Rock community ready to roast local show promoter

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published April 21, 2015


WARREN — This Saturday, the hometown rockers will let Joe Sgroi know how they really feel about him.

On April 25, the local rock ‘n’ roll community will band together to roast Sgroi, a concert promoter who has been a staple on the metro Detroit music scene for the past 45 years. To celebrate the milestone, those who know Sgroi well will tell their best personal stories about him, reminisce, crack a few quips, and offer some “Sgroisms.”

A roast is an event in which a particular guest is joked about by his or her peers in front of an audience. At press time, several roasters were lined up, including Doug Podell, of WCSX/Greater Media; Joe Nieporte, president of FunFest Productions; singer Vinnie Dombroski; and former Hoover Roadhouse manager Big Al Opra.

All have gotten to know Sgroi on a personal level. WRIF’s Screamin’ Scott and The Hard Edge Radio’s Howie Herula will host the event. All involved are looking forward to a good time, and the event is open to the public, ages 18 and older.

“We’re looking forward to it. There will be a lot of storytelling about the past,” Herula said. “I’ve worked for Joe on and off since 1993. He’s just a great guy. He and Joe Nieporte kind of molded the way for bars to do bands. They set a format.”

“We go a long, long way back with Joe,” said Dombroski, who fronts three bands: Sponge, the Orbitsuns and CRUD.  “I’m talking 35 years playing some of the bars and just being in the music scene.”

In addition to the roast and reminiscing, the event will serve up some live, late night rock ‘n’ roll. Slated to play are Halloween Detroit, Dave Edwards and the Look, Broadzilla, Chit, and the Ricky Rat Pack, featuring former members of the Trash Brats. The night also will feature a set from Acoustic Chaos, comprised of Scott Lushka (As Darkness Falls) and Johnny Mascioli (Cadre).

According to roast organizers, Sgroi began booking bands in 1970, when he hosted a concert featuring Grand Funk Railroad, the MC5, the Stooges and Joe Cocker in a rented tent on Gratiot and 26 Mile. When approximately 6,000 fans attended, Sgroi found that he had a knack for organizing rock shows.

Since those early days, the businessman has owned close to a dozen live music venues and bars, and has hosted thousands of live music concerts. He brings in talent to the Ritz, on Hoover Road in Warren, and to the Premier Complex, which includes the Diesel Concert Lounge and Hot Tamales Cantina in Chesterfield. The Ritz on Hoover was once known as the rock bar New York, New York. Then it switched gears to become a haven for country music buffs known as the Hoover Roadhouse.

Sgroi also was involved in running another well-known venue also called the Ritz, which was once located at Gratiot and Frazho in Roseville. The bar hosted many names over the years, including the Rare Cherry, the Main Act and the Palladium.

Many local bands grew their fan base playing at the Roseville hangout. Throughout its history, the former Roseville hotspot also was the place to see in concert many nationally known groups, including the Black Crowes, the Smithereens, Skid Row, Paul Stanley, L.A. Guns and Mr. Big. The party ended in 1998 when the music venue closed to become a Super Kmart.

Dombroski really got to know Sgroi when he a member of Loudhouse, which later became Sponge. Loudhouse used to rent rehearsal space from Sgroi in a spot behind the Ritz and the bowling alley next door.

“We’d write songs in the rehearsal space. On the same night we — if we wanted to — would show up, and sometimes we would play a show to cover the rent,” said Dombroski, who loved playing shows at the former Ritz. “It was one of the biggest stages in town. It was a great place with a big stage, big PA and big crowd.” 

“Oh yeah, the Ritz. That’s where I started as a DJ in 1993,” Herula said. “There were always great people. Joe always had a great staff.”

According to Dombroski, Sgroi “always meant business.”

“You don’t mess with Joe,” Dombroski said. “He can rip through a telephone book in half. We always stay on Joe’s good side.”

But as Dombroski has witnessed, once you get to know Sgroi, “he’s a regular guy.”

The Ritz is located at 24300 Hoover Road. Doors will open at 7 p.m., with music scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Admission is $10. People ages 18 and older are welcome to attend. For more information, call (586) 756-6140.