The Continuing Saga of Mike Anton


Emma Guzman, Flash Contributor

Mike Anton is a man of many hats- musician, small business owner, mechanic, and Vincent Van Gogh doppelgänger. When he’s not busy running The Dovetail, a coffee shop in Warren, he spends his time strumming his Alvarez and conjuring up songs. He has been a member of the songwriting community for many years, and has quite the catalog of music to prove it. Along with his solo career, he has fronted 3 bands, and played countless shows between them all.  His lyrics are sharp, his story is wild, and his coffee packs a punch.

Q: What inspired you to write your song, Gentrification Song?

Anton: There was a short time when I used to get Saturdays off and a couple of my customers here at the Dovetail, Paul and Dominic, were both “foodies” from Hamtramck. We used to take day trips, and we’d go with another guy we called “John the doctor.” We’d go wherever they wanted to go, because they knew all the good places. This one day we decided to go into Mexican town to experience cactus and eggs, which was quite a breakfast. Afterwards, Dominic and Paul decided that we’d go on a tour of their old stomping grounds in Hamtramck and Detroit, so I was in the back seat just sort of watching it all. At that time, it was when they had just broke ground for the Little Caesars arena. I marveled at the changes that were coming in the area. Now it’s a place that I don’t even think I’m allowed to go anymore- It’s way too rich for me. But it wasn’t always like that. I saw the cusp of the change. I decided to write that song, because to me that was a physical symbolization of gentrification if I ever saw one.

Q: At the open mics at your coffee house, you sign up to play sometimes using the name “Perry Pooey.” What’s the story behind the name?

Anton: Let me tell ya, it goes all the way back to 2002. Back in those days, my friend Dave Martin and I worked together at a place called North Woodward Sunoco in downtown Birmingham. The place is long since gone. We used to deal with all the wacky Birmingham customers, and this one guy came in driving a Kia SUV. He burst into the lot, jumped out of his car, ran up to us and then he goes, “I don’t know how to get the hood open on my car.” I happened to know that the hood latch for his car was inside of his glove box. I pulled the latch and his hood opened up and the guy thought that I was the greatest person who ever lived. He went on and on about how great I was for performing this simple task. This guy’s name was Perry Hooey with an H. Perry Hooey.Dave likes to pun everything, so he turned it into Perry Pooey, and we joked about it and then it was over. But those were the heydays of the open mics at Trixie’s. Dave ran the Tuesday open mics, and it helped him to have an extra slot that he could play with. He would put the Perry Pooey name up there as sort of a buffer for him. If I came, I got that slot. If not, no big deal- he could do with it as he wished. That’s how it all started, and I still pull it out sometimes for a laugh. It’s one of the many open mic inside jokes.

Q: How did you come to own the Dovetail?

Anton: Well more or less, it just fell into my lap. It’s sort of a trifecta of weird things that happened in my life. It started in 2010 when I had my band, the Mantons, and we were still going fairly strong. That year we were gonna play the Detroit marathon, and we were going to play in front of Cobo Hall, which we thought was funny. I remember this because a week before that, we were practicing to play down there. And that was when my wife announced that she was leaving me. I was amazed, I had no idea that it was coming. So first my wife left me, and I guess one of the reasons was that I was working too much. Six days a week was too much to be a mechanic, so I looked for a job that was only five days a week. I found one out in Berkeley. And then when I got there, I didn’t want to be the head mechanic anymore. I was getting old and I didn’t want to be the lead tech. So, the lead tech there was a 28 year old kid named Brett. And unbeknownst to me, he was some kind of on and off addict. I wasn’t aware of his drug use, you know. I’ve been through a lot of mechanics, a lot of alcoholics, and he didn’t really jar me too much. But it turned out he was stealing checks out of my checkbook. Then one night he got on his drugs and decided that I might find out about him stealing money from me. At the time, I was also not connected to social media. I had no cell phone, and this place had a direct deposit, so I never really had to go to the bank. There was money in my account and I just didn’t care about it. I was just, you know, taking out money as I needed it. Anyway, he ended up being afraid that I might figure it out, and I probably would have eventually. But he freaked out, came to my house with a gun, and he tried to kill me. He knocked on my door and he shot me in the face with a 22-caliber shotgun. I didn’t see him, so it took a month for us to figure out who it was. I continued to work with him after I went to the hospital and had my jaw wired shut. One day, he went to the bank during lunch and the bank teller helped us figure it all out, because she called the place where we worked and said that he had one of my checks. He was arrested, and then they had a fundraiser at PJ’s Lager house for me. We raised money for my medical bills, which all got covered somehow. So first there was the void- the divorce, and there was the gunshot. And you know, I did like that whole, “what am I doing with my life? Why am I still doing this at this age? What am I going to do now?” My wife was gone, I was stuck with this house and these cats that weren’t mine, you know? But during that time, Tracy, who had owned The Dovetail, didn’t want to have it anymore. She came to me and asked if I would be interested in buying it. She had a couple of people that wanted to buy it, but she wanted someone who was on the creative side, someone who would be an interesting and creative character. She thought I might be the right guy. It had everything to do with timing. I took all the money I had and I ended up being basically broke, but I had the Dovetail. I started out here, broke, six and a half years ago. I had gone to Michigan state for five years, and I was a business administration major for a little while. I knew the basics about accounting and running a business, so I was able to figure out how to run the Dovetail, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Q: Have you ever written a song about people from the Dovetail?

Anton: There’s a few songs that I wrote with my band Chaw that were just kind of one-offs and we made them up as we went along. I just wrote a song about a guy who came bursting in here one day in the middle of the afternoon, and he just wanted a cup. It was for a spittoon for his chewing tobacco. He didn’t want to buy anything. He didn’t want ice or anything. He just wanted a cup. And I thought that was ridiculous. I thought of all places around here to go, this is the place to go to get your free cup. So, I wrote a song about that. I hear a lot of stories that I use for inspiration here and there, but other than that guy there aren’t a lot of specific songs about the Dovetail’s customers.

Q: Tell me about your band, Chaw.

Anton: Chaw was intended to be kind of a creative release. I had spent many years as a serious sort of political songwriter, and I was just tired of doing those kinds of songs. I wanted to do something that was more fun. The way it came together was when my friend Marcus came back from Venice Beach, California where he was living as an artist. When he came back, I really wanted to start a band with him. You know, I was tired of doing the Mantons- it just felt like me with instruments in the background. I wanted a little more creative input from my bandmates. So, Marcus and I got together with Steve Brown, our bass player who was very much into jazz, and my drummer, Mikey. We just sort of branched out. The whole premise is based on kind of a lark, I mean, “chaw” is a derogatory term for chewing tobacco. But I liked it, and there was sort of an onomatopoeia about the word; you can kind of use it in a lot of different ways, you know. We’ve got songs like “Chawbucket Row,” “Pharma Chaw,” “Chaw Do You Do,” you know, goofy songs. You enter the world of Chaw between the creative aspects of me, Marcus, Steve and Mikey, so when we all get together, we kind of just make this whole world up where everything’s a little different. We get to talk funny and everything can be silly. It feels like we’re all running around the universe, yet at the same time I can still insert political commentary. I just sort of bury it in there, you know, so you can still enjoy the music. We have recorded a lot of our songs, but the band doesn’t really want to release any of it. I’ve got a demo, but I’m not happy with it, and none of us are ever happy with it. Right now, we’re kind of in a hiatus, but the ideas are still there. It’s always fun to come back to.

Q: To you, what are the benefits of playing with a band?

Anton: The beauty of playing with Chaw is that it’s not just my voice. Marcus is actually a very talented man, he can sing- he can front the band himself if he wants to. He writes his own songs. Over the years we’ve actually got Steve to start singing now too. He’s got a big baritone voice. So now I have two backing vocals, plus I don’t have to sing every song. Marcus can play keyboards- he’s a multi-instrumentalist, he can play bass, he can play drums, you know. Steve can play drums, he can play keyboards. These guys are very talented. It takes a lot of the burden off of me where I don’t have to always do everything. It makes it more organic and fun when I have more people involved in the music. We’ll write a progression, you know, we’ll do it together. It’s not like I’m handing them the song, so I’ll get a riff for a couple of chords, or a feeling, and then we’ll work it out. And then we’ll organically end up with something that I can’t really call all mine, and it’s great. On the other hand, they actually know my old back catalog and so a lot of our songs are actually old songs I used to do acoustically. It gives them a fresh feel, and being with the band helps me sculpt ideas. It’s nice to have support with music, and someone to help me figure out what sounds right or not.

Check out Mike Anton’s music here.

Stop into The Dovetail for a coffee, and you just might meet Mike Anton himself!