Pittsburgh native Joe Grushecky burst onto the national music scene in 1979 as leader of the Iron City Houserockers. Their debut album on MCA Records, 1979’s Love’s So Tough, conjured an authentic blue-collar milieu and recalled a harder-edged E Street Band. The band upped their game with follow-up release Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive! in 1980. Now, that bar-band classic is returning to print in a newly expanded edition adding a second disc with 16 previously unreleased tracks including demos and rarities. The 40th anniversary edition of Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive! arrives from the reactivated Cleveland International Records label on May 22 digitally, and June 19 for CD and vinyl formats.
Cleveland International founder Steve Popovich Sr. knew a good thing when he heard it. He signed The Iron City Houserockers (then known as the Brick City Band) to his firm and netted them the deal with MCA. Love’s So Tough earned the newly-christened band plaudits from Rolling Stone and The New York Times as well as slots onstage with artists including Meat Loaf, The J. Geils Band (with whom they shared some influences), Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop. For their next album, the band sought a more expansive sound. Lead singer-songwriter-guitarist Grushecky, bassist Art Nardini, keyboardist Gil Snyder, drummer Ned E. Rankin, harmonica player Marc Reisman, and new guitarist Eddie Britt (replacing Gary Scalese, who had injured his hand following the first album) were joined for sessions by co-producers The Slimmer Twins (a.k.a. Popovich and Marty Mooney) as well as Mick Ronson, Steven Van Zandt, and Ian Hunter.
Mick Ronson played piano on “Rock Ola” and mandolin on “Old Man Bar” while Ian Hunter produced and arranged “Hypnotized” as well as arranging “We’re Not Dead Yet.” The uncredited Van Zandt, fresh off production work for Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes and then co-producing and recording with Bruce Springsteen forThe River, reportedly produced and arranged five tracks (“Junior’s Bar,” “Angela,” “Running Scared,” “Blondie,” and “Don’t Let Them Push You Around”) in addition to playing lead guitar on “Junior’s Bar.” Joe Grushecky wrote or co-wrote all but one of the album’s tracks, and the participation of such heavy hitters inspired him and the band to deliver a strong LP that melded the Houserockers’ roots in Chicago blues and classic rock ‘n soul with new wave, punk, and hard rock flourishes.
In the press release for the upcoming edition, Grushecky notes of Van Zandt, “Steve was great with arranging. He gave invaluable input and ideas to the band.” He also recalls that longtime collaborators and David Bowie associates Hunter and Ronson were down to earth despite their rock star status: “They were salt of the earth guys and they were a team. You could tell the strong affection they had for each other. It was an honor for me to work with both of them. I’ll say that to my dying days. It was just a tremendous experience for me.” Ian Hunter returns the compliment: “Joe and the Houserockers were and are an actual rock and roll band. So many ‘rock and roll’ bands are not real – they just look and act like they are – and fool people most of the time. These guys are real – and what a lovely man Joe is.”
The deluxe edition adds 16 bonuses including demos of much of the album as well as of songs that didn’t make the final cut; a work-in-progress version of “Hypnotized;” an extended take of “Rock Ola;” and two alternates of “Running Scared.” The bonus tracks will be available on CD and digital/streaming services, while a download card will be included with the vinyl LP release.
Joe Grushecky continues to record and perform today; among his numerous fine albums is 1995’s American Babylon, produced by his friend Bruce Springsteen. Grushecky sits on the board of the Light of Day Foundation, named after a Springsteen song, and works devotedly on its mission to defeat Parkinson’s disease. He and The Boss have frequently shared the stage at the foundation’s annual New Jersey concerts. Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive! arrives digitally on May 22 and physically on June 19. You can peruse the track listing and pre-order links below.
The Iron City Houserockers, Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive! (MCA LP 5111, 1980 – reissued Cleveland International, 2020)
CD 1: The Original Album
- Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive)
- Don’t Let Them Push You Around
- Pumping Iron
- Price of Love
- We’re Not Dead Yet
- Old Man Bar
- Junior’s Bar
- Runnin’ Scared
- Rock Ola
CD 2: Bonus Tracks (previously unreleased)
- Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) (Demo)
- Don’t Let Them Push You Around (Demo)
- Pumping Iron (Demo)
- Don’t Stop the Music (Demo)
- Angela (Demo)
- Price of Love (Demo)
- Hold Out (Demo)
- Rock Ola (Demo)
- Struggle and Die (Demo)
- Rock Ola (Extended)
- Runnin’ Scared
- Runnin’ Scared # 2
- Hypnotized (A Work in Progress)
- Rooster Blues
- Do Wah Diddy