Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers
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Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers


Band Rock Singer/Songwriter


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The best kept secret in music


"Rock's Best Kept Secret"

Rock's best-kept secret

Joe Grushecky: Iron City legend, devoted teacher

By Laurie Ure

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Joe Grushecky recently co-wrote a Grammy-winning song with Bruce Springsteen.

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Music critics place him among the best rock and rollers ever.

Over the past two decades, he's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for all kinds of causes, including headlining a sold-out (in 57 minutes!) "Flood Aid" benefit concert last December in Pittsburgh with his good buddy Bruce Springsteen.

He's a musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, music arranger, recording artist -- and he leads what's been described in top music publications as "one of the best bar bands in America." Moreover, a song he co-wrote with Springsteen recently won a Grammy for best solo rock vocal performance ("Code of Silence").

Do you know him? Probably not.

Here's the lowdown on Pittsburgh's Joe Grushecky.

Grushecky, 56, is a highly acclaimed, almost-famous rock and roller, who, along with his band, "The Houserockers," still fills small and medium-sized nightclubs nationwide. They've also toured overseas a few times in venues packed with appreciative audiences.

But that's just a hobby. His day job involves teaching developmentally disabled, physically disabled and emotionally disturbed kids -- a high burnout career, and he's been doing it for more than 25 years.

Born in Pittsburgh to a musical family, Grushecky's father warned him to get a good education and have something to fall back on if the music gig didn't work out.

Armed with a special-education degree and many postgraduate credits, he works full-time at Pittsburgh's Wesley Highland School with exceptional children who have suffered hard lives at home.

They have severe emotional and mental problems, "everything from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia to post-traumatic stress," he says. "They're really the forgotten kids."

He describes them as "rebellious," with "an anti-authority thing" that he can relate to.

A rough day can involve a child who acts up due to a particularly bad weekend away from the structured environment of the school. "The next thing you know, you're involved in physical restraint with the kid and you're laying on the floor, and they're fighting you and punching you and kicking you and spitting at you."

Despite this, he's "made a lot of friends with these kids," some of whom look to him as a father figure. "It takes years to learn to interact with them appropriately and be able to guide them and help them."

Grushecky is a longtime friend of Bruce Springsteen, seen here with Grushecky's son Johnny.
At the end of the day, Grushecky goes home to his wife, Lee Ann, and his 16-year-old son, Johnny. (Nineteen-year-old daughter Desiree is a college freshman.)

Also waiting in his spare time is his music career.

Despite a lack of stardom or a big hit record, Grushecky hasn't missed a beat. He has a small but still growing devoted fan base, which he describes as "a pretty loyal bunch. I like to think they're a little more intelligent than the average rock fan. It takes a little bit more effort to be a Grushecky fan," he says with a laugh.

His discography is impressive. MCA released Grushecky's first album "Love's So Tough" in 1979 to tremendous critical acclaim. He and his band were then known as the Iron City Houserockers, and the collection was crowned the "debut record of the year" by Rolling Stone.

There was a second album, followed by a third and a fourth, all receiving magnificent reviews from Billboard, Creem, The Village Voice and other influential publications.

Grushecky was practically on fire with excitement. "We were this close to making the big, big time," he says, holding up two fingers an inch apart.

But the band never burst on to the national scene. "The sales never matched the reviews, ever," he says. The record company dropped the group; the band broke up. "It really took the wind out of our sails," Grushecky remembers.

Eventually he re-emerged with the current lineup called Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers and released several more CD's, some as a solo artist, others with the group. The music encompasses the singer's many influences, including blues, roots rock, hard rock, pop, and a hint of country.

The reviews? Great, as usual: "Passionate," "unique blue collar sensibility," "no bulls***."

The sales? Disappointing, confounding those familiar with the music.

Grushecky tries to explain it. "I don't know if the record company didn't know how to market us, or maybe we didn't have all cylinders firing at the same time."

Grushecky did win over one very impressive fan, though. He met Springsteen in New York City in 1980, and "to this day, we're close friends," says Grushecky. And they still collaborate.

Springsteen produced Grushecky's 1995 "American Babylon" CD, and toured on stage with the band for eight days - CNN


1979 Love's So Tough MCA
1980 Cracking Under Pressure MCA
1980 Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive MCA
1981 Blood on the Bricks MCA
1988 Swimming With the Sharks Rounder
1989 Rock & Real Rounder
1992 End of the Century Razor & Tie
1995 American Babylon Razor & Tie
1998 Coming Home Viceroy
1999 Down the Road Apiece Live Schoolhouse
2002 Fingerprints Schoolhouse
2004 True Companion Schoolhouse


Feeling a bit camera shy


As he watched the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans on television, Joe Grushecky felt sad about the lives lost. He felt empathy for the survivors whose hopes and dreams were at best deferred and in most cases shattered. Empathy because just a year earlier Grushecky saw first hand what can happen when nature reminds us just how fragile life can be.

In September 2004, the Pittsburgh area was inundated by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan. Joe’s friends and co-workers were among the many people who suffered damage to their homes and property. Grushecky’s roadie lost his car. He got off light.

Many in the flooded neighborhoods had several feet of water in their basements. In Pittsburgh, where winter comes early, this presented a new set of problems for the stricken locals. They needed new furnaces to heat their homes and they needed them quickly.

The Salvation Army organized a program to make this happen but the program needed funding. Grushecky stepped in and organized “Flood Aid.”
Bruce Springsteen joined his friend Grushecky at the early December concert which raised over $250'000 for the Salvation Army’s flood relief efforts.

Sitting comfortably in his living room a thousand miles from the deluge and fury Katrina visited upon New Orleans Joe Grushecky felt helpless. The more he saw on television the angrier he became. Frustration with the inept handling of the recovery by our government got Grushecky’s blood boiling.

When he couldn’t bear to watch the news anymore, Grushecky picked up his guitar. The words came easily.

When Grushecky sings the pointed lyrics his voice seethes with the anger he felt earlier. It sounds as if he were ready to explode at any minute. The song is called “Lake Pontchartrain.”

“Praying for someone to save us
Someone to tell us the truth

I’m gonna cry for Louisiana
Gonna cry for New Orleans
They said the water is rising
On Lake Pontchartrain”

©2005 Joe Grushecky Music Publishing

A Pittsburgh native and lifelong resident, Joe Grushecky recently celebrated his 25th anniversary as a recording artist with the release of a new album, True Companion.

With the backing of his longtime band the Houserockers, Grushecky’s songs turn into gritty blue collar anthems with a unique Pittsburgh perspective.

In 1995, Grushecky joined songwriting forces with Bruce Springsteen. The fruits of their labor included American Babylon, a Grushecky and the Houserockers album produced by Springsteen which included a couple of tracks co-written by Grushecky and Springsteen. “Code Of Silence,” which won a Grammy this year is another Springsteen/Grushecky collaboration turned. It is included on up on The Essential Bruce Springsteen which was released in 2003.

Grushecky and the Houserockers have released a dozen albums since 1979. They were the first band to perform live at the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and have toured the U.S. and Europe extensively. They have often been called, “the world's greatest bar band.”