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Pittsburgh-based rocker and songwriter Joe Grushecky talks about the Light of Day Foundation concerts, Bruce Springsteen, special education and sports

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Light of Day Foundation
Pittsburgh-based guitarist, singer and songwriter Joe Grushecky (left) rocks out with his buddy Bruce Springsteen during a Light of Day Foundation concert

Over the course of 23 years, The Light of Day Foundation fundraising concert series has raised approximately $6.2 million to combat Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy).

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Light of Day Foundation
Light of Day Foundation's WinterFest is set for January 2023

The first official Light of Day concert was held at Asbury Park’s The Stone Pony in November 2000 and primarily featured local, unsigned artists. The critically acclaimed Pittsburgh-based band Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers (managed by Bob Benjamin) headlined the show, which featured a surprise appearance by Bruce Springsteen, who joined the Houserockers for a raucous, hour-long set.

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John Cavanaugh/Light of Day Foundation
Pittsburgh rocker Joe Grushecky

Joe Grushecky and the House Rockers will be performing at three of the area fundraising Light of Day concerts, including January 13th at The Stone Pony and January 14th at the Count Basie Center in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Grushecky, a long-time special education teacher at Sto-Rox High School in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania joined SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the upcoming fundraiser, the importance of special education, his buddy Bruce Springsteen and his love of the Pittsburgh professional sports teams.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
Joe Grushecky joins SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about music, sports and special education

When Grushecky was growing up, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the talk of the city, especially with the likes of eventual Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell leading their teams to World Series titles.

"When I was growing up baseball was king here. Probably Clemente was the guy who captured my imagination the most, because I just thought he was like watching an artist play. He was just great. We were playing at a bar in Oakland (PA) when the Pirates won their last Wold Series (1979) with Stargell and it was just pandemonium. It was really a lot of fun."

Grushecky also would become great friends with many of the Pittsburgh Steelers as that team in 1970's would go from a perennial loser to Super Bowl Champions four times in six years.

"You know the whole sports thing is part of the fabric here in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a sport city. You know people are crazy about their sports idols here."

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Light of Day Foundation
Joe Grushecky has a huge fan base in Pittsburgh and the Jersey Shore

The singer, songwriter and guitarist has been a close friend and collaborator with Rock & Rock Hall of Famer and Jersey Shore legend Bruce Springsteen since 1980. Grushecky says they were introduced by Steven Van Zandt who was producing some of Joe's early songs withe Iron City Houserockers. That has led to "The Boss" and Grushecky playing more than 75 times together, including Light of Day Foundation events.

"Bruce came to see us play at Big Man's West in Red Bank and he came up and jammed with us. We hung out. We had a lot of things in common. We both hard working-class backgrounds, coming from economically-disadvantaged households. We just clicked on a lot of levels and we just became friends."

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Light of Day Foundation
Joe Grushecky and Bruce Springsteen have been friends since 1980

Grushecky says a big sports highlight for him was when he and his son joined Springsteen and one of his sons for a visit of the Yankee Stadium locker room where they met players like Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams.

The rocker says athlete and musicians have great respect for each other.

"I was talking in class the other day. We were doing stuff about Black literature with a bunch of high school kids. I had some athletes in the room. I said in my opinion, two of the biggest factors in integration were sports and music. If you could play sports and you could play music, it doesn't matter what color you are. You're accepted by your peers. Maybe it's because it's performance-driven occupation. Musicians are likely because they have a long shelf life. You have to put in a lot of time and effort to be accepted by people that you could go out and play anywhere and say I could hold my own. The same with athletes. Raw talent only gets you so far. You put talent with hard work and there's nothing you can't accomplish."

You can SEE my entire SportsJam conversation with Joe Grushecky here.

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Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.