Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty can daftly handle the puck and slam opponents' bodies into the boards (and sometimes into his fist). Now he's working on a second career, just in case the $25 million hockey thing doesn't pan out.
He's pushing his band Grinder — named after the Detroit Red Wings' "Grind Line," on which right wing McCarty plays. He founded the band as a way of helping former teammate Vladimir Konstantinov and Red Wings' masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov after they were paralyzed in a limousine accident in 1997.
"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."
Grinder continued as an off-season summer staple in the Midwest. The band has played to hundreds of club patrons, and up to 12,000 at the Arts, Beats and Eats festival in Pontiac, Michigan. But with this year's postseason cut short, McCarty decided to take Grinder to the next level, even working with a vocal coach to improve his singing.
"I would never win 'American Idol' and I'm not going to sing opera," said the Stanley Cup champion. "But the best way I would describe it is that I'm improving. I can hold a tune and not butcher it."
Earlier this year, Grinder — which also includes guitarists Billy Reedy and Eli Ruhf, bassist James Anders and drummer Eric Miller — released Gotta Keep Movin', available through their Web site. It was recorded at the Chophouse, the studio owned by McCarty's good friend Kid Rock, and produced by Al Sutton of Rustbelt Studio.
"The sound's just so good in there," McCarty said about the Chophouse. "[Kid Rock is] approachable. He's awesome."
Gotta Keep Movin' includes five originals and covers McCarty's influences, including the Damned and the Stooges.
"We did [the covers] just because they're fun. They're great songs. I'm a big Iggy Pop fan," McCarty said. Raised in Leamington, Ontario, Canada, he is also proud of the songs, which reflect his love of lo-fi '60s and '70s music, that he penned himself.
"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 said.
Grinder are making the rounds in the Midwest throughout the summer. They recently played the tailgate party prior to the Jim Rome World Tour stop on July 26 at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. McCarty said it's a natural progression to go from the ice to behind a mic.
"It's cool. I'm one of those adrenaline junkie guys. I'll try anything to get a rush. I'm not great [as a singer], but I'll try to make myself as good as I can just for the sheer enjoyment of it. There's nothing like it. It's such a great learning experience."
Besides being an outlet for his pent-up energy, McCarty uses Grinder as a way of remembering his father, Craig, who died of multiple myeloma in 1999. A portion of the proceeds from the Grinder CDs, merchandise and shows go to the McCarty Cancer Foundation, a Royal Oak, Michigan, organization that Darren McCarty founded.
As far as support for his endeavors go, McCarty need only look as far as his hockey teammates. Many have pitched in, joining him onstage and attending shows.
"[Goalie] Manny Legace's our biggest groupie. He saw about eight shows in a summer. … He's a 'Band-Aid.' That's the proper term," McCarty said with a laugh.