Forty years since a holy trinity of rock and roll royalty united to help oversee the recording sessions for an album hailed by Rolling Stone as "a new American classic," Cleveland International Records is releasing a greatly expanded 40th anniversary deluxe reissue this spring of Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive), the sophomore album from the Iron City Houserockers, the gritty, blue-collar outfit led by beloved Pittsburgh rocker Joe Grushecky.
Mick Ronson (David Bowie), Ian Hunter (Mott The Hoople) and Steven Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny) combined with co-producers the Slimmer Twins (Steve Popovich Sr. & Marty Mooney) and the Iron City Houserockers to create one of rock's great lost classics. Their cohesive efforts - as producers, arrangers and players - can finally be rediscovered as an entirely new listening experience May 21 when Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) is released by the fabled indie label. The new remastered vinyl edition includes a download card with 16 previously unreleased tracks of demos and other rarities.
The Iron City Houserockers' 1979 major label debut, Love's So Tough, had thrust the band into the national spotlight, with incredible praise from some of the most revered rock critics of all time, including Greil Marcus ("one of the least polished first albums I've heard in the past year and one of the best" - Rolling Stone), and Robert Palmer ("bringing fresh energy to a hallowed and somewhat moribund rock tradition" - New York Times). The Houserockers were sharing stages with the J. Geils Band, Patti Smith, Meat Loaf and Iggy Pop, to name a few. Everyone from Neil Young to the members of Pink Floyd was coming to see the Iron City Houserockers in concert.
The heat was on to surpass the first album's success and Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) handily delivered. The Iron City Houserockers' willingness to let Ronson, Hunter and Van Zandt reshape their initial ideas in the studio proved prophetic, and the songs they recorded for the 1980 release put down roots that stretched far outside of Pittsburgh. Greil Marcus, this time for The Village Voice, returned to say the album was "the strongest album an American band has made this year" and "proves the Iron City Houserockers are the best hard rock band in the country." Creem declared Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) earns the Iron City Houserockers "a permanent place in the hallowed hall of the immortals." All Music Guide marveled at the new album's power surge, saying the band "landed with the impact of a Louisville slugger connecting with a fastball" and crediting Grushecky for songwriting and lead vocals that "seethe with a furious passion that's never less than convincing. ... The total commitment of his performance, delivered with the conviction of a man fighting for his life, brings these stories to vivid, sweaty life."
Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) is listed as one of the top eight Essential Heartland Rock records alongside the likes of Bob Seger's Night Moves, and John Mellencamp's Scarecrow, and features many of the Houserockers' signature tunes, including "Pumping Iron," "Junior's Bar," and "Have A Good Time." During a 1981 live radio concert in Boston, rabid fans can be heard screaming requests for "Pumping Iron," an anthem Grushecky penned as a tribute to his home city.
Credit for bringing Ronson, Hunter and Van Zandt to the project lands squarely with Popovich, the famed late record industry exec who founded Cleveland International Records in the mid-'70s after an historic run in promotion for Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Santana, Janis Joplin, Chicago, Tony Bennett, Earth Wind & Fire, Taj Mahal, Miles Davis, Mott the Hoople, Boston, Tom Jones and dozens more giants too numerous to list. Cleveland International first rocketed into our collective consciousness with Meat Loaf's epic, multi-platinum global smash Bat Out of Hell. Popvich's son, Steve Jr., relaunched Cleveland International last year.
Popovich Sr. signed the Iron City Houserockers to Cleveland International (after changing their name from the Brick Alley Band) and secured their MCA deal. At Cleveland International, the band created a unique blend of blue-collar rock informed by a deep love of Chicago blues, early rock and roll and old school soul, all mixed together with dollops of punk and new wave. The core group was Grushecky on vocals and guitar, Gil Snyder on piano and vocals, Ned E. Rankin on drums, Art Nardini on bass, Marc Reisman on harmonica and background vocals, and new recruit Eddie Britt on guitar, replacing founding member Gary Scalese following a serious hand injury.
While the debut album essentially documented the band's live show as a studio recording, the second record sought - and achieved - more cohesive high ground. Fueling that pursuit, Grushecky wrote Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) as Pittsburgh's steel industry was "going down the chutes," he says, crushing the local economy and dramatically changing the lives of the population.
"I started really zeroing in on the characters of Pittsburgh, the people who lived in my neighborhoods, the guys who were coming out and seeing us play every night," says Grushecky. "The whole identity of Pittsburgh was changing."
During one particular show, as the audience was becoming a bit too enthusiastic, Grushecky told a fan, "Man, have a good time, but get out alive!" He suddenly realized he had a good song title, which extended to becoming the perfect banner for the album.
Grushecky credits Van Zandt for making him a better writer by encouraging him to make every lyric of every song count and guiding him through that process. "Steve was great with arranging," he says, "He gave invaluable input and ideas to the band."
Ronson and Hunter may have looked like the prototypical rock stars of the day, but Grushecky recalls their personalities belied appearances. "They were salt of the earth guys and they were a team," he says. "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."
As Hunter fondly remembers: "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 for real - and what a lovely man Joe is."
In the liner notes, Grushecky offers a remarkably concise analysis of the record that emerged: "We had great songs and the band was smoking," he writes. "We all knew something special was happening. The results were a mixture of Pittsburgh rock and roll, Jersey Shore savvy and soul, and English mystic and muscle. Add a dash of Cleveland moxie and an anything goes attitude and a legendary album was born."
- 40th Anniversary Deluxe Reissue
- Vinyl LP
- Album arranged by Steven Van Zandt, Ian Huter & Mick Ronson
- Limited-Time Digital Download Card - 16 Previously Unreleased Demos & Outtakes
- Made in USA
- 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
Limited-Time Digital Download
- 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 & Die (demo)
- Rock Ola (extended)
- Runnin' Scared
- Runnin' Scared #2
- Hypnotized (A Work In Progress)
- Rooster Blues
- Do Wah Diddy