Pittsburgh grown band, Started in 1976 as the Brick Alley Band by Grushecky, a high school special education teacher in Pittsburgh, the band was a fairly typical bar band. The band was distinguished by Grushecky's taut, focused songs about life in the open hearth and a distinctive, harmonica-and-guitar driven sound owing much to the Rolling Stones and the J. Geils Band, but which also seemed to borrow a lot of the thrashing fury of punk rock.
Started in 1976 as the Brick Alley Band by Grushecky, a high school special education teacher in Pittsburgh, the band was a fairly typical bar band. The band was distinguished by Grushecky's taut, focused songs about life in the open hearth and a distinctive, harmonica-and-guitar driven sound owing much to the Rolling Stones and the J. Geils Band, but which also seemed to borrow a lot of the thrashing fury of punk rock. Most of the members of the Iron City Houserockers came from a genuine blue collar background: Art Nardini was the son of a mechanic and a part time college student, Joe Grushecky was a coal miner's son, and Gil Snyder's father was a construction worker. In 1977 they signed to Cleveland International Records, headed by former Epic Records A&R chief and Pittsburgh native Steve Popovich. Popovich christened them the Iron City Houserockers, but this caused some problems when touring outside their native Pittsburgh?when they played Cleveland their tires were slashed. The band's debut album Love's So Tough was released in April 1979. With dense, no-frills production by Popovich and Marty Mooney, AKA the Slimmer Twins, the album successfully captured the band's live sound. "Hideaway" (the first single) and "Dance With Me" were viewed as standout cuts.
The band's follow-up album Have a Good Time but Get out Alive! was featured by Rolling Stone magazine as its showcase review with the headline "New American Classic" and The Village Voice called it "the strongest album an American band has made this year." The tandem tavern-set tracks "Old Man Bar" and "Junior's Bar" were especially praised. Production was credited to the Slimmer Twins and Mick Ronson, with arrangements by Ian Hunter and Steven Van Zandt. According to the liner notes within Pumping Iron & Sweating Steel: The Best of the Iron City Houserockers, Van Zandt left after producing five songs due to musical differences between himself, Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson.
The Houserockers' third album, Blood on the Bricks, is a bit more restrained, but a lot richer and more consistent; for the first time, Grushecky's ballads measure up to his faster anthems. Produced by American soul-rock legend Steve Cropper, the album crackles with restrained intensity. The 1983 edition Rolling Stone Record Guide praised it as the band's best album, although it had good marks for all of them.
The band then changed its name to simply The Houserockers to avoid the geographic limitation the "Iron City" moniker had put them in. It also shed harmonica player Marc Reisman, Ned Rankin quit and was replaced by Ron "Byrd" Foster (from the recently disbanded Silencers, previously with Sweet Lightning and Roy Buchanan's band) and saw Gil Snyder adding synthesizers to his trademark piano and organ. The subsequent album, Cracking Under Pressure, like all the band's previous efforts, drew critical raves - but didn't sell much. The band was dropped from MCA Records shortly after the album's release, and broke up a few months later.
Joe Grushecky went on to a modestly successful career on his own, often under the name Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers. He has co-written several songs with fellow heartland rocker Bruce Springsteen and made a number of on-stage appearances with him.
The Iron City Houserocker's first two albums, Love's So Tough and Have a Good Time but Get Out Alive! were released on compact disc in 1999. Blood on the Bricks and Cracking Under Pressure are still unreleased on CD, although cuts from both albums are present on Pumping Iron & Sweating Steel: The Best of the Iron City Houserockers.