Rock Out for the Lockout: Grinder, featuring Darren McCarty

With the NHL lockout firmly in place and both sides entrenched for what may be a long, drawn out battle, we’re taking this opportunity to explore the musical side of the National Hockey League. Each week, we’ll see what happens when hockey and music collide.

Join us as we Rock Out for the Lockout.

Grinder, featuring Darren McCarty

It’s time to put some ‘rock’ back into ‘Rock Out for the Lockout’, and we’ll be doing so with the help of one of the toughest right wingers to ever wear the winged wheel.

Darren McCarty was a fan favorite in the Motor City thanks to his gritty, hard-working, blue collar style.  He joined forces with Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby to form the tight-checking, physical powerhouse Grind Line.  Little did his linemates know he would soon take his role as ‘Grinder’ off the ice and on to the stage.

McCarty’s NHL career spanned 15 seasons – 13 with the Red Wings and two with the Flames.  He has four Cup wins to his credit (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008), all with Detroit.   In 758 NHL games, the Burnaby, BC, native posted 127 goals and 161 assists for 288 points along with 1,477 career penalty minutes.  While he wasn’t a prolific scorer, McCarty’s goals – especially in the post season – seemed to come at just the right time.  He netted the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1997 – a beautiful, unexpected undressing of both Janne Niinimaa and Ron Hextall that ended the Red Wings’ 42-year Stanley Cup drought.

While 1997 was the year that saw McCarty hoist the Cup for the first time, it was also the year that he entered the music world with his band, Grinder.  McCarty formed the band to help raise money for Vladimir Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatsakanov, both of whom were injured in a limo accident following the Red Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup win.

In an interview with MTV, McCarty said, “I always loved music, and after Vladdy and Sergei’s accident we put the band together and put a song on the tribute album Believing in Detroit: A Tribute to Vladdy and Sergei. We all hate that song [‘Step Outside’], but at the time we liked it. All the stuff we’ve got now, it’s more rock and roll.”

Gotta Keep Movin’

Grinder played a handful of shows that summer, though none of the band members were fully committed to the group. A few years and many offseason live performances later, they finally sat down to record an album. Their debut, Gotta Keep Movin’, was recorded in 2002 at the studio of fellow Detroit native (and long-time Wings fan) Kid Rock.  The seven song, 27-minute LP included five originals and two covers – “Neat, Neat, Neat” by the Damned and “No Fun” by Iggy Pop and the Stooges.   

“We did [the covers] just because they’re fun. They’re great songs. I’m a big Iggy Pop fan. I’m not very musically [savvy]. I play a couple chords, [enough] to put the music together. But I always loved English and stuff like that. I could write poetry and put words together,” he told MTV, about his influences and his songwriting process.

Who would’ve guessed that the man who transformed Claude Lemieux into a turtle would be into poetry?

During the 2004-05 lockout, McCarty took advantage of the lack of hockey as a chance to focus on music. “We’re just doing our second album. I’ve been able to concentrate on the band. You make the best of it. I want to play hockey but there’s sometimes a silver lining,” he told the London Free Press.  The band packed up a 40-foot RV and kicked off an actual tour, playing over 80 shows and hitting cities like Detroit, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles – where they took the stage at the legendary Roxy.

“We want to take this as far as we can,” said McCarty about his music career in a 2005 interview with Sports Illustrated. “When you’re playing a set, everyone’s eyes are always on you and you have to make sure people have a good time. It’s like being on a constant shift.”

Out of Our Heads

Grinder returned to the studio in 2005 to record their second album, Out of Our Heads. Shortly after the completion of the recording, the band suffered a critical loss; bassist James Anders passed away suddenly from a heart-related ailment.  Anders was the driving force behind the band, both musically and creatively.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me,” McCarty said. “James was the person who I learned the most about music from. We would sit in his rock room and he’d teach me about Jim Morrison and the Doors, the Beatles, Iggy and the Stooges.”

The band went into permanent hiatus.

McCarty faced some very personal struggles throughout his career. He’s battled addiction, rehab, bankruptcy, and divorce.  He even worked his way back to the NHL, spending time with the IHL’s Flint Generals and the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins before again donning the red and white and winning one final Cup in 2008.

Through it all, McCarty credits his music as helping him get through these challenges. “Writing songs and performing was actually great therapy for me – it was a great escape,” he said. “People who love music understand that therapeutic side, that release. The truth is the band never made me do this or that. It came down to the choices I made. I dove into the stereotype and that was my personal decision. But it wasn’t like I was choosing between the band and hockey. In my head, it was just where I was at.”

Since his retirement in 2009, McCarty has explored a slew of opportunities.  He spent time as a “Hockey Central” in-studio TV analyst on Versus, a radio host in Detroit, and, most recently, an employee of American Jewelry and Loan, the home of truTV’s most popular series ,”Hardcore Pawn.”  The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater ran into him during a visit to the shop last year. “This is for real,” McCarty told Dater. “I’m learning the pawnbroker business.”

From a press release from American Jewelry and Loan: “Darren came in with a buddy to check out the store awhile back, and I could see his eyes light up as we talked about the business. When he said he was interested in learning more, we took him up on it. His thirteen seasons with the Red Wings certainly prove he’s a grinder. Darren is a big fan of Detroit and we’re big fans of Darren. We think he’ll be an amazing addition to our team.”

Up next for McCarty? Author.

Although Grinder has no plans to get back together, McCarty’s still rocking.  He performed John Mellencamp’s Pink Houses at a 2010 Red Wings Alumni Charity Softball game:

Still, don’t count out a Grinder reunion.  Never rule out a comeback from Darren McCarty.

Now That’s What I Call Lockout!