Though the unsavory character of the area persisted, the "Ann Street Block" was also known for its blues bars in the 1960s and 1970s. Clint's Club was a popular meeting place for African-Americans who supported the block's bars, pool halls, and barber shops.
We played around the Midwest for the most part, but this did include black clubs in Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Sausalito. We also played for about one-and-a-half years as the house band at a black club in Ann Arbor, called "Clint's Club." I don't know of any other White band that played in black bands that early on, in the Midwest.
By Michael Erlewine ([email protected])
Clint’s Club at 111 E. Ann Street in Ann Arbor was one of those long narrow buildings that reach way back from the street. As you came into the club, the bar ran along the left side, while on the right was a row of picnic-sized tables at right angles to the door. In between the bar and the tables was space to walk. The small bandstand, located at the back and to the right, was raised something less than a foot high. We could barely fit all of ourselves and our equipment on it. Behind us, to the left (as you came in), was a single door that led to a backroom, and to the right bathrooms.
This single block on Ann Street (and only on one side at that) was the center of all Black businesses in Ann Arbor. It had a couple of bars, a pool room, and so on. There were two bars right next door to one another, the Derby Bar at 113 E. Ann, and then Clint’s Club one door to the east.
The Derby was a hangout for the younger Blacks and the Ann Arbor police journals have plenty of entries as to its toughness. This was where young policemen went to prove themselves and where they claim heroin and just about any other kind of illegal-whatever took place. To their mind, this was the “nastiest” part of Ann Arbor. The local police called it “The Block.” Apparently there were two murders in the bar in one year in 1974. The police claimed that when they answered a distress call and rushed to the bar, they often would find just a dead body and no witnesses.
Right next door was Clint’s Club, where the older Black folks went for a drink and to relax. We played at Clint’s club for something like a year and a half, sometimes on and off, but usually on weekends and often Thursday through Sunday nights from 9:30 until 2 AM.
I have been in the Derby Bar a number of times and it was a lot rougher. The younger Blacks were ashamed (or so it seemed) that their parents and elders would listen to a mostly White blues band next door while they were into the latest R&B tunes. And at the Derby they didn’t like White folks all that much. I remember one time when my brother Dan Erlewine and I went into the Derby for a drink. Dan remembers:
“There was this guy Ron from my 9th-grade class at Slauson junior-high school. “Thelma” was his mom’s name (and also his nickname, since the young Black guys at Slauson called each other by their mother’s name). They called me “Phyllis” (my mom’s name) and that’s what Thelma said when we walked in. “Say Phyllis… etc. Then he said “Let me get you and your brother’s picture…” Then he charged us for the photo, and fleeced us for what little money we had… no bills, since we’d just bought a Pabst Blue Ribbon and I think we split that because it was all we had the money for. If they got $1.25 out of us, it’d have been all we had.”
It was like that. Racism works both ways.
Meanwhile next door at Clint’s Club things were a lot friendlier. Mostly our band was all White, but sometimes we had a Black drummer, and so on. About as threatening as it got for us was that once in a while, when a song was over, one of the Blacks would call out “Come on everyone, let’s give these boys the clap.” That was kind of funny but also harmless.
I also remember one time when we were unloading equipment in the middle of the afternoon and, as we came in, we found Ernie, the manager, rolling on the floor with a customer who had a knife in his hand and Ernie was smashing his head with a hammer. That got our attention, for sure.
Otherwise we were happy to play at Clint’s and did so for quite a long time. I know the bathroom was a little crude for some of our band. There was just one long white porcelain trough (about eight-feet long) for a urinal and a single bare toilet setting out in the open, OK for a whiz but not in great demand for ‘number two’. We would walk a couple of blocks east to our home for the serious stuff.
We loved playing Black music at a Black bar, as stupid as that might sound. We practiced hard and wanted to prove our sincerity by having our tunes heard by people who knew what they were all about. And these older Black folks knew the tunes. We were doing many of Little Walter’s songs, but also songs by Jimmy Rogers, Junior Wells, and all kinds of great blues songwriters. And we played our hearts out. Unfortunately we never made a record. A few years back one box of tapes emerged out of someone’s basement in which was one reel of a single set at Clint’s Club. Some of our band thought it stunk but I was glad to hear anything at all and to get to play it for my kids. Anyway, everyone but me sounded great!
I went often to Clint's Club from 1965 to 1967. Mostly to get drunk. I was an undergraduate who did not find U of M easy times. The lead of the house band then was a wonderful blues musician sort of reminding me of the Chicago Blues Band, but better. At one point they changed their name to the pf's, enough about that historical moment. 2 evenings are worth talking about, historically. Once I decided Clint's was so great that I should invite all my friends. That backfired, I had a ripping good time, but one 'friend', Dianna's friend actually, was so pissed at me that he poured a beer on my head. Jay may still be around town.
The other night was worse, an x-marine picked me up. Ernie as I remembere the bar tender's name gave him a dark scowl. The guy had an interesting story, he was going to write his autobiography. He was to call it 'Gene' . John Rader