THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
14th June, 2007 0
Editor's Note: The iconoclastic and ever unique 'White's Bar' will be celebrating its 70th Anniversary on Saturday, June 30th. A Saginaw landmark for 3 generations and counting, the '70th Anniversary Party' will consist of an all-day outdoor festival with 12-bands, including Sprout, Stamp'd, The Mongrels, The Banana Convention, Red Shaft, Flashmob and more. The fun starts at 2 PM.
To commemorate this historic occasion, I asked Review contributor Bo White to share a few thoughts about this treasured legacy known as 'Whites Bar'. - Bob Martin
Lambert White era 1937-1962
Like any good story, the history of White's Bar begins a long, long time ago, in a place far, far away. In fact, it is so far removed from modern day Saginaw that it may seem almost unrecognizable. Perhaps it WAS only a dream....
But it did actually happen just the way I'm about to tell ya.
It's really the story of a fairly typical American family with its share of heroes and villains, successes and failures...and a few tragedies. My grandfather, Lambert "Bert" White founded White's Bar in July 1937. But before that he had lived a whole lotta life.
Bert was the son of Albert White and Susan Kauffman. He was born on 6/21/1897, the oldest of seven children. I never met my great-grandfather Albert, yet his legacy lived on in our family's oral history. Grandpa Bert told me he grew up on a farm in Millersburg, Michigan and that his family never had much money - they would barter cows, turkeys, eggs, and chickens and go into town maybe once a month for staples such as salt, flour, oil, sugar, and soap. They never thought of themselves as poor but life was hard. They did not have "conveniences" like electricity or a telephone. They used oil to light their lamps to produce "light" in the evenings. Great-grandpa never owned an automobile and never learned to drive one. This man was true "backwoods" country. And he was mean. He was a devout Baptist, a believer in fire and brimstone. He believed that alcohol and tobacco were the "devil's work" (Oh, if you only knew, my dear great-grandpa). Albert was never one to "spare the rod and spoil the child". Grandpa Bert, a relative free spirit compared with his volatile father, suffered many a beating. But times were not always so bad. Bert remembers playing lacrosse in the woods with the "Indians" (who lived next door). For a brief time Bert lived a simple rural life - hard - but free from the corruption of the big city...that is until his mother Susan died on November 7th, 1911. She was 37 years old. Bert was 14 years old. He had proudly graduated 8th grade from Case Township School in Millersberg the previous year (qualifying him for a teaching profession, most of his peers never got that far in school). Bert got a job that year workin' the limestone quarry at Rogers City. After a few years of that, young Bert was lookin' for some excitement and began workin' the railroad on the Detroit/Mackinaw Line between Tawas and Bay City.
This backwoods boy was seeing the world!!! By this time he was living in Alpena. In 1918 he met his future wife Odetta Elizabeth Byers at a dance in Onaway. By all reports, Bert danced like a man possessed, not at all like the other boys. This unrestrained mojo was what first attracted my grandmother.
Everyone called her "Etta". I called her "Nana" and that was fine with her.
She was originally from Sarnia, Ontario, the oldest of ten children born to George Byers and Celia Felton. Old George was stubborn Irishman who hated "those damn Catholics". He referred to himself as an "Orangeman". In the late fifties/early sixties, he lived with my grandparents. I called him "Little Grandpa"...cos...umm...well - he WAS little. He didn't say much and he smelled bad.
I LOVED him.
We even looked alike. To this day he is my hero, and I know in my heart of hearts that when I'm really old like Little Grandpa, I'm NOT gonna say much either. And I KNOW for a FACT that I will smell bad...'cos I already smell bad. Anyway, Little Grandpa died in 1962 when I was 10 years old. I didn't attend the funeral...don't remember why. I missed him and always liked him better than grandpa Bert. Maybe 'cos he never yelled at me like Bert did...
Bert missed WWI. He was exempt from military service because he worked for the railroad. He and Etta married on January 20th, 1919. After the war, Bert moved to Saginaw in search of a more lucrative job in the nascent automobile industry. He landed a job as a foreman for General Motors Grey Iron Foundry. By this time Bert and Etta had three children (three others would die shortly after delivery), Margaret (born in 1921), Annabelle (Born 1923), and Rollin "Billy" (born in 1926).
Family fortunes were improving steadily until the Foundry's dust and fumes affected Bert's lungs. He became gravely ill and was not expected to survive, especially when his appendix burst. But survive he did. His recuperation was lengthy (one year) and complicated. Etta took a job downtown at Cunningham's Drug Store.
Later she waited tables at the State & Bay Tavern, owned by Edward and Kittie Bennett. Upon his recovery, Bert understood that he could no longer work at the foundry but was eager to resume his role as breadwinner. It was Etta who convinced Bert that a tavern may hold the key to a succesful transition... from industry to hospitality. Ed and Kittie had operated several business at the State & Bay location since 1926, including a party store, an ice cream parlor, and a grocery store. The property was originally owned by Charles T. Brenner who first executed a title in 1872. Herman and Florence Roys gave an oil lease covering the lot but had no legal interest in the property. In 1926, the Bennetts purchased the property from John and Minna Raquet, Garnet Hall, and Orrin Remensnyder.
Ed and Kittie converted Bennett Grocery Store to the State in Bay Tavern in 1934 following the demise of the "Grand Experiment" (prohibition).
By 1937 they had ENOUGH!
Old Ed was tired of the strain, the daily grind of self-emloyment, and was ready to sell. Bert and Etta were ready to buy. Etta had already established herself with the customers and it seemed like a "good fit"
So Bert purchased the business for the then tidy sum of $1500 ($18,400 in today's dollars). Bert's "Grand Opening" on July 27th, 1937 was a phenomenal success with sales totaling $32.75. All the local beer distributers were in attendance. There was reps from Max Treu Company (Strohs), Schemm Brewery (Red Seal), Sam Izzo (Black Label), Andre Ellis (Goebels), Michigan Beer Distributers (E&B), Banner Brewery (Banner Beer), and Schwartz Brothers (Old Style). Note that there were seven local distributers, specializing in the sale of local or regional beers.
Today there are three distributors and most beers are "national" or "imported". Do you recognize any of these brands? In 1939, a case of beer cost grandpa $1.50. In 1962, a case of beer cost my father $4.00. Today, in January 2003, a case of beer costs an average of $17.45.
The Grand Opening party proved to be a wild & wooly affair with all them reps bringing' keg beer to GIVE AWAY. That's right. FREE BEER!!! The salesmen/reps all had expense accounts and would buy round after round, just trying' to outdo each other...yes - times were GOOD!
Draft beer sold for 5 cents and bottle beer was a thin dime. We didn't sell liquor until 1949 when government census figures indicated a population growth that allowed the issuance of several coveted "liquor" licenses (Liquor was called "notions" in the business nomenclature of the day. My father continued to use this quaint term through the mid-sixties). Bert got one of them. To coincide with this great fortune, Bert had a new and bigger bar constructed on the northeast end of the building (the original bar - which seated only eight people was placed in the front northwest window). He also covered the carved metal ceiling with some homey pinewood. So now Bert had a full menu of food and beverages....he even sold candy bars for those GI's who came home addicted to the sweet delights of a Hershey Bar - a staple of military K-rations in WWII. Bert and his family lived in a two room hideaway adjacent to the bar (now a storage room) for several years. Here, in the early forties, Etta would prepare home cooked meals to the workers who built Daniel's Theater and the new Arthur Hill High School. White's Bar became a hot spot a place to go for a good meal, cheap booze, and a family-type atmosphere.
Neighborhood children would walk over to fill up a pale with draft beer to take home to their fathers. This was the very beginning of selling beverage alcohol "to go".
Now, over 75% of all alcohol consumption occurs at home.
For Bert, if you behaved, you were welcome. That meant proper attire, no swearing or indecent behavior, no fighting, no extreme or apparent drunkeness, and NO PUTTIMG YOUR FEET ON THE CHAIRS (never understood why that pissed 'ole Bert off so much). The bartenders all wore starched white shirts buttoned to the top with a necktie. It was truly a family affair...a mom & pop store... with Bert, Etta, all their children, and their children's spouses helping out. As White's popularity increased, Bert even hired a few outsiders to wait tables. Gradually Bert and Etta's fortunes advanced to the point where they built a showcase home at 2281 N. Carolina (used to be Madison Street)that was featured in an article by the Saginaw News. It was an era when government interference was minimal. Less taxes, less or no insurances, less fees for licenses. Grandpa was able to actually keep some of the money he made from sales!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT. He and Etta were even able to vacation every winter in Florida. WOW.
Like old Hank Steinert used to say, "The first count's the most important"
Bert's slender interest in music began in the forties when local songwriting legend, Angelo Lorenzo, worked next door at Daniel's Theater as a projectionist. He also worked the Franklin and the Court movie houses... he was in great demand!
Angelo was a hard workin', hard drinkin' man that never made much money from his compositions. He HAD to work 2 or 3 jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over his family's head. Anyway, Ange would stop by White's after work to "quaff" only a few beers. But according to legend, his friends would always buy him "another round" so that he would stay and lead the group in song and reverie. They all knew Angelo carried his trusty harmonica wherever he went and they also figured that if they fed him enough beer, he would pull out his harp for a group sing-a-along, covering the "hits of the day" - including his own composition, "Sleepy Time Gal".... Grandpa was delighted that Angelo entertained his customers (thus promoting sales) but was appalled at his marginal vocal(yes, he warbled off key, folks!) and musical skills.
Grandpa didn't much care for music anyhow and probably didn't know good music if it bit him on the rear end. But Bert did love radio and would sit for hours listening to his favorite shows - usually sports. Whenever I would come by for some attention, Bert would get irritated if I interrupted his listening. He enjoyed peace and quiet. And me...well, I was a loud, hyperactive, pain-in-butt kid. I had it comin'...maybe. In his later years, Bert's eyesight failed him and he relied exclusively on his radio. Around 1972, I came back from college to visit, hair grown down to my shoulders. Bert took one look at me and said, "Why don't you cut that long hair, you look like a damn girl." It was a MIRACLE...my blind grandpa regained his eyesight! It always puzzled me that grandpa could some how overcome his blindness to see my faults. I never did gain his total approval.
Grandpa lived in an era that was both harder yet more innocent than in today's high tech speeded-up world. It was a time before small business shouldered the burden of dis-proportionately large taxes. Social security payroll taxes hovered at 1% for years and years. And insurance bills e.g., liquor liability, on-premise liability, and workman's compensation were not yet mandated. Our post-prohibition government was only minimally intrusive. And it took a good two decades before the legislative watchdogs began to gradually reintroduce restrictions. It was a time when my grandmother prepared and served dinners to hungry customers - from her own kitchen - without scrutiny from public health officials. Prior to punitive and regressive drunk driving laws, police officers like Ted Moulton, Doc Savage, and Chesty Hogan would stop by for a drink...even give someone a ride home....instead of arresting him.
But, alas, this shangrila did not endure. And the power and influence of our social control agents (e.g., schools, churches, police, legislators) were gradually but surely expanded at the expense of our 1st and 4th amendment rights - freedom of speech and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Pretty important stuff!
Rollin White era 1962 - 1984
By the early sixties, changes had already occured. State Street was converted to a one way, Davenport and Genesee streets were expanded. Bay Road past Weiss Street was still "country" but was under the watchful eye of investors, who would soon develop Bay Road beyond recognition...all the way to Bay City was the boast. Seemed unlikely at the time.
My father met Patsy Smith while still in high school. He was a Hillite from Arthur Hill. Patsy attended Saginaw High School across town. Patsy was raised by her maternal grandparents. Her mother had a substance abuse problem and her father abandoned the family early on. Mom remembers a strict upbringing by her deaf grandparents and a sense of loss and abandonment and an unresolved yearning for her birth parents. For mom, her life's most pressing insecurities were founded in her earliest experiences. She would always struggle with themes of "fitting-in" and "being good enough". And though she may never have felt successful, she surpassed everyone's expectations, becoming one of the kindest and most beloved people in White's Bar history.
My history too!
Bill and Patsy were inseparable and dated for several years, all the way through WWII. And on July 26th, 1947, they married. By 1950, their first child, William David was born. Two years later, "yours truly" followed. We were joined by our sister Sandy in 1955.
I was a sickly baby - almost died (by suffocation) from a undiagnosed thymus gland condition. Apparently the malfunctioning gland was enlarged and cutting off my supply of oxygen. I was choking to death and nobody knew it!!! But my mother finally - against the wishes of her in-laws - sought treatment for me. Thank God. I was given x-ray treatment that proved successful. Gradually, I regained my health and energy to become the most destructive, hyperactive kid since the Tazmanian Devil - my personal hero.
Anyway, it was during this innocent time in our history - pre-Kennedy assassination and pre-Beatles that my father purchased White's Bar from my grandpa. As a bartender, dad made $90 for a 40 hour work-week. He needed to work 6 and 7 days a week in order to support his family. My brother and I were pretty much typical boys - we ate a lot and we were always getting into stuff and breaking things...like when we played baseball in our backyard and busted neighbors windows with an errant throw or a foul ball. It cost dad some heavy $ to keep Bill and I in business. Dad would send Bill to Daniel's Theater EVERY weekend and for 25 cents we would see previews, a serial, cartoons, and TWO feature films. We would be there from 1pm to 5pm quite an afternoon! At times Daniel's would feature Kenny Roberts, the Singin' Cowboy. That was always a thrill. Roberts would sing for 10 or 15 minutes, grab the money and run. I loved "Going up the Country" and "Chocolate Ice Cream Cone" - great tunes. Occasionally midgets would perform. Those shows would always sell out. My memory is that the midgets performed a kind-of-vaudeville routine with juggling, bicycles, and the like. In those days smoking WAS allowed in the theater.
I didn't mind.
Mom and dad had their hands full with working all the time and trying to manage three demanding kids...but we never went without food, clothes or love. Mom would charge groceries at Rupprecht's Market across the street and dad would charge gas and car repair at Trudeau's Gas Station next door. And my folks would always have enough money to visit Shaler's party store across the street for treats. We got by. Was Grandpa Bert a little "tight" with cash... perhaps a bit too frugal? I never knew for sure.
So it came to pass that my dad purchased White's Bar in 1962. White's by that time was well established as a place where people could "get away", fit-in, and become part of our family. White's became a modern neighborhood tavern "where everyone knows your name". An "alpha male" attitude dominated the spirit of the establishment...it was a guy thing... and it appealed to people of all walks of life. Politicians, local television and radio celebrities, educators, bricklayers, electricians, and plumbers...everyone was equal - especially if you bought a round - in the often heated debates over sports, politics, religion, or any other topical controversy. We even had a resident philosopher, James Nicole Ferguson (Fergie). He was my dad's best friend - a workingman with a PHD - plumbing, heating, and drinking. An amazing fellow who was the catalyst of the entire White's Bar scene for at least 20 years. Fergie helped bring the fraternal Masons and the Shriners into White's as customers, further widening our influence and popularity.
Local historian Dewey Hesse was a frequent patron. He was popular with everyone and considered to be a regular "joe" despite his intellectual leanings. Mr. Hesse taught me to think deeply and critically about spiritual issues. And he raised me to the 32nd degree of freemasonry. It was an honor. I even have one of his videotapes of Saginaw circa early 1900's entitled Old Time Saginaw - a truly amazing document.
Hank Steinert, local boxing impresario, was one of my favorite customers. He would tell me stories about helping the GI's that came home after WWII and how he ended up promoting local boxing and wrestling matches. At one point old Hank arranged for me to fight a midget female wrestler, two out of three falls, in the back seat of a Gremlin. I never had a chance.
Tom Eynon, from TV5 became a friend and a confidant. I even read his masters thesis prior to submission. He passed with flying colors. I remember that Eynon's hypothesis was that "public service" programming had poor viewing percentages. Taking HIS programs on TV5 for evaluaton, Eynon proved beyond a shadow of a doubt how unpopular and disposable he was. OOPS!!!
White's also became a hub for "sports enthusiasts". Parents of the athletes and other high school sports fans would meet at White's before and after Arthur Hill and Saginaw High football, basketball, and baseball games. Dad sponsored knothole baseball teams for YEARS. My team, the White's Bar Bobcats, won championships in the 11 & under, 13 & under, and 15 & under divisions. Quite a dynasty. Several of the kids were neighborhood friends including Tom Merry, Bob Preston, Rick Rummel, Mark Champagne, Brad Champagne, Don Lapierre, Jay Congelton, Randy Henne, Larry Holtz, Bob Spreeman, Bob Becker, Jim LaFluer, Pat and Jeff Matuzak, Tim Hodges and many others. Dad sponsored yearly pilgrimages to Detroit Tigers' and Detroit Lions' games. In time, our excursions became known as "The Hummel Express", in honor of our friend, Jack Hummel, who helped my father coordinate the events. Dad had many friends and customers that I truly admired. I tenderly recall the life and times of Cowboy Hillman, Harry Feldotte, Jim Walters, Ralph Schneer, Dave Tullis, Ralph "the Big R" Werner, Cliff Orange, and Jerry Davis and so many more. They all served as spiritual guides, in one way or another, as I made my shakey debut as a man...it proved to be a prolonged and perilous process...
From 1962 - 1972 White's Bar flourished under my father's watchful eye and his good deeds. He paid off his mortgage to Grandpa Bert in 1972, paved the back parking lot, and threw one helluva "Mortgage Burning Party" at a local union hall. He grand slammed that year by flying our family to Fulda, Germany to visit my GI Brother-Bill. It was also the year that I contracted a severe case of "mono" while "burning the candle at both ends". I roofed City Schools by day and prowled the clubs at night. I had a great time...but I sure paid for it. I lost over 25 lbs and was out of sorts for an entire year.
During his 22 years at the helm of White's, dad financed several adult bowling, softball, basketball, and volleyball teams and was well known in the community for his charitable giving. He never publicized the times he helped people less fortunate... dad shied away from such a self-serving spotlight, preferring to execute his good deeds quietly.
My father was truly inspirational.
Bo White Era 1984-present
Now I'm the owner...me - Bo White. I bought White's Bar on December 1st, 1984. Initially, I didn't change anything...kept things pretty much the same - ponsoring sports teams, keeping up the excursions to Detroit ballgames - and working my butt off. It was typical to work 80 hours a week, nothing unique about that. My Dad did it, grandpa too...any small business owner worth a hoot will tell you the same thing. I worked EVERY day without ANY time off - including Christmas day - for 5 consecutive years - I had to, couldn't afford to hire anyone.
Talk about BURN-OUT. I was like the Ozzie Osbourne of neighborhood taverns. At the time I was known for saying things like bkfioifi?
I started workin' for my dad in 1974, after graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Psychology - the type of degree earned by perverts and neer-do-wells (it was a good fit). I was tending bar alongside my Uncle Art Shindler (he married my Aunt Annie who died several years earlier. She was very cool. But that's a different story). Uncle Art was prone to drinking too much, saying whoopsie-do, and fallin' asleep standing up. He would be dead asleep, holdin' a lit cigarette until it burnt to the butt, without any ashes fallin off - a skillful demonstration of the calming effects of narcolepsy, aided and abetted by Corby's Whiskey, Uncle Art's favorite booze. In fact, Art would answer the phone with the phrase, "White's Busy Bee, Corby's at each end, two in the middle".
I've used it ever since.
Art suffered from chronic flatulence, an affliction that probably contributed to Aunt Annie's premature death and resulted in Art's forced retirement in 1975. Art left, the air cleared, but we still missed him.
I left White's in 1975 for graduate school at the University of Michigan. I dropped out after one year, despondent and quite insecure. It was very painful experience. I had lost a fragile hold on my self-confidence and began to experiment with substances and lifestyle. I liked cocaine and acid but eschewed speed and marijuana. I became a vegetarian and began reading eastern philosophy and Zen Buddhism. My friends and I convinced ourselves that our drug use was only temporary, until that future time when we would purify our bodies and achieve enlightenment (somewhere in a cave, I believe). But, alas, it was not to be...GO FIGURE!!! I spent an additional year in Ann Arbor working at Bicycle Jim's and the Little Brown Jug restaurants where I hung with an assortment of beatniks, actors, academics, and political radicals. The original motley crew. I had the pleasure to befriend Joe Gilchrist aka Coleman, one of the Harrisburg Eight (They destroyed Pennsylvania draft records in the home state of Dupont - one of our more corrupt corporate nightmares). Tom Knapp, aka TK, Roger Brown, and Bob Ratzow were my dearest and most enduring friends from that era.
Whenever, we needed to rent or lease an apartment, I would always be chosen to talk with the landlord 'cos I looked the most... NORMAL. I wasn't. For awhile I hung out with a weatherman ('60's radical) retread who wanted us to blow up police cars as a response to the new "leash law" that required dog owners to leash their pets.
Well that was just about enough for me - a bit too radical. So I retreated back to Saginaw and the comfort of hearth and home. In that manner, White's became a "safe haven" as I tried to piece my life - my identity - back together.
In 1977, I left Saginaw to help build a restaurant with some hippie friends including the above mentioned Knapp, Brown, and Ratzow from my Ann Arbor years (1975-1976). We all relocated to Corvallis, Oregon (home to Oregon State University) and opened the Valley Restaurant (it's still in operation today). We would purchase equipment in Portland, only 70 miles away - a good road trip. We ended up at "Bogey's" (honoring Humphrey Bogart) a few times and got good and toasty. Once, my colleagues harvested a van-full of marijuana from their back yard - prompted by a tip that local police were investigating them. Well, they proceeded to harvest, dry, cure...and HIDE - not exactly in that order. Later they allowed all their friends to sample the illicit booty. After several rounds, I pronounced that their homegrown stash was "no big deal". An hour later, I was found in a closet, drooling and fondling my belly button while coiled in a fetal position.
I loved the stuff...
After three months and some nice road trips (like watching the whales migrate down the coast), I bid my friends adieu and headed out to San Diego to visit my dear friend Bill Gerrish. He was about to be married and was a bit nervous about it. We spent a month together before returning to Saginaw in January 1978. Gerrish got married and I resumed work at White's Bar. Shortly thereafter, I met my future wife Lisa Matuzak (you may recall reading her brothers' names in the White's Bar Bobcats section). We were married December 16th, 1978, "in a fever hotter than a pepper sprout". She was knock-dead gorgeous - an absolute beautiful person - and she TURNED ME ON....still does. We have four children. Kristy and Ryan - my first and second born children (respectively) are now adults and married. My middle daughter Kari works at Garber Management Group and my youngest Allysha works for Morley Companies. They are each unique and wonderful people, independent, with their own perspective about the world. They will be just fine. I have three adorable grandchildren Gabey Baby and Olivia Shea and Hailey Rose. I love them dearly. They are precious reminders of life's beauty and purpose.
Anyway, when I returned from Oregon to work at White's, my co-worker was none other than Ed Heinlein, an old bricklayer buddy of my father's. What Ed lacked in social graces he made up with raw unmitigated annoyance. He was M-E-A-N and he was irritated by anyone who was young, poor, rich, middle-aged, old, male, female, athletic, sedentary, black, white, Hispanic, smart, retarded, long-haired - you get the idea. But he hated "purely", with a gleam in his eye and a faint smile on his lips. We all adored Ed for his honest disgust of human folly. Ed worked for me for several years before he finally retired in the late eighties. Ed has since passed away and he is surely missed. Ed owns White's record for chasing away the most customers through a basic inability to smile. No one knew at the time but Ed suffered from an incurable medical condition called Smilio-facial Praxis.
Anyway, I started to develop my own group of retired regulars who were too damn poor to move to Florida or Arizona. They were stuck here at White's and were bound and determined to make the most of it. I remember my good friend Red O' Toole regaling me with stories of Rose Morton, Saginaw's wealthiest-ever madame, with a stable of beauties with big bosoms and bigger hearts. Red claimed that as a young man he delivered "milk" to the bordello and that Rose herself would award him for a job well done...just rubbed his face in it for a brief but wondrous moment. Heaven on earth!!! Red claimed that Rose's was the only bordello ever registered on the New York Stock Exchange.
White's still had a great day crowd then...in the beginning. Red was there along with Jack Hummel, Jim Whaley, John Ecker, Emil Sternhagen, Ed Napierala, Baldy Allen, Ed Merry, George Tashner, Del Seabrook...all great guys and friends of my father and grandfather. I also formed some deep and abiding friendships with Andy Puszykowski, Dave Potts, Dan "Master" Bader, Tom Dupuis, Tim Dupuis, Tom Krol, Brian Jacques, Mike Strzynski, Tim Dupuis, Bill & Elaine Roberts, Bob & Debbie Young, Jack Dupuis, and others. I look back fondly at the times we shared and the many ways my friends helped me keep it together. They taught me many life lessons and I love them all.
In the mid-seventies Andy Puszykowski and my brother Bill formed an adult slo-pitch softball team. They had a great bunch of guys on the team...some could even play a little ball. But their motto was always, BUT always, WIN OR LOSE IN THE BAR!!! Those cats could drink. They touted themselves as having a 3-ton infield(all the guys were rather large). And they started a thing called the "OLD TIMERS GAME" - the young guys playing against the old farts. Everyone loved it and the entire bar - all the customers, their wives, girlfriends, and families would show up at the ballpark. My dad bought a keg and some brats and we had a cook out afterward.
It was this event that inspired our 50th Anniversary Celebration, which led to yearly outdoor shows that combined music and food. My life-long interest in music and record collecting gradually led to the introduction of live entertainment. It began with White's Bar's 50th Anniversary Celebration in 1987. The success of the event led to annual "Summer Bash" parties for the next 11 years. For the 50th, I hired, Charlie Frick, a "former" entertainer who had been a popular singer/pianist in the late forties. He agreed to come out of "retirement' just for this event. Things were running smoothly (I had planned this for over a year and had a notebook full of detailed planning) until old Charlie BROKE BOTH OF HIS ARMS only three hours before show time. He fell down the stairs to his basement, attempting to lift his amplifier UP the stairs
So I called Dean Rusch and he hooked me up with a first-time Dee-Jay. And it went off without a hitch. Hallelujah!! The Dee-Jay performed every year for about 5 years before I shifted to "Live" bands.
I always loved the way live music could resonate...I could FEEL the music in my body. I could feel ALIVE!!
Several bands performed during this formative period before I transitioned to a fully functioning "Music Club". My nephew Tim Dunn brought "Boom Shanka" to White's. It was a great little alt-rock band that featured future Poke-sters Dean Vanston and Bill Silverthorn. I loved that band... and not just because my nephew was a great lead singer - the whole band was talented. My old high school friend Leonard Trinklein made 'Lectric Be-Bop a fixture at our outdoor shows. His partner Bryant Brewer was a touring member of "Michigan Rock" legends, Frigid Pink!!! The Be-Bop played some sweet classic rock and some great Trinklein originals...always loved them guys.
Marty Viers & the Music Doctors put on several "Jimmy Buffett" shows that drew standing-room-only crowds. I always loved Marty's voice and pizzazz. He only played about every song ever recorded...and still found time to write some great original material. After all these years, Marty finally released his first cd of original material. ABOUT TIME MARTY!!!!
In 1998, Killing the Kind, TNT Blues Band, and the John Krogman Band put on a show that blew everyone away....I was in the midst of making changes at the bar. I was unhappy and looking for a new direction. Krogman intrigued me. I loved his voice and I thought his original songs were every bit as good as the great cover songs he performed. Anyway, John agreed to meet with me and discuss the possibility of performing on a more regular basis.
We selected Wednesday nights for his solo shows. John performed through the remainder of the summer. By fall, with help from Rockin' Johnny, I began booking the John Krogman Band and others on weekends. Gradually I added Zydeco Ziggie & The Bayou Blasters on Sundays and Eastside Mike & the Purple Warblers on Wednesdays. We were on a ROLL!!! The response was fantastic. And it convinced me that I was on the right track. I deepened my commitment to live music... eventually expanding to six nights of entertainment. As a long-time music lover, I embraced diverse musical styles that included rock, blues, cajun, jazz, country/bluegrass, and alternative rock. To me it was ALL THE SAME SONG, derived from the same source. Blues begat jazz; country begat rockabilly; and the styles merged to form rock 'n' roll, a bastard son if there ever was one...."it's only rock 'n' roll but I like it".
From 1998 to 2007, White's earned a reputation for providing some cool live shows for fans of original music.... music that reflected our "culture"....who we are as a people... somethin' real. It's a homely truth that America's best music is in the jukejoints and the backroads gin houses - not in "them fancy" nightclubs or on radio.
I've hired bands from California, New York, Colorado, Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago...and, don't cha know, THEY called me. Word is out about this little club located off the I-75 corridor, not too far from Detroit.
Notable performers that have graced our stage include: Country Joe McDonald, Kim Wilson, John Sinclair, Dick Wagner, Lazy Lester, Maybe August, Empty Pockets, Donny Hartman, Scott Morgan, Rusty Zinn & the Dynatones, Larry McCray, Frank Bang, Laurie K. Lewis, Spanky Mcfarlane, Junior Watson, Chris Beard, Cash O'iley & the Downright Daddies, Alberta Adams, Fingers Taylor, Doug Deming & the JewelTones, Sharrie Williams, Bernie "The Ride" Nelson, Stewart Francke, Al Hellus & the Plastic Haiku Band, the Brush/Lopez Trio, The Purple Warblers, the Bayou Blasters, Liliana Rokita, Pete Woodman, Question Mark & the Mysterians, Catfish Hodge, Johnny & the Boomers, Pete Best, Denny Laine, The Banana Convention, The Mongrels, Sal Valentino (Beau Brummels) ...and many, many others
We even had several bands record live albums at White's including the Brush/Lopez Trio, the Purple Warblers, Lazy Lester, Question Mark & the Mysterians, and the 2001 Dick Wagner BBQ.
I'm grateful... it's a dream come true. And for the first time in years I'm reasonably happy and I feel I'm contributing something meaningful to this crazy world.
My "little club" has an intimacy and charm that is derived, in part, by its modesty...its "smallness" - that Knotty-pine paneling is way country-cool and the "Maggie & Jiggs" bathrooms are echoes from a fading memory. When entering White's Bar, one is whisked to a by-gone era of fellowship and family......it's real...hometown...historic....and evolving. White's Bar is becoming known for presenting the finest live music in the area - something akin to Daniel's Den in the mid to late '60's (located next door to White's Bar back then). We have formed friendships with some of the finest and most creative musicians in the Tri-City area.
My father died on June 15th, 1995. His death shook me to the core. I guess my prolonged and complicated grieving had it's origins in our troubled relationship. I always wanted to please him, but I never seemed to live up to his expectations. And I never really felt that I had gained his approval. In many ways, my life has been an ongoing search for my father. Much of my personal struggle has occurred in service to this existential journey. Owning and operating White's Bar was one step toward discovery. And in the pain of looking at myself and seeing my father, I was able to go back to my very beginnings and realize - deeply - that I am my father's son
And afterall, the history of White's Bar is a story about "Fathers and Sons"...isn't it?
Postscript: White's Bar - a story of Fathers and Sons. Not entirely. It has a lot to do with wives, mothers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothersŠgrandchildren. In the past few years I've learned a lot about myself and my shortcomings. I've been able to step back and appreciate what's right in front of me. My wife Lisa is an absolute inspiration and generates many of our most promising ideas. My son Ryan and son-in-law Tim Avram are both artistic and clever. They know about music and their muse is critical to our success. My grandson Gabriel helps me every weekend at the bar and is already a connoisseur of good music.
It seems like only yesterday when we celebrated our 60th Anniversary yet we've changed so much since then. We are neither better nor worse than any other place - just different.
My mother Patsy died June 6t, 2006 and I continue to miss her dearly. I didn't always appreciate how much she meant to me and to White's Bar. She offered quiet yet strong support to my flights of fancy. I suppose in some sense this history of White's Bar is my "gratitude" visit to my mom and dad.
Thank you. I love you - and I'm listening
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)