The Iron City Houserockers, photo courtesy of Cleveland
The Houserockers – originally called the Iron City Houserockers –
should be a superstar band. Their hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll style, sharper
than a straight-razor and stronger than a concrete-hungry jackhammer, coupled
Joe Grushecky’s street-level, dark-side-of-the-sidewalk lyrics create as potent a sound as
has ever been heard in rock music. Here’ they are, though, stuck in
Anthem’s ‘Lost & Found Dept’.
The Houserockers didn’t miss a beat, giving us their underrated classic second album, Have A Good Time…But Get Out Alive. This is a vinyl cry of defiance, the Houserockers representing both a city and a culture, both sadly oppressed by the economic and urban decay destroying the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The song titles sum it up and are as tuff & muscular as the tunes themselves: the title cut, “Don’t Let Them Push You Around,” “We’re Not Dead Yet.” This is the same populist common ground that Springsteen and John Cougar have found so much success with the past few year … the Houserockers were doing it five years earlier!
Have A Good Time… features two cuts that are among the most powerful and emotional ever recorded: “Old Man Bar” and “Junior’s Bar.” The young man in “Old Man Bar” hopes that none of his friends see him drinking beer in the old-timer hangout. Backed by only a sparse accordion and mandolin arrangement, the voice sees in the old men and their dashed hopes and dreams his own future. This creates a haunting conflict with his own aspirations, which is reflected in the song and its ending: “It’s true that I am younger now, but it’s very clear, that time is catching up with me I know…”
“Junior’s Bar” has our hero on the prowl, the band suddenly crashing in with guitars ringing as the voice looks for solace and escape, preferably with alcohol and a woman. The contrast between the two songs is pointed, but the continuity of the main character and his attempt to transcend his everyday grind creates a potent seven and a half minutes.
In 1983, the band left behind their “Iron City” moniker, searching for a wider audience beyond the geographical limitations of the Northeast. Their first album as the plain ol’ Houserockers, Cracking Under Pressure was an overlooked gem. Currently, the band is playing the bar circuit, another obscure though talented buncha guys found only in the Lost & Found Dept.
Review originally published in the ‘Lost & Found’ column of the Summer 1985 issue of Anthem: The Journal of (un)Popular Culture