Being born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan it was our habit as teens to hitch rides to hang out in dowtown Ann Arbor and hang around State and Liberty on the campus of the University of Michigan. The years were about 1968-1978 when I spent the most time in that area. Shopping at Middle Earth and the Bead Bag.

We all knew Shakey Jake. Jake was a bluesman from Little Rock Arkansas. We assumed he was homeless as he carried most of his possessions around with him. But he had rooms all over town and then living in section 8 housing. He carried his old painted acoustic guitar which was out of tune and missing strings. Ocasionally you'd see Jake and Herb David had tuned it and replaced his strings. That made Jake a happy man.

Jake played for spare change on street corners and at times he played bars like the Del Rio and the Old Town. I saw him play one time at the Rio with the Blue Front Persuaders. (wonder where they are now)

Both photos: Jim Rees

As you can see Jake did at least one record!

From the Ann Arbor News

Shakey Jake Woods was a star in Ann Arbor, almost from the time he arrived here 34 years ago. Wearing his trademark three-piece suit, hat and dark sunglasses, the man known simply as "Shakey Jake" could be seen playing his guitar on the street downtown for as long as many can remember. And when he stopped inside local stores or restaurants for breakfast or lunch, it was if a movie-star had walked in.

"Customers would treat him as a celebrity," said Kathi Macker, a manager of Expresso Royale on Main Street.

Woods, perhaps the city's most recognizable resident, died Sunday evening, said Felicia Epps, a property manager for the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. He was 82 years old, according to a friend and the date of birth he gave police in 2001 after he reported being punched in the stomach.

Though he played his guitar with vigor, it was often out of tune. Sometimes it had only one or two strings. But he had a larger-than-life persona.

Among his claims: That he had been around the world dozens of times but never in an airplane. That he had a dozen bodyguards who watched out for him constantly but couldn't be seen by other people. That he slept only two hours a night. And that he was born on Halloween and was 104 years old.

What's true is that he sold tapes, T-shirts and bumper stickers ("I brake for Jake") that made their way around the country. Occasionally, he put a bucket out on the street when he played his guitar. But he lived on Social Security and relied on the kindness of many downtown merchants. It was enough to cover the cost of renting rooms all over the city, and later to live in public housing.

"He was so harmless," said Chera Tramontin, whose mother, Karen Piehutkoski, opened Kilwin's Chocolate Shoppe in 1983 on Liberty Street. Woods was one of the first to visit the new shop.

"It wasn't that he wanted the handout," said Tramontin. "He wanted to go out and work, and he thought he was working. He was out playing his music."

Shakey Jake died on September 16, 2007, at the age of 82.

RIP bluesman

Read more HERE



"Nice...R.I.P Jake."

Gregg Badger said...

"I Loved Shakey Jake"

Rich Dorris said...

Great story on Shakey Jake, we used to have a stained glass shop called State Street Glass Works, upstairs, across from the Diag. my wife and I,
(still together) painted the mural in the alley @ EDEN FOODS, in the old Canterberry House in 1973 (or so)....I worked for Rainbow Graphics and slept on the couch in their space above the Blind Pig, most awesome times, ....love your info Kimmer, keep at it!
Big Rich

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