Glen Burtnik: There was one story I recall playing with the Hubcaps, right next to the stage, there’s a door that goes onto the sidewalk. I don’t know if we took a break or what, but I walked offstage, opened the door, and there’s Bruce walking down the street. I said, “Bruce, come on. You want to play?” He said, “Yes.” 

Nils Lofgren: Jamming with La Bamba, Ed Manion, Mark Pender on horns, was exciting. A few years later, they joined E Street on the Tunnel of Love tour, which was wonderful. 

Erik Henderiks: Bruce was cool, though. He never just hopped on. He always asked because I think a musician thing is you don’t want to share your stage unless you invite somebody on. You don’t want to share your stage. Bruce knew that. He was always very polite about that. People say, “You want to come on?” “Yes, you sure it’s okay? I don’t want to—” “Yes, Bruce, come on.” 

Lee Mrowicki: That’s kind of like, you know, that’s going back to the Upstage days, where everybody knew the same songs, or you could learn ’em real easy and they were good enough players to be able to do that, and that kind of transferred over to the Pony too, the late-night jams. That was kind of unique to every place, because no other place really had that except the Pony. And especially like, Sunday nights was a night where musicians mostly didn’t work, so they would be coming here to see their friends and to see their friends play. And some of them even went onstage, like Bruce. And that was kind of unique in the industry. We used to have people that come from Washington, DC, drive up and drive back the same night, and then go to work the next day. I always thought that the song “Dancing in the Dark” is actually written about going to the Pony. 

Jack Roig: I came off the train one night, and I’m walking down the street. It’s a weeknight. Nobody outside. It was early. And I walked in. Who’s behind the front bar? Bruce. He’s behind the bar, just ripped, and he’s the bartender. The actual bartender, who was my special lady, she walked out behind the bar and let him bartend. I don’t know how much money he cost me, but it was worth it. It was fun. Yeah, I mean, he had given the house away and he was having a ball. I don’t think he got up and played after that though. I think he was smart enough not to try. 

Bruce Springsteen: I started to jump behind the bar and I wasn’t much of a bartender, but I’d serve up the beers and just have fun with the fans, and just enjoy myself. [My signature] was beer. With a Jack Daniel’s on the side, maybe. 

Southside Johnny: Bruce guest-bartending meant all shots of tequila. And I’d scoff and said, “I don’t drink tequila.” And then Eileen would come and bring me a shot of whiskey. 

Max Weinberg: I do remember Bruce buying shots for the whole place, standing on top of the back bar at one point. 

Bruce and Southside Johnny share a microphone during a 1977 concert

Peter Howse

Judy DeNucci: One night, he was playing with Cats on a Sunday night as he used to do often, and it was my birthday. He said, “This goes out to Judy for her birthday. Happy birthday, Judy!” from the stage. Then he came behind my bar and started bartending. I said, “What are you doing? Look at all these people.” It was like five deep around the bar and everybody’s got their own hands raised and everything. I’m saying, “Nobody wants me to give them the drinks. They want you.” He’s yelling, “I can only make beer!” People that regularly drank mixed drinks were ordering beer. I just stood at the register and he said, “Where are the Budweisers?” I was showing him where the different beers were. He was just handing people beer and handed me the money and say, “This is for two Buds.” I’d bring it up and I’d hand him the change, and he goes, “Don’t you want to give this to Judy for her birthday?” Well, they wouldn’t say no to Bruce, so I’d put it in my tip jar. He would be on my bar I’d say probably a half hour and I made five hundred dollars in a half hour. 

Erik Henderiks: He could only make maybe four drinks: gin and tonic, a rum and Coke, a vodka and something, a glass of water, and a beer. That was his repertoire. You were getting something, but it could’ve taste like rocket fuel or it could’ve taste like water. He wouldn’t charge you or he’d charge you the wrong price or something. He felt at home and we laughed about it. It’s just another sideshow in a circus. 

Butch Pielka: It’s a place he can come to and not have girls rip clothes off his back. It’s comfortable for him, with no security problems. 

Erik Henderiks: We let him do whatever the hell he wanted, pretty much, unless he was breaking the law. He felt comfortable there and we wanted to make sure we had a place that he could do that. 

Jack Roig: He never asked for anything. But one night, it must’ve been crazy. I don’t remember why. He said, “I got to go hide in the office, okay?” I said, “Yeah, go ahead.” And then I thought, Oh no, the dog. I had a big dog. About a hundred and five pounds, fully trained Dobie. So I ran back and I said, “Ramel. He’s okay.” That was his name: Ramel. I came back maybe half an hour later, and he was just sitting on the couch. He’s got his legs out and crossed. And the dog’s chewing on his boot. I said, “What the fuck are you doing?” He said, “Just enjoying myself.” 

Bruce Springsteen: It’s the old thing Dylan said. “Where are you most comfortable?” He says, “Well, anyplace nobody’s reminding me of who I am.” So there’s some of that, and I thought it was pretty good for that. Some people came up and at times were crazy, but so what? It’s part of the job. 

Jack Roig: We used to get mail from all over the world. Bruce Springsteen, USA. And it’d be delivered to us. Yeah. I bet we would get fifty, a hundred posts a week. And he’d come in and we’d say “Here’s your mail.” 

Jean Mikle: I was working at the Freehold weekly, which doesn’t exist anymore, called the Colonial Free Press. That was the first time I ever saw Bruce tourists. So I was working there in ’84, and Bruce was on the Born in the U.S.A. tour, and some guy walked into our office from Germany with a camera asking where Bruce’s houses were. And the only one I knew at that time was 68 South Street, which was right down the street from our office. And I’m like, “I really don’t know anything else. You can walk down there.” I’m like, “Holy shit. People are coming here for Bruce.” Traveling here. That’s the first time I noticed that. 

Pete Llewelyn: He had a garage apartment deal and he was writing Born in the U.S.A., and about the time, maybe early ’85, I don’t remember if there were five people sitting there that were with me. The Pony closed, Sunday night, three o’clock, we threw everyone out. Bruce, it was a snowy night, got his guitar, and we sat by the fireplace, there were ten of us, and he played songs that he was going to put on the Born in the U.S.A. album. He played it just for us. Now if you want to talk about a true, real unplugged, it doesn’t apply anymore, and I know every single person who was sitting by the fireplace, and he would play a song and then we would talk about it. 

Lance Larson: The red hat on the cover of Born in the U.S.A. was, the red hat was a gift that was given to me by a friend of mine. It came with a Rembass fishing rod, or reel. And Bruce and me were out one night and we came back to my apartment in Wanamassa so I could show him some new guitars and amps. And when we left, me and Bruce were leaving and Bruce said, “Man, I like that hat.” And I said, “Here, you can have it.” The next thing I know, it was a few months later or maybe a year later and he came in and said he was looking for me. And he came into the place up the street from the Pony, and he goes, “Yeah, I’ve got a surprise for you.” And I said, “What?” He goes, “The red hat that you gave me,” he said, “it was on MTV.” I didn’t find out until later that night. I went home and I turned on the TV and MTV was on, and they showed him in “Born in the U.S.A.” He had it in his back pocket. 

Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg: Cats on a Smooth Surface was always, that was always fun to get up and play with them. And then we started doing that on Sunday nights with them, and then Patti would come in and Patti and I would sing a couple duets together. 

Patti Scialfa: Bobby said, “Let me learn a bunch of songs so we can, on the weekends, do a bunch of songs together.” So they learned a bunch of songs that I could sing, some old-time girl-group songs, and some R&B. Not that much, but enough to go down and have a lot of fun. We got into the Ronettes songs, the Crystals, all of that kind of stuff. Some Carole King stuff, some Etta James, “Time Is on My Side.” Did it like her. She did it before the Stones. Just stuff like that. Whatever was floating around that was fun and sexy to sing. Just picking them out and learning them; there’s no great thought behind it. Let me put it this way: You’re not rehearsing. You’re jamming. 

Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg: We’d do “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” like that. 

Patti Scialfa: Delving into all those catalogs with all the great girl groups, I’d never gone there before. That was a introduction for me. And so it did, when I did my Rumble Doll record, my first record, I had this song called “As Long as I (Can Be with You).” That was a couple nods to that kind of girl-group thing. So it did influence me. Well, I always liked those groups. They were the first women that I heard on my transistor radio when I was a kid bicycling. You could take your radio and put it around your handlebars. And that was magical and mystical to me. Again, it’s like, “Okay, I love what they’re singing about.” 

Lee Mrowicki: Patti was good friends with Bobby Bandiera and with Richie Rosenberg. She would play with Bobby’s band, Cats on a Smooth Surface, at the end of the night. She used to do “Boy from New York City” and a few other songs, oldies. 

Bruce Springsteen: I met my wife [at the Pony]. We actually bumped into each other on occasion a few times previously, but not significantly. I saw Patti before the Born in the U.S.A. tour, and that’s how she got in the band. 

Patti Scialfa: Do you know how many times I have corrected that, when he’s telling this story? Even to our friends, sometimes I’m going, “I got in the band? You asked me to be in the band.” I wasn’t knocking on the door of the band trying to get in. 

Pete Llewelyn: He was sitting at my bar the night he first laid eyes on Patti. He was just about to go to the back bar. I can even remember what he was drinking. He was drinking kamikaze on the rocks and I was talking to him a little about, I think, softball or something insignificant. Cats called up, and said they were going to have a special guest. Of course, everyone thought it was Bruce, and it was Patti Scialfa. She went up and probably did three songs with him. Bruce was just fixed on her; he couldn’t get his eyes off her. 
Bruce Springsteen: She came out and played onstage with, it might have been Bobby Bandiera or, I forget which local band was playing. But she came out and played the Exciters’ hit “Tell Him,” and she was very striking right from the beginning.

Bruce backstage at the Pony in 1977

Lewis Bloom

Pete Llewelyn: When she got off, she went to the back bar—zoom, there goes Bruce. He followed her right back there. He took his drink with him. He was gone, he followed her. When she went off the stage, he followed her straight to the back bar. 

Patti Scialfa: I got offstage, and it was further towards the back end of the stage, walking back there, and I had a drink. Somebody handed me a drink. And then I saw all these people kind of walk up. I’m going, “What’s going on?” Just like a little bit of a slow swarm, and I’m going, “Gee, what is this about?” And then he taps me on my shoulder from the back. He was standing behind me while I was talking to some of my friends, and that’s why people swarmed up in front of me. I was like, “Oh, I get it.” And he reintroduced himself and just said that he liked the way I sang. And then we became friends. We went back, had a couple of drinks together. Oh, God, I remember that night. It’s funny. We had a couple of drinks together. Anyway, we got to know each other a little bit. And so when I’d come down on the weekends, he would always drive me home from the bar after just hanging out with the Cats. We’d go out for a hamburger down at the Inkwell, just stuff like that. 

Max Weinberg: Bruce went down to the Stone Pony. La Bamba, the trombonist, was playing with his band, and Patti was singing with his band. And of course Bruce knew Patti. We all knew Patti. And that was the night he said, “Well, I got the guitar player, we’ll get Patti.” So she joined the E Street Band the next day. 

Patti Scialfa: And then he called me up one night and said, “Can you come up? We’re in Lititz rehearsing for the tour.” I guess Steven had left the band, Little Steven. And Nils was there, but Nils had laryngitis, so he needed somebody to sing. I came up there for a couple of days. I thought I was only going to be there for the afternoon. That was a week before the tour, and then he called me three days before the tour and asked me to join. 

Max Weinberg: I think they drove up together to Lititz, Pennsylvania. We were already there. We stayed at this little Route 66 Motel. I remember while we rehearsed for that tour, and the rest is sort of history.

John Eddie: Obviously our goal was the Stone Pony, but there was steps up to the Stone Pony. The Brighton Bar, the Fast Lane, and so we started playing the Brighton Bar first and Big Man, obviously Clarence had Big Man’s Club. 

Bob Burger: John Eddie, everybody thought that he was the second coming of Bruce at that time. 

John Eddie: We had built such a cool following that we ended up getting a residency at the Pony on Friday nights. And that was around the summer of when Bruce was about to release Born in the U.S.A. And we were part of that whole Bruce phenomenon. So we were sold out every Friday night and it was packed. It was crazy, it was just like being part of the scene, so it just worked out that we were there at that moment. The most famous show is when Bruce played before the Born in the U.S.A. tour. It was the first show that he did before the tour. I got a phone call from Bruce, and Bruce doesn’t call me. I’m sure he doesn’t have my number. Obie probably gave him my number. And he was very sweet, and he was like, “Hey, John. Listen, I want to play a show at the Pony, and I know it’s your night.” And he could have said, “Fucking fire John Eddie.” And they would’ve done it in a heartbeat. He was like, “I want to play a show, and I know it’s your night. Would it be cool if me and the band came down and opened up for you?” And I was like, “Dude, you can play all you want, but I’m not going on after you.” And so it was very sweet and it was ridiculously cool. And we got to open up for him. And Eddie Testa was opening for us, and he got bumped. “Sorry, Eddie, but this is my time, brother.” 

Bruce Springsteen: I wanted to get the guys playing locally and I just wanted to run through the show. And John was headlining that night. I just asked him if it would be okay if we came down and played, at some point during the night. So of course, John’s always been great and he’s just like, “Come on down.” 

John Eddie: I imagine that had to be seeing the Beatles at the Cavern for everyone in the audience. Because it was the first show of the Born in the U.S.A. tour and that whole phenomenon. And I got to open it, and I got to stand on the side of the stage and watch it. And then afterwards we went to Bruce’s house. It was just a pinch-yourself type of moment, and probably won’t be topped in my lifetime. 

Nils Lofgren: Playing a warm-up gig with Bruce and E Street at the Pony before the Born in the U.S.A. tour was a momentous night, also. As I didn’t get the gig until four weeks before opening night, it was an overwhelming, beautiful experience. Being at the Pony with Bruce’s audience on our side was a huge help that night. 

Max Weinberg: We had rehearsed because we had two new members, Nils and Patti, and we had rehearsed up in Pennsylvania at this soundstage and came back and there were pictures of that night. So my distinct recollection is playing that material in the Stone Pony, the Born in the U.S.A. material. And in those days they didn’t have air. They may have had air-conditioning, but it didn’t work, and it was unbelievably hot. And at one point, Bruce just said to the crowd, “Game called on account of heat.” I almost passed out on the drums. And I was young. I was only thirty-one at the time. Well, it was hot and humid, of course, and I think it was even just May, but it was mainly because it wasn’t air-conditioning and the crush of people that was in there. 

John Eddie: I’m sure we surpassed fire marshal numbers that night. It was wall-to-wall, hanging-off-the-ceiling type of crowd. It was sweaty, it was hot, it was rock and roll. It was what you imagine a Little Richard song is. 

Nils Lofgren: Playing the Pony after I joined E Street did give me a bit more confidence and a feeling I belonged, even more than usual. 

Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Nils Lofgren at the famous Born in the U.S.A. show at the Pony in 1984

Lewis Bloom

Bruce Springsteen: It was an event. It was a big thing at the time. We were one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, if not the biggest, but it was our place and we didn’t think much about it. We just went down there and did it. 

Tim Donnelly: The Pony for us was always, was like having fucking Yankee Stadium up the street in a way where legends were. I graduated high school in 1985. Bruce Springsteen was the biggest star in the fucking world in 1984, 1985. So Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, and fucking Prince. And we had one of them. 

Pete Llewelyn: Bruce could walk in there any given time and not a single person would walk up and pester him, for his autographs, “Please go up and play. Come on. We want to hear you.” No pestering. He’d come in, chill. He always had a baseball cap on. He would chill out, he knew everybody, who were the bartenders, who were the owners, who were the bouncers. He was at home and he knew he was safe because we had every bouncer making goddamn sure he was safe, because if, God forbid, something happened, we had to get to him quick. 

Jack Roig: He didn’t want people watching over him. You watched over him, but from a distance. Bruce knew how to move and how to take care of himself. He didn’t want the Secret Service all around him.

Bobby Bandiera: Playing the Pony as much as I did on whatever night during the week, a Wednesday or the Sunday, weekend, a lot of the guys from the Jukes would come in. Kevin Kavanaugh lived a couple of blocks away, so he used to be there all the time. And he used to play with me in Cats from time to time. I would get him up and play. And he’d say, “Mark Pender and La Bamba are around. Why don’t you call them to play horns?” I said, “Yeah. Yeah.” So I put this thing together on Sundays. It was a revue, where I had a lot of those guys come up and play in the band, and Patti Scialfa was around. I’d have her come up and sing. Bruce would watch; he’d come up and sing. And then that Sunday turned into a crazy night. It was one of those things. It was a fun time just to be in the mix, with an area that was so overflowing with talent. Bruce, Steven, Southside, Patti Scialfa was hanging around. Somebody was always coming around. 

John Eddie: We were witnessing the last glory days of the fantasy version of Bruce’s songs, that American Graffiti vibe where it was fast cars, hot girls, all is good in America. We saw the last vestiges of that. 

Max Weinberg: They call it the House That Bruce Built, he and the Jukes. We always kind of thought it was like our Cavern Club in a way, at least from my point of view. 

Jean Mikle: Everything changed after Born in the U.S.A. And then I think he didn’t feel as comfortable hanging out. I still saw him out quite a bit. 

Tracey Story Prince: After Born in the U.S.A., that’s when he got real big. 

Stan Goldstein: There was always a rule. We didn’t bother Bruce. You wanted him to play. You didn’t want to annoy him or he would walk out. That was always the locals’ rule. Leave him alone. Maybe you’ll get to see him play. That was always our rule. 

Eileen Chapman: Bruce had a really keen sense of when his presence could make a difference in something or somebody. The way he gave money around town. Computers to the Boys and Girls Club, and jackets to the marching band, and a roof for the Stephen Crane House. I mean, just things that people didn’t notice, but that just made a difference and an impact. And the Pony was the same thing. I mean, there were times in the summer of ’82 or ’83, I’d have more people in Mrs. Jay’s than would be in the Pony. And I don’t know why. I don’t know why people stopped going as much for a while. I don’t know if it was the bands or just that other clubs were popping up. There were new shiny pennies, Key Largo, Pier Pub, and all these sort of dancey clubs were opening up, and the Green Parrot, and places out of Asbury Park that were drawing people, because they were new. And so I think that impacted the Pony for a few years. 

Southside Johnny: It made Asbury Park—between Bruce’s Greetings from Asbury Park, Jon Bon Jovi’s New Jersey when that came out later, and us and the Asbury Jukes, and all these young acts, rock-and-roll acts coming to play, it made Asbury Park, as you say, a destination. But it also became a hip town in a sense. It was still a blighted neighborhood. It was worth your life to walk the streets at night, but for Friday and Saturday night, the cops would be there helping people park, and there’d be a police presence so people felt safe. It really was a real beacon of light for New Jersey and Asbury Park. 

Bruce Springsteen: I would say at the time, 1975 to 1985, the town was kind of on the last of its blue-collar legs. And it would really become very desperate shortly. But my recollection was the boardwalk was still open and there were amusements and rides, and that part of the town hadn’t shut down yet. But it was post the riots and so there was a noticeable closing down of a large part of the town in those days. So, it was just a little, hanging-on-by-a-thread, blue-collar beach town that happened to be our home. 


Eric Deggans: Bruce going to the Stone Pony and checking out who was there, and sitting in with the bands, and it became this whole thing. I can’t even imagine an analogy nowadays, like if Taylor Swift decided to go to a club where she lives and sit in with the bands every so often, imagine that, imagine the masses that would come just for the possibility of seeing her do that. He did that, and it made international news, and it turned the Stone Pony into this brand that people heard about all over the world. They heard about it in a way that was just the most romantic rock-and-roll kind of way to hear about it. This superstar is so down-to-earth that he’ll come in and have a beer, and if he has enough beers and is feeling like it, he’ll fucking get onstage and play for people. You can pay your five- or ten-dollar cover charge and get the fucking to see Bruce Springsteen. It also feeds into the mythology of the area because the area has always prided itself on these down-to-earth, working-class, bootstrap-type rock stars. That’s what Bruce was, that’s what Jon Bon Jovi was, that’s what the Smithereens were. Right? It wasn’t Taylor Swift, it wasn’t like somebody who’s off on a hill somewhere isolated from people. These were folks who were other people. That just built into the legend and became this powerful story for rock fans, and then the Pony could build on that and become this venue that hosted a bunch of great shows. That’s really how you become a classic venue. You create a scene and you become home for a bunch of great musical moments. 

That’s what the Pony did.

From the book I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME: THE ORAL HISTORY OF THE STONE PONY by Nick Corasaniti publishing on June 4. Copyright 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, N.Y.

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