Archive for Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jukebox history

March 18, 2010

Remember the Gabel Automatic Entertainer? This goes back to 1906 and was the first coin-operated record player with an automatic changer system. It was a simple windup mechanism with a horned speaker, which would spring a multimillion-dollar industry.

In 1927 they were known as Jukeboxes and that word originated in the Southern states. It was an African word, “Joot”, meaning to dance. The manufacturers were known as the “Big Four”: Wurlitzer, Rock-Ola, AMI and Seeburg. The ‘Seeburg 1955 V 200” was the first 200 selection jukebox.

In my teenage years they were everywhere, and for 5 cents you could pick any song you wanted to hear. The machines were large and beautiful and colorful art-deco style. Rock-Ola brought out what was called the dial-a-tune wall box, and they were at each booth in a restaurant, mini size but worked the same way. I can remember someone putting a lot of nickels in for their favorite songs, and we would have to wait a while before our own favorite would come up.

James Caesar Petrillo was president of the American Federation of Musicians, and he hated the jukebox because they cut a lot of his live musicians out of their jobs. A lot of cultural changes took place in the music world during those years. The jukebox played records that you would not hear on the radio, such as jazz.

I lived in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the golden years of the jukebox, and everywhere you went you would hear music. Every year brought something new and exciting. Some of the musicians we loved were Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Hank Williams, Gene Autry, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.

The real jukeboxes died in the late 1950s, going the way of tailfins on cars. They embodied an age that suddenly seemed to be over. In the late 1940s, Ada’s favorite song was “Don’t Fence Me In,” played at a place called The Happy Hollow right west of the Barnes and Collard Chevrolet Dealership on the corner of Sixth and Delaware.

If you want to listen to some of these old favorite songs, just go to Google and type in “jukebox 1940s” and it will bring back a ton of memories with six hours of nonstop ’40s records of your own choice.

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