12101 Mack: Labor and country music in Detroit

Casey Clark and Gov. Soapy Williams on stage at 12101 Mack Avenue, ca. 1955. Source: Clark family

Casey Clark and Michigan Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams calling a square dance from the stage at 12101 Mack Avenue, ca. 1955. Source: Clark family

Of course, one would need weeks or months to present the connections between the labor movement and country-western music in Detroit during the 20th century. On this Labor Day, I’m reaching for low-hanging fruit by showing a couple of union-operated social halls used for country shows in Detroit 60 years ago.

12101 Mack Avenue is an address remembered fondly by longtime country music fans in Detroit. The site of the weekly “Lazy Ranch Boys Barn Dance” from 1952 to 1957, the union hall at 12101 Mack held many weekend stage shows by Casey Clark’s group (all members of local musician unions), which in turn hosted famous entertainers and guests from across the U.S.A. and Canada. Originally a Hudson local, the hall became the base for a Chrysler local after the demise of the Hudson Motor Car Company.

Audience of Lazy Ranch Boys Barn Dance at 12101 Mack Avenue, ca. 1954

Typical Lazy Ranch Boys audience at 12101 Mack, ca. 1956. Source: Clark family

Photos from the past demonstrate Clark’s band’s popularity. When Clark and his partners first arrived to head the WJR “Big Barn Frolic” in 1952, the Saturday night show was held at the Dairyworkers Hall on 2nd Avenue in Highland Park (see a contemporary photo below).

Within a year, Clark and company moved to a larger space at 12101 Mack, where they packed in audiences with their stage shows, followed by square and round dances. Its location off Connor, near Chrysler’s east side facilities, easily drew country music fans who worked for Chrysler, many of whom lived in the surrounding area.

Read all about Casey Clark and the Lazy Ranch Boys, along with other artists who appeared on the “Big Barn Frolic,” such as Chuck Hatfield, Boots Gilbert, Al Allen, Roy Hall, May Hawks and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers in the book “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”

 

12101 Mack as it appears today. The social hall is in the rear of the structure (at left).

12101 Mack as it appears today. The social hall is in the rear of the structure, at left.

View inside the hall today. The roof collapsed last year.

View inside the 12101 Mack hall today. The roof collapsed last year.

The old Dairyworkers Hall in Highland Park today

The old Dairyworkers Hall in Highland Park today

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