In these days of techno-pop and hip hop, it's easy to forget the joys of true, hard-driving rock' n' roll. Music about lost dreams and star-crossed love, about working hard and longing for the weekend. For fans in Pittsburgh, Joe Grushecky and his band The Houserockers have personified that kind of music for three decades.
His latest album titled A Good Life delivers another dose, including the dark love song "Code of Silence," which he co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen. It's one of four tracks on which Springsteen performs. Another version of the song won Springsteen a Grammy in 2005 for best solo rock performance.
Grushecky and Springsteen became friends in the 1980s. They were introduced by Springsteen band mate Steve Van Zandt, who was working on the acclaimed album Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) by Grushecky's band (then known as the Iron City Houserockers). Springsteen produced Grushecky's 1995 album American Babylon.
The inevitable comparisons to his more famous songwriting partner are "sort of a double-edged sword," Grushecky tells John Ydstie.
"He casts a big shadow, but you know, I had quite a career going before Bruce. It doesn't affect me in a negative way. I think it's a positive thing... You know, it's like playing baseball with Mickey Mantle or Roberto Clemente or playing football with Joe Montana. You work with one of the best and I think that says something about your talent also."
For a 50-something rocker, it's not surprising that many of the Grushecky's latest songs are about family, aging and the important things in life. He says "Beauty Fades" is meant to "embrace and love the things that last... After a while, all the shine wears off everything. It's looking underneath to find out what's really important."
Another song, "Safe at Home," is "a father's plea that his son makes it home safe... it could be a person returning from Iraq safely or Afghanistan. Or it could be when you give your son the keys to the car for the first time and... hope he comes home in one piece. Or your daughter going to school — any loved ones stepping out from that safe haven. There's always a prayer that they make it home safely."