The Iron City Houserockers come from Pittsburgh (surprise), and their debut album is strong, passionate and a little desperate.  This is hard rock with force, but there's no macho in it.  Lead singer and guitarist Joe Grushecky pursues romance without pretending he doesn't need or doesn't want love as his reward; the Houserockers' music is sexy but dispenses with the distancing bravado we've come to expect from guitar-based groups.  It's a yearning for male-female simpatico — a quality you can hear in the odd Southside Johnny track, the quality that in Peter Wolf's voice always emerges from a context of defeat—that the Houserockers mean to put across.

They do, too.  Fred Goodman's "Hideaway" ("Forget about your husband/I'll forget about my wife") is so drenched in hopeless lust you're half-convinced the singer and his lover will  never get together, but it may not matter: the fantasy is so insistent it contains its own consummation.  The musicians push a good hook—a high, ragged guitar line—that keeps the simple tune and the simple concept kicking.  This is rough, bar band stuff, and you wish you were in the bar.

The remaining eight numbers were written or co-written (with other Houserockers) by Grushecky, and though the titles pretty well sum up their themes — "I Can't Take It," "Turn It Up," "Stay with Me Tonight"—the vulnerability of Grushecky's singing and the piano-and-harp lyricism of the band is anything but ordinary.  "Dance with Me" stands out.  It begins with a snatch of harmonica tinny enough for an early-Sixties Dylan LP, and then moves into guitar and drums that actually call up memories of the Rolling Stones' still-incredible "Tell Me." Grushecky, pitching his voice to every boom and ringing chord, traces the story:

Frankie's always bustling
To make Sheila his steady girl.
One day Frankie hit the numbers
Hundred dollars on nine-nine-four:
Frankie called up Sheila
Pleadin' for one last chance.
"Baby, let me take you down.
Do you wanna dance?"

There's something very corny, very rich and very mysterious about these lines.  An enormous amount seems to ride on them: Grushecky sings as if Frankie and Sheila are going to die in a car crash before the next verse is out.  You wonder: How old are Frankie and Sheila—eighteen?  Thirty? Why is Frankie hooked on someone so cold, and why is Sheila so cold? Why is there such a sense of struggle in this story?  Bruce Springsteen makes you ask such questions about the characters in his songs.  Here, so do the Houserockers. Most bands have never thought of trying.

Besides Joe Grushecky, the Iron City Houserockers are Ned E. Rankin, drums; Gil Snyder, keyboards; Art Nardini, bass; Gary Scalese, guitar; and Marc Reisman, harmonica.  They've made one of the least polished first albums I've heard in the last year, and one of the best.  With luck, they might fill part of the gap left by Lynyrd Skynyrd; they might even help bury the rotting corpse that outfits like Journey, the Doobie Brothers and the Knack have made of mainstream rock & roll. Without luck, the Houserockers may not even get a chance to cut a second LP—they offer no frills.  I hope they're around for a long, long time.

Rolling Stone (Sep 6, 1979) - Greil Marcus


New American classic

The Iron City Houserockers' second album is amazing: a blunt, bitter, often overpowering story about how it feels to grow up blue-collar and desperate in America. It's tale that few rock & rollers have even tried to tell, and usually those that have did it by revisiting the scene artistically after having escaped it in life.  But the Houserockers, six working-class musicians from Pittsburgh, are still caught, and their honest, passionate message is that escape is no longer an option. If you want to get out, you'll have to fight.  And even then, the best you can hope for is a draw.

Have a Good Time (but Get Out Alive) is rooted not only in the streets but in the factories, bars and cheap homes of a steel-mill city. The Houserockers' lyrics are charged with a gritty specificity that creates an entire living world piece by piece: nothing feels left out, nothing is glossed over.  Though chief writer Joe Grushecky clearly identifies with his audience more closely than any rocker this side of the Clash, he also sees himself, quite self-consciously, as its spokesman – maybe its only one. He wants to memorialize these beaten-down lives, but he wants to change them, too, and realizes that his own rage will be worthless unless he can get others to feel it. Grushecky is keenly aware that the things you do to run away from the trap are part of the trap, and for all his anger, his tone is often cautionary: "If you can't be a man/You better be one of the boys" is his last word on Jimmy the rocker in "Pumping Iron."  In the title track, a teenager wakes up in the drunk tank. where a derelict warns him: "Boy, you better wipe off that stupid grin/And learn something while you still can."

But the pressures, dangers and occasional exhilarations of this life come through most directly in the music itself.  Soaring lead-guitar lines are abruptly choked back by the rhythm section.  There's an edge of fear in Mare Reisman's wailing harmonica.  Gil Snyder's piano barely misses being dragged under by the beat.  It's pure urban R&B, laced with menace (the reference to Chicago bluesman Hound Dog Taylor's Houserockers may be accidental, but it's perfectly appropriate), and the closest thing yet to a northern equivalent of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Characters, lines and situations recur from song to song, and even when the connections aren't explicit, they're still there.  You sense that the cocky kid who lands in jail in the title tune is the same kid who loses his girl in "Price of Love," finds a new one in "Angela" (the LP's lone happy number, and the only cut in which the music breaks free) and ends up hunting in vain for a one-night stand in "Junior's Bar."  The style may be derived from Bruce Springsteen, but it's more likely that lives like these are what inspired Springsteen in the first place: i.e., the Iron City Houserockers take for granted a credibility that Springsteen has to strive for.

The contrast between "Old Man Bar" and "Junior's Bar" works because the Houserockers make it clear that while the music may be different, the underlying emotions aren't–the kids at Junior's will wind up at the Dom someday without noticing that anything's changed.  Similarly, the put-down in "Blondie" is something that a less-committed band could never have managed.  Lines like "Now they're playing your songs in all those places/That won't let me and Angela in" cut too painfully to be denied.

Toward the end of the album, the teenage hero is on the run, the victim of a robbery he committed: Huck Finn with a price on his head and no real territory to light out for.  "Runnin' Scared" is the grim, logical conclusion to the story.  But then, to close the LP, the singer steps forward and speaks in his own voice – about blown gigs, about the kids who keep coming back night after night, about having to go to work the next day.  "Rock Ola" is somber and elegiac, its lyrics implying endurance even as they admit defeat.  "Rock-ola. Rock-ola." Joe Grushecky whispers.  "No one can ever know how much it means to me."

You'd be flattering yourself if you contradicted him.

Rolling Stone (Aug 21, 1980) -
Tom Carson

* * * * * *

Iron City Houserockers: Pure Steel

Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) proves the Iron City Houserockers are the best hard rock band in the country. They remain almost completely unknown, because their kind of music isn't fashionable (it never has been fashionable), because they've played few gigs much beyond their hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and because Pittsburgh-famed in song (Chuck Berry mentions it in "Sweet Little 16"), story (give me a minute), and the annals of the NFL, the National League, and urban-renewal agencies-is just barely on the rock & roll map. I asked a friend who grew up there to name the famous groups from the city. "Well, the Skyliners," he said. "And, I think the Steelers had a band once..." Les Blank is in town right now, shooting a film-about a polka festival.

Love's So Tough, the Houserockers' 1979 debut LP, was a fine record: impassioned and desperate and loud, it would have made good soundtrack music for Blue Collar. The music was blues-based, like J. Geils or early Bob Seger, and a lot more serious. On Have a Good Time, the rhythm section has a new confidence; the addition of Eddie Britt on guitar has given the lead work a real daring. Again and again, songs blow up in your face without missing a beat; changes come with impossible force, piano and harp and guitar all running across Joe Grushecky's vocals; tunes snap with the momentum of the damned fleeing their fate and then turning around with they run into it. There's as deep a sense of pressure-of impending defeat or , worse, surrender-in the Houserockers' music as in anything Jamaica has produced, and none of Jamaica's subtlety. The sound is pounded out, or draped over melodramatic ballads, and when Grushecky has something to say, he shouts or mourns.

The story the Houserockers tell is not exactly autobiography, presumably, but it's presented as a possible biography for anyone in the band. The man who's speaking is somewhere in his mid-twenties, white, working-class, with a job in a steel mill; he's worn down, not ready to give up, and afraid he soon will be. He switches off between class pride ("don't be ashamed of the places you've been"), iron ("if you can't be a man/you better be one of the boys"), fury ("this town's been dying since the day I was born/shop's all boarded up and houses lying in ruin"), and apathy. He's got a girlfriend named Angela, and both of them are hung up on Blondie. he spends his nights in a smalltime band that plays bars or in his local bar trying to pick up girls and watching smalltime bands.

The story is sometimes corny, but it's never arty.  It begins with clichés, and takes its energy from their transformation. Sentimentality is risked; a flat statement of the facts, backed up by emotional conviction, usually drives it away.  The Houserockers have only their self-pity to romanticize, and they know it.

Romanticism is what they're fighting off. "We're Not Dead Yet" is a slashing, exhilarating denunciation of the city. Grushecky hardly pauses over the end of the first verse, careens into the chorus, and as he picks up the next verse the band comes in chanting like the Read Army Chorus and pushes him past himself.  It's bitterness distilled into vinegar and political "Hound Dog" or a Pittsburgh "London Calling" without the trendy intimations of Armageddon.  And when has pop culture produced a negation of its own fantasies so unsettling as "Blondie?" the singer cuts her picture out of the paper, goes to work tired because he stayed up late to watch The Midnight Special, spends half his pay on a ticket.  "My girlfriend Angela idolized you," he says.  "She bought a dress just like yours...Now they're playing your song in all those places/that won't let Angela and me in."  So he puts his fist through his TV set-or wishes he could. Or wishes he didn't still want Angela to wear her Blondie dress.

Have a Good Time is the strongest album and American band has made this year, and when the year ends the word "American" may come off. It's the sort of mainstream rock the mainstream has never been able to stomach.  Within its story, rock itself is just another part of the landscape, just another character like Angela, Deborah Harry, the TV, Junior's Bar for the young, and Dom's Cafe for the old men. rock is a gift that turns into a cheat, a chance to escape, a means of telling the truth, and a way to feel clean when the chance fails, when the truth is revealed as nothing more than what's obvious to everyone.

The Village Voice (July 9, 1980) - Greil Marcus


REAGONOMICS, THE new recession and the ever-worsening plight of the little guy' are finally getting to the Iron City Houserockers.  On 1980's stirring Have a Good Time (but Get Out Alive!), the Houserockers' smokestack lightning and singer Joe Grushecky's lyrical muscle knocked the romantic stuffing out of pop's generally sentimental portraits of working-class life.  The key word was escape.  In contrast, Blood on the Bricks, this Pittsburgh beer-blues-and-union band's third album, is a gripping document of poignant bitter resignation.  Song titles like "No Easy Way Out" and "This Time the Night (Won't Save Us) say it all.

For Grushecky, there's not much difference between the Vietnam vet who goes crackers and ends up in a mental hospital in "Saints and Sinners" and the unemployed steelworker of "Watch Out," who smolders with frustration at home in front of the TV.  Even weekend party therapy and true love add up to dead ends in the dramatic title track.  Here, Grushecky tells the story of one young tough's slip into the abyss ("She was tired of the games he played/She didn't want to be there when he finally threw his life away"), while Marc Reisman's harmonica snarls and the group thrashes out gritty, barroom rock & roll.

Ironically, producer Steve Cropper - whose classic Memphis session work was a direct inspiration for the Houserockers - has taken some of the rowdy edges off the band's brawling J. Geils - cum- Asbury Jukes sound.  But studio cosmetics can't mask the deep frustration and anger at the heart of Blood on the Bricks.  For those of you ruled by a time clock, this record will make you want to punch back.

Rolling Stone (Feb 4, 1982) - 3 1/2 stars - David Fricke

* * * * * *

The Iron City Houserockers are still looking for a popular audience.  Their previous albums, "Love's So Tough" and "Have A Good Time But...Get Out alive," may have been a little to tough for some people.  Joe Grushecky, the Houserockers' lead singer and principal songwriter, writes unflinchingly about the blue-collar experience.  Unlike his peers in chart-topping hard-rock teen bands such as Van Halen, there's no room in his vocabulary for hackneyed prose about escape in the back seat of a car.  Grushecky draws his inspiration from the street.

His writing on the Houserockrers' new album, "Blood On The Bricks," is like an exposed nerve.  The music is raw, and the lyrics ring of truth.  Grushecky looks around himself to find that most of his friends have just about had it-they're fat, drink beer and have no drive.  But Grushecky knows that he's struggling, too.

The Houserockers learned to play Chuck Berry the same time that Petty and Seger and Springsteen did.  Only those guys are living the Dream.

There are two kinds of working class people in the Houserockers' native Pittsburgh, Pa.  Those who give up, and those who don't.  The protagonist in "Blood On The Bricks" is basically the same character depicted on "Have A Good Time."  He's older now, somewhere in his late twenties; his job in the steel mill is going nowhere.  He is trapped, and he wants out.

"Friday Night" begins the album.  The music is impassioned, the keyboard work of Gil Snyder lending the track much of its distinction.  Washing the dirt off his hands after a week at the mill, Grushecky exults, "Tonight I feel free again/I feel like I can breathe again."  At the local bar to see his favorite band, he sings: "It's all I want to live for/It's all that I could hope for." 

"Saints And Sinners." the centerpiece of the first side, bristles with energy.  The pulsing rhythm section of Art Nardini (bass) and Ned Rankin (drums) cuts through the mesh of Marc Reisman's blues harmonica and Eddie Britt's slashing guitar as Grushecky chronicles the fat of a Vietnam vet who takes his family hostage, and a friend whose life is shattered by drugs.  The song is strikingly sung, and Grushecky's imagery of the vet who came home "with eyes that never closed" is devastating.

They sustain the intensity on "This Time The Night (Won't Save Us)."  The incisive rhythmic arrangement breeds a ringing guitar solo by Steve Cropper, who turns in his finest production effort in years.  The sound is crisp and less dense than their earlier efforts.  "Be My Friend" provides a nice contrast to the faster numbers.  Grushecky knows how to affect without sounding bloated: over a blue-sounding accordion, he communicates his deepest desire: "Before I met you I was more dead than alive/Stay together and somehow we'll survive." 

"No Easy Way Out," which sets up the second side, is more than the standard treatment of the blue-collar rut.  The music careens as the protagonist, lying awake, unable to sleep, decides to make his play.  "No More Loneliness" finds him with a new confidence in his Coupe DeVille, celebrating his "love that'll last forever," his "walking talking dream come true."

"Watch Out" hits close to home.  A candidate's (false) promises to the electorate is more of an ode to the group's former management company.  In an acridly insinuating voice, Grushecky snarls, "Watch out what you say/Watch out what you do/There's a man with a tie/Waiting to get his hooks in you." 

"Blood On The Bricks," the album's epic, points to Grushecky's rise from a promising artist to a great one.  He creates a vivid topography of a poor young tough, "hanging on a thread, fighting for a chance," who cuts his veins with a knife to immortalize his baby's name in "blood on the bricks."  That she isn't around in the morning is Grushecky's lament in "A Fool's Advice," the searing closing track.  Britt's guitar explodes against a backdrop of horns recalling no-frills Memphis r&b.  "I had it all but I let it slip away," the singer shouts.  "Never listen to a fool's advice."

Billboard (Nov 7, 1981) - Leo Sacks


Cracking Under Pressure was the Iron City Houserockers' fourth and final album under the moniker (changed slightly) and also their final album released under MCA.  Veterans Ned E. Rankin and Marc Reisman had left the band and in their place was heavy keyboards and synthesizers, as was the style at the time.  Also unlike previous albums, Cracking Under Pressure included several cover songs: "Loving Cup" by Earth Quake and "Hit the Road Jack" by Percy Mayfield.  The songs "Angels," "Cracking Under Pressure," and "There'll Never be Enough Time" have appeared on several later compilations, most of the rest of this album is absent from later CDs and live shows.  The band was dropped from MCA Records two days after the album was released, and six months after that - in June of 1984 - the band broke up.  The album has never been issued on CD.

- Source Material from


The Best of the Iron City Houserockers is a compilation album by the Iron City Houserockers.  Released in 1992 under Rhino Records, it was at that time the only Iron City Houserockers material available on compact disc (Love's So Tough and Have a Good Time but Get out Alive! would not be reissued on CD for another seven years after this compilation appeared).  The disc covers all four of the Iron City Houserockers albums from the late seventies and early eighties and places them in chronological order with a few extra tracks thrown in to make it a worthy buy for collectors.  Tracks 1-5 were taken from Love's So Tough, with "School Days," a Chuck Berry cover, being an unreleased outtake from that album.  Tracks 6-11 were taken from Have a Good Time but Get out Alive!, but with a different version of "Junior's Bar" than the original album contained.  Tracks 12-15 were taken from Blood on the Bricks, tracks 16-17 from Cracking Under Pressure and "Goodbye Steeltown," a Joe Grushecky single released in August of 1984 (after the band had broken up), was included as the final song.  The songs were remastered for compact disc by Bill Inglot.

- Source Material from