Bobby Bandiera

Sings Like An Angel, Plays Like The Devil

If the success of a performing artist can be calibrated by how much that artist and their music appeals to the common man, it would be no wonder why Jersey-born acts like Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Bon Jovi have exploded through the ceilings of legendary Jersey venues such as The Stone Pony, The Fastlane and The Tradewinds and onto stages fit for kings serving more than 70,000 at a time.

These three stories of success are credited with maintaining their appeal to the blue-collar crowd and honoring the working-class hero. Their credibility is derived from having similar roots, yet their ascension into musical royalty risks widening the gap between the artist and their fans.

Along comes Robin Hood who, with the same amount of greatness and goodness of heart, not only serves as one degree of separation between these three kings and their fan base, but also seeks to give what he himself has to offer.

Bobby Bandiera, the Jersey Shore's best kept secret in rock and roll, is a 19-year veteran of Southside Johnny's band, The Asbury Jukes. He also plays weekly in Jersey clubs as a solo artist and leader of his own Bobby Bandiera Band and has released two albums of his own music.

Internationally, Bobby is recognized as a back-up performer for both Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.

Bobby Bandiera's notoriety, free from the burdens of superstardom, enables him to talk the talk and walk the walk of his local roots. What you will learn about him, in his own words, is how the enjoyment of his art has provided an outlet in which he can help people help others. What you will learn about human nature is that even when life seems cruel and unfair, one should never underestimate the power of good friends and good karma.

When and how did you come to the realization that you wanted music to be what the rest of your life was about?

I had watched The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on Ed Sullivan. I was about ten years old, eleven years old. I had pleaded with my parents for about three years after that, and they finally got me a guitar.

So I guess it's safe to say that The Beatles and The Stones were some of your first musical influences. Who were some of the others?

The usual, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. I say the usual because I relate it to other people my age. You'll hear Bruce talk about who his influences were, and it's all relatable. I'm sure if you ask Jon [Bon Jovi] or Richie Sambora, I'm sure they'll say the same people. I mean, the connection with our age group, seeing stuff like that on TV, the British Invasion and all that. My mother had influenced me quite a bit as well, although I didn't realize it until after I started playing guitar. Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash was playing in my house before I even saw the Beatles. So, I realized later on that I was also influenced by them.

Did you have any formal guitar training of any kind?

I think I took two or three lessons. When I saw what they were going to teach me, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," I said 'hey, forget it lady.' (Laughs.) I wasn't up to going to a regular teacher because of that. And then a friend of mine told me he met an older guy who played the guitar and that he would teach us. So we took lessons from this older guy. He wasn't a music teacher per se, but he was going to teach us what he knew and that's where I went.

So he was like a mentor. Do you still talk to him?

No. I'd like to, it'd be fun to see him. If you're out there, man, come to a show.

Many people outside of the neighborhood know you as Bobby Bandiera, lead guitarist for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and nice-guy guitar great who's played with Bruce Springsteen at many of his charity events, like the 2001 Asbury Park Christmas shows and the 2002 Rumson Country Dayschool fundraiser with Southside Johnny at The Stone Pony. You've also backed Jon Bon Jovi at his 2002 Parker Family Health Clinic benefit at Rumson-Fairhaven High School, the 1998 Jon Bon Jovi and Friends show to benefit the family of slain Long Branch Officer Sergeant Patrick King and participated on his 1997 solo project and tour Destination Anywhere. Do you think that so much involvement with these three Jersey greats has overshadowed your own solo career at all?

I don't think it has. The fact that they came to the forefront of music and I didn't, that's just the way shit happens. Some years back I was pounding the pavement as far as trying to get a deal, trying to get somebody to get behind me, to put out my record. That happens for some guys; and for some others it doesn't happen as quickly. I'm happy making my own records and I do exactly what I want to do as opposed to some record executive who thinks that I should be this style or that image. I enjoy it more being exactly what I want to be.

You've also involved yourself with many charity and benefit shows independent of a Springsteen or Bon Jovi connection. You're the lead guitarist and soloist for the shore-based Charity Orchestra Holiday Express who, during the holiday season, averages about two shows per day. You've contributed to the Special Olympics Very Special Christmas Projects including a role as musical director in 2001. And, next week you'll be playing again at the annual Kate's Foundation Benefit Show at Harry's Roadhouse in Asbury Park to benefit melanoma research. How do you find the time to pursue projects with the Bobby Bandiera Band or write and record your own albums while devoting so much of your time to others?

I enjoy very much being able to help people. I wouldn't give that up. But it does take me away from what I do sometimes. I set out to do a third record some time ago; it does kind of put a damper on me with that, getting it out, getting it right.

Your camaraderie with Southside Johnny seems genuine. In fact, he credits you with having kept him going. What do you enjoy most about working with Johnny and how is working with front men like Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi different?

It's not that much different in that it's about the same art. I like working with Johnny because of the music first of all. There's been a lot of great songs written by Bruce and Steven [Van Zandt] for Johnny that stand the test of time. If the songs are great, you never get tired of playing them. That's a big reason for me to still be involved with Southside. He's also true to the heart, he takes on stage an attitude that is real, not just going up and singing the songs and saying good night. You want to stand up there, and poor your heart out, into what you do.

Bon Jovi's like that, Bruce is like that. That's how it's not so different. And, I like to think of myself as someone who can get up there, and sing a great song, every night, night after night, and not get tired of doing it because the song that was written, by whoever it was, is something you can get behind.

So you feel the songwriting process is a very important factor in live performance?

A lot of times guys with hit songs, a song that's kind of a wishy-washy-written song, I'll feel sad for; they have to get up there and sing that song night after night if it's what's made their career. It's hard to get behind a song that's just not fabulous and powerful from the beginning, whereas guys like Johnny, Bruce, Jon, they have the kind of songs you can get behind. And it's fun to get up on stage and play with guys like that.

You play each week in the Monmouth County area with The Bobby Bandiera Band when you are not touring with The Jukes. Do you prefer rocking your local audience or touring larger venues with Southside Johnny? How do the two differ?

It doesn't matter to me. If you've got seven or eight guys you're playing with or three or four guys that you're playing with, on a big stage or a small one, in Kansas City or in Seabright, it doesn't matter. When I play in places locally, and everyone is happy and excited about seeing me, I'm as thrilled as playing the larger venues with Southside. I couldn't go on my own and fill up the larger venues like Southside can, or fill up an arena like Bon Jovi or Bruce can. I also can't say that an arena full of people jumping up and down is not powerful. It is. Obviously, the more people you have that are exuberant about what you do the more electrifying it becomes. But if it's at the Stone Pony, or any of the other local clubs, and people are excited about what you're doing, it's equally as electrifying just on a smaller scale. There's really not that much difference as far as I see it.

You seem to have really cornered the market on the local scene. You have a large and loyal following in an area that thrives with competition. What kind of advice would you lend to some smaller acts just starting out and what lessons have you learned when it comes to dominating so much of the local attention?

If it's not fun, there's no reason to be doing it. And if the reason why it's not fun is because of the people that you're playing with, then change the people you are playing with. If it's not fun because you're not getting a crowd of people out to see you play, then try and figure out what to do in order to make that happen. I have a few years behind me and an audience built up in those years. I play local, and I'm lucky enough to still have people come out to come and see me. I'd like to see some younger faces (laughs), but I don't play for a younger crowd, and when you're not making records that are played on the radio your music's not reaching the younger crowd, and that's fine. As long as people come out and see me local, I'm having a good time, and I can make a living, I have a great time playing music.

What would you want someone who has never seen The Bobby Bandiera Band before to walk away with after a show?

Just that I take what I do seriously, and right along with that, I'm having fun with it. And when somebody comes to see me play that I've never seen before, I hope that at the end of the night they're shaking my hand walking out the door, you know, saying to me, 'this is great, I've never seen you before, and if I lived here, I'd come and see you all the time.' I like hearing that.

I think that human nature is to like to be appreciated, and when you are appreciated you can't help but like it. Most nights that I play I feel good about being appreciated.

On April 29th, Southside Johnny, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, among others like Gary U.S. Bonds and Norman Nardini, will perform The Hope Concert at Count Basie Theatre. This show is to help fund medical expenses and the ongoing care of your son, Robert Bandiera, Jr. How much of the involvement of these influential friends of yours do you feel you can attribute to good friendship and how much do you feel you can attribute to good karma?

You know, I never would have thought for a second that all of my friends, and people generally, would have been so supportive of this benefit. Over the years I've been as supportive as I can be in trying to help someone that was down and out. I've been approached to do so many benefits, and have done as many as time would allow. I always try to help someone who is down and out, whether I know them personally or not, and I have, over the years.

I'm not saying that I'm owed anything back because I've done it so much, or that I expect anything back, but it must have something to do with karma, because when I have to look at what's going on with this whole concert, well, my friend, who's also co-hosting the show, Tim McLoone has mentioned it. He thinks it's only natural that people have been so supportive because I've always been so supportive when it comes to helping others.

I hope that I've helped people over the years from playing the first note at the beginning of a charity event, to the last note at the end of the night. I think that it's great that I can help people because of what I do. I guess karma does have something to do with it. If I had been, um, less giving over the years, and turned down opportunities to help that I could very well have gotten involved with, again, I guess karma does have something to do with it. I never would have thought of it that way, but Tim kind of put it in that perspective. And I don't want to sound self-serving, that I would ever deserve that people should be so supportive, but it overwhelms me to think, and to feel, and to know, at this point, that they are.

It's unbelievable. I'm overwhelmed, just overwhelmed.

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The Rock 'n' Roll Music Fund is helping to raise money for the ongoing care of Bobby Bandiera's son, Robert Bandiera, Jr. In the event you would like to contribute, please send your donations to:

THE ROCK 'N' ROLL MUSIC FUND, 329 West End Avenue, Long Branch, New Jersey, 07740, USA.

This is a 501(c)3 charity. Any contribution you send in (a check made payable to "The Rock 'n' Roll Music Fund" is preferred) will be acknowledged and will be tax deductible. Make sure you indicate that the contribution is for Robert Bandiera, Jr.

Natasha McGrath

Natasha McGrath is a graduate of Rider University with a degree in Journalism. A web site content developer for an investment firm by day - music enthusiast and cover band connoisseur by night. "NJ being the mecca of cover acts, someone has to let Garden Staters know who's worth the charge at the door. Usually found near the stage ... I'm the one who knows all the words." In addition to writing for Chorus and Verse, Natasha is also Music Writer for