Sax Player Eddie Manion ‘Coastin’ In’ to Album Release Concert Event at The Strand

Eddie Manion on the sax.

Eddie Manion on the sax.

There are many talented musicians in Pittsburgh who have lived, or are living the rock ‘n’ roll life. One interesting person who has is saxophonist Eddie “Kingfish” Manion. Manion was born and raised in Lakehurst, New Jersey, about an hour and a half from New York City, and about half an hour from Asbury Park. Manion was a founding member of the legendary Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He has also recorded and toured with Bruce Springsteen, including on the Tunnel of Love, Wrecking Ball, and High Hopes albums and tours, as well as the album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and the related tour. Most recently he was the horn director and arranger for Little Steven (Stevie Van Zandt) and the Disciples of Soul. And if all that is not enough, Manion has also worked with Diana Ross, Robert Cray, Gary U.S. Bonds, and Willy DeVille.

Manion is also an accomplished solo artist who is having an album release concert event for his latest LP, Coastin’ In, Friday, May 27 at the Strand Theater in Zelienople. All ticket holders attending the release party will receive a free CD at the door.

Manion now lives in Mars, Pennsylvania. I asked him what drew a guy from Jersey to the Pittsburgh area. During a phone interview he recounted that he was touring with Southside Johnny in 2000, his second stint with the band, when he met a woman at a Pittsburgh club where the band was playing. Their relationship blossomed over eight years and led to marriage. Hence, Jersey guy Manion lives in the Pittsburgh area. He received a good indoctrination to Pittsburgh rock while playing some concerts with Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers, including Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial Bash at Heinz History Center in 2016.

Coastin’ In

“The pandemic started in March of 2020 so I was completely out of work and I was wondering, well, what can I do during the pandemic. So like a million other musicians, I thought the best thing I could do is create a new album. Take my time, I had the time. So, I spent two years recording the album,” Manion said.”

Manion continued, “Half the album I recorded in New Jersey with the rhythm section from The Disciples of Soul. I used Marc Ribler (guitar), Jack Daley (bass), and Rich Mercurio (drums). After recording three albums with Steven, it was a no-brainer using them. It made things a lot easier. I write out all the charts before I go into the studio. I like to write it down musically in notations first and then that makes the session go a lot faster, and then use their input to change things and put their own stamp on everything. For eight songs I used that rhythm section and Mark Ribler and Jack Dailey wound up mixing the record finally in the end.” Manion said those songs were recorded at Shorefire Studios with Joe DeMaio as engineer. Andy Burton also contributed to many of those eight songs on keyboards, piano, and organ tracks.

The other five songs on the album, which were recorded in Pittsburgh, Manion said, were done at The Vault Recording Studio on Neville Island. Jimmy Hoyson did the engineering and it’s where Manion did the preliminary mixing work with Hoyson, and sax, overdubs, and solos. He mentioned that Hoyson is very talented and the studio was great to utilize and is owned by Bob McCutcheon.

Manion mentioned that the five songs recorded at The Vault Studio are more jazz-oriented. “I used some of the best jazz/R&B/Blues musicians in Pittsburgh. I used Paul Thompson on bass…on guitar I used Mark Strickland.” Other local musicians who contributed to the Pittsburgh-recorded tracks on Coastin’ In include Thomas Wendt (drums), Clifford Barnes (B3 organ), and Rick Gallagher (piano). Manion plays both tenor and baritone sax on the album. The album is being released and marketed through Manion’s new record label, Kingfish Mars Records, LLC.

I previewed a few tracks from the instrumental album Coastin’ In. The title track lets you know right away that it’s going to be a fun, flowing, sax romp. It features strong guitar, bass, piano, and drums, with each getting their moment to shine. Manion’s beautiful sax playing is prominent throughout the song. It’s an original song by Manion. The album features several well-known classics that were recorded with Manion’s treatments. They include “God Only Knows,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Spooky,” “Roll With It” (with some of Junior Walker’s “I’m a Road Runner” fused into the song), and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”

Other songs on the album have a strong personal connection to Manion. His mother, who passed away just a few years ago, was a strong and loving influence on him. When I asked him how he started playing saxophone, he said that his mom bought him his first sax and that the album and the song “If” are dedicated to her.

The album has a bonus track too, “The Lights Are on at Old St. John’s,” which sees Manion singing. It’s a Christmas song about the church next door to the house where he was born and the Irish immigrant railroad workers in his family who helped build the church and are buried in its graveyard.

Sax Education

Manion said some of his saxophone influences were Junior Walker and King Curtis. He continued, “I really grew up with a lot of the honkers and screamers from the ‘50s. Sax players like Red Prysock and Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor. Taylor had a big song ‘Harlem Nocturne’ and an album Blue Mist and More Blue Mist. It’s funny though, about four years ago my babysitter from when I was five years old came to a show and said she used to play Taylor’s Blue Mist and More Blue Mist; they were the only things that would calm me down. I think it really stuck in my head and years later I ended up playing the saxophone.” Manion said he will open the album release concert with “Harlem Nocturne.”

I asked Manion what he felt about the saxophone as a lead instrument. He said, “It’s fantastic, that’s why my albums are completely instrumental. My sax is the lead instrument. That’s the way it was in the ‘50s then all these guitar players came along and messed it all up (jokingly). There used to be a sax solo in every song, every song.” He continued, “Saxophonists as an instrumentalist really started rock and roll. If you go back to the ‘40s and you go back to Lionel Hampton’s band, there was a song made famous by Illinois Jacquet called ‘Flying Home.’ That was like the first ‘balls-to-the wall’ sax instrumental that really made the rock and roll sound happen. It doesn’t get that much credit, but I think ‘Flying Home’ from Illinois Jacquet had a lot to do with forming the roots of rock and roll. Then in the ‘50s you had songs like ‘Honky Tonk’ by Bill Doggett. He was an organ player, but he had an instrumental song called ‘Honky Tonk.’ People would go crazy over instrumental sax. And I’m bringing it back!”

You can see Eddie Manion and his select group of top musicians perform his Coastin’ In album and other popular favorites live at the Strand Theater on Friday, May 27 at 7:30 p.m. There will also be several patriotic songs and elements to this Memorial Day weekend kickoff celebration. Dennis McCurdy and The No More Trio open. The Strand Theater is located at 119 North Main Street, Zelienople.

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.