History of the Stone Pony Recorded in New Book

I Don’t Want To Go Home, The Oral History of the Stone Pony, was released in early June. New Jersey native Nick Corasaniti explores the history of the venue and the surrounding community. Complete with a foreword from Bruce Springsteen, Oral History of the Stone Pony documents the community’s resilience in the face of ruin.

In 1974, Asbury Park’s future was uncertain. Recovering from a riot and facing ruin, the Stone Pony offered the gleam of hope the town needed. Bouncers Jack Roig and Butch Pielka, underprepared and minimally funded, were determined to own their own venue. Soon, Bruce Springsteen called the Stone Pony Home. Despite success in attracting notable artists like Stevie Van Zandt, “Southside” Johnny Lyon, and Springsteen, the Stone Pony struggled to get by.

The history of the Stone Pony is emblematic of American life: dogged resistance and big reams, all in the face of decline and neglect. Corasaniti’s insight as a lifelong New Jersian is boosted by his experience as the New York Times’ Jersey correspondent. Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt, Southside Johnny, members of the E Street Band and Asbury Jukes, the Ramones, the Jonas Brothers, Pearl Jam, the Kinks, Tom Morello, Kenny Chesney, Jack Antonoff, The Gaslight Anthem, the Bouncing Souls, the Lumineers, Russell Crowe and other legendary musicians have featured interviews. Non-musicians associated with the history of the Stone Pony, including bouncers, bartenders, local bon vivants and politicos, including Govs. Chris Christie and Phil Murphy, are also featured.

The book has already received critical praise: Kirkus Reviews described it as a work with, “charming bits of Springsteen-iana… [with the] theme of a community stubbornly determined to survive amid adversity.” Booklist says the book promises a, “stirring tale of rock ‘n’ roll survival.”

Umphrey’s McGee at The Stone Pony, 2018 – photo by Capacity Images, Chris Capaci

It is difficult to overstate The Stone Pony’s role in rock ‘n’ roll history. During the 70s, Ocean Grove resident Johnny Lyon and Middletown’s Steve Van Zandt named their band for the Pony. With soulful, classic, and horn driven R&B music, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes played the Stone Pony three nights a week. Van Zandt would leave the group to play with Bruce Springsteen and the new version of the E Street Band. Salty Dog, Stir Crazy, Winfield, Holme, Salvation, Mad Dog and the Shakes (featuring local legend and former E Street drummer Vini Lopez), The Shots, Cold Blast & Steel, Cahoots and Acme Boogie Company all played the Stone Pony during the 70s.

The 80s brought a new wave of rock and dance music to the Pony.  Legendary performances included stars on the way up such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, Cheap Trick, Skid Row, Blondie, The Stray Cats and Winger. Other artists who took to the Pony stage included Meatloaf, Todd Rundgren, Jimmy Cliff, Joan Jett, Blue Oyster Cult, Gregg Allman, Dickie Betts, Ace Frehley of Kiss, Levon Helm, Robert Gordon, Johnny Winter, Vanilla Fudge, David Johansen (a.k.a. Buster Poindexter), Mink DeVille, Dion, Ronnie Spector and Mountain. Van Morrison used the club for the shooting of a music video because of its “cool atmosphere.”

The Stone Pony hit a slump in the late 80s and early 90s. With insurance prices and other expenses rising, the Stone Pony came close to ruin. Steven Nasar bought the venue in bankruptcy court, and planned to make it into a dance club. In 2000, Jersey City restaurant owner Domenic Santana promised the Pony would be open by Memorial Day in a press conference.

Credit: Michael Dinger; The Pretenders playing at the Stone Pony

Santana renovated the Stone Pony, adding a permanent exhibition of art and artifacts from the history of the city and the venue itself. With a new state of the art lighting and sound equipment, redesign of the outside Stone Pony Landing area, tenting and a small food facility, the venue was ready to retake its rightful place in popular culture.

Artists did not abandon the Stone Pony: The Pretenders, The Strokes, Interpol, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Patti Smith, Jason Mraz, Third Eye Blind, Sean Ono Lennon, Clarence Clemons, The Wailers, The Backseat Lovers, Indigo Girls, and Ziggy Marley among many others have continued to play at the Stone Pony. New Jersey native musicians continue to play the Stone Pony, and pay tribute to their roots, including Grateful Dead Tribute Band JRAD. The community’s resilience in the face of difficulty is remarkable, and a testament to the strength of music.

In celebration of their 50th anniversary, The Stone Pony is hosting a summer series, more information is available here.

The book is available for purchase here, and a CNN report on a the Stone Pony’s history is below.

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