Voices of Saginaw: Tim Avram
Interview by Tom Laverty
Photo by Jaime Torres
May 9th, 2009, White’s Bar, Saginaw, Michigan

Tim Avram has become a figure in Saginaw, if not for his antics on stage and brief burst of fame with The Mongrels, but for his antics on the other side of the stage, behind the bar, as the bartender at Saginaw’s legendary music bar: White’s Bar. His name is virtually household in every dark smoky corner where live music can be heard in Saginaw, and around the state. His rapport with musicians and bar-patrons alike is remarkable, to say the least. He currently bartends at White’s Bar and performs there on Tuesdays under the name Tim Avram and The Schantz.

TL: Explain the rise and fall of The Mongrels.

Avram: I suppose we accidentally got together, just because we were bored. We all lived somewhere else and moved back at the same time, got together. We went through 5 drummers and 3 bass players, and the last drummer and bass player got into fist fights at our last three shows. So we kind of stopped. That’s it, they just started fighting.

TL: This is going to be a short interview (both laughing). What was the best show you played in Saginaw?

Avram: Probably our first show at White’s Bar. It was like a ga-jillion people here and they all enjoyed it.

TL: What was the worst?

Avram: Probably another show at White’s. 9 people were here, and we bought everyone shots of Jag all night. I ended up with alcohol poisoning and had to go to the hospital.

TL: What is it like to be a bartender at White’s Bar?

Avram: It’s really hard. It’s like being a kid in a candy store. Everybody’s partying and you’re not. There’s the temptation to join in, so it’s kind of tough.

TL: What Michigan acts/groups influenced the Mongrels, and the music you’ve made?

Avram: Detroit musicians, Cash O’Reilly, The Whiskey Diaries from downstate. Out of everywhere, though, The Descendants, Johnny Cash, Alkaline Trio, they had a lot of influence on what the Mongrels did.

TL: Do you think you’ll ever come back with a group, in Saginaw?

Avram: Probably, as soon as everybody calms down.

TL: What do you mean?

Avram: You know, Marx is a kid, he likes to drink too much. Shane is a busy guy, I’m a busy guy. I’m sure in the future we’ll all get together and play.

TL: Was there a heyday for music in Saginaw, in the last 10 years?

Avram: I’d say, probably three or four years ago. There was a lot of good bands coming out, and people would actually come out and see them! Now there’s good bands and nobody even knows about them; Kenny Stahl, his band, John Vasquez, The Esperantos…Marx’ new band, Machete Fight. There are all these bands and nobody goes out to see them, they’re wonderful.

TL: Why do you think nobody goes to see these bands?

Avram: Because the people in the groups don’t travel around town, getting to know people and making a name for themselves, as individuals. Somebody will say, “Hey that band sounds really good, who’s in it?” and nobody knows any names of anybody in the band, they won’t go.

TL: …and isn’t’ part of what’s great in a small-city band is that people come to see them because the members are likeable, they go around, they have friends?

Avram: Yeah, one guy in the band is really popular. So even if the band sucks, a million people will come out and see them.

TL: Why do you think Saginaw produces great artists, not only musicians?

Avram: Gosh, I think it’s because, growing up, there were two different high schools, and as we got older they started to branch together, and started creating different things together. It kind of exploded after that, in our generation.

TL: Do you think it has anything to do with Saginaw and Lower Michigan being an economic cesspool?

Avram: Probably. You’re either a doctor, a lawyer or a shop-rat. You know? That’s a whole lot of different things to write about and think about.

TL: What do you think is Saginaw’s biggest problem?

Avram: Really honestly the biggest problem is, to me, there are more lawn-maintenance companies than there are lawns, so all these people that are just bored and don’t want to do anything, start a company and somehow they get away with it. It’s almost sickening. I don’t know. It’s just something that bothers me, I don’t think it’s really a problem. Everybody likes to take the easy way out around here. I own my own lawn-mower.

TL: Why have you stayed in Saginaw?

Avram: I like Saginaw. I like to be able to walk one place to another. It’s not a big place and it’s not a small place so I can hop on my bicycle and go someplace in ten minutes. Plus, it’s got a pretty decent music scene.

TL: If Saginaw could explain her relationship with you, what would she say?

Avram: Tim Avram’s tried a lot of different things to survive in Saginaw, to keep his head above water in Saginaw, and actually did it, and has been doing it – I’ve done every job there is to do around here, and tried everything there is to try around here.

TL: On the Chessboard of Saginaw, which piece are you?

Avram: Gosh, that’s a really hard one. Maybe a rook. I think I’d be a rook. I’m sort of a local celebrity, and everybody knows me, but I’m not the king.

TL: What’s the part of the city you feel the most comfortable in?

Avram: Umm…

Tim is interrupted by a man in his fifties on his way out the door, “Hey Timmy have a good night.” Tim responds, “Take care.”

The west side, just west of Old Town. Not Old Town at all, but the west side leading up to here. Between here (White’s Bar) and Old Town. Not Old Town, though. In the daytime it’s not too bad, but at night time you can drive down the street and there’s four blonds walking down the street in tube-tops and mini-skirts, in 3 degree weather, looking to get f***ed. Looking for love in all the wrong places, I guess.

TL: If you could tell a person visiting Saginaw one thing, what would it be?

Avram: I’d say, “It’s nice here, but don’t spend too much time because you’ll get trapped and then you’ll get screwed.” Great, you moved to Saginaw, you’re never going leave.

© Tom Laverty, 2009