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Joe Grushecky Talks Working With Springsteen - and Teaching High School

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They played two more shows at Soliders and Sailors Hall Memorial Hall earlier this month. "We were sort of hanging out this summer and the subject came up," says Grushecky. "He said that he'd like to do it again. Of course, I was thrilled beyond words. We waited until some free time popped up, and it just coincidentally lined up with the same dates we did last year." The venue is a beautiful turn-of-the-century museum with a large auditorium, but it's not made for concerts. "We had to bring in everything, from the generators outside to the sound system and lighting. It was very labor-intensive, but I think the end product was worth it."

On the second night, the show stretched to three and a half hours. "We had a setlist," says Grushecky. "But before we went out, Bruce and I discussed that if we were having a good time, we were just going to let it go at the end. It was truly one for the ages. If you're a football player, you want to play with Joe Montana. If you're a baseball player, you want to play with Mickey Mantle or Roberto Clemente. Just to be able to keep up with him and hold our own says a lot for the band. We're the guys down the street who have a band. We're not highly paid professionals. One guy in the group is a physical therapist. One guy works in wholesale, and another is a welder."

Despite their vast income differences, Grushecky says it's never awkward being close friends with Springsteen. "He doesn't flaunt it," Grushecky says. "If you're hanging out with him, he's pretty much a regular guy. If you didn't know who he was, you wouldn't think this guy has millions and millions of dollars. He wears it very well. My kids grew up with Bruce. When they were small, they had no idea. They just thought he was one of daddy's friends who had a bigger house."

Around 2000, Springsteen and Grushecky wrote another series of songs together, including "Another Thin Line" and "Code of Silence." The latter was included on the 2003 compilation The Essential Bruce Springsteen. It won a Grammy for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance. "Residuals do come rolling in occasionally for that one," says Grushecky. "I'm not retired, but they come rolling in... We messed around with another song a couple of years ago, but it never saw the proverbial light of day. Besides that, we haven't done anything in a while."

Still, Springsteen has taken on very few writing partners during his long career. "I don't want to say that validates my work," says Grushecky. "But it's a great thing for me to write with a talent like Bruce, who is obviously one of the greats. I think that in a quiet way it sort of says something about my writing ability."

Springsteen and Grushecky have no concrete plans to perform together in the near future. "I'm always thinking about it," says Grushecky. "Hopefully if Bruce is not on tour next year, we'll do more shows. But he might be on tour next year. You can never tell. But we'll work around his plans." Springsteen usually makes a surprise appearance during Grushecky's set at the annual Light of Day Foundation fundraising concerts for Parkinson's disease in Asbury Park. Might that happen again this year? "Well, we hope," says Grushecky. "Again, it depends on what he has going on."

Grushecky and the Houserockers recently cut a new live CD and DVD in Pittsburgh. "My band is playing so well now that I felt we just had to document it," he says. "I'm really proud of it because it showcases the talent of our band." He knows that it's unlikely to top any national sales charts. "But it's what I love to do. I'd be down in my basement playing music if I didn't have a band. I'll keep doing it as long as I feel like I got the chops."

Countless articles about Grushecky written over the years refer to him as a huge talent that should have become a superstar – if only things had worked out a little differently. "You know, 'what ifs?' are hard to draw on," he says. "But my family is intact and my sanity is pretty much there. And you can't discard the work I've done with children. With the type of kids I work with, you don't see results until they're a little bit more into adulthood. I've had numerous kids stop me over the last several years that I see randomly. They come up to me and give me a big hug and tell me how much I meant to them. It's pretty cool."

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