Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, July 12 2018. Photos by JOHN CAVANAUGH
If there ever was such a thing as a Mount Rushmore of Honorary Shorecats…you know, those veteran rockers whose long-running careers were nurtured in the same pool of influences as our own Asbury-area aces…and whose wall-of-sound work ethic has allowed them to mix, match and make themselves entirely at home among the stars and bars of the Jersey Shore, despite being rooted in other states/ other scenes…then Joe Grushecky would have to be considered a carved-in-granite cornerstone (our other picks: John Cafferty, John Eddie, and Willie Nile, himself profiled in this space a few weeks back).
A frequent-flyer visitor to all shapes and sizes of Asbury Park venues (plus nearby Monmouth U) for nearly forty years…and a core component of the Light of Day concerts since their inception…the Pittsburgh-based musician and educator has staked a place on our city’s boulevards, beach and boardwalk since the days of the original Iron City Houserockers, the acclaimed late 70s/early 80s band that put a particularly amped-up spin on the “working class rock” template.
“I’ve always felt a strong kinship with Asbury Park,” explains the singer-songwriter-guitarist who made his local debut in 1980, as opening act on a Convention Hall bill with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson (who would go on to co-produce, with Steve Van Zandt, his band’s acclaimed sophomore release Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive!). It’s a well-traveled road that would carry him numerous times to the old Fast Lane, the Stone Pony (on whose stage he recorded a 2016 live album), the Paramount — and the Wonder Bar, where Joe Grushecky and the rebranded Houserockers return on July 14 for a Saturday night session that looks to be a sell-out as we post these words.
“I’ve played in Asbury at least once each year since 1993…including that era when you could drive a truck down the middle of the sidewalk and not hit anyone,” he says. “I like to think that we’ve been part of the fabric of this scene, and I’m really gratified to see the way it’s rebounded in recent years.”
“Of course, Light of Day had a lot to do with it,” adds Grushecky in reference to the annual slate of concerts — and the foundation for Parkinson’s disease research that they support — established by Joe’s manager Bob Benjamin, himself a person who’s lived with Parkinson’s for many years. “Light of Day played a large part in keeping Asbury Park afloat.”
As a fixture on the program of those big January Light of Day concerts produced by Benjamin and veteran promoter/ executive director Tony Pallagrosi (as well as ancillary L.O.D. events in places like Philadelphia and Niagara Falls), Grushecky has shared the stage with multiple generations of recording artists, in addition to movie stars, TV stars, circus stars — plus a certain Mr. Springsteen; composer of the song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day,” and a guy whose tendency to jam frequently with his Pittsburgh pal has made him not so much Joe’s Big Scary Friend as, quite possibly, Joe’s biggest fan.
“We share a lot of the same roots,” says Grushecky of Springsteen, who famously produced Joe’s 1995 solo album American Babylon — and who added his voice to the timely anthem “That’s What Makes Us Great” last year. “We’re the same age, same working-class background…I come from a family of coal miners…and you can say that our viewpoints are very closely aligned. It’s an easy friendship, and it translates whenever we play music together.” Continue reading