Shakey Jake Woods Mystery VHS!

Anyone who has lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan since the early 1970s (or at least, anyone who was keyed in to the city’s downtown/campus culture even a little) can tell you about Shakey (or Shakin’) Jake Woods. Jake was a street musician, but I use this term loosely: Jake’s guitar was never in any set tuning and rarely had more than three strings on it, and his “songs” would almost always get derailed by inscrutable anecdotes or his raspy cackle. He loved women (some would say, probably rightly, that he loved them a bit too aggressively), and was a sharp dresser.

Despite his shortcomings as a guitar player, Jake was a force/freak of nature beloved by the Ann Arbor community. John Sinclair may’ve gotten all the press, Iggy all the notoriety, Bob Seger all the money, but Jake got all the love.  Few figures have been as mourned in Ann Arbor as Jake was when he passed to the big street corner in the sky in 2007.

The video below compiles three fascinating Jake documents from different parts of his life: the first is a film made during his early days on the scene, captured by an anonymous filmmaker (please e-mail me if you have any information on the filmmaker!) in a beautiful, Les Blank-esque style; the second is a corny segment for PM Detroit from the early 1980s; and the third is Jake barnstorming Ann Arbor public access in 2001. I have a marginally better copy of this compilation than the one presented, procured at the local Kiwanis Club rummage sale a few years back, but I haven’t had the chance to digitize it yet. Regardless of the quality, though, it’s an essential historical document.

BONUS: Here’s a video (courtesy of Cary Loren, co-founder of legendary Ann Arbor art/noise gunkers DESTROY ALL MONSTERS) of Jake at the 1973 Ann Arbor Jazz & Blues Festival, itself quite a wonder to behold.

Dustin Krcatovich is a cartoonist, writer, designer, founder of FM DUST, and a collector of certain curios and ephemera (with a focus on 20th century "junk culture"). His writing and illustration work appears frequently in The Quietus, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Esquire's Culture Blog. He is also a former editor and contributor to Secret Zen Garden,Saagara's illustrated mindfulness/wellness blog for young people. He currently resides in Portland, OR.

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