Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 13, 2001 · Page 32
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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania · Page 32

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Tuesday, February 13, 2001
Page 32
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C-2 PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE 88 TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2001 !llT-a- fr7T " ' tssx' jffMtWjip-'ttyf1''1 i0tfr&m, ,.f I U j iLn )) 0 , . fe . . From pumping iron to spitting punk ROCK FROM PAGE C-1 "By that time," he says, "everyone on Diamond Reo was making a lot of mistakes, and I was starting to feel like I was being overwhelmed by the drugs and the insanity. So I thought, 'Expletive!, well, I'm just gonna leave this band and start my own career.' " A 45 of "Burnin'-Up" and "Ready Freddy" earned Nardini a publishing deal in New York City. A live release on Buddah followed, then a deal with CBS in 1982. He did two albums with the label "Norman Nardini and the Tigers" (with vocal assists from Jon Bon Jovi) and "Love Dog." "It was a frustrating time," he says, "because the records I made .weren't really made by me. They were made by the producers. They were overly clean and overly organized. I didn't get the opportunity to really capture who I really was. And I blame a lot of that on myself." . ' In J990, Nardini returned on Circumstantial, an indie label that gave him a hit in Germany with a cover of "Smoke Two Joints." ' Two other Diamonds Czuri and King would make their comeback in the Silencers. Czuri who had a long history here going back to his earliest band the Ignit-ers.-the Jaggerz and two acts that actually put out singles on Atlantic, Jimmy Mack and the Music Factory and the Friends was able to grab the attention of Tom Cossi, who was hot back then for having worked with Chic. " The Silencers started rehearsing " in the summer of 79. And as Czuri recalls; "Before we ever played a job, we had the record deal sewn up." Their debut album, "Rock 'n' Roll Enforcers," hit the streets in 1980 on PrecisionCBS, spawning four local radio hits "The Peter Gunn Theme," "Modern Love," "Head On Collision" and "Shiver and Shake." The sound and image of that de-tlut found the Silencers being positioned as part of the New Wave scene, despite their roots in bar-rock. . ' . : ;"I think Warren went to see Joe JacksOn at the Decade, and he came away just mesmerized," says Czuri. "And that was strange for .Warren." :'. Romanic," the Silencers' sec-oh'd'and final album, retreated a bit from the New Wave, giving local radio another staple of the era, "Sidewalk Romeo." ' After losing King, the band broke up in 1984, by which point, Czuri says, "We'd just run out of everything." It took a vocal group, Pure Gold, r ,a -; ly i m I X 1 m A ft ! f 1 m i 1 'K v v ? -.U; if 5 W J It! I i "' . ..,,,...,.. T . . J.,..,. ,.,.....,.',,.,.,. 7 ttrrtrtrM m The Iron City Houserockers in the early '80s had a good time and got out alive. Members of the band were, from left, Eddie Britt, Gil Snyder, Art Nardini; Joe Grushecky, Marc Reisman and Ned E. ftenkin. ' , to get him back on stage. He joined the group in 1985 and hasn't tired of it yet. "I grew up with that whole Pittsburgh thing, with Porky Chedwick and that whole bit," Czuri says. "I'm different, inasmuch as I did like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the Who I loved, whereas most of these people are convinced that music ended with the Beatles. But doing this thing with Pure Gold was a very natural thing for me to do." In 1977, while Czuri was living the wild life with the Diamond Reo circus, the band that would come to embody the sound of Pittsburgh rock 'n roll showed up on DiSiMo's doorstep. Featuring gritty frontman Joe Grushecky, the Brick Alley Band was an early version of the Iron City Houserockers, the band that would define the Decade's rough-and-tumble style. Songs like "Pumpin' Iron (Sweatin' Steel)" and "Junior's Bar" became local anthems, as rowdy crowds saluted the Houserockers at the Decade on Saturday night and cheered the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium the next day. "It was the right band in the right place from the first gig we played there," Grushecky says. "The whole scene crystallized at the Decade, and you nad the first golden age of Pittsburgh bands. In that era, the bands were all gunslingers. We all wanted to be the top gun." The Houserockers signed with manager Steve Popovich (who'd broken Boston), got a deal with MCA and were overnight critical darlings. Rolling Stone gave "Love's So Tough," the band's debut, four stars, and called the blistering follow-up, "Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive)" produced by Mick Ronson, Ian Hunter and Steve Van Zandt a "New American classic." "Blood on the Bricks," produced by Steve Cropper, found them doing a very un-Houserocker-like thing lip-synching "Friday Night" between the dancers on the glitzy network show "Solid Gold." "Art Nardini and I, our idea was just to get guys who weren't the world's best musicians but were dedicated to what we were doing and we would play together as a team," Grushecky says. Better promotion or perhaps some tour support might have broken the band, but they never got the bang out of all that acclaim. In 1982, the team began to splinter, and two years later the Iron City Houserockers called it a day. But Grushecky continues to be a force on the local music scene with a string of solo records, including "American Babylon," featuring his old friend Bruce Springsteen. The Boss has joined the new Houserockers at Nick's Fat City and other spots around the country, and he opened his run of Madison Square Garden shows last year with "Code of Silence," an unreleased song written with Grushecky. The Decade also had its share of straight-up R&B bands, from Bon Ton Roulet and Red Hot & Blue to the Mystic Knights and, the standout, Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band, led by a frontman from New Jersey considered to be one of the finest white R&B singers anywhere. He got his start here with the Rhythm Kings at the Fox Cafe in Shadyside. "We had a run," he says, "where we played there every night for a year." The singer upped his national profile in '73 on a three-year touring and recording stint with guitar great Roy Buchanan, appearing on "Live Stock." "Musically, it was less satisfying than the Rhythm Kings," he says. "My vocals were the bridge between the beginning of the song and guitar solo. The crowd was like, 'Yeah, yeah, where's the guitar solo?'" In '77, he formed the Keystone Rhythm Band, pairing his soulful vocals with the stinging leads of guitarist Glenn Pavone and a brass section featuring Kenny Blake and Eric Leeds (who later played in Prince's Revolution). The KRB released a handful of popular regional records and became an attraction along the East Coast. Since their split in 1990, Price has explored his Southern soul roots on two records he considers his most satisfying and purest. While the bulk of the Decade-era bands may not have been radio-friendly enough for the national charts, Donnie Iris didn't have that problem. Signed to MCA, the pride of Beaver Falls had left the Jaggerz and was fresh out of a stint with Steubenville's Wild Cherry (after "Play That Funky Music") when he went into the studio with Mark Avsec (from Wild Cherry) and Marty Lee to create a wall of sound bigger than any the city had ever produced. "Ah! Leah!," a No. 29 hit and MTV video pick in '81 from the "Back on the Streets" album, sounded like a full choir of Iris. "We wanted to give it a huge vocal sound," he says. "So we just kept stacking my voice on top of itself. I was sounding so good, we just kept stacking and stacking, and I don't remember how many times I did it, but it was a lot." He formed the Cruisers as a concert (rather than a club) band, tour oi punK, iraiea ing with Foreigner, Hall & Oates and Bryan Adams. In 1982, "King Cool" produced two more hit singles, "Love Is Like a Rock" (No. 37) and "My Girl" (No. 25). The singer continues to churn out independent records. And though he's moved on to a serious day job, when he slips on the shades he can still turn into King Cool. Also out of Beaver Falls, but providing a lesson in hard knocks, were the Granati Brothers. The moppy-haired Granatis formed in 1976 and signed to A&M Records, releasing "G-Force" in '79 and hitting the road on a 45-date tour with monster heavy metal band Van Halen. When the tour was over, the Granatis a k a G-Force, learned that they'd been dropped by the label. Any gathering of Pittsburgh's all-stars also features two other important players from that scene: Rick Witkowski and Aliquippa's B.E. Taylor. Guitarist Witkowski, along with West Virginia singer John Palumbo, fronted the progressive rockfusion band Crack the Sky, who released major-label albums and were adopted by the Baltimore area. Witkowski went on to work with the B.E. Taylor Group, which scored regional hits with "Karen" on Epic and "Vitamin L" on MCA. By the end of the '80s, Pittsburgh's run of major-label luck was over. Looking back, Nardini says, "I was extremely proud. And I bragged everywhere I went that Pittsburgh had the best rock 'n' roll scene in the United States, and that someday everyone would know that we were the best bands anywhere." The Birth of Punk While bar-rock flourished at the Decade, local punks were doing all they could to beat down any door that wasn't boarded shut. As Reid Paley recalls, "We'd go into bars and find places that were clearly not happening. We'd walk in, look around and say, 'OK, here it is, it's a Saturday night, you've got three drunks at the bar' and tell 'em, 'Listen, I can fill this bar up. You don't have to do anything.' " The first rumblings of '70s punk in Pittsburgh began with a few raw groups like the Puke (known for the song "When I'm Bored, I Play One Chord" and for ripping up a Bible on local TV), Paley's band the Compulsives, the Cuts (abbreviated from something obscene) and the Cardboards (who Paley says were "really ahead of their time") playing parties and the occasional gig at the Phase III or the Lion's Walk. They finally got their own home turf in '79, when Paley, who had booked some shows at Phase III, Reid Paley, one of Pittsburgh's pioneers SST Decame irus- w wnn ine iuuai gw-- - scene and took nis E2-w" band,TheFive,to Boston. KX2SSS and another enterprising punk Karl Mullen of the Cuts and Car-sickness pitched the idea of booking a punk show to the owner of a go-go club turned disco called the Electric Banana. Johnny Zarra, known 'round the world as Johnny Banana, was booking Top 40 acts at the time but was willing to give it a try. On a Monday night. With a 50-cent cover. "There was two feet of Rolling Rock cans on the floor when they left," says Banana. "They packed the joint, and, from that point on, we wouldn't book any cover bands." Mullen, who lived down the hill from the club, says of Banana, "He certainly was a character. I was a character. We both knew we were characters." Their sound a blend of punk, jazz and all-out noise, Carsickness became to the home of punk what the Houserockers were to the Decade. "We weren't a group of young people with an aesthetic of spiked hair and spitting and dog collars and chains," says Mullen. "We were much more situationist and arty and jazzy and improv and literary than that." The Compulsives were scheduled to share the bill with Mullen the night the Banana went punk, but they broke up before the gig. By the final days of 1980, though, Paley was fronting a new band, the Five, that with Carsickness quickly became a pillar of the early punk scene here. The Five nailed the image: black clothes, those notorious amputated feet on their fliers and an even more threatening sound (from guitarist Tom Moran, who's now gone starkly alt-country with the Deliberate Strangers). The Banana played a crucial role in nurturing a scene that Paley remembers as being "some really good bands, some bands that were just, you know, a bunch of people that got together in the basement a week before. But it was a scene. People would go there, just 'to go there." And the Banana people didn't mix well with the Decade crowd. "They didn't really care for us, 'cause we could play our instruments, I guess," says Grushecky. "I mean, we hated the same people they hated. But they hated us. And we hated them." Other major players on the early punk scene included the Shut Ins, the Shakes, No Shelter (with Bob Wagner of the Little Wretches), Dress Up As Natives, the Whereabouts and power-pop band The Rave-Ups (who went on to greater fame with Molly Ringwald). Gregg Kostelich of the Cynics was playing guitar in a punk-rock cover band, the Jetsons, at the time. "I used to go to the Banana all the time," he says. "It was like a religion." What it wasn't like at all, though, was a launching pad. When major labels started signing anything that seemed remotely punk in the early '80s, no one made it out of the Banana. Not the early bands. And not such newer greats as Special Ed, A.T.S., the Crow Flies or the Little Wretches. Mullen went on to unplug with Ploughman's Lunch and is now focusing on a solo career. A frustrated Paley eventually took the Five and moved to Boston. "There was no interest in regional scenes at the time," he explains. "There was no local label. There would not have been a Seattle scene if it hadn't been for the couple of guys who put together Sub Pop. There was nothing like that here. The world was not watching Pittsburgh." Star Searches In 1983 a big new room determined to get the world watching opened down the hill from the Banana, offering a clean showcase for national acts and local bands alike. Though Graffiti never had the go-there-just-to-go-there vibe, an entire new scene would develop around it, with MTV hopefuls like Kids After Dark, the Affordable Floors and Hector in Paris, who Racked the floor with a brand of (ew Wave dance music that was as far from the Decade as you could get and still be in Oakland. "Not being from Pittsburgh, I never could really relate to the' whole shot and a beer thing, though I've come to appreciate it more," says Harris, who formed the group from the remains of the Cardboards. "Part of the New Wave thing was to be glamorous and dress up and look sharp, as Joe Jackson used to say. When Graffiti opened, it was like this new place, kind of glamorous." ! On the other side of glamorous, the Spuds, renowned for performing in boxers, enjoyed a local hit with "Patti Burns My Eyes," while Hector in Paris made it all the way to MTV before packing it in. In 1984, the then-Post-Gazette critic was moved to gush, "I have seen Pittsburgh's rock 'n' roll future and its name is Kids After Dark." But when the future came, it was the Floors who got the record deal. Having established themselves as a Peter Gabriel-type art-rock act with the local success of "Drumming on the Walls," the Floors were able to bring in Gabriel keyboardist Larry Fast to produce a record for MCA. It never saw the light of day, the victim of a corporate shakeup. Another area band on MCA, Connellsville's Zippers, at least got a record out before the ax fell. The Graffiti scene got more competitive in 1984 with the introduction of a Rock Challenge that each year thrust one band to the top of the heap. The Rock Challenge made winners of 11th Hour, BrOWnie Mary, Buzz Poets, Out of the Blue, the Yves Jean Band, the Vibro Kings and Shonuff, among others. Bill Deasy won with his band Shiloh. Years later, he signed to At- lantic with an outgrowth of Shiloh, the Gathering Field, releasing the brilliant but sadly prophetically titled "Lost in America-album, the title track of which had been a major local hit. ' S: ; And in the losers circle? Seventh House, who last year released their Auanuc-distnbuted debut, and;two of Pittsburgh's biggest bands:- the Clarks and Rusted Root. ' ; The Clarks emerged from Indiana University of Pennsylvania In the early '80s with guitars and qnick-ly won favor at WDVE, resulting in such major local hits as "Cigarette" and "Penny on the Floor." The barid, which has grown big enough to headline a venue as large as the A.J. Palumbo Center, was briefly signed to MCA-distributed Way Cool Records and last year released its latest album on Razor & Tie. With a sound they called "tribal acoustic," Rusted Root appeared in 1990 as a lean quartet, fronted by Michael Glabicki, and gradually exploded into a percussive forceas their numbers grew. "The stuff that Michael was' writing was like stuff I'd never heard before," says singerpercussionist Liz Berlin. "We really had the sense that we were creating something that hadn't happened yet." The band's rapturous club performances seemed to re-ignite a new hippie culture of twirl dancing and patchouli oil for the Gulf War era. "The war was going on, there was awareness of different types of spirituality," Berlin says. "We were on our journey and so were other people, and our shows were like the place to meet up." Mercury signed them based on the local success of "Cruel Sun," and with "When I Woke," featuring the popular single "Send Me on" My Way," Root became the first Pittsburgh-based group with a platinum album (now close to double platinum). They followed with the gold "Remember" and waged major tours with Page and Plant, the All-man Brothers, H.O.R.D.E. and the Dave Matthews Band. The band is reunited and currently working on its fifth album. Existing like an island off the coast of the music scene has been a spirited little reggae community that has ebbed and flowed over the past 20 years with bands like the Clouds, the Core, the Flow Band and Chill Factor International. In 1982, the scene was transformed by a dreadlocked battalion direct from Jamaica called the S.WA.M.M.R Band. A Pittsburgh-based manager brought them here, and they set up shop at a club called the Pyramid in East Liberty. "We kind of came in the middle of the night," says Delroy "Zapology" Clarke, a keyboardistsinger who still keeps S.W.A.M.M.E alive, "and SEE ROCK, PAGE C-3

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