One of the great quirks of the Pittsburgh music scene is the presence of people like Lou Hetzer, or Sweet Lou to the people who know him.
He's a promoter with a passion for '80s glam-metal bands like LA Guns and Great White, and he has a good sense of humor about it. Of course, a lot of those bands are splintered into pieces, so Mr. Hetzer was booking plenty of offshoots and stray solo members at Grim's Roadhouse in Imperial.
He hasn't had an easy year, starting with a serious health problem that he says "almost knocked me down and had me thinking about taking a permanent leave of absence from the music scene."
On his 50th birthday in June, he was about to walk away with a final show of some of his favorites: "Jack Russell's Great White," Lillian Axe, Pretty Boy Floyd, BulletBoys and Faster Pussycat.
The frontman of Great White, notorious for the deadly Rhode Island fire, was having his own problems, having dealt with addiction and being replaced by a new singer in his own band.
"He could have just given up," Mr. Hetzer says. "Jack saw a mutual friend of ours, Jani Lane, lead singer of Warrant, die of alcohol abuse in late 2011. Jack took Jani's death in a positive, though. He took that as a sign to not waste away and die a rock-star death. After I announced my retirement the night of the show, Jack and I spoke, and it was as if the universe opened up and opportunities arose. If THAT guy could come back from HIS health issues, so could I. I took a good look at all the negative around me, pulled back, took a breath and began a full-on plan to come back and hopefully get stronger."
First, there was another setback. Grim's was shut down due to noise ordinance issues in October. He and a friend began work on converting a coffeehouse in McKees Rocks into a new rock club, The Dead Horse Cantina & Music Hall, which will have its grand opening on Saturday with a "Storytellers" show featuring Jack Russell's Great White.
Mr. Hetzer, who sought input from local bands, says, "We found the musicians and the fans didn't want a place with all the pretty, state-of-the-art bells and whistles. They wanted a solid, great-sounding, cool vibe place to play and go to. That is exactly what we've done and are still working on."
They chose McKees Rocks, he says, "because there is a new cultural renaissance that is beginning there," one he says that is not "cliquish."
Along with the club, he has joined forces with the owner of a new recording facility in Connellsville, Studio 41, to head a new "indie" label tentatively called 621 Records -- "620 is breaking the sound barrier and we're going to 621." You know, "Spinal Tap" reference.
Among his inspirations for going forward, he says, "I've seen local musical talent step up their game with bands like Chip DiMonick, Gods & Aliens, The Whisky Rebellion, and Homicide Black making waves in the local club circuit."
The Dead Horse Cantina and Music Hall is at 704 Thompson Ave., McKees Rocks. Jack Russell performs at 9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $22. www.showclix.com
History of Pies
The Damaged Pies have gone through a change or two over their 26-year history -- "everything from a six-piece pop band to a four-piece hard rock band to a four-piece experimental band to a three-piece garage rock band to a solo acoustic act," according to their one staple, frontman Steve Bodner.
The band has produced a documentary, "Same Circus/Different Town," directed by Justin Rainier, to capture its history and its 25th anniversary show at Club Cafe (August 2011). The Damaged Pies holds the distinction of having played and recorded at such legendary venues as Sun Studio in Memphis, Trident Studios in London, Liverpool's Cavern and The Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood.
The film features the lineup of Mr. Bodner with original singer/keyboardist Billy Laspin, original drummer Mark Pintea, vocalist Margie Michel Pintea, bassist Jim "Shag" McCabe and guitarist Dave Warren. It also features singer-songwriter Heidi Jacobs who opens the show and joins the band on stage.
The band will hold a release show for the film at Club Cafe, South Side, at 6:30 p.m. Friday, starting with an abridged version of the film, followed by Ms. Jacobs at 7 p.m. and The Damaged Pies at 7:30 p.m. The night is a benefit for WhyHunger.
Jam for Whaley
Violence Won't Silence the Music: A Benefit for Dave Whaley is another in a series of shows set up to help the Dave's Music Mine employee and drummer who was assaulted on the South Side earlier this month.
This show, presented by Sardoynx Productions in association with Walking Duck Entertainment, is at 5 p.m. Sunday at Diesel, South Side, with AE Honick, Restricted Highways, Second Empire, The New Mingle, Between 2 Rivers, Distant Signals, The Grifters, and Mothers Little Helper.
It is all ages, with the $10 suggested donation going to help with Mr. Whaley's medical bills.
-- Scott Mervis, firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.music
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576.