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Asbury Park Guide
Bruce Springsteen and The Stone Pony
Destiny Intertwined

By Anthony Olszewski
Copyright 2008

Stranger than fiction?

Forget the smiley faces that are trotted out nearly every time you hear anything about the Stone Pony (or Asbury Park in general, as far as that goes). Bruce Springsteen didn't start out here. He wasn't "discovered" here.

The truth is much more interesting.

The Stone Pony opened in 1974. The Greetings from Asbury Park album came out early in 1973. For a decade before that, Bruce Springsteen (and various band manifestations) played high schools, colleges and bars from New Jersey down to the Carolinas, with occasional forays into New York City. He actually began his career as a performer at an Elks Club, as he was -- at the age of 13 -- then too young to work in a bar.

The Asbury Park that the Springsteen Band was hailing from when recording in '72, was a frail musical renaissance taking root in the race-riot ruined shore town. In the late sixties Bruce played at an after-hours club, The Upstage, located one flight up over a shoe store and at the Student Prince. Other artists in this musical pressure cooker included Garry Tallent, Danny Federici, Davey Sancious, Vini Lopez, Miami Steve Van Zandt, and Billy Chinnock.

During this time, Springsteen was living in a third floor Asbury Park attic with Miami Steve as a roomie. Also, they both had a friend, Tinker, who owned a surfboard factory in nearby Neptune, NJ. Tinker let them practice in the in the factory. From time to time, when funds became precariously low, Springsteen and Steve both worked in the factory.

Less in the vein of trivia, perhaps Greetings from Asbury Park refers to an Asbury Park of the mind, the capital of a country lost in the fun house: post-industrial, but that didn't yet know it. A nation exhausted and stumbling from social upheaval and the Vietnam war and with Watergate rearing up on the horizon. Along with everyone else, Springsteen and his audience sensed the approaching conflagration but didn't expect to get any kicks before that. Anyway, about as much as they could ever hope for was to be able to pay the rent: to prevail by surviving.

Bruce Springsteen's second album, The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, album became available in September of '73.

Even if Springsteen had any reason for wanting to fool around with a start-up club, he wasn't going to do it in '74, his career's pivotal year. The Wild tour consumed many months. In June, Bruce Springsteen was involved in an auto accident which resulted in a claim of serious injury from the other driver. Springsteen was beginning to move from production by Mike Appel to Jon Landau. Seeing him as neither Top 40 nor Adult Contemporary, radio stations didn't air Springsteen's songs. Though extremely popular on tour, record sales were disappointing. The band and the label, CBS, were not making money. The record company decided to give Springsteen one last chance. Born to Run was the result. One year later, Bruce Springsteen looked out at America from the covers of both Time and Newsweek.

At the same time, things were swirling around at the Stone Pony, too. The club started off with a mix of cover bands and disco acts. Lucky for all, "Southside" Johnny and Steve Van Zandt started to play their own music. This developed into the Stone Pony's first house band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

In a May 21, 2000 Asbury Press article, Asbury Juke band member Kavanaugh stated, "We were terrible at first, but the music we were trying to play was great stuff. We got good, just from playing so much. We helped to create the Pony's identity with all that soul stuff and old blues."

In the mid-seventies, Asbury Park High School graduate Patti Scialfa was singing in Greenwich Village clubs. With the Stone Pony rocking, she began to perform there, becoming a backup singer for Southside Johnny.

In '75 and '76 the Stone Pony magic as practiced by bands like Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Cahoots, The Shakes, and Cold Blast & Steel drew crowds. Bruce Springsteen was a regular. In '76, at a record release party for Southside Johnny and Asbury Juke's first album, Bruce Srpingsteen, Ronnie Spector, and Clarence Clemons were on stage with the Jukes.

Original material always was the Stone Pony trademark. In the seventies, cover bands dominated most of the Jersey music scene. The Stone Pony crowd was open to musical innovation and experimentation. And this included New Jersey's most famous musician. In the early eighties, nearly every Sunday for months on end, Bruce Springsteen jammed at the Stone Pony with the house band Cats on a Smooth Surface. Having a musical factory close to home must have been vital to the continuation and expansion of Springsteen's art.

In 1984, with new E Street Band member Patti Scialfa, the Born in the USA tour kicked off at the Stone Pony. With the resounding popularity of Born in the USA, hordes of autograph seekers kept Springsteen out of the Stone Pony. In the late eighties he returned, even to the point of jamming there two Sundays in a row in the Summer of '87.

But soon after this, the Stone Pony spell was almost broken. Even Springsteen, known for his personal generosity, refused a request to become involved in a save the Stone Pony benefit. Bruce diagnosed the club's condition as terminal. In '91, one day after Bruce, Steve Van Zandt, Jon Bon Jovi, and Southside Johnny and the Jukes filmed a TV special, the Stone Pony shut its doors. Reportedly, drunk-driving lawsuits bankrupted the club.

In '92 a local Asbury Park businessman without music experience bought the Stone Pony. The new owner tried various formats without success. Physical deterioration of the premises accelerated. The Stone Pony closed again in '98.

The Stone Pony
913 Ocean Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ

A retooled Stone Pony leads the musical charge.

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