Black Jake and the Carnies

Black Jake and the Carnies

 Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA

Think of a carnival, or indeed a carny, and it’s very likely that images of bearded ladies, mustachioed strongmen, trapeze artists, wolf boys and the like will come flooding into your mind. Add a healthy dash of punk rock and old-timey music, and you have Ypsilanti, MI based Black Jake & the Carnies


“The idea for Black Jake and the Carnies came to Jake in 1999, when he had an ecstatic vision of a band playing fast-paced music on traditional instruments, full of entertaining gimmicks, props, and crowd interaction,” says the band. “The original incarnation of the band started in 2002, and played one disastrous Halloween Show before breaking up. Jake kept the vision alive and kept writing songs over the next four years until one day in 2006 he decided to get a band back together. A few guys who knew some guys down the street eventually turned into a new Black Jake & the Carnies overnight.”

(Video EPK:

The band, comprised of Black Jake (banjo, vocals, songwriting), Gus Wallace (fiddle), Andy Benes (mandolin, backing vocals), Jumpin' Joe Cooter (bass), Billy "the Kingpin" LaLonde (percussion, backing vocals), and J.C. Miller (accordion, backing vocals), are six hard-working men from Ypsi who wallow in the imagery of sideshows and carnivals. "When you grow up in a small town, you have hair down your back and everyone's a redneck, you get called a freak a lot," Jake told Detroit’s Metro Times in 2011. "So I get attracted to the outcasts, the freaks, being somebody who's on display."

He’s not wrong. When Black Jake & the Carnies played a prison show in Belgium as part of the Belgium/Netherlands/Germany tour in 2011, the touring company said that they were the only band they'd ever seen who got the prisoners to jump up out of their seats and dance. And everybody knows how hard convicts are to please.

Since the band’s formation, it has played with artists and groups as varied and prestigious as Split Lip Rayfield, Joe Buck, Tommy Ramone, Jayke Orvitz, Langhorn Slim, Greensky Bluegrass, Frontier Ruckus, the Real McKenzies, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, O'Death, and the Meatmen. In addition, the band has performed at respected festivals and events like Theatre Bizarre, the Beaver Island Music Fest (three times), Muddy Roots, and the Wheatland Music Fest (twice). The Theatre Bizarre appearance in 2010 also represents the biggest crowd that the band has played to, coming in at 2500. “Theatre Bizarre was closed down that year, so they moved it to the Fillmore on 36 hours-notice,” says the band. “We ended up closing out the night on the big stage, and finished up playing with a stage full of people (including the Detroit Party Marching Band, lots of side show folks and burlesque dancers).”

Allmusic said that, “While the band's music, a combination of Jake's smartly penned originals along with the odd '80s pop cover, certainly stands on its own, Black Jake & the Carnies' stage performances combine audience-participation carnival games, periodic spinning of a wheel of fortune/misfortune, some pretty outrageous costumes, and enough raw energy to jump-start a Volkswagen. Jake's banjo is even adorned with colored blinking lights. Yes, this is a band that knows how to have a good time and has fun doing so.”

Greg Molitor of Music Marauders said, "The bluegrass/folk/insanity theme works really well for these Carnies! Black Jake and Carnies was hands down the most energetic, wild, and flat-out enjoyable set of the entire weekend. I was a skeptic at first, but as soon as I saw the first Carnie jump from a 10 ft. speaker to the stage WITH HIS INSTRUMENT, I was sold. Sign me up for the next circus please!?"

Jeff Milo of iSPY Magazine said, "All the Carnies cut rugs like pure bottled lightning, they don’t play so much as they gracefully pummel, they pinball, even, from song # 1 to song #13 ½ …or however long their sweaty sets go. Set aside their eclectic music, the Carnies’ blend spindly bluegrass and honky-tonk croons to some psychobilly-bent for punk-spat pirouetting; swampy yet sophisticated, old timey like a jukebox’s warble but warped and shoved and shunted with a rock n’ roll romp."


Paper Outlaw

Written By: Black Jake

Phinias Philistine Pratt was a Phrenologist of note
He tipped his tall top hat to ride the tails of his coat.
In lecture halls and fancy balls and studious reviews
His dilligence rewarded as was right and just and true

There weren't much market for his trade since the crash of '29
the meritous man went strapped for cash though his skull be shaped refined
looked he with envy at his younger brother, the family cad
who lived at ease through grift and gun and good ol' smash 'n' grab

If a lesser man could do it so could he
But them lesser type of men just don't agree
You either got it or you don't boy
don't you pony up and choke boy
cause a master outlaw ain't no
paper degree

Well Phin as he now called himself got a nice new pair of irons
and a fancy new gettaway car with the latest chasin' tires
he walked and talked with swagger in his step and in his head
as this he knew was what was done in the circles he now tread

Younger brother found his new partner in crime an albatross
for to shootin straight and drivin fast this pinhead was a loss
and he had not heart to pick apart a rube with just one look
this way of life was not his art nor a science in a book


Well Phin, not one to be outdone, set to working twice as hard
learning other master's secrets from their table talk at cards
his keen and driven mind put forth to gain ascendancy
he set his younger brother up to fall through guile and subtlety

While the younger lad was locked away old Phinnie had a time
of starting his own outlaw gang and promoting it in crime
but his own ineptness left his newfound lackies unimpressed
so they sprung the younger, and brother, they left Phin's skull a bloody mess.


Well the younger lad stood over Mr. Phinneus Philistine P
and advised him to return to his studious life of drugery
for if he didn't do what God meant him for he may well wind up dead
saying "horn in on my racket anymore and I'll count bumps on your head!"

No Diamond Ring

Written By: Black Jake

He held his baby as she creid
He beheld her baby as she died
He knew from wrong and he knew from right
And that baby’s skin was a shade too white (just a shade too white)
He knew no court would see him through
But he knew just what he had to do

Crept from the quarters by the full moon light (by the full moon light)
With a bailin’ hook and a cookin’ knife (steel blade cookin’ knife)
The good book said he shouldn’t do
But the woman in the swamp said a thing or two
What spirit was a-guidin’ him
To the master’s house by the moonlight dim


The house slaves they just let him by (let him walk on by)
When they saw that hook and the look in his eye (dead cold look in his eye)
Didn’t need no light in the house you know
Cause Moses was aflame with a strangely glow
No door nor floorboard made a creak
As he stood o’er massah fast asleep


Stood there for an hour or more…
The wicked man resting safe and sure…
Moses couldn’t run with a foot cut off
And any dozen white folks’d string him aloft
Livin' or dyin’ it was all the same…(LIVIN’ OR DYING’ IT WAS ALL THE SAME!)
Moses raised that hook to his baby’s name


Hunters' Moon

Written By: Black Jake

Henry was a man of the world in the French Mackinaw fur trade
He'd track 'em, he'd fell 'em, he'd trap 'em, and he'd sell 'em
And that's how he made his name
In them tradin' posts men heard his boasts how he's gonna get the Loup Garou
An evil Injun spirit half-man, half-wolf
Stealin' brides before their honeymoon

So Henry made a vow on his wedding day
A pelt for his woman from his fell beast prey
And as he left with his musket he could hear her say,
Don't go out tonite, oh Henry, don't go out tonite!
Full moon's shinin' bright, don't be no fool out there tonite,
By that old Hunters' Moon

Henry tracked the wolf track to a cave about a quarter mile outta town
But he did step back at the mouth so black and the bones scattered all around
But Henry had to prove himself by the boasts and the oaths he'd made
So he stole inside and he steeled hisself 'till his pride made him unafraid

Henry crept down the winding way
When out in the woods came a wolfen bay
Then he remembered what his woman say,


Henry waited from dusk till dawn but no howlin' devil did show
Just a little relieved but a lot crestfallen as he made his way back home
His cabin there was a frightful sight with the stout oak door knocked down
There were signs of struggle but no sign o' life, just a bloody wedding gown

Henry rushed on back to the cave and he found that wolfman there
With the skin of his woman and a fresh new pelt of her flowing golden hair
They fell into a savage fight, then the beast fled past Henry
Sayin', "I curse you to stalk the moonlit night, a lone wolf just like me!"

Henry still hunts those woods they say
A wolf by night and a man by day
And every full moon them village folk pray,
Don't come out tonite, Oh Henry, don't come out tonite!
Full moon's shinin' bright, don't be no fool out there tonite,
By that old Hunters' Moon

Words and music by Black Jake

Styxferry County

Written By: Black Jake

Jimmy was a lad of just 16 years but he plucked them strings so fine
that he didn't have a lick o' that tremblin' fear for the man in the Lost Souls mine
The man lived there so many a year that he gave the place its name
and from them hills everyone could hear his haunting tunes of pain


Jimmy went to challenge the men in the mine from Styxferry county
for to fairly aquire his banjo finer than any that could ever be
The Styxferry folk said "Jimmy don't you be no fool for pride,
for many have went and nobody won't come lookin' for you inside."


Jimmy got there about 1/2 past dusk and climbed on down the shaft
and the air was a flavor of sulferous musk from the hot hell-mouth outdraft
Then a ghostly voice come a-echoin' up from the black abysmal depth
said "Go back to yer mamma you gutless pup, don't you take another step."


Jimmy said "Be still you bedevilled man, I ain't afeared o' you,
I've come to best you if I can in a banjo-pickin' duel."
"If you can beat me I'll go home and you can keep my soul,
but if I win your demon roams and I keep your banjo."


The unclean man just laughed and said "Thet sounds right fair to me!"
Then he cracked poor Jimmy upon his head and kicked him in the teeth.
He swung that fine old instrument just like a miner's pick
an eternal life of pain to vent 'till the beatin' made Jimmy sick.


He said "Looks like I beat you good and my pickin's made you bleed
now leave my mine just like you should and leave your soul indeed
Jimmy were lucky to leave alive but he weren't the same again
He'd rather he did not survive than live each day in dread

So don't be wreckless like young Jim do what Huck or Sawyer'd do
If you deal with demon don't you be thick just bring a lawyer, too


Jasper Watkins

Written By: Black Jake

Jasper Watkins was a friend o' mine, he always made it to the church on time
he was always so kind and good to me, loved his friends and family
even on that cold November eve when I saw what men weren't meant to see

Oh Jasper Watkins, what have you done, with your cold steel knife and a loaded gun
you apologized like a gentleman, before you did them poor folks in
your clothes were a-glistenin' steamin' red, you left behind a trail of the dyin' and the dead
but you needn't come back from this journey, just said "now it all makes sense to me."

Oh Jasper Watkins, tell me what do you see
and I pray to God whatever devil took you
wouldn't ever take a hold of me

It started in the park by the old town square, our little church was havin' us a social there
with cider and apples and games and such, there was dancin' and drinkin' but not too much
He was minglin' as normal in his finery, then he took a little evenin' stroll down the street

come back with a bloody Sunday-meetin' dress ,that he bought for the woman that he loved the best
produced a nickel pistol from within his breast, and sent his darlin' babes to their final rest
when out come a dagger to his own best friend, I stood frozen there, more died some fled
the quiet compassion never left his face, of mania nor malice there not a trace
a look in his eye of knowing pity, as he finished with his work and he looked at me


Before he went to the hangman's tree, he told the particularly strange story
of the night on that cold November eve, first to the preacher man and then to me
said he didn't see demons nor enemies, only loving friends and family
and he wasn't even drinkin' nor ever angry, just suddenly knew what God had made him to be

killed 'em all for no reason with his heart still kind, breakin' up inside him for the grievin' left behind
but he felt deep within him for the very first time, not a care nor a trouble worryin' his mind
as he sank that steel again and again, first in his family and then his friends
and I asked him why he had spared me, he only sighed and said "one day you'll see."


Crazy McCraedy

Written By: Black Jake

Mamma McCraedy was a lady some said plum crazy
had a hold on her family's mind
Her broken body bent erratic locked up in the attic
had her lovin' little ones confined.

Papa McCraedy's in Hades and dealin' some shady
For the state he left his ladies in
A dance or more if you would chance with a McCraedy whore
You're cashin' out before he cashed you in.

Sister Sadie displayed a losing game of old maid
choosin' rogues and rakes for jacks
Dealt a better hand she'd understand how to lose that man
and keep a better suiter off her back.

Sonny McCraedy found a lady good plain and crazy
for the oldest boy of the clan
but how she cried when he lied and she damn near died
to see her angel baby spade a man.

If any would test them you can bet their ailments let them keep 'em all inline
To play a Crazy McCraedy was a day before dyin'
But the neighbors say maybe it'll turn out this time.

Where the Heather Don't Grow

Written By: Black Jake

My old man, when I was young, one settin' of the sun
told a tale with me upon his knee
'bout this mamma and this dad and the little girl they had
this Maggie fair and sweet as any be
he said "Son, don't you know
you don't play, you don't go
where the heather don't grow
cause Maggie, she liked to go, she liked to play
where the heather don't grow".

One morning as she went to play her winding path went far astray
from the trails that she had known
On the hillock an isle in wildflowers where Maggie wiled away her hours
'nieth the tangled lilac grove
In the middle a spit of fertile earth, that barren loam where she made berth
Where the heather don't grow

she come back that night to her father in a fright
not knowing where his little girl go
she said with a smile how she spent a pleasant while
in that shady spot where no man e'er would go


Cause there ain't no squalls and there ain't no storms with the fairies and the unicorns
where the heather don't grow
and when she sets upon that ground the sprites and pixies flit around
where the heather don't grow
she plays with leprecauns and gnomes up from their kingdom right below
where the heather don't grow
they tell her of the times they'll have lo far below they'll take her hand
where the heather don't grow

Some months slid by, Maggie hid and Maggie lied
seein' naught but good in where she liked to go
but her mamma caught her there from the lilacs in her hair
and she gave her lyin' lips a hurtful blow

Sayin' "Maggie, don't you know...

Cause her new-found friends took her below into their heathen spirit home
where the heather don't grow
there were rainbow pools and showers of gold where fauns and satyrs romped and rolled
where the heather don't grow
and on a throne their prince of old who wished for Maggie's hand to hold
where the heather don't grow
he planned with her a wedding day when she would be with them to stay
where the heather don't grow

She come back one night with a will to do things right
and act just as her fairy prince had told
she crept up them creepy stairs to her parents sleeping there
to take 'em where they forbade her to go

The town sheriff came one day wonderin' where they went away
since three weeks hide nor hair they hadn't showed
the farmhouse was a sight to give a worldly man a fright
the blood-soaked bed with no sleepers to hold
he come back with the hounds and a party to search around
and they soon sniffed out a trail for trackin' down
two bodies drgged for a ways, but at the end there weren't a trace
of the girl or the mamma or the daddy in the barren ground

and they say Maggie, don't you know
musta took 'em far below
where the heather don't grow
cause Maggie's happy home and wedding day's
where the Heather don't grow
Where the heather don't grow...

So my daddy told to me the sad strange history
of the house and land where we had made a home
a look of worry in his eyes, the helpless warning of the wise
that vaguely tells but ne'er can clearly show
Sayin' "Son, don't you know...

but what daddy didn't know
I liked to play, I liked to go
where the heather don't grow.

Dance, Bone Man!

Written By: Black Jake

Back in Louisiana when the days was black as pitch
Lived a lone creoley granny was a lonely voodoo witch
And she would dance around them graveyards where no dancin’ partner tread
And so she summoned up the spirits of the rightful restin’ dead
Yes she drew a magic circle ‘round that gleamin’ marble tomb
And then she drew them gleamin’ bones out from their own eternal womb
And then she cast the evil spell that puts the soul back in the frame
And when the bone man come around he cried aloud in burnin’ pain, and she said,

“Ha, ha, ha, ha! I said the magic words!
Ha, ha, ha! And now you understand!
Ha, ha, ha! Don’t say another word!
Ha, ha, ha! Just take me by the hand, just take me by the hand,
And Dance Bone Man!”

That bone man tried to fight it but he couldn’t break her spell
So he bowed to her politely and he swung his partner well
Oh yes they danced around in circles ‘till the dawnin’ early light
Then she’d put him back to rest but she come back there every night, a-sayin’,


One night them church folk caught her dancin’ with the risen dead
So they clapped the chains upon her, passin’ judgement on her head
She would rot inside that graveyard hangin’ from a steel cage
‘till the birds and beasts had pulled up all the meat up off her frame
‘n’ as her pearly bones collapsed and fell the gibbet danced about
swingin’ to and fro alone until her pieces scattered out
and ev’ry night a few would disappear into an opened tomb
and when he had ‘em all collected with him in his dusty gloom, Bone Man said,

“Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha! Shoulda listened to my words!
Ha ha ha! But now you understand!
Ha ha ha! Don’t say another word!
Ha ha ha! Now I got you by the hand, now I got you by the hand, and now you’re always gonna dance
With your Bone Man!

Happy Easter To Ya

Written By: Black Jake

Billy and Johnny were close as brothers now
Billy and Johnny were lifelong friends but
Billy and Johnny got to fussin' and a-fuedin' 'bout
where their property line done ends...

Billy killed a chicken that strayed to closely
Johnny shot a goat that chewed his leaves so
Billy threw a rock through Johnny Boy's window and
Johnny sent the buckshot through his eaves...


But next stormy Monday the rain come a-leakin'
through Johnny Boy's window and Billy Boy's eaves
Johnny's little girl caught death from a fever and
Billy's wife too done died in her sleep...

So they armed all the chillun with musket and pistol and
filled their heads with a family feud until
next spring them woods was a-filled with
the fire and smoke as the minieballs flew...


But when they come home from church that Sunday
quite a little massacre met their eyes
their sons and daughters broke a Mexican Standoff
all their little bodies marked the property line...

Billy and Johnny couldn't stand to live but
Billy and Johnny couldn't die from grief so
Billy and Johnny agreed to a duel so
they could die fightin' and rest in peace...


And say "A Happy Easter to Ya, my good man."

Swing Low

Written By: Black Jake

I looked in the mirror and what did I see
the boys in blue was a comin for me

Swing low...

We busted out of boot camp at lake cassidy
livin in them backwoods for a month or mebbe three
Dave and Manny got the groceries from pullin b and e's
An I got myself a shotty out of some fool's back seat

Swing low...

When they saw the blue lights flashin', my boys was cross with me
I put it down to envy and I shot em down like skeet
Well shootin and a speedin both at once ain't so easy
Well I missed some geezer's towncar and I hit his neighbor's tree

I blacked out and had a vision bout the boy that I used to be
and I'll be damned if I could tell you how he turned into me
There ain't nothin' good about me but I know I must live free
And I pray that God in heaven can accept a wretch like me

I came to the blood and mud and a backwards bendin knee
and a dozen pissed-off staties pumpin' lead rocks into me
I couldn't hear nothin but my heartbeat gettin slow
And my desperate prayers to Jesus for to save my depraved soul

Swing low...


Black Jake & the Carnies released the Where the Heather Don't Grow album in 2008, and followed it with the Sundry Mayhems album in 2011, the latter leading the Metro Times’ Brett Callwood to call it “an absolutely awesome album. Combining bluegrass-inspired cow-punk with Flogging Molly-esque Irish punk rock, the record genuinely sounds as if it was created by travelling misfits, in between palm readings and bare fist boxing matches.”

The band is working on a 5-song EP slated for release in early 2013.

Set List

2+ hours of original material and a slow of 'crabgrassed up' versions of traditional songs and the odd 80's cover. Balloons, interactive games, and a wheel of fortune/misfortune.