Biker Boys and the New Way Bar
It’s about 2:30 in the morning, the weather’s still warm, and me and Randy have been standing outside the New Way bar in Ferndale for nearly two hours carrying on a serious conversation about music and whatever else happens to cross our minds as we watch the steady flow of Woodward traffic ease on by. But eventually all conversation comes back to the music. Our hour-long set ended at 11, but we stuck around to watch the next band, which features our drummer Cody on bass in a group that is considerably more rock-oriented than our jazz fusion funk outfit. Once they finish, it’s about midnight, but Randy and I still don’t feel like leaving, so that’s where the conversation began.
The gig was cool, even though there was hardly anybody there. Didn’t really matter to us that much though, since after more than two years in the basement working out our own material and doing our own arrangements we’re just now coming up to breathe the air of the outside world to see where we belong. At this stage it’s just about performing the stuff live so that it sticks (doing live gigs is the only way to make the material lock in), and then seeing what works and what needs to go back in the shop. This is the band that’s got me excited because we’re expanding into areas that I’ve wanted to get into for years but never could because I’ve been doing nothing but the blues thing in this city for nearly 15 years. At this stage in life I’m figuring if I don’t jump out and do what I’ve always wanted to do, then I will only have myself to blame later when I start wondering ‘what if…’
The hell with that.
So there we were evaluating the show, pleased at the strong response we got from the relative handful of people in the audience on a very slow night. Several of our fellow musician buddies dropped by anxious to offer support and to see what this new thing was all about. So even though this was the third time we managed to get strong praise at a live set (the other two, thankfully, had larger crowds), Randy and I still joke that we’re “jazz impersonators” who are working our way up to fooling a more sophisticated brand of listener who still hasn’t caught on that we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.
The truth is that we’ve both been out here long enough on the Detroit music scene to know what’s out here and what we’re up against. This is Detroit, even in Ferndale, so unless you’re really bringing the kind of groove that sparks fire from the skies, your best bet is to shut the fuck up about what you’ve got going and just keep perfecting your craft. This is the kind of place where the kid stuffing your grocery bags at the store is likely to play in a band that should have been signed to a major label. Or is already signed. Or who has a brother or cousin that discovered a new tonal scale just the other night while smoking a joint in the parking lot.
In short, it’s like I’ve heard so many folks say: If you can hold your own in the Detroit music scene, you can hold your own anywhere in the world, and that’s the truth. But for God’s sake don’t run around talking about how ‘bad’ you think you are. The only thing your mother will have to remember you by the next morning is a smoking crater where you were last seen before that lightning bolt popped outta the sky and spanked your ass.
So the conversation came to a close around 3 in the morning, but this ramble wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the coupla bikers who showed up to chat for a minute around 1:30, curious as to why the New Way was already closed. These weren’t the lightweight weekend bikers who like to don the apparel as a sort of costume. These cats were the real deal, and they were also New Way regulars from way back in the day when the bar was a regular hangout for bikers. I had forgotten about that until they reminded me and I remembered a few gigs I played here during my early years when I was just getting my feet wet on the scene. Back then the New Way was open way late.
Anyway, I explained that it had been a real slow night so the bartender had decided to call it early. This brought looks of amazement from both of them as they shook their heads simultaneously in sadness. The one who looked like ZZ Top (only 200 pounds heavier) said, “Man, back in the day we woulda packed this place. We always packed this place.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Well, things have definitely changed on the music and bar scene around here. That’s for damned sure.”
We stood around and talked for about another 15 or 20 about what the bar used to be like, and them wondering if a particular woman was still the owner or if that had changed too. When they gave us a physical description and asked if that matched who had been tending bar, we shook our heads.
“Damn,” they said, almost in unison.