When I was in my late teens / early twenties, I made a friend named Johnny Williams. He moved into my building in Ann Arbor after he had just separated from his wife. Struggling through hard times and an appreciation for good music and the joy of laughter, we bonded in a lasting friendship.
Some years later, I also separated from my longtime girlfriend and he let me move in to his new house rent free, while I managed to save up some money and go live abroad in Dublin, Ireland. It was a very special building to be sure. Deep below the seemingly innocuous looking ranch house was a 2 story bar! During the early 1900’s it had been the ice house for Ann Arbor, following that it became a speakeasy.
Over the next few years Johnny’s secret underground bar below his house known as “Johnny’s Speakeasy” harbored countless up and coming artists and musicians. Including the band I was in, The Ghettobillies, who played the very first show there in 1996.
Eventually, I moved to Chicago and my visits to see him became less and less frequent.
After not seeing or speaking with him for almost 7 years, I surprised him with a visit and brought my wife who had never met him or seen his exclusive club known by many musicians in the state of Michigan and beyond as one of the coolest places ever to play a show.
We started up exactly right where we left off, as if I’d just seen him yesterday. Telling stories and laughing till we cried.
As Johnny put it a few years after we had met, “There are just some people you meet, that you KNOW you will be friends with for the rest of your life”.
Brought a tear to my eye.
I think John and I both were feeling a little emotional. It was such a great reunion to hang out together again. So much had happened over the years, and yet not a single thing had changed.
I saw Jo Serrapere there a couple years ago, and was absolutely dumbfounded by the two Ghettobillies posters I happened to spot on the wall. When I asked Johnny about them, he mentioned you guys played your first show there years and years ago. This is one of the greatest venues of all time, made especially fun by the fact that… hardly anyone knows about it. I’ve been going to concerts in Ann Arbor my whole life and had never heard of it.
Yep. It’s an exclusive little club to be sure. Invites only. Friends of friends kind of thing. Johnny’s #1 rule: “Don’t be an asshole, don’t bring an asshole.”
Actually it was not only The Ghettobillies first show, it was also the very first show Johnny ever had there as well.
Ah the mammories.