'Renegade' an unlikely anthem for Steelers fans
Joey Granati has played songs for tips at piano bars in Western Pennsylvania for 15 years.
If the Beaver County resident, best known for his work in the Granati Brothers, is working the night before a Steelers game, he can count on one thing: Someone will pony up a few bills to hear "Renegade," the vintage Styx song that has become an anthem on game days at Heinz Field.
"It's kind of like this ominous feeling, like you're being led to slaughter." Granati says of the song's haunting intro. "You hear this really cool music, and then there's this huge (butt-whipping). All of a sudden everybody is up with their Terrible Towels."
"Renegade" is an unlikely anthem, even in a city that tends to revere the past. Released in 1979 on Styx's "Pieces of Eight" album, the song reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Written by Styx guitarist and singer Tommy Shaw, the song's first lines are definitely not rah-rah material:
Oh momma I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law,
Lawman has put an end to my running and I'm so far from my home.
Oh momma I can hear you a'crying and you're so scared and all alone
Hangman is comin' down from the gallows and I don't have very long.
"I've actually talked to JY (James Young) from the band multiple times about this," says Sean McDowell, the long-time disc jockey at WDVE-FM. "Everybody in the band knows how popular the song is here. They laugh about it because it has so many twists and turns."
The song caught on during the Steelers' 2002 season. In a short film about the Styx-Steelers connection by NFL Films, the use of "Renegade" was credited to Mike Marchinsky, then an intern in the team's marketing department.
That year, in a wild card playoff game versus the Cleveland Browns with the Steelers losing 24-7, "Renegade" was played and the team rallied. The song was played a second time during the game, and the Steelers went on to the win 36-33, cementing the tune's reputation as a musical talisman.
That was only the beginning of the "Renegade" legend. In 2008, during the Steelers' drive to Super Bowl XLIII, nine times after the song was played, the team's defense either forced a turnover or stopped an opponent's drive.
Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is the first player shown in the "Renegade" video at Heinz Field home games.
"The first guy," he says with a laugh, "that's the best part."
The music and video help to fire him up -- and the fans.
"I watch the whole video," Woodley says. "That's like a highlight film in the fourth quarter, so that gets the energy going. During that TV timeout, you're resting up, the crowd's yelling and, sometimes, you make a big hit coming out after that song."
The question is: Will it work against the Ravens?
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh doesn't appear worried.
"We love playing there," Harbaugh says of Heinz Field. "When that 'Renegade' song comes on and they crank up the music, I start getting a little dance going. The crowd goes crazy and that energizes our guys."
Granati thinks the part of the song's resonance comes from the region's support of musicians such as David Bowie, Kansas and Styx.
"The city has a great affinity for art rock," Granati says. "Styx always did better in Pittsburgh than anywhere else when the band was starting out."
It still does well. The song plays in regular rotation at WDVE-FM classic rock station, with four or five spins per week, according to music director Val Porter.
But not everyone is enamored with the song. Jimmy Roach, a DJ who is part of the morning team at the three Froggy Radio stations in the area, says he never understood the appeal.
Chip DiMonick, a local musician whose tastes run from glam to punk to hard rock, thinks the appeal of "Renegade" lies in the region's ongoing nostalgia for music and sport.
"So, it's a foregone conclusion that the two will get combined, even if done in a nonsensical way," DiMonick says. "I mean, come on -- a song about someone preparing to die by hanging used to represent a good defense• Only in Pittsburgh."