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Saxophonist Eddie Manion: 'I'm in a very fortunate position'

| Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Eddie Manion
Margie Mackrell
Eddie Manion

Eddie Manion has played some of the largest concert venues on the planet with Bruce Springsteen. To celebrate his 65th birthday, the saxophonist and Seven Fields resident will stay close to home with a concert at the Strand Theater in Zelienople. The show will feature an appearance by Joe Grushecky and songs from Manion's 2015 solo album, “Night Life.”

The New Jersey native was an original member of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and has performed or recorded with Diana Ross, Bon Jovi, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Graham Parker and Dave Edmunds. Manion recently recorded an album with Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band.

Question: What was the first show you played?

Answer: I think it was a CYO dance when I was 16. Our band was called the Dark Side. … We played a teen club called Hullabaloo (a chain of clubs) … I lived in Lakewood, N.J., and there was one in Freehold where Bruce (Springsteen) grew up, but we went to the Hullabaloo in Toms River. I'll never forget it because we were playing “Hold On, I'm Coming” and I got a bloody nose right in the middle of it. I couldn't stop bleeding, but we finished the song and won a battle of the bands after I stuffed my nose with cotton.

Q: With the release of “Nightlife” (Manion's first solo album in 2015), it seemed you hit a groove. Is your creativity peaking now?

A: I've been very lucky and fortunate to have the career that I've had. And now I'm just having a lot of fun and recording albums I've wanted to record. I'm not really thinking about sales so much, but trying to document what I sound like as a saxophone player. Tone is the most important thing to me. ... I'm at a point where I can hopefully enjoy the rest of my life, record an album per year, and just have some fun. I'm in a fortunate position.

Q: Have you adapted to living in Pittsburgh after spending most of your life in New Jersey?

A: I moved to Pittsburgh 10 years ago, after I got married. The Pittsburgh music scene is incredible. It gives me an opportunity to do some of the things I like to do. We're trying to start a scene up here in Zelienople at the Strand Theater and doing well with that. This will be my third show here, and it looks like it will be sold out, too. … I've met some great musicians here in Pittsburgh, some of the best in the world.

Q: What's it like to perform with Joe Grushecky?

A: Joe is a great songwriter and I admire him for that. He's like me in that he's not out there trying to sell a million records. … When he has an idea for a song it's from his heart. He's the real deal; he's a real songwriter creating music as a songwriter should.

Q: How do you maintain your level of play? Are you still improving?

A: I've gotten better as a player because I've recorded things that are challenging to me, a little bit out of my realm. By doing that it certainly made me a better player. … The beauty of what I do is I don't think I'll ever retire. It's nice to have something like music to keep you active and keep you learning. I think I listen to more music now than when I was 17. The thing about music is it's always challenging, it's never easy. You really have to work at what you do. For me to play saxophone I have to practice two or three hours a day. It's not something you can put in the case and take out every once in a while. It's physical, too. To play the saxophone you have to be in good shape, you have to have good wind, you have to exercise and be active.

Q: Any new projects?

A: Recently I've been in the studio with Little Steven (Van Zandt). The new single … is “St. Valentine's Day.” He's doing a whole album of songs other artists have done that he wrote. I played baritone sax on every track on the album, and it's set to be released probably in a month or so.

Q: What was it like playing Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa with the E Street Band?

A: That was a little bit of pressure. … It's still one of most exciting 12 minutes of my life. You really don't think about it too much. When you're there it's a really small stage in a stadium. Compared to some of the shows we've done, it's small in stature and size — we've played Rock in Rio in Brazil to 150,000 people. But when you starting thinking this is on TV and there are so many people watching it, then it gets a little scary.

Details: 724-742-0400 or thestrandtheater.org

Shows of note

Slim Fryday, Feb. 24, Nied's Hotel, Lawrenceville

To kick off the Lenten season (albeit a few days early), Slim Forsythe will host “Slim Fryday” at Nied's Hotel (famous for its fish sandwiches) in Lawrenceville. Forsythe and his bandmates will host an evening of classic country, mountain gospel, honky-tonk and swing music, with special guests Texas Tex & the Honky Tonk Project featuring Pete Freeman, Kevin Karg and Lonesome Bob Chaney. Jane West also will perform. 412-781-9853 or niedshotel.myfastsite.com

Shovels & Rope, Feb. 25, Mr. Small's, Millvale

The husband-and-wife team of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst follow their own muse as Shovels & Rope. Their blend of roots and Americana features traditional harmonizing and songwriting, but is fleshed out with a driving, percussive edge, keening guitars and keyboard flourishes. 412-821-4447 or mrsmalls.com

Tommy Emmanuel, Feb. 26, Byham Theater, Pittsburgh

He's not a household name, but the Australian musician is regarded as one of the premier fingerstyle guitarists. Emmanuel has twice been named best acoustic guitarist by Guitar Player magazine, and is a Kentucky Colonel, the Bluegrass State's highest honor — the fingerstyle method started in Kentucky and was made famous by Merle Travis. 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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