Tag Archives: Cleveland International

New Album! Joe Grushecky

 

When Joe Grushecky first came pumping out of my car radio, two things immediately caught my attention. First, here was a real blue-collar rocker with a soulful sound and a band that played straight from the heart, and the songs were exciting. And second…was this really being played on the radio in Syracuse, New York in 1979? 

I guess you could say Bruce Springsteen had most recently kicked the door down, although local rockers like The Works and Joe Whiting had been stirring up the same kind of bar room fury on local stages for years. Like the mythical Eddie and The Cruisers, these bands had been lighting up shot-and-beer joints night after night, piling into vans and crisscrossing the East Coast. It wasn’t easy; you had to pull and keep a crowd on a Tuesday and Wednesday night because the weekend money just wasn’t quite enough to get you by. And like Eddie and that mythical band, what drove you and kept you alive was the camaraderie with your band mates and an unbending faith that if you kept punching over and over and over again, one day it would be worth it. 

In Pittsburgh, that band was Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers, and that day did come, albeit temporarily. A documentary about Joe and his career was released in 2007 called A Good Life: The Joe Grushecky Story and is now available on DVD. While the film is interesting and heartfelt, the real treasure in the package is a bonus live CD from a 1985 hometown show, featuring friend and fan Bruce Springsteen

While not quite a rags-to-riches story, we learn how the band followed the usual path of becoming the big fish in the small pond, friends in a rock ‘n’ roll brotherhood with huge dreams. How “Heroes are Hard to Find” caught the ear of Cleveland International’s Steve Popovich, who believed in Joe and financed some sessions that led to the first album getting released. How the lengthy process of working the record one town and one AOR station at a time led to five-star reviews for Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive and what looked like the start of a lifelong ride at the top…only to be derailed by a changing industry, an imploding label (MCA) and a few poor and impatient personal decisions. 

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters 

Joe’s website

The Grushecky/Houserockers Wikipedia page

“Pumping Iron”  and “Little Queenie” (live in 1988) 

“Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive” (live in 2005) 

Steel Rocking

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Blast From The Past: Ellen Foley

 

What a voice! The fact that she was smoking hot didn't hurt either.

What a voice! The fact that she was smoking hot didn't hurt either.

Ellen Foley may have come to your attention thirty-two years ago without you realizing it. It was her breathless, bombastic vocals opposite Meat Loaf‘s horny high-school Romeo on “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. Along with the rest of Bat Out Of Hell, the song dominated radio for years and launched Meat Loaf’s career; the album has sold over thirty-four million copies to date. But if you’ve seen the famous music video for the track, you’re watching Karla DeVito lip-sync to Ellen’s vocals. Ellen didn’t film any of the videos or go out on the worldwide tours, but two years later she came back with a vengeance with Night Out.

Being part of the Cleveland International family, on this debut album she was supported by Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson and members of their band including keyboard player Tommy Mandel and a man who would drop a couple of great albums soon himself, drummer Hilly Michaels. Hunter and Ronson produced and arranged the album as a hybrid of Mott The Hoople glam, 60’s girl group histironics and Jim Steinman’s orchestral bombast. It turned out to be the perfect synergy of forces, and thirty years later it still knocks me sideways.

Night Out opens with the Steinman-esque “We Belong To The Night“, a five-and-a-half minute showcase that sounds like a Meat Loaf song sung by The Ronettes. Foley’s powerful pipes blast through the pomp like a laser, and around the four minute mark it’s as if she let another rocket booster kick in… how the hell did a voice this huge and strong come out of a woman that small? And before I even had a chance to process it, “What’s A Matter Baby” took that baton and raised the bar, another sneering Phil Spector-meets-powerpop killer that Foley throws on her back and carries home; when she hits the key change at the halfway point the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Is it possible to pout and purr and preen at the same time? The spoken outro owes as much to “Walking in the Sand” as it does “Paraside by the Dashboard Light”

Cheesey Music Video: medley of “What’s A Matter, Baby” and “Stupid Girl” from Night Out.

And to complete the opening trifecta, you’ll never hear a harder version of the Rolling Stones’ “Stupid Girl”, Ronson’s rhythm guitar a wallop of distorted filth, and Foley almost yelping the vocals over a thundercrack of bass and drums. Only the saxophone dates the track as a 70s album cut, but it’s still ferocious. The title track, and especially the closer “Don’t Let Go” give her an opportunity to shine with more midtempo material, and her turn on Graham Parker‘s “Thunder and Rain” is well done. The throbbing “Young Lust” was one of the more popular cuts off the record, but the other cut that blew me away was the amphetemine-tempoed “Hideaway”, with Michaels’ machine gun pace and Ronson’s soaring guitar in a footrace with Foley’s 100 watt breathy vocal to the end (thankfully, it was a tie). After that , the naked delicacy of “Don’t Let Go” is almost a whisper.

Nine tracks of magic, and thanks to Wonded Bird records, available on CD again. Foley followed up two years later with Spirit of St. Louis (produced by then-boyfriend Mick Jones of The Clash, with a few Strummer/Jones songs) and again in 1983 with Another Breath, and while each have their moments, the first will always be the best for me. Ellen subsequently turned her focus to acting, joining the cast of Night Court for a year (as Public Defender Billie Young) and performing on and off Broadway. Although she made occasional guset shots on other’s albums, there were no more records of her own.

But great news – Ellen Foley is singing again! Playing out around New York City as Ellen Foley and the Dirty Old Men, she still looks and sounds great! And if Jane Lynch ever needs a stunt double… 

Nothing's the matter, baby...

Nothing's the matter, baby...

Give Ellen Foley a listen at her page on MySpace

Thirty years later, singing that classic song that Karla DeVito lip synched, with tribute  band Anything But Loaf.

And what the hell – this clip features Ellen with Meatloaf, Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, Karla DeVito and The Boyzz. Yes, kids, it’s true…Cleveland Rocked. But what the hell was Meat doing with a guitar?

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