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Friday, July 14, 2006

Hot damn, Shakey Jake!

I was looking through the endless trough of kitsch that is WFMU's Beware of the Blog when I spotted an entry on street musician Shakey Jake Woods.

When I lived in Ann Arbor in the mid '90's Shakey Jake was a legendary figure, apparently homeless, an old man who wandered around town performing his streetcorner version of blues--which, as far as I could tell, at least, consisted of wild, atonal hollering accompanied by vigorous bashings on his randomly detuned guitar. The songs that I heard him sing did vaguely remind me of conventional blues but were stretched out into long, long, nearly formless wailing: "OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAABYYYYYYYY OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I remember with pleasure seeing the looks of consternation on the faces of polite mothers and fathers of prospective Michigan students as they toured the U of M campus for the first time and passed Jake on the corner of State Street, belting away whilst playing his guitar wearing oven mitts.

As it turns out, Jake made some recordings at radio station WCBN in the '70's and they've been compiled into a cd that is now for sale, with all proceeds going directly to Jake. I recommend following the above link and listening to "Fat Bacon," and picking up a copy of the cd from edspecial@digitalrealm.net (I'm getting one). These clips sound quite a bit more like structured songs than what I heard Jake sing in the '90's, but they're still waaaaaayyyyyy more minimalist than anything you're likely to hear from any other "blues" musician.

The WFMU writeup describes Jake as in need of dough--probably true, although interestingly there was a rumor when I was back in Ann Arbor that Jake was in fact a rich man, and owned a Mercedes and dated beautiful young women. I never saw the Mercedes, but what the hell, it's a good story.

By the way, we're off today to Vegas to play at The Dive Bar and wallow around The Stratosphere. I shall report forthwith.



At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Zachary Jean said...

I think you sent me a Shakey Jake bumpersticker when I was in Peace Corps. Weren't there several featuring Jake holding a doughnut? Anyway, I put it somewhere in my hut in Gumri, Armenia and one day a fellow volunteer, Kate, came in and said, "holy cow, Shakey Jake!" It turned out she went to U o' M and told me stories of Jake screaming at people on the streets ... "but he had a really cool hat," she said.

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Edward Vielmetti said...

Jake passed away last week - there's a page up at Arborwiki for Shakey Jake with all sorts of notes and links including clips of videos of his funeral parade and videos from years gone by.


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