“Hey,” Joe Grushecky says, resting the Stratocaster on his knee as he picks up his iPhone, the one he just had to plug in because he has like, 12 percent of juice left. “Gimmie a minute here.”
All five of the Houserockers are crammed into Joffo’s old master bedroom. Strumming, picking, tapping, tuning, waiting. Sandwiched between an old dresser, a dusty eight track stereo and a a few Vox, Fender, and Roland amps. Wires crisscrossing the floor. Frilly white curtains covering the windows. Jeff, Joffo, Joe’s son Johnny, Danny, and Joe with the Stratocaster. Although he’s not a Stratocaster guy.
“Telecaster,” he says. “I’m just trying this one out.”
When the ex-wife moved out, Joffo swore he’d never play in the basement again. He’s played drums in the basement all his life.
Not for the TAMA drum kits that he pays like, five g’s and up for. The emerald green Starclassic with the maple shell. Because, you know, all that moisture in the basement.
The songs the Houserockers are rehearsing are all brand new. Right off their new album: More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows.
“This is the, oh man… what album number is this?” Joffo wonders.
“Let’s see here,” Johnny says. “We did… hold on. Rock And Real, Swimming with the Sharks, American Babylon… wait, what was the next one? There are over twenty albums. They’ve been Houserockers since 1979.”
The first Houserockers album was Love’s So Tough, right after A&R legend Steve Popovich signed them to Cleveland International. It was…1979? Maybe it was ’76 or ’77.
“April ’79,” Joe says. “We’ve put out 21 albums since then. One every two years.”
“April?” Johnny says. “I thought it was May?”
“April,” Joe replies.
Back in ’79, the Houserockers were playing out of a basement on Mount Washington when Love’s So Tough came out. They never even saw the album cover. “Go down to ‘DVE,” Popovich said. That’s when ‘DVE was on Liberty Avenue and Jimmy Roach and Steve Hansen were sitting in the DJ booth. They played Hideaway twice. Once while Joe and his keyboardist, Gil “The Duke” Snyder, were in the studio. And once while they were in the car, driving home.
“That’s the first time I heard myself on the radio,” Joe says. It gave him chills.
“Okay, ready?” he finally says, grabbing a yellow guitar pick. “One, two, three, four…”
“Try again,” he interjects after a few chords to Burn Us Down, the first song off the new album. “One, two, three, four…”
Once was a foolish man
Who thought he was a king
And this very foolish man
Lit a match to everything…
“That wasn’t too bad,” Joe says.
“For that last part, make sure we know where it’s ending,” Johnny says.
“It seems a bit rushed,” Joffo says.
“Do you have a tempo on that?” Joe asks.
“Two… three… four…” Joffo replies, tapping the TAMA. “Da… da… da…da…da…da…da…two…three…four…So, should I do that faster?”
“Faster than he’s doing,” Johnny says. “Can you do that lick?” he asks Danny.
“Maybe I should do it,” Danny agrees as Joe rests the Stratocaster on his knee.
More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows was the album that got kind of reflective. It started with Trump. Then, losing Bowie. Petty. Prince. So many this year. But this one, the 21st album, Joe is so proud of it. It feels so fresh. “It’s one of my favorites, although picking a favorite album is like asking who your favorite kid is. But this one is a really, really good one.”
At first, no one knew it would be an album. Then, they started thinking it could be.
It was just a bunch of blues covers at first. Then, little by little, Johnny, who was producing the album, started throwing out all the covers.
One day, he asked his dad a question.
“Hey, how’s the record going?”
“Great,” Joe replied.
“Well, I’ve got news for you,” Johnny said. “It sucks.”
So, Joe started writing. The 21st album. The one they never rehearsed before they recorded. They never do. It’s more fun that way, building and working around an acoustic demo. Spontaneous.
It’s never gotten old for Joe. None of this. Not playing with his buddy, Bruce Springsteen. Not performing en concierto in Madrid or at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Not the 40-plus annual Light of Day Concerts he’s played in the United States, Europe and Canada that has raised over a million bucks for Parkinson’s Disease, not rehearsing up in Joffo’s old master bedroom with the Stratocaster on his knee.
“I just do what I do,” he says. “Do you ask a woodchuck why it chucks? Picasso why he paints? I’m just starting to get the hang of it.”
**Record release party: 3.31.18 at Hard Rock Cafe Pittsburgh**
The "Our Stories" series is an ongoing writing project by Kate Benz.
Capturing a moment in time in our everyday lives.
Raw. Real. Honest.