Iron City Houserockers
Have a Good Time, But Get Out Alive
I remember when Have a Good Time, But Get Out Alive came out. It got a lot of buzz in the press and I’m not sure if that helped or hurt. The Iron City Houserockers emerged as Springsteen mania was taking off. They got lumped in with other 2nd string Springsteens like Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The buzz didn’t move albums and they tried rebranding themselves as the Houserocker and later Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers. The big time eluded, Grushecky. He’s still playing shows and making records (and writing songs with his buddy Bruce).
On paper, Have a Good Time was a slam dunk. The Iron City Houserockers were playing energetic, blue collar, garage rock. Grushecky’s songs deal with working stiffs keeping their passions alive while dealing with day jobs and financial pressure. Young, defiant men and women living and working in the meaner parts of Pittsburgh populate these songs. Springsteen and Bob Seger scored big with these kind of songs. How can they lose?
Sometimes, great records get made and the stars just don’t align. Songs like “Pumping Iron” and “Don’t Let Them Push You Around,” are fist-pumping anthems of youthful defiance. The recklessness is tempered by occasional reality checks. On the title track, Joe sings; “When Bobby was involved in a senseless fight He woke up in jail with a broken old man The old man was staring down at him He said, “Boy you better wipe off that stupid grin And learn something now while you still can.”
The yin and yang of the working man’s life are on full display on “Old Man Bar” and “Junior’s Bar.” It’s like walking down the block outside the factories and steel mills. After work, the young bucks swagger into Junior’s Bar to blow off stream and pick up chicks. On the other corner is Dom’s Café, where the old men go to share memories and drink cheap beer. The heart and soul of this record are contained in these two songs.
It’s worth mentioning that Have a Good Time had an all star production team, Mick Ronson (Bowie), Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople), Little Steven Van Zandt (E Street Band, Asbury Jukes) and the Slimmer Twins all had a hand in shaping the sound of the record. You can sort of tell who took lead behind the board. “Blondie,” “Not Dead Yet,” and “Pumping Iron,” have the gritty, primal rock and roll sound Little Steven champions on his Underground Garage radio show. “Price of Love” has a strong, “All the Young Dudes” vibe. “Rock Ola” and “Old Man Bar” are carefully arranged classics. While the production works, it reflects that the record company didn’t really know what to do with the Houserockers. Should we sell them as Bruce Jr., classic rock, maybe Pittsburgh punk?
This reissue includes a second disc of demos and alternate takes. It’s cool to hear how songs evolved. “Don’t Let Then Push You Around,” has a looser, slightly funky feel in the demo. You can hear that a lot of the tunes were fairly well worked out and were just refined a bit for the album. “Rooster Blues” and “Do Wah Ditty” give a feel for what the Houserockers probably sounded like down at the pub.
Joe Grushecky was interviewed once on CNN in a segment called “Almost Famous.” They talked to him about his close call with fame and about the music he still records. The story spent an equal amount of time on Joe’s day job. When he’s not out rocking, he’s been teaching special needs students. So yeah, Joe Grushecky isn’t a golden god with a mansion and a Maserati, but he’s still rockin’ and fighting the good fight.