The Raven, the Pussycat and the Moose

Posted on March 5, 2016


So . . . (that’s the way Da Yute begin many random sentences these days, and I am attempting to acquire a patina of Yute) as I was saying a post or two ago, a Raven and a Fat Black Pussycat went into a bar to kiss the Moose.  And you thought nothing interesting ever happened Up North in the winter.

I will translate for you.  A bunch of us from Around Here headed down to Sleder’s last Sunday to listen to Josh White Jr.  We had a wonderful time, even though Louan refused to kiss the moose.  I would have kissed the moose–his name is Randolph, and I think he’s a sweetie–but I am too short to reach.

Randolph the Kissable Moose, a Traverse City Tradition

All the people at our table had spent time in Lansing* in our Yute and remembered hearing Josh White Jr. at the Fat Black Pussycat, a coffeehouse with silhouettes of cool cats painted on the walls, carpeted risers for sitting, and folk music for listening.  It was nothing like Starbucks.  (Its timing was bad.  It opened in 1964 and closed in 1966, the victim of a sea change in popular music.)

*For those of you not from Around Here, East Lansing is the home of Michigan State University, one of the very first Land Grant Colleges,  an excellent example of what all of us together–”government”–managed to accomplish in the 19th century.

Some of us at the table had also spent time in Detroit, and remembered White’s appearances at the Raven Gallery, which closed in 1980.  OK, now I’m getting maudlin.  But the Raven was reincarnated in Ann Arbor and . . . I have no idea what happened to it after that, because I moved Up Here and lost track of things.  My friends think I need to find track of things, so they persuade me to get out and go to The Porch at Sleder’s (see below–that part on the left is The Porch).

The Porch at Sleder's

So . . . I stole that photo from the Sleder’s site, but I’m sure they won’t mind.  The day Josh White Jr. appeared, there was snow on the ground, but no bloggers or musicians froze to death in the making of this post because The Porch is enclosed.  In case you wondered.

Josh White Jr. has not lost track of things at all.  He was four years and two months old when he joined his famous father Josh White Sr. on stage to sing One Meatball, and he’s been at it ever since.

Josh White Jr. - House of the Rising Son

Now it’s 70 years later and he can still hold a crowd in the palm of his hand.  His voice is terrific, he tells great stories, and he is out there on the circuit, making a living doing what he loves.  What a concept.

Josh White Jr - not the FBP

Josh White, Jr. at Sleder’s, Traverse City, Michigan, 2016. Photo courtesy of Therese Cousins who was at our table and helped blend me in.


The crowd at Sleder’s sings.  OK, I caterwaul, but I sit next to my betters and they drown me out or blend me in, take your choice.  So . . . we sang along for a fine couple of hours.  We heard some great stories, too, one of my favorites being this one:  A few years ago  a company we won’t name here acquired an archive of early Josh White Sr. recordings.  They duly published and marketed same without, um, paying any royalties, but that’s another post entirely.  The main thing, according to Jr., is that for the first time in his life he heard his father’s voice and guitar playing when his father was 19 years old.  Imagine that.  I spent a good deal of time imagining that.  I love this stuff.

The other story I want to tell you is about the Lost Voices project.  One way a singer/songwriter (or a Stone Circle poet) makes a career in Michigan is to be an educator.  Josh White Jr. and his friends Matt Ball and Kitty Donohoe are educators with a difference.  With the help of grants from the Michigan Humanities Council and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs they work with incarcerated kids in facilities all over Michigan, helping them to turn their feelings and their life experiences into poetry and song.  Rehabilitation might be just a matter of fishing kids out of despair one at a time and giving them a voice.  You never know unless you try.

So . . . I wended my way homeward humming gently and resolving to listen to WNMC’s Afternoon Jazz more often.  Beats the living daylights out of a lot of stuff you can trip over on the airwaves these days.  One Meatball . . .